Tuesday, 31 July 2012


A long-ago July night when I was twelve (or thirteen?):
At our small Girl Guide camp by the edge of Lake Cowichan, our tent plotted to skinny-dip.

I think our captain, volunteer parents, and counselors knew. We were twelve (or thirteen?) and not yet masters of deception. We slipped into our sleeping bags naked, and at the given signal, wrapped ourselves in towels and crept out on the dock, whispering and giggling, lowering ourselves into the water, leaving the towels on the edge.

I've never known a feeling like it, swimming without the elastic constriction of a swim-suit, no pulling pressure on my shoulders as I stroked through the silky black water, looking up at a million stars.

I don't think we could have been out there for more than a few minutes. Did the Guide Captain call us back in? I don't remember.

I was the last to try to clamber out. The others were reaching for their towels when I heard the count from the camp-fire at the next site, surrounded by a quartet of hunched-over young men: "One! Two!" Shrrrrrrrriiiieeeeek!!!!! The girls dropped to their bellies as the combined light of several flashlights hit them. I was still in the water, clinging to the edge, watching the frantically retreating silhouettes when I realized there was no towel waiting for me.

"Guys! Guys??" I called frantically over and over, until one girl threw a towel that wasn't mine and not much larger than a hand-towel in my direction. I don't remember how I got back to the tent.

It seems I've had so many opportunities to experience and re-live humiliation and embarrassment.

But I've never ever had another experience like that precious few minutes in the black waters beneath a black sky full of stars. I tried skinny-dipping again when I was about sixteen. It simply wasn't the same. Some moments will never come back, more moments than we care to admit. Memory has to suffice.

I wonder if Michael Stipes was thinking along the same lines when he came up with the lyrics for "Nightswimming". He has said it's about a "kind of an innocence that's either kind of desperately clung onto or obviously lost.

I'm not sure how obvious it is, and I'm not desperately clinging on to it, but I do remember.

This finishes the July NaBloPoMo for me. Over the past four years, I`ve NaBloPoMoed February, March, April, May, July, August, September, October, and November. I plan to do January 2013 next, provided we all make it past the end of the year. (That`s just me, whistling in the dark. But I can see the stars.)

Monday, 30 July 2012

Long shadows

This evening, the penultimate evening of July (it's still July 30th here in Victoria), I walked out in the fresh breeze and caught sight of my own shadow stretching several yards to the east. As a child in Edmonton, I remember delighting in the length of my evening shadow which made me appear not only grown-up, but gave the illusion that I was wearing high heels.

I don't have my journals here; they're back in Hades, so only long shadows of July memories occur to me as I walk: summer band, teaching summer ESL students, reluctantly picnicking with picnic-mad elder daughter when she was little, walking barefoot (until I trod on a bee at age eighteen), my first boyfriend, being led through a pitch-black forest by another boy when I was nineteen and encountering stoned hippie-types (I assume they were hippie-types --- they certainly sounded stoned), weddings, my very first funeral.

July is the month when I feel the year turn around to loop back to Christmas. It is usually the month when I see which way the year is going to go. I am sometimes relieved; sometimes horrified. Shadows can be threatening; they can also be shelters.

I feel relatively sheltered this year. I hope I'm right.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Sniffle, snorg

Once again, I find it's getting close to midnight here in Victoria, and I'm coughing and hacking -- and cheating.

Here's a brilliant piece of Motown-style blasting from Elise Legrow of Toronto:

And just in case you think it's all studio effects:

Saturday, 28 July 2012

This should clear my sinuses

Oh gawd. Summer colds. They're the worst. They're just so damned unnatural. I've had a lovely day, really, seeing a friend I haven't seen in eighteen years.

But I need to get to bed. I thought I'd leave you with a boffo moment from the Winter Olympic Games in Calgary in 1988. kd lang was very young then and claiming to channel Patsy Cline. When she let rip with this number at the closing ceremonies, all heck broke loose.


Friday, 27 July 2012

Shining in a naughty world

So in the midst of some pretty depressing news worldwide today, I have to say, that this has to be the most charming Olympic flame ever, combining flaming petals representing the participating nations. As jaded as I get about the Olympics, it was a lovely sight and symbol.

Almost midnight; I think I've caught a cold....

Thursday, 26 July 2012


So the Resident Fan Boy turned up on the doorstep today (yes, I was expecting him), and younger daughter is so relieved, she's been practically purring all afternoon.

This evening, I took advantage of his presence to wander around the outsides of the house-sit and spray the plants. Rain on St Swithin's Day notwithstanding, we seem to be settling in for the usual Victorian dry August.

I startled a rabbit that fled across the street into a more manicured garden. At about this time last year, I was engaged in the same activity when I spotted a rather majestic buck posing like a lawn ornament in the same garden where this year's bunny had high-tailed it. I stood and gazed at him from behind the tangle of BC native plants that make up this house-sit's garden (much to the annoyance of the well-manicured neighbours, I suspect), when an elderly lady, complete with full-length velour dressing gown, suddenly appeared in her doorway.

"Shoo!" she cried shrilly, clapping her hands imperiously. Majestic buck didn't budge.

"Shoo! Shoo!" she shouted again. Nothing. She vanished into the house and reappeared with a large pan and lid which she clanged vigorously.


The buck stood and gazed at her. She retreated, slamming her door. I stood for a few seconds more, decided the show was over, and didn't slam my door. Heaven only knows how long he stood there. He must have gotten hungry for her well-tended plants at some point.

A year later, I wrapped up the hose somewhat untidily. (I save the careful winding for the date of our departure which is two weeks in this case.) I happened to turn as I reached the top step, just in time to spot a large raccoon lolloping back from the same yard across the way. He headed straight into the garden I'd just finished spraying, and spotted me eying him. He seemed resolutely unconcerned, as most raccoons I've encountered are. I knew better than to follow him, and went back into the house. I did not slam the door.

(I took the above photo in another garden in another Victoria house-sit in 2009. He was just as unbudgeable.)

