Saturday, 28 December 2013

Sleep well, thou child of God

Exactly five years ago, on another Holy Innocents' Day, I was discussing the carol "The Band of Children" which I remembered from one of those strange gem-like Christmas specials which I've never seen again and can't find any reference on the Internet for. It was an animated special in which six carols were illustrated while an actor read the lyrics with the tune playing in the background.

A couple of weeks ago, a gent going by the handle of "maple servo" was kind enough to attach a comment to that original post, directing me to YouTube, where someone has finally made The Christmas Messenger available. The "Band of Children" begins about two minutes and twenty seconds into the clip:

I had completely forgotten that Richard Chamberlain was in this, possibly because this interpretation of "The Band of Children" was really the only thing that stayed with me. (Although the "I Saw Three Ships" is rather charming.)

Thank-you, "mapleservo". You've made my Fourth Day of Christmas.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Merry Third Day of Christmas

We hope to get into the Museum of Civilization History to see an exhibit or two over the holidays - ask elder daughter for her rant on what she views as a tautology.

Wouldn't it be lovely if the nights of the twelve days of Christmas were much as this clever imagining of a Christmas night in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford?

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Down in flames

Well, I almost made it. Christmas Day was going great and all I had to do was glaze and bake the tourtière, and steam the plum pudding in the double-boiler while listening to The Bells of Dublin.

Just before I vanished into the kitchen, word came through that our internet connection was down. No particular panic, because Sympatico (our beloved [cough,wheeze] service-provider) has been known to go on the fritz now and then. I was mildly concerned that this had happened on Christmas Day which might mean waiting through Boxing Day for things to be set right, but on the other hand, this is Ottawa, a city with enough computers to raise a fuss.

By the time we were enjoying our Christmas dinner, the Resident Fan Boy had phoned the service line and been informed that the connection had probably been lost due to the "extreme weather". This made us a little more uneasy, as Hades had had a sunny day, cold, but no colder than we're used to at this time of year. Toronto, Montreal, and points west of the former and east of the latter had had an ice storm and massive power outages, but we'd been spared.

Every year, I attempt to flame the plum pudding. I seem to succeed roughly every other year. This year, I'd been watching "life-hack" videos, and picked up the tip about lighting tricky-to-reach things (like, say, the candle deep within a jack o' lantern, or the warmed brandy surrounding a plum pudding) with a piece of spaghetti. Well, it worked a treat, but the kitchen lights were so bright, that it took me a few moments to notice the blue flames. I hurried out to the table, switched off the dining room light and the family watched it glow and flicker. And flicker and glow. And glow and flicker. After a minute or so, I sauntered over to pick up my camera, switched it on, took off the lens cap and waited about thirty seconds for the shutter to close. Then we watched the pudding some more.

By the time the flames went out, elder daughter had checked her phone and informed us that we appeared to be the sole household in the neighbourhood without internet. This started a long phone call with some Sympatico IT guy trouble-shooting. I went to bed while elder daughter, who has, of course, assignments dependent on internet access, and the RFB continued to struggle with installing a different modem.

So, it's just as well I didn't sign up for Nablopomo this month. I may write a few more December posts anyway.

I trust they won't be as silly as this one.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Waiting for Santa

Against all odds, I seem to have made it. The last tourtière is in the freezer; the penultimate tourtière went to the Resident Fan Boy's office party this morning. The remaining Christmas cards were mailed this afternoon. They won't reach their destinations on Christmas Day, but they might make it by the tenth day of Christmas, on January 3rd. I wrote them up while my daughters and the Resident Fan Boy, to elder daughter's ecletic iTune Christmas mix of alternate/rock music, finished trimming our "punk tree", a balsam fir that Friend With Whom I Have Coffee helped me pick up from the Byward Market last Saturday. (She took home the anti-penultimate tourtière.) The fir has spiky shoots jutting out from its triangular silhouette. Someone attached our Shakespeare decoration to one and for once we have an unobstructed view of him -- although he appears to be hanging from a gibbet.

When younger daughter attached the star at the top, it looked like a comet with a tail.

And I've finally bagged, tagged and stashed the Christmas Day gifts under the tree. The presents for the Twelve Days of Christmas stay upstairs until Boxing Day.

