Saturday, 30 April 2011

The not-so-soote shoures of Aprille

I entered the chapter room of the cathedral with elder daughter (then six), pushing younger daughter (then two) in her stroller. My heart and stomach sank as I felt that old familiar suffocating pressure of barely repressed hatred emanating from Bête Noire (whom I've described in a previous post) who was studying the bookshelves. Demeter offered her hand to his wife who ignored her and greeted the cousins who had entered with us. We retreated to the other end of the room; Demeter was white with shock and hissing her indignation.
"Mama, please..." I whispered.
"They can't hear me."
"Yes, but the girls can."

That had the desired effect and in a mercifully short time, the little procession of family mourners made their way to the front pews. I brought up the rear, coaxing younger daughter along. The Resident Fan Boy sat on the aisle next to elder daughter's first godmother, then me with younger daughter, elder daughter next to her grandmother, the two cousins, and finally the Holy Family (the RFB's term for the Bête Noire, his wife and children). The body of my late father-in-law was escorted in by six of his brother priests clad in their black cassocks, their surplices left off for this Maundy Thursday. We rose, and I turned, then remembering it wasn't a wedding, studiously cuddled younger daughter, using her as a buffer against the hurt and the hostility. She leaned forward, gazing at the lit candles on the stripped altar, murmuring: "Birthday, birthday..." I prayed she wouldn't burst into song.

During the recessional, I held the Resident Fan Boy's arm as he followed the casket into the late afternoon sunshine pouring through the open west doors of the cathedral. Younger daughter held his other hand, goosestepping merrily to Jeremiah Clarke's Trumpet Voluntary. I glanced over my shoulder to elder daughter, whose tears glistened in gold rivulets down her cheeks as the sun caught her face.

Another uncomfortable hour at the reception. The Bête Noire's wife had set up court in one corner of the chapter room, while I flitted around chasing children and greeting whom I could. After a discreet message from First Godmother, who had been aware of the rift for years and who had never mentioned it to either party, awkward arrangements were made for the bewildered cousins to join the Holy Family for drinks at their hotel, then have dinner with us.

I escaped as the crowd dwindled and with relief, stepped out of the side entrance into a soft spring evening at sunset.

Godmother Two had left a casserole, a true sign of love from one who hated to cook to another who felt the same. When the cousins arrived, the talk was of the service, how father-in-law would have loved the theatricality and symbolism of the somber black guard of brother priests and the Maundy Thursday setting. The Resident Fan Boy told of elder daughter's reaction to the stained glass window in the modern chapel, a recent addition to the cathedral: "That's not what God looks like!" On hearing this, elder daughter made a bee-line for the study and emerged some minutes later bearing this portrait: "The good things come from his hands and the bad things come from his feet," she explained.

This is the sixth month I have "Nablopomo-ed", and for four of the previous five, I have gone through the rather painful "Mirror of Erised" exercise of leafing through old journals in search of a kind of unifying theme for the given month in my own http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.giflife. November is preparation, February limbo, September transition, and March crisis. April, since it comes right after March, seems to be a time when the crises blow up in my face, or I end up exploding myself. What shall I call this? Eruption? Outburst? Would "effervescence" do? Maybe not.

How about the "outpouring" of April? It's a time of the first thunderstorms of the year here in Hades, a time when, if I'm to learn anything from my journals, it's best not to take too much initiative, since there's that increased risk of being blown sky-high. My next Nablopomo month should be October. In the meantime, I hope to keep blogging, not in a steady downpour, but in intermittent showers.

Friday, 29 April 2011

The mirror of erised

I love a family wedding, but only if it's happening to someone else's family. I wasn't as excited about this wedding, to tell you the truth. After the soap opera that the Royal Family became during the eighties and nineties, the sheen of the various ceremonies lost its gloss.

However, two billion viewers were supposed to be looking in on this, so how could I resist? I took to bed early and when I came to at 2:30 am, snapped on the television. We have learned the hard way that CBC is hopeless for a royal event; it just takes the BBC feed and natters misinformation and banalities all over it. Unfortunately, much the same was taking place with BBC World News. It was 7:30 in London and the commentators were reduced to babbling at parade-route campers on the Mall and wedding breakfasters in Cumbria. I clicked around and the American channels were going on about clothes and CBC was breathlessly informing us that the carpet at Westminster Abbey was indeed red and being vacuumed.

I turned off the set and went back to sleep, wondering how awkward all this would have been had Diana survived to attend this wedding. I dreamt fitfully of being in some sort of mini-bus, watching Kate Middleton climb aboard with a tinkling cell phone which she tossed crossly to someone. Her hair was in a complicated mass of curls and thatching.

I re-awoke at 4 am, just in time to see the Beckhams arrive. Meanwhile, white banners scrolled across the bottom of the screen, proclaiming that "The Royal Family are excited", "Kate Middleton's dress is still a topic of speculation" and "Prince Harry is to be best man".

All abruptly changed at 4:30 am, when the BBC took over from BBC World Service and suddenly started to tell us what was actually going on --- for example, who all these very white, very wealthy, mostly blond people were. The camera kept zooming in on a trio of identical blonds with rather vacant expressions. I gather these are Earl Spencer's daughters, only two of whom are actually twins, but the BBC didn't actually help me there; I had to work it out for myself. The commentary itself kept going on about the wide range of guests, but they all looked pretty similar to me.

Oh, but it was a wedding, and the bride was beautiful (with mercifully straight hair) although she looked damn tired, and the ceremony was beautiful, and the Queen actually looked rather relaxed and happy. Afterwards, they asked Andrew Ford and Simon Shama how this would be remembered and they thought it would be remembered as a happy day.

Well, maybe.

Someone posted Diana and Charles's ceremony at YouTube, and as I watched the cast of familiar players, so many of them dead now, and listened to the stirring music and the rather purple BBC commentary ("...groom casts a longing glance westward..." Strewth!), I was overcome with a feeling of sorrow for the expectations of that day, which, as it happens, were already crumbling at the edges. (Mind you, I should have avoided reading the hopelessly trite comments left after each video segment from people who have decided that Diana was saintly because she was pretty and Camilla evil because she isn't.)

Nearly fourteen years ago, I tortured myself after Diana, the Princess of Wales' funeral by re-watching a tape I'd made of the wedding of The Duke and Duchess of York in 1986, seeing William as a mischievous preschooler after the scenes of the the lanky teenager in mourning. Memories of happier times can be double-edged swords. I find myself unable to watch old videos of my own children. I just know too much now. I know what I've lost. These tapes have become my own Mirror of Erised, JK Rowling's painful reminder of the hazards of glimpsing our deepest and most desperate desires.

There's a wish for the happy couple (and for any couple heading out on the marital journey): May your happy memories be a balm and not a bludgeon.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

André is a wimp

I was planning other posts for today, but another post got in my way. Canada Post.

Canada, as one of my sympathetic friends has pointed out, is the only First World country with a Third World postal service. I mailed a package for elder daughter at 9:08 on the morning of April 18th, four days before Good Friday. It's right there on my tracking notice. On the Tuesday after Easter Monday, eight days after I mailed said parcel, I noticed that the package had been "processed". It was still in Ottawa, full of cupcakes, now over a week old. I filled out a "ticket", and they cheerfully reported that it had been delivered this morning, the very day elder daughter checked out of her dorm. She went to pick it up; no dice. It had been signed for at Dalhousie University. My daughter attends the University of King's College, next door. I phoned Canada Post, got put on hold, then some guy named André suggested that I had misaddressed the package. When I had the temerity to get angry, he hung up on me.

I didn't swear; I didn't call him names. He just hung up on me when I suggested that the situation arose from Canada Post making "mistake after mistake".

Clearly, I should wait for the Resident Fan Boy to get home before attempting such phone calls. Time to go to my happy place....
Sigh. My favourite Marx Brother movie (Monkey Business) with my favourite Great Big Sea song ("When I am King"). Thecoweyd,you're my hero.

And as for you, Andre, you're a wimp. May all your packages be misdirected. Go, and never darken my towels again...