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Too bad, Greenland

 About a week ago, someone got ticked off at a block party in a suburb of Toronto and shot some people.  A few days later someone else decided a midnight movie premiere in Colorado would be a great place for target practice.  Elsewhere in the news, there's a crisis in Syria, and a truly frightening and sudden ice melt in Greenland.  Both these stories and many others have repercussions for the entire globe, but pages and pages, and hours and hours of news coverage are being devoted to these violent suburban incidents.

I'm not belittling their impact on hundreds of people, the relatives and loved ones of the slain, wounded and yes, even the murderers.  However, I don't think the obsessive attention to these events benefits anybody and indeed, increases the likelihood of more murders.  Why?  Because, judging from the number of hit "reality" TV shows, everyone wants to be famous, and blowing a bunch of people away (unless you happen to be in Syria) seems a really efficient way to do this.  Take a gander on this item from British journalist and screenwriter Charlie Brooker.  

Now, personally, I find Brooker's sarcastic comments a tad redundant, but I think the recommendations to the media made starting at the 1:42 mark in this video by forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz are worth repeating, particularly #2 (and I'd add "Avoid mentioning the name of the killer whenever possible."):

1.  "Don't start the story with the sirens blaring."
2.  "Don't have photographs of the killer."
3.  "Don't make this 24/7 coverage."
4.  "Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story."
5.  "Don't make the killer some kind of anti-hero."
6.  "Do localize this story to the affected community and make it as boring as possible in every other market . .  . ."

How likely are newspapers and news programmes likely to take this advice?  The answer is in the sixth point.  We're talking about a market.  They're selling this as news and we are gobbling it up.

Too bad, Greenland.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Lilacs in Russia

The new (well, slightly-used) version of Blogger offers a way of accessing statistics about your blog, and I gather that yesterday, after four and a half years as a blogger, I posted my 500th post-it note from Hades  -- albeit not in Hades at the time. 

I used to check my statistics regularly through a Google service.  It was a humbling experience, and when I lost the link after a virus mishap, I really didn't waste much time mourning.  Now, I find it interesting (and still damn humbling) to have a gander at my Blogger statistics whenever I'm participating in NaBloPoMo --- chiefly because my readership is up slightly at that time.

It's a wee bit mystifying as well.  Most of my hits are people searching for something else, usually an image.  I gather they stumble across my blog for a matter of seconds and move on in their pursuit of . . . .lilacs.  What's even stranger is that the vast majority of these lilac-seekers seem to be living in Russia.

If one of you Russian lilac-fans care to pause and tell me the significance of lilacs in the former Soviet Union (other than the fact that they seem to grow well there), I'd be delighted.

There are a lot of tricycle fans out there as well.  Also people looking for pictures of Charles and Diana, but I've known about you lot for years.  Time to move on, wouldn't you say?

Monday, 23 July 2012


Hummingbird by ngawangchodron
Hummingbird, a photo by ngawangchodron on Flickr.
"Hummingbirds" is a misnomer. The Anna's Hummingbirds that cluster in the ancient branches of one of the apple trees at this summer's house-sit don't hum, they whir, like something between a very small engine and a very large insect.

They also chirrup as they zoom high into the air, usually in pairs.

For days, I've been wondering what the clicking sound has been in the backyard, the sound of a distant old-fashioned typewriter. Last night, I was down by the compost, frantically harvesting the last of the raspberries which will vanish with July. I heard that surprisingly deep thrum, and looked up as a hummingbird whizzed past my left ear in a streak of green. It hung above my head, sliding sideways every few seconds as if it were a bead on an invisible abacus.

I've watched them through windows for many years here in Victoria, yet this was the first time that I realized: hummingbirds click.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Crossing the Emoticon

Yesterday, elder daughter posted a Facebook status regarding a week that has been rife with shootings, especially the mass ones at a block party in Toronto and a Batman premiere in Colorado:

"I wish all the guns would disappear."

Words seemed insufficient, so I posted an emoticon hug under her status. I checked it first and this is the one I chose:

({ })

According to several sites including chatslang.com, this is a variation of the common {} emoticon that represents a big hug; also the standard way to represent a hug on BlackBerry devices.

Early this morning, I found a text message waiting from elder daughter. It was gently put, although I could hear her eyes rolling from three times zones away: Hey Mum... Not sure what your comment on my recent status meant, but it's widely regarded as a vagina emoticon.

'Scuse me. A vagina emoticon??? Since when is a vagina an emotion? I did a quick check, feeling rather hesitant to type "vagina emoticon" into a search engine (though it might make a rather arresting name for an emo band...) and up came this, another one of those patronizing sites which suggests that anyone who has parented teenagers is, by definition, too stupid to use social media, or even computers, period.

It appears I'm not the first to make this gaffe. If you type the emoticon I posted at my elder daughter's Facebook wall into a Blackberry device, you will get something like this:

Shall we presume that someone at Blackberry has a sick sense of humour?

I went to my daughter's page at Facebook, deleted my comment (which I'm sure she had already hidden from her friends) and sent explanations by email and text.

Haha Love you, came the immediate reply.

I'll follow her example and just spell things out, shall I?

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Perambulatin' at the Paint-in

I've been making my way down to the annual Moss Street Paint-in nearly every summer for the past twenty years.  I used to take elder daughter when she was a little girl; one year, she made about half a dozen drawings ahead of time and presented them solemnly to selected artists along the several blocks between Fort Street and Dallas Road.  They were gravely and graciously accepted.

This year, I'm in the company of younger daughter, who enjoys the paintings and sculptures well enough, but enjoys the buskers and many dogs even more.  Moss Street is very much a residential street and all the kids who live along it are ready with lemonade and water stands, or band and orchestra instruments.  One small boy in a lemon-yellow shirt and bare feet, hollered soulfully and mostly on key, while a girl his age stood next to a music stand, either waiting her turn or ready to turn pages.