In short, I'm bushed, and my knee still hurts, so someone else will have to do the dancing. But if I could do the dancing, this is the sort I'd do:
Maybe you've had enough of "Linus and Lucy", but I never do.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, 23 December 2013

As a matter of fact, I do know it's Christmas...

Racing down to the wire now. It is, as elder daughter points out, Christmas Eve's Eve. I've written my "aunt" letters for our surviving elderly aunts who are also non-computerized and thus need updating the old-fashioned way.

Of course, I keep running into pleasant distractions. Here's a gem. Theatre companies of (mostly) musicals in London, New York, Sweden, and Germany tear the lid off the old Bandaid classic "Do They Know It's Christmas?" for Water Aid.

Among the famous faces is none other than David Tennant, clad in a tacky Christmas sweater coveted by elder daughter (where oh where did you get it, DT?), and backed by the trio that sings the beautiful music in the Royal Shakespeare Company's current production of Richard II (hence Mr Tennant's prodigious plait).

Now I must knuckle down to the remaining Christmas cards. They'll be late, but after all, there are twelve days of Christmas….

Sunday, 22 December 2013

We sing once more

When elder daughter was about nine or ten, I took her to a Singalong Sound of Music at the Bytowne Cinema. (I was careful to take her to a matinée -- the gay community brought a party atmosphere to the evening shows which wasn't necessarily kid-stuff.) It was quite an afternoon. There was a costume parade and contest and everyone received little kits which contained props such as a kind of confetti-cracker to shoot off during the first kiss between Maria and the Captain. (Rather orgasmic!) We were also instructed to gesture and call out for certain characters, kind of like a drinking game: barking whenever Rolf appeared, hissing the Baroness, etc.

Yet, with all the satirical fun-making, I was astonished as gradually, the gestures and sound effects were forgotten as the audience got involved in the story. It's a hokey and sentimental story, and as younger daughter has been discovering this term in a history project based on the movie, a tale that has remarkably little to do with what happened to the real Von Trapp family.

Younger daughter was given the assignment largely because her teacher knew we planned to take her to another Singalong Sound of Music -- this one with a live cast at the National Arts Centre. It was a little confusing at first. I thought there might be surtitles as at some operas, but we were evidently expected to sing along from memory -- and only at certain points, supposedly signaled by bringing up the lights on the audience, but it was a subtle difference, particularly for us. We were seated in the back row of a little island of seats directly in front of the stage.

However, this production was based more on the original 1959 Broadway production rather than the 1965 movie, although "I Have Confidence" and "Something Good", originally written for the movie, were inserted and "No Way to Stop It" and "An Ordinary Couple" from the original stage musical were omitted. We also had a very good and cohesive cast, most of them seen in the delightful Tartuffe set in Newfoundland last autumn. (I believe they're planning on keeping the company for the 2013-2014 season, which I think is an idea brought in by the latest artistic director.) In addition, there were a couple of familiar faces: Pierre Brault, a busy Ottawa-based actor who has produced successful one-man shows, including Blood on the Moon, and Katie Ryerson, whom we've seen four times in different Company of Fools productions.

Much of the saccharine of the movie was eliminated by a liberal helpings of sly humour, and the use of adult actors to play all but the two youngest of the Von Trapp children. The company doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled up on roles and the audience chortled in delight when we realized that the nuns chorusing "How do you solve a problem like Maria?" included at least three men!

The cast was universally strong (most having impressive CVs - I was particularly taken with the performance of Christine Brubaker who played Sister Bertha, Frau Schmidt and a glamourous and totally in control Baroness - and Maria was played by Eliza Jane Scott with all the passion, impulsiveness, and energy that the part requires, which Carrie Underwood, playing in a recent live broadcast of the musical on American television, didn't quite convey.

And once again, I found myself being moved by the dramatic (albeit improbable) climax of the story, feeling oddly choked up as the Captain (Dimitri Chepovetsky) implored us to join in "Edelweiss" while a Nazi in a long leather coat sat stonily right next to me. I knew damn well he was actor Eric Davis, but I felt utterly unnerved.

Need I say that younger daughter was completely enchanted?

Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Message

I've been searching for this one on YouTube for years.  Back in the days when MuchMusic was actually about music, they would have a "Peace and Love" theme on Christmas Day, a whole day devoted to accentuating the positive, as it were. Gawd, it was refreshing. I wonder sometimes if anyone other than Al Green could pull this off without descending into hokeyness, but this song always puts a spring in my step and hope in my heart. Take it away, Reverend Green:

Friday, 20 December 2013

Snow Joke

I'm pretty sure my Christmas shopping is now done. My knee still aches, but younger daughter's physical check-up found us within striking distance of stores for the Resident Fan Boy's present, and I had an added incentive: we're being threatened with two major snowstorms this weekend, and the second may bring freezing rain. Snow I can cope with, but freezing rain is a whole different can of horrible, and this weekend before Christmas offers few opportunities for hiding in the house.

It could be worse. We could be in Toronto.

Here's a classic Rick Mercer sketch featuring CBC reporter Linden MacIntyre (an alumnus of the journalism programme at the University of King's College in Halifax from which elder daughter is graduating this spring) and actress Sonja Smits who is from the Ottawa area. If you're not Canadian, twenty centimetres of snow is eight inches -- a reasonably heavy snowfall, but pretty standard for winter in most parts of Canada.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Walk me through this one

Sometimes horoscopes can help keep you afloat. Not the one in the Ottawa Citizen, that woman has it in for Tauruses, but Georgia Nicholls' horoscopes have a lovely dollop of humour and good advice even if you think the zodiac is whooey.

I was sitting on an OC Transpo bus, the Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter sitting behind me. I leaned miserably into the warmth of the windowsill, wondering what the point was of making the long trek across the city first thing in the morning to attend the annual Christmas concert at younger daughter's school. We had seen the script for the school skit sent home in her packsack the night before; her name did not appear among the speakers. In past years, she had sung a song; no such request had come home. Younger daughter is on the autistic spectrum; the RFB and I have graduate degrees, and yet the dreaded rubric for the upcoming January summatives which younger daughter is expected to complete made no sense to any of us.

I sat and struggled to keep my thoughts cheerful, remembering the day's horoscope: You feel emotional today. You want to persuade others to agree with you. In fact, you might go overboard and try to coerce someone. Instead use this persuasive energy to teach others or enlighten them, while at the same time respecting their point of view. I alternated with mental snatches of "Calling All Angels" by Jane Siberry: Walk me through this one...

And we struggled through the snow on the surrounding fields, sending younger daughter to get ready. (For what?) We picked up a programme and at the head of it was younger daughter's name. She was beginning the concert with her rendition of an Avril Lavigne song entitled "My Happy Ending", a song I'd never heard.

It was clear that not much rehearsal had been done. Younger daughter had to wait while the M.C. and one of the teachers tried to get the computer going to play the accompanying music, something that would have had her flying off the handle a few years ago. Then, a bit awkwardly and clutching a lyric sheet, she began, gaining in volume, clarity and expression.

You were everything, everything, I ever wanted...

By the end, her voice was under total control and resonating beautifully. She consulted the lyric sheet occasionally and with coordination. Her voice teacher would be proud.

I did tape it on my iPod, but of course, I can't show it here. Here's the Queen of Napanee herself in a rather more subdued, acoustic rendition.

And you know what? She got to read her math haiku, and demonstrate a role play. She even got to be in the skit, reading the lines for an absent student.

And after the concert, the teacher responsible for the incomprehensible rubric cleared things up a bit. I didn't have to coerce anyone.

Oh, and the Avril Lavigne song? Younger daughter remembered it from being vanned to school in Grade Two, nine years ago.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

World peace through line-dancing

An exhausting day which I'll go into tomorrow, if you can stand it. In the meantime, here's a 1999 video of Paul McCartney doing his version of a 1956 song by Chuck Berry:
I figure a song about racial prejudice bringing all sorts of people together to line-dance is pretty close to the message of Christmas. Y'know, peace on earth, goodwill towards line-dancers…

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

It's bleak, but it's not mid-winter

I missed my connections and ended up walking into younger daughter's school from Iris Station. In normal weather, this takes about 25 minutes. Today wasn't normal weather. Well, okay, it was normal for Ottawa in December. Now my knee hurts. And it's a full moon. Whiiiiiiiine.

My daughters are fans of Calvin and Hobbs. And Christmas. (Walking, not so much.) This is for them.