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

For worms, brave Percy

This afternoon, as I set out to fetch younger daughter from school, I paused on the porch to lock the door and felt a sensation on my cheeks that I haven't felt since September. The warm, wet, spongy feel of humid air. After a weeks of cold rain and temperatures around 0 degrees Celsius, it looks like this is yet another year when Hades will simply skip spring and plunge into the mugginess of an Ontarian summer. Some people blame El Niña; after reading about Krakatoa, I'm blaming Eyjafjallajökull.

With the warmer weather, Ottawans are talking to each other again, almost as if the removal of parkas was a prearranged signal that it's okay to speak to strangers.

"How's your day going?" inquires a chipper barista at the Second Cup where I take younger daughter for a pre-voice-lesson snack.
"Oh, okay," I reply.
"Is it cold out there?"
"Not at all. It's getting muggy and there's that smell..."
"Worms," she says, hitting the steamed milk. "The air is wormy."
"The sidewalks were full of 'em this morning," I agree. "I rescue worms, if I have the time."
"I missed a school bus saving worms when I was a kid," she says. (This was probably five years ago, I think to myself.) My mum couldn't believe it."

I've posted a few photos of the blink-and-you'll-miss-it Hadean spring. In Victoria, spring starts in January with the first snowdrops, then lingers through the next three months with different streets breaking into a relay race of cherry blossoms. The daffodils come in March, and the tulips come in April. The air is soft as kisses and smells like the ocean.

This morning, when my nostrils were full of the scent of worms, I fancied I saw some daffodils. It's possible; it's late April in Ottawa.

Oh, and the Resident Fan Boy informs me that we just had a tornado warning...

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

A glancing blow

I was writing some Easter letters last week. Yes, I write Easter letters. We do have some friends and family who are quite serious about Easter, so we send them cards and we might as well enclose a letter while we're at it.

In one of my missives, I was describing our February trip to Toronto which included a trip to the Ontario Science Centre. On Family Day. We deserve a medal.

We saw a special exhibit on whales and I sought to illustrate my letter with a picture of the pakicetus, the ancient land-living ancestor of today's whale. Only I couldn't recall the actual word "pakicetus", so typed "Whale Evolution" into Google Images. One of the images that came up was of a round young woman standing on a beach, and the photo was captioned with some adolescent joke about evolving hands out of flippers to hold Twinkies. And I sat there sadly, feeling a little sick, thinking of this girl, posing innocently on the beach for a friend or maybe a family member who presumably posted the photo to something like Flckr or PhotoBucket where some guy (it has to be a guy, right?) thought it would be a hilarious joke to paste this all over the internet.

The next morning, I glanced into one of my Poem of the Day books, and up came this famous triolet:

To a Fat Lady Seen from the Train

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
- Frances Cornford (1886-1960)

Frances Cornford was a granddaughter of Charles Darwin and married to a classical scholar named Francis Cornford. This is supposed to be one of her most famous poems which is a pity, because she actually wrote some lovely stuff. This isn't lovely: it's mean-spirited, pretentious, supercilious, arrogant and inequitable. The sort of thing, in short, that might be written by a very young person, as I suspect that puerile photo-poster with the cruel sense of humour was. Cornford was twenty-nine when she wrote it, so I feel even less inclined to excuse her.

Fortunately, GK Chesterton gave Mrs Cornford a well-deserved literary smack:

Why do you rush through the fields in trains,
Guessing so much and so much?
Why do you flash through the flowery meads,
Fat-head poet that nobody reads;
And why do you know such a frightful lot
About people in gloves and such?
Why do you rush through the fields in trains,
Guessing so much and so much?
How do you know but what someone who loves
Always to see me in nice white gloves
At the end of the field you are rushing by,
Is waiting for his Old Dutch?


Quite right. You go, Gilbert.

However, it occurred to me that I am guessing so much about both GK Chesterton, whom I really only recognise in passing, and Frances Cornford, about whom I knew nothing until now. So I've got a book about Chesterton out of the library and will now head off in search of more of Cornford poetry, because, as I've said, she did write some lovely stuff. I may even read it on the train. But a bus is more likely.

Monday, 25 April 2011

They didn't keep on killing Rory

At last. Something to make Saturday evening television watching bearable. The Space channel has made this season's Doctor Who available for Canuck Whovians within hours of the episodes' airing in Britain. Of course, we have constant commercial interruptions and promos for Space's vast array of blood-spattering vampire shows, but at least we don't have to illegally download the series anymore, which saves us both time and bandwidth.

How does it look so far? Let's start with the stuff that I find distracting. (Note: anything that pulls me out of the willing suspension of disbelief is a liability):

1) We're starting with a two-parter. Now, I can understand why, because the plot requires that the Doctor has not seen his companions for a matter of months. (Or weeks. Or years. I probably need to watch this a third time.) However, every single other New Who season opener has had rather more levity to it. The world has always been in danger, that's a given, but the season traditionally starts with a light-hearted romp. Two-parters tend to be a bit more serious. This one certainly is.

2) Historical bobbles. Granted, these are petty, but they put me off. The hair is way too long for 1969, especially for government types. Long-hair really didn't become mainstream until the seventies. Plus, we have an African-American Secret Service agent issuing orders. Really? In Richard Nixon's White House? Kennedy hired the first black secret service agent in 1960 (he lasted about three months), and African-Americans make up something like ten percent of the Secret Service fifty years later, but I doubt there were many, if any, serving Nixon in the late sixties, and they certainly would not be yelling at Nixon about "engaging with the suspect". (Or whatever he said. I'll definitely have to watch it again.)

3) An American lady (played by an American actress, as it happens) says: "Hang on, didn't I just say that?" Wouldn't she say something like "Wait a minute"? Americans do say "hang on", but not in this context which is a British usage. Again, it's petty, but it knocks me out of the story, and I have to waste time getting back in.

The good stuff:

1) Steven Moffat and his twisty-turny, timey-wimey complex plots. It usually means I have to watch his show several times to wrap my poor excuse for a brain around them, but he's also very, very funny, so it's not a hardship.

2) River Song. Gawd, I love River Song. River Song and Emma Thompson are the closest I've come to girl crushes. If we can't have Elizabeth Sladen anymore, can we have Alex Kingston in her own River Song spin-off series? Please?

3) I do like Matt Smith as the Doctor, particularly when he drops his voice. I'll never fancy him, but I didn't fancy Christopher Eccleston either and he worked, too.

4) They promised to kill off a major character in this episode and it wasn't Rory. Thank goodness. That really would have been over-kill.

I guess the "ayes" have it. Not one of my top ten episodes, but it passes the Persephonic Doctor Who Multiple Viewing Test. And by the way, I'm not promising to review each episode. Aren't you relieved?

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Lamb-inated

My mother, who came to Unitarianism after rather dramatically walking out of a Church of England service when she realized she didn't believe the Creed, tried to explain Easter to me when I was about five or six. Of course, the trouble with explaining Easter is that you have to start with Good Friday, so she kept it simple and said that Jesus was nailed to a cross. This was a tad too simple for me; I thought they had nailed his clothes to the cross, and couldn't figure out why that would kill him. Not long afterward, I noticed, for the first time, the crucifix on the bedroom wall of the Catholic girl who took care of us for her room and board. With a thrill of horror, I realized the nails had gone through Jesus' feet and hands. I started noticing crucifixes everywhere. Why? Why would they put up such a scary thing? And why did they call it Good Friday if such a bad thing happened on it?

After several years of living with a practising Anglican, I suppose I understand it a bit better, although I still get thoroughly disconcerted at the Palm Sunday service which features that disturbing hymn "Ride On, Ride On in Majesty": "In lowly pomp, ride on to DIE!" sings the congregation at the Resident Fan Boy's church with great relish. I can't help but think of a scene early on in the movie Gandhi where a minister is helped on to the top of a moving train by friendly Hindus, one of whom says conversationally: "I know a Christian. She drinks blood. Blood of Christ, every Sunday."