We started at Fairfield Road this year, making a tour of the Moss Street Market which is held each Saturday in the summer on the grounds of elder daughter's first elementary school.  Carrying a small bag of local German butter potatoes and munching on cupcakes, we turned south.  As you can see from the photo above, Moss Street is milling with strollers and it seems to be packed, but when you're in the in midst of it, there's actually plenty of room to breathe, stop, and look.

One of the first things that made me stop was this collage by Tricia Hodgins. It made me think of stained glass windows, and Demeter.  Sweet peas are her favourite.  You can see more of what Ms Hodgins does at her web site.

When I'm at any art exhibit, indoors or out, I usually let myself wander and see if something calls to me.  A few blocks farther, I found myself moving toward an extraordinary painting that exuded movement and the city of Victoria itself.  I recognised the viewpoint as being westward down Fort Street towards the water of the Inner Harbour.  The buildings lean in as a woman dressed in a style that reminds me of the thirties (not that I was ever there) walks a rather proud small dog north.  I can tell by the shadows that it's mid-to-late morning.

The other paintings were equally vibrant and whimsical (younger daughter loved a trio featuring a biking rabbit, a hula-hooping cat, and a pogo-sticking dog), and all had titles except my thirties dog-walking lady.  I suspected that this was because the painting had a buyer.  I found Linny D. Vine's blog, and discovered that the painting is called "Downtown Spot".   You can see it here. If you explore the blog, you'll see a lot more, including the paintings younger daughter liked.

The Paint-in features over one hundred and fifty artists, and I've yet to make it through the whole thing.  After a while, the steady use of all five senses and the odd fact that walking slowly is more tiring than striding purposefully takes its toll.  I could feel younger daughter switching off somewhere past Faithful Street.  Time to escape up Cook Street and field questions about our stickers.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Mullet to the brain

It may be a Friday night, but I never was much of a party animal. I want to get to bed, and there's today's post to submit to NaBloPoMo, so here's another cheat: one of the Can/Con tunes I was considering for my Canada Day post.

This one screams "Vancouver in summer!" to me, although I doubt you'll find that many mullets there these days. (I sure hope not.) I like the guy in the truck trying to ruin the shot:

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The memory that won't be included

I've always thought of myself of being invisible.

I wonder now if that's quite true. I may be something rather worse: omnipresent. Somewhere near the end of my undergraduate years, a friend was searching for me at a party. Every person she met said, "Oh, she's here somewhere..."
But I wasn't. I hadn't been invited.

I've had people tell me I've been to school with them since Grade One. I was in Edmonton in Grade One and didn't come to Victoria until the beginning of Grade Four. Furthermore, I transferred to another elementary school for Grade Six and it has been alumni of this second school who are most likely to "remember" me as always being there, even though there's no way they could have a memory of me at age six.

That's me, I guess. Ubiquitous. Every now and then I get a breath-taking glimpse of just how insignificant I am in someone else's life.

Well, we can't be important to everybody. Unless we're fabulously powerful, or popular, or famous. I suspect no one fitting that description is reading this blog. You'd be too busy off somewhere being in demand. (I have, for the record, experienced fleeting periods of being in demand. It was exhausting.)

Today, I sat in a coffee shop with a friend I haven't seen for eight years. We had a lot of catching up to do about our own lives, but also recounting our separate experiences of the death of a mutual friend five years ago. She was our contemporary, and my friend is very close to the young daughters who lost their mother while still very small and, in their teens, are finding it harder and harder to remember.

She wants to put together a book of memories featuring stories and pictures from various schoolmates, colleagues and friends. I agreed enthusiastically; this is right up my alley, and I am still in regular contact with those of us who went to high school and university together.

With tears in her eyes, my friend told me of how her life had fallen apart after the death, of how she couldn't bear to see the same people I see almost every year when I return to Victoria to see Demeter. That has included me up until now, I guess.

"I hadn't realized how much I depended on her to keep me in the circle," she said.

As we talked further, I found myself considering how to collect what was needed for her memory book. I took many pictures back then; those will need to be uploaded when I get back to Hades and my diaries should have several anecdotes in them that I can share.

One story I'll be keeping to myself, but it's what comes to mind whenever I hear the name of this long-lamented mother and friend.

She happened to be on the same bus one weekend when I was traveling to Vancouver for one of my Masters in Education seminars. I was delighted to see her because I hadn't had much of an opportunity since graduation. She had gone to two remote BC communities to teach, working her way slowly into seniority and back to Victoria.

As I got ready for my stop which was one of the ones before the bus depot, I told her that she must come to dinner sometime.

"Oh, you don't need to keep inviting me to dinner," she laughed as I shouldered my bag. "We've really only ever been campus casual."

As I staggered down the aisle and tumbled out the bus, it was only partially due to the weight of my luggage. I'd known her for years, considered her a friend. It can be startling to learn how little you mean to a person. I suppose she thought she was being kind. She could be very kind; even after this, we shared a child-birthing class for both our second daughters, she gave the party when I left for Hades (although, come to think of it, our departure was not the reason), and invited me to her house whenever I came back to Victoria.

No, I'll skip that story for her daughters' memory book. I was never as close a friend as my companion in the coffee shop this morning, but there is a certain advantage of being the one on the periphery, the one that is always there and not always seen nor thought of. An omnipresent person is the observer, the storyteller.

Omnipresent like God, who, come to think of it, is also invisible. However God is also omnipotent and immortal, so that's where the comparison falls down.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The oncoming storm

I locked the door late that sunny afternoon, and as younger daughter and I headed out into the street, noticed for the first time that there was a wall of dark grey closing off the eastern horizon.

That's all right, I told myself. I felt the breeze on my cheeks as we turned west. That meant the storm was blowing east, surely.

As we approached the Dairy Queen, a twenty-minute down-hill trot, I noticed that the clouds appeared to be keeping pace with us, rumbling all the while. Still, the sun shone brightly, so brightly that younger daughter and I took seats well inside the restaurant.

By the time we finished our meals and got up to order our ice creams, we noticed that it was raining outside. I had not brought umbrellas. We decided to eat our desserts inside, in hopes the rain would subside.