Monday, 16 December 2013

In the spirit of the season?

I stumbled across a BBC Magazine article this morning while I was avoiding writing Christmas cards. It's ten pro/con items about sending Christmas cards. On the whole, the article encourages the sending of cards, but Item #9 drew me up short: the expert (some guy who wrote a book about the vanishing art of letter-writing) . . .implores: "Please no pictures of your beaming family."

Oh, damn.

The Resident Fan Boy and I have sent picture cards for the past 21 years, starting with elder daughter's first Christmas. People tell us they like them. But they would, wouldn't they? I've always figured we were gifting both our friends and "frenemies". Our friends would get a kick out of watching the girls grow up; anyone who didn't care for the RFB or (more likely) me, could derive grim satisfaction out of watching us age.

The BBC and I seem to be in agreement on the subject of what Britons call "round robin letters" and I call "newsletters". I have loathed them from the get-go. At best, they are impersonal documents pretending to be letters; at worst, they are painfully tedious itemizations of events that really aren't that interesting, usually accompanied by a painfully long travelogue for good measure. The nadir was the sweet young mother of two who informed us and everyone else on her list, in photo-copied splendour, that she had recently suffered a miscarriage and that her heart went out "to all those of you unable to have children".

So, for the record, I've never sent a family newsletter, journal, gazette, or year-in-review. Given the fact that elder daughter is now of the traditional age of majority, our friends and frenemies soon may be spared the gurning family photo as well.

So long as they keep off Facebook. I'll get back to scribbling illegible holiday greetings now; I've already bought the damn stamps.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

My daughters are fully clothed

I've always associated the BareNaked Ladies with my daughters. Wait. That sounds completely wrong. I mean I associate their music with my daughters.My earliest memories of the Barenaked Ladies is probably this video, one of those rare covers that actually outdoes the original. It was getting airplay the winter I was pregnant with elder daughter. I adore the video because I spent the first year of my marriage in Toronto and this is just so evocative of suburban Toronto in the depths of February. (BNL is [are?] from Scarborough, in the eastern reaches of the Greater Toronto area.)

The following summer, after elder daughter's arrival, I would steal time for myself in the evenings, leaving her with the Resident Fan Boy while I took a long stroll down to McCauley Point and Saxe Point Park. "If I had a Million Dollars" floated out of open windows along with the aroma of cooking dinners.

I had a rare escape from the infant younger daughter as well, this time with the Resident Fan Boy, the evening the girls' godparents baby-sat and we walked up the hill to the Royal Theatre to see BNL in concert. We had tickets in the gods and a group of about four or five students asked us if we minded if they stood up to dance. (Imagine! People asking ahead of time if you minded if they danced at a concert! BNL fans are a different breed.) We pointed out a flat platform directly behind us and they climbed up and had a fine time, while I, a few weeks' postpartum and chronically sleep-deprived, sat in comfort and had an equally fine time, singing along to "The Old Apartment".

Earlier this week, elder daughter wrote on my Facebook wall (which saved her the trouble of coming downstairs): "Did I turn down the Barenaked Ladies?" She'd evidently only just checked the calendar. I replied that we'd got the tickets in August, long before we knew when she'd be home for Christmas. Texts were despatched to the Resident Fan Boy downtown, and last night, with a full-blown winter storm warning bearing down on Hades, all four of us headed off to Southam Hall to hear the Barenaked Ladies play with the National Arts Centre Orchestra. The RFB, younger daughter, and I found ourselves in the front row, with elder daughter about four rows behind us.

It was particularly interesting seeing the current line-up of the Barenaked Ladies this particular evening because we had just seen Steven Page, who used to share lead vocals with Ed Robertson, three weeks before, performing Sergeant Pepper. "Page-less", the Barenaked Ladies are as funny and entertaining as ever, but a bit more low-key. In their heyday, Kevin Hearn, Jim Creeggan, and Tyler Stewart were more like back-up for the dynamic duo of Robertson and Page. Now, they seem a little more democratic. Robertson still does the lion-share of the lead vocals, but we got to hear Hearn and Creeggan too. (Creeggan did the orchestral arrangements for the NAC Orchestra.) We even got Tyler Stewart doing a diva-worthy rendition of "Felice Navidad".