Christmas is a an easy concept; a baby gets born, lovely. Easter is a bit messier, isn't it? This might explain a couple of the downright creepy cakes that have recently appeared on the very funny web site Cake Wrecks: Oh dear. I guess this is what happens when you mix up the ideas of the end of a Lenten fast, holiday sweets, a sweet cuddly baby animal, and the concept of sacrifice. (And why would anyone want cake slices that look like lamb chops?) There's one that's even worse, but you can go look at it yourself, if you want the nightmares. It's the fifth photo down.

To confuse matters even further, Canada's Space Channel has been running an Easter Doctor Who Marathon since Maundy Thursday. Young daughter is particularly discombobulated because, along with the whole of Seasons Five and Six, they've included all the Christmas specials. "Isn't it Easter?" she asked.

Of course, the upside of this is that for the first time ever, Canadians have been able to see the brand-spanking-newest episode of Doctor Who merely a few hours after the Brits got to see it, so it's safe to surf the internet and not be spoiled. And since the Doctor is an alien with the ability to regenerate, it kind of fits in with the whole Resurrection thing, right?

I never feel qualified to speak of a new Doctor Who episode until I've viewed it at least twice, so maybe that will be my post tomorrow...

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The song of the conduit

The Resident Fan Boy has an ironic favourite saying: "Assume" makes an ass of U and me.
The irony is in the fact that he's the king of assumptions. This has got us into hot water on more than one occasion over the years, the most memorable being on this date nineteen years ago.

It was the Thursday after the Easter weekend that year, and the week had been busy: we had attended our penultimate Labour Preparation class that week, bearing home-made hot cross buns as it had been our turn to provide snacks. There had been a Hospice volunteer workshop that week, although I had finally given up my regular shift. I'd also given up our weekly Scottish Country Dancing lesson, much to the relief of my instructor (something I didn't find out until months later). I was as big as a house, and about three weeks from my due date.

This particular day, I took the ninety-minute round-trip bus ride out to the hospital for yet another ultrasound. The Resident Fan Boy was on the volunteer board of a church community centre and the monthly meeting was right after his work, so we had a brief rendezvous at the downtown bus stop, and I headed home to clean up after the hot-cross buns. I was just about to start on it, when I needed to go to the bathroom. Again.

I'll spare you the details but when I emerged, I added a few more items to my overnight bag before calling the doctor, knowing he would only tell me to head to the hospital. Then, I called the number the Resident Fan Boy had given me and got an answering machine. (This was nineteen years ago, remember?) The answering machine gave me three emergency numbers which led me to three more answering machines. I tried a co-worker of the resident Fan Boy who had offered to drive me to the hospital, but it was the office pub night; no one was there. I dialled the home of the volunteer board chairman and got his fifteen-year-old daughter who was as helpful as...a fifteen-year-old. I phoned my mother and got her answering machine. I think it was at this point that I began to cry. I called a taxi, then my mum rang back, having come home from work to catch the tail-end of my message. She told me she'd meet me at the hospital and leave a message on our answering machine for the Resident Fan Boy. I hung up and my waters broke.

The taxi driver was very nice, one kid and another on the way. He told me to breathe through my contractions and noted nervously that they were three minutes apart. It was at this point that we got stuck behind an elderly couple in a very old, very wide station-wagon. The taxi-driver grabbed his radio mike and called his company: "Listen, I got a pregnant lady here with contractions three minutes apart; call Emergency and tell them to have a wheel-chair waiting!"

The city was in the middle of a hospital work-to-order job action, so my wheel-chair attendant turned out to be a videographer who'd recently produced a how-to video on getting wheelchairs into elevators. It took him three tries to locate the elevator to Maternity, but his elevator entry was impeccable.

Meanwhile, the volunteer board meeting was taking a supper break at the community centre. They were ordering in pizzas. Other members were calling home, but the Resident Fan Boy had just seen me at the bus stop, so assumed he didn't need to check in.

I went into transitional labour minutes after arriving in Labour/Delivery. It was like being hurled into the open ocean in a gale, trying to relax and ride over the ever-increasing waves. Somewhere in another room, I heard the screams of a woman further along than I. I had time for three internal questions, before I switched my mind into self-preservation mode, that is, not daring to think of what lay ahead:
1. What possessed me?
2. What woman in her right mind would go through this more than once?
3. Why does that fixture on the ceiling resemble a cervix?


It was quite a bit later when Resident Fan Boy came home to a darkened apartment with the mess from the hot-cross buns still in the kitchen.
And she's gone out... thought the RFB irritably. Then he noticed my bag was missing from beside the door.

"That's funny," said the cab dispatcher. "This is the second maternity call we've had this evening."
"I know!" snapped the Resident Fan Boy.

When he got to the delivery room, he found me writhing on the bed, coaching myself: "Let it go, relax, oh God, let it go..." He dashed to my side, grabbed my hand and as he leaned over to reassure me, I told him not to breathe on me. I could smell the pizza. He has never let me forget this. I think, as a woman in full labour, I was remarkably civil...

After a couple of hours of writhing, breathing, and sounding, as my mother later told me, like a cow in calf, it was decided that intervention was necessary. My husband, who has been known to faint during blood tests, was looking carefully away when he heard a baby crying. Who, he thought in disgust, would be stupid enough to bring a baby in here?

Not quite nineteen years later, yesterday to be exact, I sat enraptured in front of the computer and watched a video that elder daughter had made for my birthday. She mimed to the Great Big Sea's "Consequence Free", dancing and emoting in clever editing cuts, complete with costume changes. And I thought back to the Resident Fan Boy, passing out chocolate cigars in his office the following morning, and taking a phone-call from his now-not-quite-so-shell-shocked wife who breathed, gazing at the infant stranger in her hospital room: "Oh....isn't she beautiful..." I was stunned that anything so lovely could have come from me, which is just how I felt yesterday, watching a bewitching young woman twirl and glide in her tiny dorm in Halifax.

And, really, it hadn't. We don't really make children; they are sent to us on loan, for safe-keeping. If we really had such a hand in their creation, they would be so much more similar, instead they emerge from the womb with their distinctive personalities already bundled, trailing clouds of glory, as Wordsworth put it. We can help a little, but we really have to try to not hinder. We are the conduits.

I really wish I could share my birthday video with you, but that's not possible so here's Great Big Sea's video of "Consequence Free". (My beloved elder daughter knows I love the band. Happy birthday, m'luv.)

Friday, 22 April 2011

♪I'm not goin' to a party, party...♫

My claim to fame is missing being born on the Queen's birthday and Easter Sunday by four minutes. Not much of a claim, but there it is. Since then, my birthday has landed on Easter Sunday a couple of times; that's the nature of being born within swinging distance of a moveable feast.

My memories of the day I was born are vague, given my extreme youth at the time, but my mother remembers it quite well. She tells me the drive to the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta was a nightmare, as she was well into labour and my father kept speeding up, then slamming the brakes at red lights in his effort to get there. I was my mother's first child, but my father's fourth, so I'm not sure what the panic was about, except I rather doubt my father was present for the births of his first three children, given his chequered military career.

My mum had trained as a registered nurse and in midwifery before going on to become a physiotherapist in England, and was appalled to find that Canadian women had little say in the manner of their babies' deliveries. Her room-mate in Labour/Delivery was terrified, and totally in the dark about what was happening to her, and my mother tried to coach her between her own contractions.

The memories of my actual birth are rather more vague, perhaps mercifully so, leaping ahead to my mother's first glimpse of me in her room in Maternity -- all she could see was a pair of frantically kicking legs. Being a typically Taurean creature of comfort, I imagine I was furious about being dumped out of my comfortable home of the past nine months.

So, today my birthday has fallen on Good Friday which has probably happened before, but I'm really not sure. These damn birthdays are really starting to pile up. I started this morning with my tradition of singing the Beatles to myself in the bathroom mirror, changing the lyrics:

I say it's my birthday/ It's my birthday to-day!
I say it's my birthday/ I'm gonna gave a good time!
I'm glad it's my birthday/ Happy birthday to me!
I'm not goin' to a party, party...


Rather pathetic, really.