It did, after a fashion, and a bus came immediately. At our home stop, the rain-drops were still almost dodge-able. We hurried the final few blocks. Younger daughter was the first to spot the lightening forks. I counted off after the flashes -- just a few seconds. Too close. As we got in the door, it got very dark, I hurried to the other side of the house and could see the storm sweeping in a diagonal line across Oak Bay towards us.
Gee, we're high up, I thought, noting the reason that I had such a great view was because I could see over the tree-tops below the house.

Four hours later, as the storm continued rumbling overhead, another thought occurred to me, and I started the search for candles in this house-sit. I placed them, with matches, at the end of the dining room table where I could feel for them if necessary.

It wasn't, but the flashes continued into the early hours of the morning.

(This happened last Friday, but it was only today that I found a coffee shop with strong enough WiFi to upload the pictures from my laptop online.)

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Not today (not even this year and kind of not here)

Today (which is not today because my blog is set to Eastern Daylight Time and it's still yesterday here in Victoria) was like this. I took this five years ago, standing on the edge of Beacon Hill Park and shooting in the direction of the Olympic Mountains in Washington State. So it's sort of a shot of Canada and the United States at the same time, and I really need to get to bed.

Monday, 16 July 2012

If thou dost rain

Yesterday (well, the day before yesterday in Hades -- Victoria is three time zones behind) was St Swithin's Day, and for the first time that I can recall, it rained in Victoria.

See, I used to be an ESL instructor and I taught in the summer programme at the local university.  The vast majority of my students were Qu├ębecois, taking advantage of summer language bursaries, a legacy of the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau. 

Every year, for the first two weeks of July, I'd listen to them complain about how cold it was.  I'd smile patiently and say, "This happens every summer.  Just wait until the 15th, and we'll have a hot, dry spell that will last until the end of August.  Then I'd explain that July 15th was St Swithin's Day, and recite the old rhyme:

St. Swithin's Day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin's Day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mair.

I think I skipped the "dost" and "mair" stuff to save my breath.  

During my fifth year of teaching, one of my more advanced students mentioned this to the monitors of the programme, undergraduate students whose job was to plan the non-academic portion of the summer programme and shepherd the students around, rather like camp counsellors.  She reported to me later that they looked at her in bewilderment.

"Who told you this?" they inquired suspiciously.
"Well, Persephone," she replied, and she swore they all responded in perfect chorus:  "Oh, if Persephone said it, it must be true!"  It was then I realized I had a reputation of sorts.  Probably for being a smart-ass.

Anyway, it rained in Victoria on St Swithin's Day, so by rights, it should have rained today and for thirty-eight more tomorrows.  It didn't, but Environment Canada is promising cooler temperatures.  Yes, and a bit of rain here and there, which is fine by me.  I can almost hear the howls of protest from the Qu├ębecois on the university campus.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Tell me about the rabbits, George

I took a Master's degree in Education back in my pre-child days. One of my fellow students was an older American with a twinkle in his eye and the unlikely name of Auberry Penn (not his real name, of course, but trust me, his actual name was just as unlikely). Another fellow student who had grown up in the States told me she was expecting a tall African-American, not a medium-sized roly-poly white fellow with spectacles. Often, when the conversation lagged, Auberry would smile gently.

"Tell me about the rabbits, George," he'd say.

I was thinking about Auberry yesterday afternoon when I took younger daughter to see the Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre's version of Of Mice and Men. After all, Auberry was named after a small town in California. The McPherson Theatre is full of memories for me as it is. I've seen countless plays and concerts there, even a hypnotist.

I also have a history with Of Mice and Men. Like many North Americans, I first read it in my teens, except in my case, it wasn't required reading. (The Red Pony was.) I was just into Steinbeck. It's clear and uncluttered reading, well-suited to adolescents. Later, I saw televised versions and heard radio plays. So I figured I knew what I was getting into.

The Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre's production is also uncluttered and streamlined. When you enter the theatre, you see a lone tree at twilight, hearing the night sounds of rural California. You pass the sign on the which warns theatre-goers about pistol shots, dry ice, and "inflammatory language". The company has been getting feedback about the use of the "n-word", common enough in 1930s American culture but shocking to twenty-first century Canadian ears. The fella at the box office also told me that people were upset about the death of Candy's (played by Brian Linds) dog. I looked at him pointedly as he handed me my tickets.
"People need to get their priorities straight." The guy grinned and nodded.

What we saw was strong ensemble acting, and superlative performances from the leads: a touching but not overdone Lenny from Gary Farmer, and a protective and desperate George (the impressive David Ferry) who swings between patience and frustration, fury and resignation.

What was new to me was the back-story of Curly's wife (we never learn her name), played by Samatha Richard. Her original vicious knee-jerk racism toward Crooks, the crippled black stable hand who is barred from the bunkhouse (played by Laurence Dean Hill), has been removed from this version of the play, and we hear a long tale of loneliness and a naive longing for stardom which lifts her somewhat from the simplistic role of femme fatale in which Steinbeck cast her so long ago.

Things hurtled towards disaster. In the closing moments, George tells Lenny about the rabbits once more, and for the first time, after so many readings, viewings, hearings of this story, I found myself weeping. A great deal of this could be attributed to the skill of the actors, many of whom had impressive CVs. However, it's also been many years since I was a teenager. This time, I saw men yearning not so much for what they don't have, but what they have lost: homes, family, safety, security. And it's George's desperate need to shield Lenny that leads to a heartbreaking decision. No teenager should understand loss that well; those that do have not been protected enough. Eventually, we grow beyond protection, ready or not.

At the curtain call, I stood, clapped, tried to wipe my eyes discreetly.
"That was a bit sad," observed younger daughter as we made our way out into the sunshine. A Mexican band played in Centennial Square; tiny children cavorted on the stage while several couples danced some pretty complex salsa. Younger daughter and I laughed delightedly and walked on.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

They never met

I have two posts in process, but I'm running out of time for today. (By the way, if the dates for this NaBloPoMo seem screwy, it's because my blog is on Hades time - EDT - while Victoria is on Pacific Daylight Time, so although I'm completing my daily post before midnight, if it's after 9 pm, it will be date-stamped for the next day on my blog.)