As exciting as it was to be a matter of feet away from the Barenaked Ladies, there was little in the way of leg-room with my knees only a few inches from the edge of the stage. Try as I might, I soon found my left knee cramping and stiffening, no matter what position I attempted to take without disturbing my neighbours. After hearing the "Carol of the Bells" (which we used to sing in school before direct references to the Christmas story were discouraged), a mixture of Christmas songs and BNL hits (including the theme to The Big Bang Theory and the aforementioned "Lovers in a Dangerous Time"), and a lot of joshing between the Barenaked Ladies and members of the orchestra, I was in a gentle sort of agony, so switched seats with elder daughter at the intermission. She took her place next to younger daughter, and I found myself amid strangers who seemed mildly puzzled to have me there. It was considerably warmer even just four rows back, but I had a good view, and could watch my daughters enjoying the show. (And my knee was much relieved and told me so.)

The show finished with the big hits "One Week" and "Million Dollars" (of course), and, after a standing ovation, the great BNL tradition of burlesquing a dozen recent pop tunes such as Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble". I could see elder and younger daughter enjoying this immensely.

As we made our way out of the theatre, ushers handed us Lindt milk chocolate teddy bears. That meant when I heard the jingling caps of orchestra members collecting money for the food bank and the Snow Suit Fund - well, how churlish would it have been to have slipped away, clutching my golden-wrapped chocolate bear?

Outside, the storm had arrived and we saw a taxi pull along the snow bank near the crosswalk and ran for it through a thick curtain of snowflakes. A lady arrived with us, realized we weren't her companions, and retreated in some embarrassment. The cabbie drove us swiftly through increasingly unrecognizable streets. Bright, white, Christmassy. And we made it home safely, because any other outcome would be decidedly un-Christmassy.

They didn't sing this song last night, but it's kind of Christmassy with all those stars. This is a collaboration between Ed Robertson and Commander Chris Hadfield who, last spring, was still in orbit on the International Space Station. Support from the rest of the Barenaked Ladies (you can see drummer Tyler Stewart and bassist Jim Creeggan) and the Wexford Gleeks from Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts in Toronto:

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Post mortem

After 12 years with a rickety, rusty mailbox that kept falling down and apart, I saw a mailbox that I liked at Preston Hardware. They didn't have it. (So, uh, why was it on display?) We tracked down a company online and after several months of waiting, they said it wasn't in stock and did we want to wait some more? We didn't say anything and a couple of months later, it showed up (with humongous custom charges). Ain't it lovely?

So guess what? Canada Post is discontinuing door-to-door mail delivery. I really should have seen this coming. Along with everyone turning to email and texts, and no letters or cards except from elderly relatives, mail delivery has become increasing erratic over the years. The Post Office stopped postal money orders about five years ago, which is a problem for a family researcher who is dealing with British institutions that still require postal orders. (Don't get me started on the fun of trying to get a money order from the bank.) I started taking any parcels or overweight letters to the main post office last spring when our local and now privatized P.O. charged me the rate of two small parcels for two Easter cards with letters enclosed.

An acrimonious debate has broken out in the comments sections of the Ottawa Citizen, The Globe and Mail and the CBC News web site. (Is there any other kind of debate online? And why, oh why do I go look when I know exactly what I'll find and lose my faith in humanity again?):

We live in the country and we've had community post boxes for years, so city folks should just get used to it.
Those in the country might also agree, if they think about it, that country-living requires a vehicle, which is something that not all city-dwellers have.
People need to get out of the house anyway.
A challenge for the disabled, whose time and budget are already being eaten into by shopping and getting to medical appointments. I was a home support worker - you can trust me on this.
It just makes more sense to do things online.
If you have access to a computer. Computer ownership is not universal, even in Canada.
Well, computers are readily available at your local library.
My library, just as an example, is a twenty-minute uphill jaunt, which is fine for me, but time-consuming when you factor in the return journey and the time to log on and do one's business. Not to mention extreme weather. Or the above-mentioned people with disabilities. Or ever decreasing library operating hours…

I've been addressing Christmas cards in coffee shops, scribbling messages before sealing envelopes,looking around for the increasingly difficult-to-locate mailboxes, and wondering if this is the last year I'll be doing this.

And my pretty new mailbox? Well, it's big enough for medium-sized parcels and local newsletters.
And flyers.
Oh, joy.