Nothing's open, so I don't get my birthday cake today, but Ancestry.co.uk offering free access to Canadian marriage records, so, to use that rather disgusting expression, I'm filling my boots.

To give an illusion of a party atmosphere around here, I'll stick in this video (in somewhat sophomoric taste in bits, so be warned) of the Beatles singing "Birthday" and you can sing it to me, okay? I'll imagine you are, anyway...

Thursday, 21 April 2011

You'll see us off in the distance, I hope

I was going to write about something else today, a Maundy Thursday memory. But it's an unhappy one, and today hasn't been easy enough for me to return to an unhappy place and time. Remembering Elizabeth Sladen who died unexpectedly (at least to most of the world) and way too soon, may seem an odd way to avoid a sad memory, but I first came across this video two or three years ago and had never heard the splendid song "At the Other End of the Telescope" which was co-written by Aimee Mann and Elvis Costello. (Aimee is singing the lead with back-up from Elvis here.) This fan-vid was made before HD became standard, so it's a little blurred, but the song is very "Doctorish", I think, and could be sung by more than one of his companions, though it does seem to suit Sarah Jane the best. Oh, and just to make it clear, if I haven't already, this video is the work of "Blanca" :

Shall we agree that just this once
I'm gonna change my life
Until it's just as tiny or
Important as you like

And in time, we won't even recall that we spoke
Words that turned out to be as big as smoke
Like smoke disappears in the air
There's always something smoldering somewhere

I know it don't make a difference to you
But oh, it sure made a difference to me
You'll see me off in the distance, I hope
At the other end, at the other end of the telescope

There was a time not long ago
I dreamt the world was flat
And all the colors bled away
And that was that

And in time, I could only believe in one thing

The sky was just phosphorus stars hung on strings
And you swore that they'd always be mine
When you can pull them down anytime

There, there baby, now don't say a word
Lie down baby, your vision is blurred
Your head is so sore from all of that thinking
I don't want to hurt you now
But I think you're shrinking, (I think you're shrinking - shrinking!)

You're half-naked ambition
And you're half out of your wits
And though your wristwatch always works
Your necktie never fits

Now it's so hard to pick the receiver up and when I call
I never noticed you could be so small
The answer was under your nose
But the question never arose

I know it don't make a difference to you
But oh, it sure made a difference to me
When you find me here at the end of my rope
When the head and heart of it finally elope
You can see us off in the distance, I hope
At the other end, at the other end of the telescope

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Purgatory for fascists

We're entering into what I think of as The Birthday Season at our house. My birthday is in a few days, followed immediately by that of elder daughter, then a host of friends' and family birthdays in early May, including that of younger daughter. Just before that, before we topple into the topography of Taurus, we trip over the hurdle of a troubling birthday which is today. I mean, elder daughter was born on Shakespeare's birthday (or what is assumed to be, based on the day of his christening three days later) which is nifty. I was born on Lenin's birthday which is considerably more ambiguous, but what about someone born today? Today is Hitler's birthday. I suppose you could concentrate on other much nicer people born today, but he's a heck of a person with whom to share your day, isn't he? Actually, one of my favourite songs is about Hitler, but to explain why, I have to back up a bit:

For some years, I was a volunteer at Hospice Victoria. Being a volunteer meant attending a lot of workshops, and we were well versed in the Kübler-Ross Model, otherwise known as the Five Stages (of Dying, of Grief, of Loss, etc.). We learned that the five stages didn't just apply to death and bereavement; you experience the stages every day, sometimes within seconds:
"I can't have lost my keys!" (Disbelief)
"Dammit! Where are the *&$%# keys?" (Anger)
"Please, not today..." (Bargaining)
"Well, this blows everything..." (Depression)
"I'll meet so-and-so from work, get his keys and then figure out what to do." (Acceptance)

I read somewhere a few days ago that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's model is now losing its hallowed status, as many people apparently recover from loss without the long period of "grief work" that the five stages imply. I don't know; the theory always made sense to me. Kübler-Ross went into a rather odd stage after she became well-known, where she was interested in the afterlife. Not that it's odd to be interested in the after-life, but she seemed to be under the spell of some character named Jay Barham who was one of those people who claimed to channel dead spirits. I remember reading a magazine article (I think it was in Mother Jones) where the interviewer was asking her questions about this and sounded very baffled and bewildered, as Kübler-Ross said how every soul is redeemable. Naturally, the interviewer came up with the old war-horse: "What about Hitler?"

Now, I'm trying to paraphrase this from memory alone, so I'll probably get it wrong, but she answered something like this: that Hitler would be brought to a place where he could see, and come to understand, the consequences of what he had done.

This fuzzily-remembered idea has haunted me for years. At the Resident Fan Boy's church, they used to have a pre-confession prayer. I say "used to", because churches seem to be phasing out confession and saying you're sorry. Anyway, they used to say: "Some sins are plain to us; some escape us; some we cannot face." So, try to imagine being made aware not only of what you've done wrong, but of what you've done wrong that you didn't know was wrong. Is that purgatory? Or is that hell? We all wound others without being aware of it. Oh geez...

Back in the days when I still had LaunchCast, I was sent a song by John Wesley Harding (who was born Wesley Stapes), called "Hitler's Tears". I've tried to find a way of embedding or linking the actual song here (it appears in Why We Fight, and in a slower more acoustic form in The Garden of Eden), but the best I can do is an Amazon sample that gives you thirty seconds. (Update:  someone has posted it on YouTube -- but for how long?) 

I don't know if I understand the song at all, but whenever I hear it, I think of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who moved into the afterlife about seven years ago, standing with her hand on the shoulder of Hitler as he's made to look beyond the veil of unknowing that protects us all. And he's sobbing. I also wonder if you looked into the heart of every dictator, would you find the face of a broken-hearted little boy?

Hitler's Tears

One man's tears stain the pillow
Where he used to lay his head
She's left him for another man
So how come they're both sleeping in his bed?
He can hardly sleep for misery
You can hear him catch his breath
He grinds his teeth into the night
And God says "Hey, Adolf, are you all right?"

One boy's tears stain the paper
Where he writes his Christmas list
And he inks in broken German
"Send me the skill of a fine artist."
Then he wipes out half a continent
With a flick of his wrist
He's so lonely, so misunderstanding
As he pulls his blanket across the landing

You can hear them falling every day (Hitler's tears)
Just open up the newspaper (Hitler's tears)
You can hide, there's no escape from Hitler's tears--
Just what makes the Führer blue?
He's crying for you

One man's tears--he was fascist
Before it was cool
'Cause now it's so expected
Just accept it that power is cruel
So he'll apply for reinstatement
Using new reincarnation rules
'Cause he's the only man, most certainly
Who could claim to have learned from history

Hitler cries himself to sleep, alone in Brazil, no one calls
How must it feel to be the biggest loser of them all?

One man's tears--salt water salutes the final trip
A thousand naughty Nazis
A fraülein with a bullwhip
A lullaby of Über Alles
A shaking upper lip
It's all become a Whitehall farce
That's how we tear our fears apart
But you shouldn't take it straight to heart
So the rest of us can get some sleep tonight

-John Wesley Harding (Wesley Stace)

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Birthday buddy

Not Waving But Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

- Stevie Smith (1902-1971)

While I was getting up this morning and preparing to take younger daughter to school, they were burying my half-brother five time zones away. They found his body almost two months ago, and the inquest must have finally wrapped up.

In the years that I thought my father was dead, I had visions of him lost, drunk, and alone. When the video for "Joey" by Concrete Blonde came out, I could hardly bear to watch it. It turned out that my father landed on his feet. My half-brother, alas, kept on falling:
My half-brother's birthday is on Saturday. It's the same day as mine.