Tonight, I hastily offer a rarity. This Martin Mull duet (I'm afraid I don't know the name of the lady) appeared on the Michael Nesmith summer variety show "Television Parts", back in the day when they had summer replacement series.

In the eighties, Nesmith (yes, formerly of The Monkees) was a video pioneer, and "Television Parts" grew out of his video show "Elephant Parts". I believe Micky Dolenz, also a former Monkee, was one of the directors for the TV show.

I love the loopy lyrics of this ditty:

They never met, not even briefly.
I know you were thinking they might,
But they never met; the problem was chiefly
That she worked the day shift and he worked the night.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Bedside manners

Demeter was determined that I should attend last Sunday's service at the First Unitarian Church of Victoria. The focus was to be The Bedside Singers, a group of Victoria Hospice volunteers who (when invited) gather in dying patients' rooms to sing them whatever they require and desire. A bonus for me, aside from the fact that I was a volunteer at the Hospice for some years before we left Victoria in 2000, was that I know two of the Bedside Singers quite well, although I hadn't heard of the group which was formed after my departure.

I enjoyed the service enormously, and when I approached them afterwards, the singers told me they'd seen me nodding in recognition of the things they were saying. I, in turn, told them the story of one of the two deaths for which I was present at Hospice.

See, when a patient is near death, you generally go fetch the nurses who usually know the patient and the family better than a volunteer who is only on the unit for three hours once a week. However, after children, I had to take weekend shifts which were quieter, as the administrative and counseling staff and the doctors had gone home. There seemed to be fewer nurses, too, although that can't have been right. One Saturday morning, I was asked to shave a non-responsive gentleman whose partner was on her way in. It was an electric razor, so although I had never shaved anyone before, I set to, softly telling the fellow what I was doing, because we were trained to never assume a patient can't hear.

He stopped breathing shortly before his partner arrived, and about half an hour after I shaved him, I hastily add. The nurse asked me to wait with him while they waylaid the lady to tell her the news. She soon came in, and I introduced myself briefly, asking if she'd like some time alone.

At that very minute, the gentleman breathed in with a noisy gasp. His partner and I nearly leapt into each other's arms. She hurried to his side, and I waited for the next breath. Which didn't come.

The lady looked up at me in tearful triumph.
"He waited for me!"

So, as deaths go, that one was remarkably untraumatic. Still, it's a solemn and unsettling thing to be present at a fellow human being's exit, so I phoned the Resident Fan Boy to warn him, and he was waiting for me at the door when I came home.

"It's a strange feeling," I told him. "It's only the second death I've been at...and the first fellow I ever shaved...."

The Resident Fan Boy could not resist. Striking a melodramatic pose, he warbled: ♪He went to his Maker impeccably shaved!♪

If you don't consider this in bad taste (the Resident Fan Boy has a rather dark sense of humour), here's the reference. (If you do, perhaps you'd better avert your eyes):

Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd
His skin was pale, his eye was odd
He shaved the faces of gentlemen
Who never thereafter were heard of again...
He trod a path that few had trod
Did Sweeney Todd
The demon barber of Fleet Street

He kept a shop in London town
of fancy clients, and good renown.
And what if none of their souls were saved?
They went to their maker impeccably shaved
By Sweeney,
By Sweeney Todd
The demon barber of Fleet Street

Swing your razor wide, Sweeney!
Hold it to the skies!
Freely flows the blood of those who moralize...

His needs were few, his room was bare.
A lavabo and a fancy chair.
A mug of suds and a leather strop
an apron, a towel, a pail and a mop.
For neatness he deserves a nod,
does Sweeney Todd,
the demon barber of Fleet Street

Inconspicuous, Sweeney was
Quick, and quiet, and clean he was.
Back of his smile
Under his word
Sweeney heard music that nobody heard.

Sweeney pondered and Sweeney planned
Like a perfect machine he planned
Sweeney was smooth
Sweeney was subtle
Sweeney would blink and rats would scuttle...

Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd.
He served a dark and a vengeful god.
What happened then? Well that's the play,
And he wouldn't want us to give it away...

Not Sweeney...
Not Sweeney Todd....

The Demon Barber of Fleet...Street...

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Bacon burger

When we come to Victoria, there are boxes to tick. Some years ago, I made a little list of homesickness, things I dream about during the long winters, khaki springs, and oppressive summers of Ottawa.

Today, I led younger daughter through Beacon Hill Park, through the layers of memories that rest over Victoria for me, like February drifts when we have a snowy winter in Ottawa. I saw the ducks lined up on the old log, but didn't have my camera with me, so I've "borrowed" this photo by Madeleine Holland (who evidently had her camera last week). There was also quite a line-up of photographers catching the same image today.

I told younger daughter about having elder daughter on a harness, because she'd plunge towards the ducks, whatever the weather.

"You didn't care for the harness, did you?"
"No," she agreed gravely, and we went on past the flower-beds which I remember being empty during the drought of 2001, and how they were "planted" with lights for that one evening of Luminara that year. Luminara, alas, died two years ago, after a dozen years of music, dancing and home-made lanterns. Ironically, someone got inspired by the festival not long ago and brought it to Ottawa where it still thrives.

On the bridge over the lily pond, a trio of girls squirmed on their bellies with sticks trying to secure a water lily for themselves. We stepped around them and made our way past the enormous water kettle that replaced the grubby wading pool where I used to skin my toes when I was a girl.

We finally reached today's box to tick -- Beacon Drive-in, which has been serving soft ice cream to park wanderers since the dawn of time. Younger daughter tucked contentedly into chicken fingers while I had my first bacon burger in - oh - about twenty years, I should think. Younger daughter gazed in pleasure across the street, and when I asked what had made her smile, she replied: "Nothing. Just enjoying the day."

We got our soft ice cream cones and strolled back through the park by another path.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


At the end of our first full day of this year`s house-sit, I went out to retrieve our laundry from the line, and suddenly remembered that our hosts had asked me to turn off the soaker system in their vegetable garden.