Friday, 13 December 2013

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Too damn tired. Here's another one of younger daughter's favourite songs, a 1931 Harold Arlen song, sung here on the ukelele by the late George Harrison:

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Shutter flutter

So there I was at Planet Coffee, eating a cream cheese brownie and sipping the best egg nog latté on the planet (Earth, that is) when a sparrow began making his rounds.

Sparrows usually sneak into Planet Coffee through the open windows in the summer, and one or two slip in during the winter despite the staff's best efforts to guide them out. This one hopped from crumb to crumb along the floor.

I muted my phone to eliminate the artificial (and rather loud) shutter click. Looking up, there was Mr Sparrow nodding cheekily at me from the top of the opposite chair. I swung my phone up quietly and he sat there cooperatively, while my phone slipped off camera setting - as it usually does. I punched it back in and released the shutter. I thought I saw the his fleeting outline in the upper right-hand corner through the viewfinder.

But evidently I didn't.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Take me to -- your leader

Just barely keeping my head above water. On the positive side, I did make headway on my Christmas cards today.

When I learned of the death of Lou Reed, I also learned he had been married for some years to Laurie Anderson. Clearly, I haven't been paying enough attention. I quite like Laurie Anderson. Here's one of my favourite songs by her. It's from the 1989 album Strange Angels, although I think the song is quite a bit older than that:
The person who posted this appears to have had only two pictures of Anderson, but the sound is nice and clear.

I don't know about your brain- but mine is really bossy
I come home from a day on the golf course and I find all these messages scribbled on wrinkled up scraps of paper
And they say things like:
Why don't you get a real job?
Or: You and what army?
Or: Get a horse.
And then I hear this voice comin from the back of my head
Uh huh (Whoa-ho) Yep! It's my brain again
And when my brain talks to me, he says:
Take me out to the ballgame
Take me out to the park
Take me to the movies
Cause I love to sit in the dark
Take me to Tahiti
Cause I love to be hot
And take me out on the town tonight
Cause I know the new hot spot.
He says: Babydoll!
Ooo oo oo Babydoll
Ooo He says: Babydoll!
I love it when you come when I call Babydoll!
You don't have to talk I know it all Babydoll!
Ooo oo oo Babydoll Ooo
Well I'm sitting around trying to write a letter
I'm wracking my brains trying to think of another word for horse
I ask my brain for some assistance.
And he says: Huh...Let's see...How about cow? That's close.
He says: Take me out to the ballgame
Take me out to the park
Take me to the movies
Cause I love to sit in the dark
Take me to your leader
And I say: Do you mean George?
And he says: I just want to meet him
And I say: Come on I mean I don't even know George!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The afternoon of a fat lip

I don't even like after-dinner mints that much. The trouble is, I keep hoping it's a liquorice one, so a couple of weeks ago, I gave into temptation and I lost part of a molar. Again. For the third time, in fact. Feeling foolish doesn't begin to cover it.

So I went into the dentist for my temporary cap today and he asked if I had any questions.
"Is this going to be a Maurice Chevalier afternoon?"
"Last time you did this I spent the afternoon singing Maurice Chevalier songs and drooling. People kept moving away from me on the bus."
"Oh well. At least you get a seat that way…"

Which Maurice Chevalier song would I sing? Well, anything from Gigi would do, but my favourite Maurice Chevalier music moment doesn't actually have Maurice Chevalier in it. It's the classic scene from the 1931 Marx Brothers movie Monkey Business when all four Marx Brothers (this was back in the days when Zeppo was still in the act) attempt to get off an international liner using Maurice Chevalier's passport. Now every single video of this on YouTube has been blocked for some sort of copyright reason, but Turner Classic Movies, bless 'em, has this very scene on their web site.

And here's Maurice himself singing to an impossibly young Claudette Colbert in the 1930 movie The Big Pond:

As it happened, I got my tongue back within the hour, then my upper lip, then my lower lip, so my fellow passengers were spared.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Just might not make it, folks….

A follower of this blog (I know there's a handful of you) might know that I was planning to NaBloPoMo December. It would have been my twelfth time doing a "blog posting month"; I've done eleven (a different month each time) since February 2009. While it's true I've managed a post a day so far this December, I haven't dared sign up for NaBloPoMo this time.  I have a major presentation early in the new year, and though I'd like to make it to the end of the month -- or at least submit a minimum of one hundred posts for 2013 -- frankly, I may fumble when I come down to the wire.