Monday, 18 April 2011

A review of the audio book version of Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded by Simon Winchester

Some time around 8:30 on the morning of May 18, 1980, I was reading in bed, it being the Sunday morning of the Victoria Day long weekend. Victoria Day is a big deal in Victoria, for obvious reasons, but most of the big events take place on the Monday, so I was mildly surprised to hear what I thought was the twenty-one gun salute down at the Inner Harbour. It sounded like a steady series of explosions: Boom...boom...boom.... I didn't count them, but remembered thinking it was an odd time to be having them; such a ceremony usually took place on the hour, a bit later in the morning. It was only when the news came through from Seattle that I realized that what I'd been hearing was the catastrophic eruption of Mount Saint Helen --- two hundred miles away. Some of my Esquimalt neighbours reported the same thing; others didn't hear a thing, but noticed their windows rattling.

On August 27th, 1883, where the western tip of Java nearly meets the southern tip of Sumatra, the volcano Krakatoa finally blew itself apart, and people as far as 3000 miles away heard what they thought were cannons. Since Morse code and undersea cables were a recent innovation, the news spread quickly. At least 32,000 people had died in the monstrous tsunamis and other horrors generated by this natural disaster, the first catastrophe to be so quickly and widely reported, as well as so deeply studied.

Those coming to Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded and expecting a grisly account of the disaster itself may be disappointed. Simon Winchester begins with the leisurely and detailed objective of placing the event in every context imaginable: historic, economic, geologic, sociological, political, meteorologic.... It's a long journey indeed before he gets down to a meticulous retelling of the events leading up to and those resulting from the series of terrifying blasts in the Sunda Strait.

While it's true the story is especially gripping at that point, I found the roundabout journey compelling as well. This may be because I was listening to the audio version of the book, read clearly and pleasantly by Winchester himself. I enjoyed his dry humour and his multifaceted approach.

I have a bone to pick with him, however. In passing, he mentions the 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helen, comparing it with the unbelievable cacophony of Krakatoa a century earlier and stating that in Mount St Helen's case, the blast was not heard beyond the immediate surrounding mountain range. Evidently, Mr Winchester did not speak to anyone in Victoria, British Columbia....

For those hungry for the angst and agony of Krakatoa's death throes, you might seek out the 2006 BBC docu-drama on the subject Krakatoa: The Last Days, starring Olivia Williams and Rupert Penry-Jones, which I believe features interviews with Simon Winchester himself. I haven't seen this film, which is unavailable in Canada, but some lengthy excerpts are available at YouTube:

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Show tune shush

I'm not a violent person. I have committed acts of violence in my heart, but I beg forgiveness. Or, perhaps you want to join in the virtual bloodbath? Tell me, have you ever been to say, a concert, a show, or a movie where someone wants to have a chat? Let's have a show of blood-stained hands. Hmmn. Quite a few. (And you people to the right, this is pretend blood, okay?) Now,how about when someone wants to sing along with a performance you've paid good money to see?

I sat next to a sweet lady when I went to see the Dance Theatre of Harlem some years ago. Part of the programme included scenes from Sylvia. I don't have the DTH's version at hand, but here's the Royal Ballet: The lady recognised the music and started in: "Dit-dit, dit-dit, dit-dit, dit-dit, dit-dit, DIT DIT..." She did seem to clue in to my appalled demeanour, but seemed gently puzzled. I don't really think she knew she was doing it.

Do you think this might be the problem? That people genuinely are unaware that they're singing along (the couple who were delighted that they knew several tunes in Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony), or banging out the rhythm on the back of your seat with their feet (that guy behind me who liked "Fat and Greasy" at Ain't Misbehaving): 'Cause they sure seemed annoyed when I asked them to stop, as if I were the rude one, or some sort of spoil-sport.

So last night, the Resident Fan Boy, younger daughter and I went to Show Tune Showdown. As I blogged about it last year, it's a fundraiser for one of our local gay-lesbian-transgendered-and-some-straights choir (this one is called "Tone Cluster") and is something like those show-biz competition shows like So You Think You Can Dance, so there are three 4-person teams from community or university musical theatre groups performing numbers from Broadway shows. We had a lovely time last year and a rather less lovely time this year. Because, guess what? This guy was chatting in the row behind us. I think he managed to contain himself during the actual musical numbers, although he had a very loud laugh, but he prattled through the introductory bits, and during the adjudications, he would make emphatic agreement noises: "Mmm-hmmm." "Yeah." "Uh-huh." Gosh, I wanted to smack him.

We gather that Show Tune Showdown will not be on next year, but is on for 2013. We're not sure why. The guy talked over it.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Seeing as I'm cold anyway...

I'm chilled. Cold rain all today, that turned into snow and I haven't the courage to check what it's doing now, although we're heading out to the theatre in a few minutes. I've been writing Easter letters today, then trying to come up with a quick post.

All I can think of is a song I first heard back in the days when MuchMusic (Canada's then-superior version of MTV) had "Peace and Love" videos all day on Christmas. It's on my iPod now and is one I never fast-forward through when it comes up on shuffle. There's a clearer version of this at YouTube, but there's a vastly irritating mini-commercial at the beginning, so I'm going with this one (and I'm not sure about the lyrics):
Rickie Lee Jones Satellite by Celtiemama
Satellites - Ricki Lee Jones

Well, we were born forever
We are twinned in a fugitive mind
Friends should stay together and
Light the world with the fugitive guide

So you keep talking in many languages
Telling us the way you feel
Got up fighting in the road you're on
Get up, you're a walking satellite

I just saw you walking
Ice was reading fortunes in the moonlight
Things he could not tell you
You'll never read more than you will tonight

So you keep talking in many languages
Telling us the way you feel
Got up fighting in the road you're on
Get up, you're a walking satellite

Ah, Satellite!

We were born forever
Tunneled into the fugitive night
Friends must stay together
Code the world with the fugitive light
Oh, I just saw you walking
Ice was reading fortunes by the moonlight
Casting runes on the rooftops and alleyways (baby)
You'll never read more than you will tonight

So you keep talking in many languages
Telling us the way you feel
Don't stop, fighting in the road you're on
Don't quit, you're a walking satellite

Ah! Satellites!

Friday, 15 April 2011

Every, every minute?

Being tired (again), I quickly checked my folders for photos taken in Aprils past and remembered that I got this digital camera for my birthday four years ago. I was terrified, but realized that the only way to get over the terror was to get out and start snapping. So I spent half an hour or so wandering along the banks of the Rideau River. It being April in Hades, I mostly went for branches in themes of grey and beige. Like so:



However, for some reason, I felt compelled to snap the little shopping district in our neighbourhood as I made my way home that Sunday afternoon. I thought it was a boring shot when I looked at it later, even made a half-hearted attempt to delete it.

Now I look at this ordinary scene and feel a bit spooked. It's difficult to make out in this photo, but just next door to the barber shop (you can see the old-fashioned barber's pole), there was a hardware store (see where the wheelbarrow is?) that had been there for many years, and next door to that, a rather more recent organic food store, where I bought "eco-cleaners" and the Resident Fan Boy got all our meat. A few weeks ago, the managers at the hardware store decided to have a spring sale event and in preparation for that weekend, stocked up the store with barbecue equipment, including several bags of self-starting charcoal.

That afternoon, younger daughter and I were heading out to take in a movie and found the traffic snarled and re-routed around a three-alarm fire. We retreated home and watched Twitter while the fire was upgraded to a five-alarm, and finally a six-alarm. Word went out for the neighbourhood to seal doors and windows due to the toxic nature of the blaze. (Well, it was a hardware store --- you can imagine...) When it was over, many hours later, the hardware store and the organic food store were gone, along with several apartments above the shops. The barber shop, another long-time neighbourhood institution, was so badly damaged that it is unlikely to re-open. No one hurt or killed, thank goodness, although a seniors' home nearby had to be evacuated. However, eight people lost their home and possessions, and three businesses were destroyed, with the other shops on the block damaged and even today, still using generators for power.

Stumbling upon this snap four years later, I'm reminded of that line from Our Town when a young girl, newly dead, is about to travel back to be a witness to a day in her life. When she asks about a special day, the so-called "Stage Manager" advises against it: "Pick an ordinary day, it will seem important enough."