It was my first time descending through the garden, my head almost reeling from the scent of the honeysuckle which I know will have gone by August. However, it`s still early July and in Victoria, this means:

Ohhhh. Raspberries. Dozens and dozens of them, hanging like jewels, dragging the branches of the bushes to the ground. I ran back inside, grabbing containers and re-emerging with younger daughter.

"See the ones that almost purple?" I told her. "Pull them gently; if they`re ready, they will come easily."

And for fifteen minutes in the setting sun, we plucked warm, squishy clusters. I lifted leaves and kept finding more and more. When we had about three cups`worth, we retreated, leaving the crimson ones to ripen.

Raspberries and Island Farm ice cream for dessert. I've been dreaming of this all through the Hadean winter.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Walk on

When I'm feeling stressed, injured, sad, or furious during my yearly sojourn, the Resident Fan will tell me (usually by long distance from Hades): "At least you're miserable in Victoria."

Okay, so I'm in Victoria. And I'm miserable. Never mind why, if I find the courage, I will find the words and the way. A new way.

In the meantime, someone has been kind enough to post this hard-to-find version of "New Way to Walk" from Sesame Street. This features the dancing of Savion Glover (whom I was lucky enough to see perform in Ottawa the winter before last ---naturally I never got around to blogging about it) and Bill Irwin, among others. It takes me back to when my daughters were young children, and we lived on a leafy street two blocks from my mother.
I will find a new way to walk. It will probably help that I'm in Victoria, however temporarily. And I'm house-sitting now, so blogging will be easier, whether I'm happy or not.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Trailing clouds of deception

For some reason, the WiFi at my favourite coffee shop in the Cook Street Village neighbourhood of Victoria is working just fine this morning -- I didn't even have to sign in! Should I be worried?

House-sit starts tomorrow so, shivering a little in the cool shade of the patio this cloudless July morning, I'm "place-holding" with a couple of examples from another sort of YouTube meme --- making trailers that completely mislead you about the film genre:

Suppose, for example, (given the fact that everyone was mourning Nora Ephron last week) that Sleepless in Seattle wasn't a romantic comedy?

Or, if you want to go in the totally opposite direction:

That's my particular favourite, even though it seems to be deliberately designed to con some poor innocent who's been living under a rock to thinking they'd be renting a sweet little film about growing up.

Like all memes, the quality varies widely, but there's some fun to be had here if you have time to spare. Which I don't. 'Bye.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The little goose girl

This is one of the photos I took Friday which I could not get off my laptop onto Demeter's PC. I'm at the local Starbucks. Unlike my favoured coffee shop across the street; they have fabulous WiFi and you don't even need to log on. So I'm selling my soul to show this picture; I hope you appreciate it.

It's younger daughter encountering a gaggle of Canada geese as she paddles at Willows Beach in Victoria at twilight.

Saturday, 7 July 2012


Between my slow recovery from jet lag, and a reduction in privacy (Demeter doesn't have WiFi, so I'm forced to use her PC), I'm finding daily posting for Nablopomo more of a challenge than usual. My house-sit, which begins on Tuesday, has ditched their eighties computer for a new model. They don't have WiFi either, but I will have more time and privacy, so I'm making do with place-holders until then.

I have neither the fame nor a popular enough blog to have haters of the calibre featured here, but this is an amusing response to a group with way too much time and privacy --- and anonymity (oh gawd, is that spelled correctly?):

Friday, 6 July 2012

Photo Finished

I took photos this evening, and downloaded them, for the every first time, to my laptop. I edited them and saved them as attachments. Alas, there is no way I can post them tonight because Demeter does not have WiFi. I give up.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Back in the realm of Demeter

It's past 11 pm in Hades, but only after eight o'clock here in Victoria. The sun sets later because Victoria is several latitudes further north than Ottawa, and the green of Vancouver Island is deeper and darker. The Resident Fan Boy, reached by phone, tells me that there's a heat and humidity warning for Hades tomorrow.

I just may laugh myself to sleep.

Out tomorrow in search of BC strawberries and raspberries.

But no pomegranates. I only have six weeks with my mother as it is...

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Literary England

This nifty poster appeared on a distant cousin's Facebook page. I saved it to my computer to get a better look at it, and this turned out to be a fortunate thing, because the item suddenly disappeared from the said cousin's page. Copyright? Do you think I'll get a warning? I think it's from Waterstone's, a bookshop we don't have here in Canada.

Anyway, before this disappeared, the cousin remarked that Charles Dickens did not appear to be on it, and I think she may be right; I checked Southampton where he was born and Chatham where he was a small boy, and he doesn't appear to be in the London area at all, which is odd when you consider this year is the 200th anniversary of his birth. I also failed to find Oscar Wilde in Dublin, where I expected, but he's there, evidently in the Reading area where he spent the last years of his imprisonment, so I guess that works.

I was going to write about something else, but I'm packing for the trip to Victoria. (I hate packing.) I'm tired and I want to go to bed. So I hope this will enlarge for you if you click on it, but if it doesn't, I'm too bushed to do anything about it. God give you goodnight.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Chair wars at Agincourt

(Photo: Andrew Alexander)

I dread festival seating anywhere , but particularly in Hades.  It's a competitive city and this spills over into their arts scene.  The Resident Fan Boy says this reaches its epitome during the annual summertime Chamber Music Festival where patrons will line up for hours to acquire a painful pew (concerts are usually in churches) a shade closer to front and centre.

So, last evening, the RFB, elder daughter, younger daughter and I set off with two camp chairs and a large blanket, so that daughters could sit at the improvised footlights near the makeshift stage while their parents sat in relative comfort a bit further back.  A fast-and-loose interpretation of Shakespeare's Henry V by the Company of Fools was in the offing.  We'd been looking forward to it for weeks, and for the past four summers, have had no problems with the seating arrangements, which are first come, furthest forward; blankets in front of camp chairs.