Speaking of which, this has been my favourite song during the past couple of weeks:

There's all sorts of reasons that I like this song. I love the driving rhythm, the it's-not-you-it's-me lyrics (I-know-I-know-I-know you're going to be okay anyway -- ha!). We've all heard that one, right? I love that the Haim sisters look like real people, that they clearly play their own instruments and sing with their own voices.

However, I'm not sure that I feel much affection for the official video for this song. Oh, I get the joke; the Haim girls dump three sweet sensitive types in much the fashion that women are usually dumped, and the guys react in stereotypical feminine floods of tears, but I think the song deserves better. I'm glad I heard it on the radio first, without visuals.

There. At least ninety posts for 2013. But I'm not promising anything...

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Running out of light

With the sun disappearing at 4:30 in the afternoon, it has been two weeks or so since I have taken the dog to the park. Usually the day has fled by the time the Resident Fan Boy gets home from work and I've been choosing shorter walks around the block in the dark.  This afternoon, I set off at before twilight. I see stepladders. Many lights have gone up today; ours went up Friday. The Resident Fan Boy managed to blow a breaker with a rogue coloured light, then, panicking, cut the power to the computer, so I lost what I was working on. I was livid, of course, but better to discover a weak breaker now, I guess…

Along the Rideau River, I'm startled by the unobstructed view. I don't know why I should be so surprised; it's an annual thing, after all, but the last time I was here, there were still quite a few leaves.
The light is going fast. Looking back at the houses, I can see what appears to be this year's fashion in house decoration -- large stars dominating the side of a house, or taking up an entire picture window. The bike path is gone, buried until March or even April. I pick my way along where the dirt path by the river bank is now tightly packed snow, beaten down by the feet of other dog-walkers, urban hikers, and determined joggers. It's knobby and knurled; slick and shiny. I walk in the snow at the edges of the path, which staggers my gait, but provides a more reasonable foothold.

The Accent Snob is now pulling at the lead, a bit nerve-wracking where there are patches of ice, and it's harder to lock the retractable lease in heavy mittens, but he's right. Time to go home. It's dark, and elder daughter came home for Christmas today.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Brought to you by Coca-Cola

Like millions of kids in North America, I grew up with A Charlie Brown Christmas being an indispensable part of December. It became equally integral to the Christmases of both daughters, not only repeated required viewings, but the CD also being the first requested for tree-decoration or present-opening.

When I saw the poster for a concert featuring the music from this ancient television special on a telephone pole in downtown Hades back in October, I knew we had to take younger daughter. Christmas? Jazz? Peanuts? Animation? It's everything she adores rolled into one. I figured it would be relatively painless for me, even after years of exposure, and besides, it was a fundraiser for the Ottawa International Children's Festival. I ordered tickets quite promptly.

Good thing, too. When the Resident Fan Boy, younger daughter and I turned up at the Ottawa Little Theatre shortly after noon today, the sign outside informed us that both performances had sold out. In the Ottawa tradition of festival seating, arriving half an hour ahead of time got us seats more than halfway back in the auditorium. We were surrounded by large family groups of very young children, but we had expected that.

The concert was being put on by the Jerry Granelli Trio, with the support of two local children's choirs, one for each performance. Jerry Granelli was the drummer in the Vince Guaraldi Trio in the mid-1960s, and now he's pretty well the sole surviving member of the entire creative team that put A Charlie Brown Christmas together back in 1965. As is usual in the creation of a classic, the television executives at CBS nearly vetoed the show for several reasons, two of which were: Linus' recital of the passage from St Luke in response to Charlie Brown's anguished "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about??"; and the jazz music, which I guess wasn't considered accessible enough. It was the executives at Coca-Cola (of all people)who insisted that the special be broadcast. They had, after all, sponsored the thing and darn it, it was going to go on the air. The response, that evening of December 9th, 1965, was overwhelmingly positive.