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Missing lives

Younger daughter likes the National War Museum. I'm not sure why, but during school breaks and holidays, it's something else to add to the list of things to get us out of the house. This past March break, I was ready when we approached one of the guides to get our hands stamped for entry:
"I'm here to see the Missing Lives exhibit."
"The what?"
"The Missing Lives exhibit about the Balkans; I saw it on the web site..."
Hurriedly, she checked with someone else, then told us to head straight, then turn left. When I got there, I understood her confusion. It was a small row of photos down a side hall. I suppressed my disappointment, then went to have what I'd thought would be a quick look.

Each photo had names beside it, sometimes just one, sometimes several. The people in the pictures were the relatives of those names, just a few of the thousands who disappeared when Yugoslavia disintegrated into a morass of civil war and mass murder in the 1990s. This exhibit, which is only making one Canadian stop, is based on the work of British photographer Nick Danzinger and Canadian writer Rory MacLean. They published a book last year, but the exhibit I saw concentrated on fifteen families caught in the nightmare of not knowing for years, even decades, what really happened to sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, husbands, mothers....

I do remember when the first stories of what went on in the former Yugoslavia first reached the newspapers. What was hard to grasp was, in so many instances, people were being beaten, raped, and murdered by neighbours after years of living side by side. Of the fifteen stories represented at the War Museum, the one that haunts me is that of a girl who was only a toddler at the time. They tied her father to a chair in his living room and shot him, starting with his legs. Then they turned to his wife, a woman they had known for years and said: "You did not expect us to be the ones to kill you. We are happy to surprise you."

Their one surviving child, spared because her aunt had taken her away before the murders, is now a young woman and was photographed by Danzinger during a recent visit to family home where these horrors took place. The neighbours can be seen peering at her from the house next door.

I mentioned a few months back that I had received a couple of books for Christmas that have poems for each day. The poems often have a spooky resonance with what is actually going in my life. This poem came up the week I went to the museum. It's written by Goran Simic who came to Canada with the help of PEN Canada in 1996, becoming a resident writer-in-exile at Massey College at the University of Toronto:

The Sarajevo wind
leafs through the newspapers
that are glued by blood to the street;
I pass with a loaf of bread under my arm.

The river carries the corpse of a woman.
As I run across the bridge
With my canisters of water,
I notice her wristwatch still in place.

Someone lobs a child's shoe
into the furnace. Family photographs spill
from the back of a garbage truck;
They carry inscriptions:
Love from...love from...love

There's no way of describing these things,
not really. Each night I wake
and stand by the window to watch my neighbour
who stands by the window to watch the dark.


(- The Sorrow of Sarajevo, Goran Simic, translated by David Harsent)

You can see some of the photos I saw in this interview with Nick Danzinger. The story to which I referred earlier is about three minutes in:

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Facebook fable

Boy, you can get into trouble on the internet. I therefore tell the following tale with fear and trembling.

First off, what's been happening in Japan has been horrific. In my pre-mummy life, dimly remembered as it is, I was an ESL teacher and a fair few of my students were Japanese. Their faces flashed before me as I sat horror-struck in front of my computer watching events unfold and trying to remember which ones were from northern Japan.

The real conundrum, for me, began with letters to the editor and various Facebook postings pointing out how much more powerful the earthquake that hit Japan was than that which rocked Haiti. Then came links to articles pointing out that if you donated to various help associations, the money might well be diverted to other causes because Japan hadn't actually requested financial assistance. The underlying suggestion seemed to be that this was sneaky of said organizations.

Now, I feel that Japan is in great distress, just as Haiti is (still) in great distress. Japan, however, is a First World nation. This doesn't mean that they are not in dire peril, or that they in any way deserve to suffer. My guess though, is that in a year and half's time, a large portion of their population will not be living in tents, nor dying of cholera. Nor, do I think, will their women and children be vulnerable to sexual assault on a nightly basis. Which appears to be the situation in Haiti right now, with no real let-up in sight.

So, I decided, after some thought, to state in my Facebook status, simply that I making woefully inadequate donations to two organizations I trust: Unicef and Doctors Without Borders and marking them "Wherever the need is greatest".

Clearly, I should have just shut up and made the donations. A couple of friends marked the status with "Like" and then I heard from a long-time and treasured friend, who is a practising Jew and has, over the past few months, become rather more vocal on pro-Israeli issues. The latest upset has been on the subject of the massacre of the Fogel family on the West Bank. My friend and many members of her community were posting items decrying what they felt was the suppression of the story by the world press.

The problem with my Facebook status was apparently my support of Doctors Without Borders. Doctor Without Borders certainly has borders, she briskly informed me, saying they had a record of shutting out Israeli surgeons. A quick google brought up a letter from MSF/DWB about the incident, which occurred last summer in connection with a tanker explosion in the eastern Congo. I responded, cautiously, that I knew little about this controversy but included the link. Within minutes, she had sent me a link to an article from an Israeli journalist. I think I would have just left it at that, but a few minutes later, she sent another link to another article in a different publication. By the same journalist. In fact, it was essentially the same article with added details about MSF/DWB surgeons objecting to Israeli music in the operating room.

Oh dear. This friend is a valued one. I have been a guest in her home, and most importantly, she has been a gracious and kind supporter of younger daughter. Feeling a little sick, I deleted the whole post. When I told the Resident Fan Boy about it, he went into his anti-Facebook rant, complete with pacing. I distanced myself from him for a couple of days too. Eventually, the friendly messages from Vancouver resumed. Eventually, I spoke to my husband again. I will continue to support both Unicef and Doctors Without Borders, but in a New Testament fashion. In secret. I can't afford to lose friends.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Tu creasti Domine

As we saw the first of our buses drift into view, the Resident Fan Boy said, "The day is going well!"
"Hush!" I admonished him. "The Festival Gods will hear you!"

Most middle-class reasonably urban Canadian children eventually participate in a Kiwanis Music Festival. It's been a landmark of the middle-class, town-dwelling Canadian childhood since the middle of the last century. The Resident Fan Boy was entered with his school band, I competed as a member of my school choirs, plus my elementary school specialized in Scottish Country Dancing. Elder daughter is another school band KMF participant, and younger daughter experienced it with her elementary school choir. Today, though, younger daughter charted new territory for the family. She was entered in the Solo Female Vocalist Section: 14 and under.

See, it's one thing being judged as a group, it's quite another being judged individually. It's yet another thing being the parent of an about-to-adjudicated offspring, especially if that offspring dwells somewhere out on the autism spectrum. I spent the long bus ride over to Saint Timothy's Presbyterian Church in Alta Vista trying desperately not to think of everything that could go wrong, battling back thoughts such as: "Will she remember to acknowledge her accompanist?" "Will she talk during other solos?" and worst of all, "If she makes a mistake, will she stop and want to go back to the beginning?"

We got there early. Very early. The Resident Fan Boy is a Virgo, after all. He checked out the format with the adjudicators, who showed up about ten minutes after we did, then tried to relay an idea of what would happen to younger daughter. She slid further into the pew and covered her ears. My heart sinking, I watched the other contestants arrive with their families. The singers were easy to pick out; each one was clutching a plastic water bottle. Great, I thought. We didn't bring a drink for her. We're ba-a-a-ad parents...

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, one of the adjudicators rose to greet the knots of families, accompanists and soloists, all clustered to the back rows of the church, not daring to sit ahead of the adjudication desks. "You're so quiet!" she laughed. No one laughed back.

There were eight singers, all to sing "The Birds" (music by Eleanor Daley; lyrics by Hilaire Belloc). Daughter would be the last to sing. I tried to relax my hunched shoulders and focus on each girl. They all looked older than younger daughter who is one month from fifteen herself. Some were dressed in cocktail party-type dresses, some dressed as if for a job interview. Some sang in wavering voices; others sounded like opera singers. Some emoted, others glanced nervously from side to side. When younger daughter finally slipped up to the front with her accompanist, I realized that I had been sitting in the same position, without daring to move, for over half an hour.

And she sang, just as she's been rehearsing it for the past month. A little more softly than she should have been, but beautifully on key and directly to the adjudicators. I wish you could have heard her. When she finished, she made a graceful sweep of her hand toward her accompanist, then bowed with a smile and unhesitatingly took her seat in the row of soloists to await the adjudication. I could see her zoning out a little, while the adjudicator spoke, but she was quiet with just a hint of stimming. I could see the other contestants glancing discreetly at her.