Two little wrinkles, though.  This was the only presentation we could see of the production before younger daughter and I depart for Victoria and it was opening night. ( Those were not the wrinkles; we usually attend opening night for much the same reason.)  The show fell, unusually, on a holiday Monday because Canada Day fell on a Sunday, which meant we were dealing with Sunday schedule buses which, in turn, meant we arrived at Strathcona Park in Sandy Hill about forty minutes before showtime.  So, for the first time, we found ourselves with the opportunity of setting up our chairs in the front row.  Directly ahead of us was the swathe of lawn designed for those willing to sit on blankets, a long string demarcating the performance area.  Two Adirondack chairs were front and centre behind the "blanket zone"; these were festooned with crepe and  a length of bungee cord was spread on the ground in front of them with the ends curving around the sides.  A bit confused, I sought out a volunteer to direct us where to set up, thinking the pair of thrones might also indicate where an aisle was to be, as has happened sometimes in the Camosun College Summer Shakespeare in Victoria.

No, the volunteer assured us, there would be no centre aisle and we were welcome to set up our chairs in line with the "VIP seating", leaving the space in front for people who would be seated on the ground.  We settled in, but not before shoving our chairs over to accommodate a lady who also wanted to sit in the front row.  We read our programmes and Scott Florence, one of the Fools' founders, directed camp-chair-sitters further back on our extreme right to move closer in and a form a semi circle.

Things were hunky-dory until the volunteers became occupied elsewhere, and a rather perma-pressed family of three bearing three royal blue camp-chairs set up in the blanket zone on the extreme left.  The RFB and I noted them uneasily, but they were, I guess, far enough to the left to not excite comment.  Shortly afterwards, a well-groomed couple showed up with regal red camp chairs and lined them up with the royal blue camp chairs.  Someone questioned this, but the very blonde lady loudly announced that the blue bungee cord was clearly only meant to pick out the VIP chairs.  This was the signal for an elderly lady seated a row back to move her chair directly in front of the VIP chairs.  This was too much for the woman on our right who had been discussing the emerging situation indignantly with the RFB.  She scurried off in search of a volunteer, who returned, and gently got the new line of chairs to move back --- but only a few inches, and still firmly in front of the chairs that had been there first.

Now a middle-age couple strode in and set up their small wooden collapsible chairs smack-dab ahead of the Resident Fan Boy and me.  We knew swift action was needed.

"Excuse us," we said firmly, with some support from the indignant woman next to us.  "We were told to put our chairs back here; that area is designated for blankets."
 Wooden collapsible lady looked at us in disbelief, her confusion, no doubt, not helped by the half row of camp-chairs to our left.
"These are very small chairs," she protested.
We persisted and the couple backed down and set up over to the right, directly in front of some other people who had arrived earlier, but didn't care to press the point.  It was true the couple's chairs were small, what are called "low profile" by those who sell them, but I noticed the lady's head was at the same level of those behind her; she was rather statuesque.  I still think they were being rather unfair to the people who had gone through the trouble to come earlier, but no doubt they were quietly discussing how unreasonable we were being.

A trio of older people set up their blanket at the feet of  the Resident Fan Boy and Indignant Woman.  They apologised for sitting there, if you please.  The Resident Fan Boy assured them that they were in the right spot and Indignant Woman added mischievously:  "We've been waiting for you..."

I don't enjoy standing up for myself, so my nerves were still jangling when the play began. I was worried that the pre-show drama would overshadow the play itself, which began when a man climbed into a chest in the stage, begged us not to give him away and disappeared as a quartet of giggling women, also dressed in sky-blue golf-shirts and plaid Bermudas ran up and looked at us questioningly. 
"He's in the chest," called a quisling from the crowd, and when they gingerly lifted the lid, the man sprang up like a jack-in-the-box and proclaimed:  "O, for a muse of fire..."

The play had begun, one of William Shakespeare's history plays (which have more to do with propaganda than history), and the five actors, four sock puppets, and one talking stuffed bear took on more than twenty-five parts to tell the story of the warrior king Henry the Five and the Battle of Agincourt, through songs, nursery rhymes, swordplay, cross-dressing, puppetry, and in the true tradition of Shakespearean theatre, really, really bad accents.  We knew the French were the French because they had pretty hats and accused us of smelling of elderberries.  We knew Fluellen was Welsh because he (well, she) had a large leek drawn on his (her) chest. We figured out that MacMorris was Irish through geographical references and frankly, I'm not sure what Captain Gower was supposed to be because I couldn't place his/her accent. (Captain Jamy is supposed to be the Scots officer but didn't seem to get a look-in in this version.  For what it's worth, I think the accents were bad on purpose....)

So how do you make Henry the Fifth palatable, accessible, and even a wee bit comprehensible to an audience that ranges from preschoolers to people who have been alive a long time?  The Fools use humour whenever possible and for them, that's most of the time.  The result was indeed very funny, sometimes unexpectedly touching, and occasionally surreal.  For example, when the trio of traitors Cambridge, Grey and Scrope were executed for their treachery, they helpfully hanged themselves by raising the nooses over their heads and leaning a little, and singing "The Big Ship Sails on the Alli-alli-o".  The murder of the pages was shown through the dismemberment of the stuffed bear puppet, done in a cartoon-like fashion so that the children in the audience would have no doubt that this is play-acting.  But the reaction of King Henry to the slaughter was not drained of  grief and horror and when the remains of the puppet were tenderly put in a tiny black coffin and borne away with a mournful song, it was genuinely sad.

Margo MacDonald, a co-founder of A Company of Fools, played Henry absolutely straight and the stirring speeches "Once more into the breach..." and "We happy few" were just that, enthralling.  Perhaps her biggest challenge was the courtship scene in which she wooed Simon Bradshaw, the sole male cast-member who was decked out in ringlets and clearly channeling Lucy Van Peldt.

By the end of the play, all seating silliness was forgotten and loud cheering ensued. The caps were passed and I made sure our contribution matched the fun we'd had on a rather lovely summer evening in a beautiful park seeing a play that was, after all, not that far from Shakespeare intended.
That's what I'd like to think, anyway.