At a Kiwinis Music Festival Event, it is customary to rank the top three. The three girls chosen were pretty well who we'd thought they'd be and theirs were only scores announced: 87 and two 86's. All the others got participation certificates and the notes the adjudicator had jotted down while they sang. We greeted younger daughter warmly and went over the comments which were constructive and encouraging: more engagement, more dynamics, "a lovely soprano sound", words well projected with good consonants, "very good preparation -- a very sincere and musical performance". Her voice teacher will be pleased. Her score? Does it matter? (Okay, it was 83.)

We were forbidden to record or take pictures, but I pressed the button on my iPod -- and the Festival Gods gave me a good recording....of the piano, so I am justly served. I do wish you could have heard her, because I'm her mother and not impartial.

The Resident Fan Boy says he has an ear-worm and can hear the song constantly. Unfortunately, it's his voice he hears singing it. I have an ear-worm too, but I've been hearing my daughter's "lovely soprano sound" in my mind's ear all day. There are worse things to be stuck with.

Monday, 11 April 2011

When April was too cruel

A couple of years ago, I took some snaps of how spring burst relentlessly into Hades, rather like a bullet hitting a soft target. Events rather overwhelmed me that year, so going back this evening, I rediscovered a couple that I thought were not bad and will post them here as placeholders. The first I call "Blood Will Out", and the second I've entitled "Out of Bounds. I'm afraid I've given the impression I'm not that fond of April in Hades.

Okay.

I'm not.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Do not press "Send"

Dear Relative-who-shall-remain-nameless,

Sorry it's taken so long to respond to your note, but I hadn't scrolled down far enough on first reading and so had failed to spot the attached homily in bold print and italics with the stock photo of people gazing into the sunset until I showed it to my husband, asking him how to respond. His answer was lost in the chaos that followed. Keyboards are really difficult to clean.

Toodles,
Your Nameless Relative

PS Are we really related? I'm not sure we inhabit the same universe...

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Tears of a clown

I've been known to weep quietly at bus stops. Not often, you understand, just once in a while. I can get away with it because (I believe I've mentioned this before) after a certain age, women become invisible and no one notices, provided you're reasonably dignified about it. A couple of weeks ago, I was waiting for a Transitway bus at the corner of Slater and Kent in downtown Hades and sniffling unobtrusively, not in self-pity this time, but because I was listening to the Moth podcast on my iPod.

The Moth is a series of storytelling events. It started in New York, but there are now stages in L.A., Chicago, Detroit, plus a road show. A Moth evening usually has a theme and the rule is that the story be true, from the teller's own life and be told without notes. Moth storytellers are often famous, or published authors (or both), but your average John or Jane Doe can participate in "Story Slams". The story I was weeping quietly along to was from the Moth Mainstage and was told by comedian Anthony Griffith. I'd never heard of this fellow before, but I gathered he is successful at what he does, so I looked him up when I got home. He's very good. Take a look at his impression of his mum delivering discipline in the midst of a Baptist hymn:
That's funny, right? Okay, now, if you can bear it, listen to the legendary story he told on the Moth Mainstage a few years back. Get some tissues first. It will take you a little less than ten minutes. Or if you're invisible, just go to a bus stop and sniffle quietly.

Friday, 8 April 2011

I vote because I like to complain

The bell rang this sparkling shining morning, and I tripped down the stairs to answer it. (Never mind what I was up to.) A pleasant young man stood there clutching a clipboard and I could see from his pile of brochures that he was our local Progressive Conservative candidate.

Some of you may be aware that Canada is suffering through yet another federal election. For the past decade, we've been having a damn federal election every couple of years. This is because we have a minority government, run by a lacquer-hair control-freak who has succeeded in reducing media coverage of his Progressive Conservative Party's shenanigans to carefully spooned-out sound-bites. Their latest trick has been tossing people out of PC events because they've vetted their backgrounds for tell-tale trouble-maker Facebook features such as liking environmental groups or having their picture taken with a Liberal Party member. I wish I were kidding.

I looked brightly at the guy on my porch: "Oooh, you're our PC fella!"
"Will you be supporting the Progressive Conservatives?" he asked hopefully.
"No, we're NDP and Greens in this house," I said cheerfully. "But we're pleased to see you as a part of the democratic process."
"It's nice to see a smiling face," he said and went on his way. This neighbourhood has been a Liberal riding for about a gazillion years. This means my vote will have no value whatsoever, but I will vote, dammit, because it's my duty and I figure I can't participate in the grand Canadian tradition of dissing the government, unless I cast my ballot.

Thankfully, we have the Rick Mercer Report to take the sting out of most elections. It's a very funny show, probably funny only to Canadians, but then, I have to Google most of Graham Norton's references, so there. Part of each show is a feature called the Rant. This week, Rick goes after young voters. About thirty eight percent of eighteen-to-twenty-five-year-olds turned out for the last election:
If you're not Canadian, and you're thrown by the accent, he's from Newfoundland.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Double-duty book review (for Doctor Who fans only)

Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale: The Final ChapterDoctor Who: The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter by Russell T Davies

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Okay, I'll be straight with you. If you're not a follower of the sci-fi/fantasy television series Doctor Who, there's probably little reason for you to read this book (or this review, for that matter). It's not just about Doctor Who, of course. It's about British television in the early part of the first decade of this century, and, above all, it's about writing, but to get to that, you 'll be wading up to your waist in Doctor Who and if you're not a Whovian, you'll just get lost, trust me.

Russell T Davies is the guy who resurrected Doctor Who. Or ruined it, depending on whom you ask. I'm married to the Resident Fan Boy who seems to have been moving into the latter camp ever since we were exposed to the final four specials that rounded off Davies' tenure in the New Who universe that he created. (The Resident Fan Boy is a Classic Whovian, devoted to the series as it was between 1963 and 1988, although he'll watch anything Who-related.)

Now, I wasn't crazy about those specials either. However, I can credit Davies with making me a New Whovian in the first place. Like many current female fan-girls, I came to DW after watching Tenth Doctor David Tennant in the saucy biopic Casanova, penned by Davies. My reaction at the time: "Hey...isn't David Tennant the new Doctor? Wait a minute...Russell T Davies wrote this? Didn't he write Bob and Rose? He's writing the new Doctor Who too?!?"

So I started watching the new Doctor Who, then I started staying up late to catch reruns of Davies' first Who season, with Chritopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor and...

...I became a prime candidate to read A Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter which covers the period when Davies began writing his final full season of Doctor Who while beginning a long, detailed and deliberate series of e-mails with Doctor Who Magazine writer and journalist Ben Cook. This gives fans of the show a peephole into the shadowland of roads not taken in character development, plot, casting, and special effects (usually the first to go to save money).

For example, early on in the correspondence (back when it was going to be just a Doctor Who Magazine article and not a 600+ page tome), Davies describes his ideas for the Doctor's companion to follow Freema Agyeman's Martha Jones. (Again, if you're persisting in reading this and you're not a Whovian, you really should stop. Really.) He envisions an older woman in her thirties as a change to the twenty-somethings usually traveling through time and space with the quadricentenarian Doctor, a lady who has just been jilted by her fiancé. As these ideas are forming, news comes that Catherine Tate, who played one-off companion Donna Noble, will be returning for a whole season. Donna is thirty-something and has been jilted by her fiancé (who actually betrayed her before being fed to gigantic infant alien spiders), but now Davies must come up with a re-introduction, rather than an introduction.

And you've got to hand it to him, this guy is bursting with ideas. I spent the book thinking: "Ooooh...that would have been nice..." or "Gee, I'm glad we were spared that..." It's probably the tantalizing promise of what a story could be and the the fear that it will fall short that results in what seems to be a lot of procrastination on Davies' part. I'm beginning to wonder if this is an essential part of writing, remembering the late Douglas Adam's classic line about loving deadlines and the "whooshing sound they make as they fly by". I certainly felt a pang of recognition myself, every time Davies confesses using up precious writing time doing unrelated work or watching television, even though I have neither Davies' talent nor the responsibility for the success of an iconic television show.

Of course, having this responsibility means having not only talent and imagination, but a healthy ego and a thick skin. Davies has the first three in spades (and enough humorous self-deprecation to temper the ego). However, for all his protestations to the contrary, he has a surprisingly thin skin, particularly when it comes to the slings and arrows of outraged DW purists. When Helen Raynor (writer of two double-parter episodes) fails to resist the temptation of checking out Outpost Gallifrey (a vehement Doctor Who online fan forum), she is badly burned and Davies howls in her defense: Helen is in a delicate position in that she's only just started, and she's on the verge of being really very good - and now she finds herself ruined by this wall of hostility. It makes me furious.

Now, I think both he and she are being a bit silly. Raynor's episodes were certainly not amongst my favourites, but apparently they were vastly popular so somebody must have like them. Davies claims you can't resist seeing what people are saying about you online. I say you can and you must and any DW writer who is misguided enough to venture on to a Doctor Who fan forum must be bonkers, anyway. It's like a fight club in there; I avoid forums on any topic like the plague. I do, however, engage happily in post-episode analyses of Doctor Who episodes on other people's blogs. I think it's one of the pleasures of being a fan. We certainly don't expect Mr Davies, Ms Raynor nor anyone else involved in the show to drop by, take our advice or get their feelings hurt. Most smart actors don't read reviews; smart writers should probably do the same.

What did I learn from this book? I learned that Russell T Davies wrote not only his own episodes, but as the show's head writer re-wrote most of the episodes by other writers. Some evidently didn't mind and their comments on the process are included; a couple probably did. (I don't think Davies re-wrote episodes by Stephen Moffat who eventually took over the series from him.) Again, I was stunned by the quantity of ideas generated by this man; many of which were not used.

Bottom line? While anyone who is not a fan of Doctor Who would not get this book at all, it is pretty well irresistible for anyone who does love this extraordinary television show, whether they're a Russell T Davies fan or not. All Whovians owe a debt to him.



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Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Flower graveyard

I thought one of the things I might do for April blogs is post some of the photos I've taken over the years. (The ones I'm really proud of, that is.) I'm going with the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, so yes, this is another cheat. This photo was actually taken in April a few years back when I was relatively new to digital photography. I realized that if the landscape is drained, bleak and sepia, why not go all the way and make the photo sepia? That way, what is an eyesore becomes art. Right? Uh, right?

I'm putting myself to bed early again tonight. I've got a long blog tomorrow, but it's about Doctor Who, so you might not want to wait up...

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

While we're waiting for the spring....

Ice pellets today as I struggled up the hill to the library to return a book I hadn't finished about tectonic plates and Krakatoa because someone had put a hold on it. I'm periodical and writing something, but it's not finished and I'm tired, so here's a song I really like from The High Dials from Montreal:

Monday, 4 April 2011

Wanna make thumbthing of it?

Oh, but I'm damp and crabby. In the true and vicious tradition of April in Hades, we were forced to walk to the bus stop this morning through a precipitation which Environment Canada describes as "wet snow" but that is actually thick white missiles that go plop-plop-plop like a blizzard of bird-droppings. By the afternoon, I was forced to go out again in what was now cold, pelting rain.

I hadn't had enough sleep because I stayed up to watch The Killing and The Borgias. The former is an American retelling of a Danish murder-mystery series filmed in Vancouver. I recognise next to no one in the cast, but so far, it's compelling. The latter is clearly a very expensive production, features three fabulous actors: Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi, and Colm Feore, and each shot looks like a High Renaissance painting. Then they lost me. In a beautifully photographed, sumptuous recreation of Rodrigo Borgia's procession on his way to being crowned Pope, I listened in disbelief to the background music which was Zadok the Priest. You know, that coronation anthem that George Frederick Handel composed in 1727? They even played it kind of softly, as if hoping no one would notice. Well, they didn't sneak it past me, and then they killed off Derek Jacobi's character, so to heck with them and their bleedin' anachronisms.

Boy, I'm cranky. So I'm putting myself to bed early tonight and leaving you with this gem which is undoubtedly long past its expiry date in Britain:I like this so much, I've friended Bertram Thumb-cat on Facebook. So there.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Just ten looks is all it took (write of passage number eighteen)

April in Hades means a sepia world of still-dead grass and weather-beaten brick. We're out of our boots and back into street shoes at last, the beat of our footsteps knocking up the gravel and salt left over from winter into our noses and mouths.

This morning, I'm seated next to a young woman who's busy texting. Directly in front of me, another young woman of similar age keeps glancing back over her shoulder at my seating partner, smiling expectantly. Seating partner does not look up, not even a flicker of an eyelash in this other girl's direction. This goes on as the bus cruises down the long stretch of the Vanier Parkway. I'm starting to feel very sorry for the ignored girl, who persists in repeating her grinning backward glances with not a sign of encouragement from my seat-mate.

It's not until we're nearly at Hurdman Station when it finally dawns on me that the girl in front of me is texting too...

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Tripping the light font taste test

Wikipedia pulled a witty April Fool's stunt yesterday. For "witty", read "rather esoteric in-joke". The only reason I got the joke (in an off-side kind of way) is that when I'm avoiding things I'm supposed to be doing, I read through the comments on postings on Passive-Aggressive Notes, a site that collects notes, very few of which are truly passive-aggressive, although the site-host(s) readily admit to this. One of the key things I have learned from piddling my time away at PAN is that Comic Sans is bad. Comic Sans is the equivalent of portraits of Elvis Presley painted on velvet, ruffled tux shirts, having "Sometimes When We Touch" sung at your wedding. Or, according to one of those insufferable London press fashionistas, wearing a cape. You know, the ones who decree every year what we should and shouldn't be wearing and what losers we are if we don't comply? Am I the only one who wants to slap them?

Comic Sans is a font (yes, it's okay if you didn't know this), and Wikipedia's big joke on April 1st was using Comic Sans in their entry on Helvetica which (apparently) is a very tasteful font even if its name does remind me of cheap cheese.

I've got nothing against Comic Sans, or Helvetica for that matter, although I now know that I dare not use the former if I'm ever to be taken seriously. Up until recently, I had no idea that I was being judged on my choice of font. I guess the fact that I usually use whatever default font is available (usually Arial or Times New Roman) betrays me as being hopelessly unimaginative or completely lacking in initiative.

Frankly, my favourite font ever was a "Harry Potter" one that computer-savvy elder daughter (then about age ten) downloaded for us. It got lost when our computer went foom, and since I have no idea how to download fonts, I use whatever's available on Outlook Express or Word Perfect. When I do choose, it's Calligrapher when I want to take up a lot of space and Perpetua when I don't.

Of course, someone with a lot of time on their hands came up with a clever online test to determine "the font that is best for you". You've probably seen it. I took it for the second time a few weeks ago, having forgotten I'd already taken it months ago and my result this second time was: Okay, I may not have anything against Comic Sans, but I think Plastica is vile. This font sucks. It was apparently assigned to me because (supposedly) I'm emotional, understated, traditional, and relaxed. Plastica doesn't say any of that to me, besides, I'm reasonably sure that last time I took this silly test, I got Archer Hairline (emotional, understated, progressive, disciplined -- apparently I've deteriorated and backslid between the first and second takings of this test) which was okay, but I couldn't find it anywhere. Besides, of the fonts available on the quiz, I only really liked Baskerville Italic(rational-understated-traditional-relaxed) and Perpetua Titling Light(rational-understated-traditional-disciplined), but the latter appears to be only in upper-case, so I'd be shouting all the time. But very tastefully. Besides, I thought it was called Perpetua Tilting Light which I found far more appealing, and so was rather put off when I discovered its true name while attempting to google it.

So, lessons learned:
1. Comic Sans is to be avoided, unless, of course, you're being ironic and everyone else gets the joke.
2. If you take on-line quizzes seriously, you're a fool in more than April.

I wonder if I can find an ironic way to wear my cape.