And the VIPs?  They turned out to be nice people.  The wife was a prize-winning journalist, so, in the line-up for free ice cream,  her proud husband promoted her, and I madly promoted elder daughter and.... 

Gee, I've been in Ottawa too long.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Boom went the moon

In the years since I came to Hades, it's been my custom to slip out of the house close to ten o'clock on the evening of Canada Day and wander down my street in the odd afterglow of the summer sun. Peering down the street, between buildings, I can see the upper half of the fireworks show that blazes behind Parliament Hill over the Ottawa River to the north-west of our New Edinburgh neighbourhood.

Some years ago, one of younger daughter's "guardian angels" mentioned that a good place to see fireworks is from the vantage point of Stanley Park which occupies the left bank of the Rideau River just before it tumbles into the larger Ottawa River in a curtain of water (hence the name "rideau").

Finding myself short a few steps on my daily pedometer minimum, I resolved to see if this were true. The day had been hot, but not particularly humid (unusual for Hades in the summer), and the evening air was as comfortable as a second skin. I made my way through the streets of New Edinburgh, making out  silhouettes against the not-quite-dark sky, shadows of those atop the taller apartment buildings waiting for the pyrotechnics. I heard the popping and crackling of firecrackers from the nearby streets, and as I passed two young men who had just shackled their bikes to a dark veranda, they tossed the first of two small fireworks into the air behind me, startling me with a showering of blue and green embers.

As I got closer to the park, I was joined by more and more pedestrians walking in the same direction. Just as my feet hit the grass leading to the riverside path, the first explosion boomed ahead and the sky glowed scarlet. Immediately I heard shouts and shrieks and tall pale figures pelted from the street toward the river while smaller white figures raced in the exact opposite direction. Younger kids startled by the noise, I supposed, and perhaps drunk on the excitement of being out after dark.

I picked up my pace, my view obscured by the thick foliage of the river bank. Soon I reached the paved section opposite the tennis courts where several family groups had set up camp chairs while younger ones sat on the cement edge and dangled their feet over the river. I could have pushed farther in to the open area near Sussex Drive where I suspect young Jared Young took the above photo in 2009. (I suspect he's young; how many people over the age of 25 are named Jared?) However, I'm not a fan of crowds and this grouping was small and civilized. I planted myself behind a woman slightly shorter than myself and peered through a triangle made by the limbs and trunks of a birch tree: blossoming balls of twinkle, showers of sparkle, and, new this year, odd sideways umbrellas of glitter.  Appreciative gasps and murmurs all around.

The river was like glass. Every time there was a boom, the full moon hanging over the opposite bank seemed to echo it. I half expected to see it burst into a million bright shards. Sitting with her back to the brilliance, a young woman checked her text messages.

The fireworks rarely last longer than twenty minutes, so I retraced my steps in order to beat the stampede back to the cars. I passed a boy on a bench, shielded from the show by huge beeches. He too was engrossed in his phone.

As I came to where I had entered the park, I remembered I had seen the first fireworks reflected in the bend of the river. Even now there was still someone sliding carefully down the rocks to the river's edge where a dozen people were perched precariously. I peered through the leaves at the final large bursts of light, doubled by the almost perfectly still waters of the Rideau.

Even as I hurried back into the side streets, I could see a long line of recreational vehicles joining the line-up along Crichton Street to wait for the traffic light at the intersection leading either to St Patrick's Bridge or the Vanier Parkway. I looked up and noticed that the moon was now muffled by mackerel clouds, booming no more.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Crooning the medium

I have discussed the rather surreal experience of Canada Day in the Nation's Capital in this blog before. It's been four years, so little has changed. The flags go up about three weeks before the holiday, and today, everyone -- I mean everyone -- is dressed in red and white. Luckily, both the Accent Snob's harness and leash are scarlet, though I did attach a maple leaf button for emphasis.

I thought it would be fun to take a little tour through Canadian popular music in honour of the day, but there's actually a helluva lot of great Canadian music, so I'm limiting it to five songs I rather like and the only connecting theme (aside from their "Canadian-ness") is geography; each artist comes from a different region of our rather large country.

Let's start with someone with roots in the seventies, Gino Vanelli from Montreal, who had a number of rather overproduced hits featuring his huge mane and equally hairy chest. By the 1980s, he had pared down his locks and sound. His chest hair is still very visible, but he evidently lost it for his alter-ego; the woman who drives in (literally) to this gay bar is also Vanelli. Well, he was a very pretty man. Also straight, from what I can tell.

Next, with one international hit ("Echo Beach"), come Toronto's Martha and the Muffins. If you don't live in Canada, you'll probably never have heard any of their other songs. This one was a hit in Canada and a salute to Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan:
Marshall McLuhan, you may recall, had a cameo in Annie Hall:
My question is, if films are supposed to be a hot medium and television is a cool medium, what happens when you watch Annie Hall on television?

Sorry. Where was I?

Ah the West Coast! Barney Bentall was born in Toronto and grew up in Calgary, but this song sounds like the West Coast to me, and indeed, the Legendary Hearts did come out of Vancouver:
I love this song, so you can imagine how disappointed I was to hear Madison Violet's recent cover of it, which changes "Bobby" to "Joanie". Madison Violet is a perfectly talented duo, capable of writing their own decent songs. They should have left this one alone. You can listen to their version here, if you'd like tips on how to suck the life out and blunt the edges of a classic.

Moving on.

This song, by the ridiculously pretty Chantal Kreviazuk who was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, pulls me back to 1999, the year before we left Victoria:

Is she as pretty as Gino Vanelli?

To finish off, let's go to the East Coast where elder daughter spends most of her year, so let's make it a relatively current number from Joel Plaskett, born in Lunenberg and raised in Halifax. This video screams "Nova Scotia!!" at me, and I just love this song:

Nothing from the territories or Newfoundland, I'm afraid, there's great music there, but I'm running out of time. Fireworks at Capital Hill in about half an hour, and if I trot down to the right street, I'll get a glimpse of the larger and higher ones.