After the Goulbourn Junior Jubilee Singers sang the opening "Christmastime is Here", the three jazz musicians (drummer Granelli, bassist Simon Fisk, and pianist Chris Gestrin) launched into the well-worn instrumentals. To my astonishment, I got goose-pimples and a lump in my throat. Part of this was, no doubt, from the emotions attached to these pieces, chunks of my own childhood and that of my children, but the other factor was the sheer musicianship. We weren't getting note-for-note replications of the original recordings; we were getting some proper jazz improvisation.

I think some of the tinier kids were getting a bit restless, but to the rest of the audience, hearing and seeing this music played live was a revelation. I noticed a kind of quiver on the front of Fisk's base with a bow in it and realized as they finally began the classic "Linus and Lucy", that part of the magic comes from the bowed bass during the familiar recurring theme. Listen for it:

(This evening, while looking up the music for this post, I listened to Vince Guaraldi's first big hit from 1963 and realized the bass is also bowed for parts of "Cast Your Fate to the Wind: )

Heck, I even got choked up when a young choir-member named Jacob recited the lines from the King James Bible that almost got A Charlie Brown Christmas yanked in the first place.

Never thought I'd be grateful to Coca-Cola for anything.

Can't resist slipping this interpretation in. It's become somewhat of a classic itself, at least on YouTube.

Friday, 6 December 2013

A Canadian postal poser

I try to keep a positive attitude towards the task of sending out the Christmas cards. After all, it's an opportunity, right? An excuse to reach out to friends and family... I keep telling myself this, as we receive fewer cards, and more emails, and as the cost of wishing people well rises inexorably.

So, part of the process is working out what stamps I will need. Generally, I write and send cards according to the distance they have to travel, starting with Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore, then England, then the States, then the West Coast of Canada, followed by the Prairies, and finishing with Ontario and the very few cards we send within Hades. This year, I drew up the list, counted the stamps left over from last year, and worked out the five-cent and ten-cent stamps required to cover the rise in price. Then I figured out the rest according to category, wrote down the figures, and made my way to main Post Office where they seem to be particularly congenial and more importantly, actually seem to know what's going on.

I smiled brightly at the lovely lady and explained I would need three five-cent stamps, four ten-cent stamps, three packages of overseas stamps, about a dozen US stamps and six packages of Canadian stamps. She offered a choice of Christmas designs for the US and Canadian packages, but nothing for the overseas stamps. I was disappointed but said nothing as Christmas designs often sell out early.

A few days later, I was in a coffee shop setting about the business of addressing envelopes. I started with the overseas addresses first and did a double-take. I had three packages of over-sized stamps. Oh, the stamps were the usual size, but the postage ($1.34) was not the $1.85 I need this year for destinations that are neither in Canada nor the United States. I was nonplussed. For one thing, I'd never encountered these kind of stamps before and wondered what on earth I had said to receive them.

It took me a few minutes to figure out what had happened. Nearly everyone I encounter who works at a post office in Hades is francophone. Fluently bilingual of course, but francophone by birth. Somehow, this lady misheard "overseas" as "over-sized", mainly because the stamps are officially labelled "international". I think of the "international" rate as "overseas" because anything sent between Canada and the US is also international, right?

I made another trip to the post office and explained the problem to two bemused and amused old hands (fluently bilingual francophones, of course). One of them cocked his head to one side and mused: "Hmmmn. Overseas. Over-sized. Overseas; over-sized... I can see it, I guess."
"I should have said 'international'," I sighed.
"Foreign!" laughed the guy, who looks like he plays in a Beau Dommage cover band at the brasserie on weekends.
"Well, the US is foreign, too!" I pointed out.

The other guy made me produce my receipt (understandably) and some ID (rather more mystifyingly), then carefully worked out the price difference before picking out three packages of --- "International!" we chorused, pointing at each other for emphasis.

As I pocketed the stamp-books, it occurred to me that this was probably something that could only happen in Canada. Still didn't get a Christmas design. They had just sold out.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Because I have to

In the album version, Stephen Biko's name is mentioned and that got me thinking about this performance at the 1987 Secret Policemen's Ball, back when Nelson Mandela was still in prison:
And yes, you can glimpse Lou Reed right at the end. Another big year for losses. But I guess it always is.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Something familiar, something peculiar...

I've always been rather lucky with door-prizes. I've toyed briefly with the idea if seeing if this luck extends to lottery tickets, but even a math-phobe like myself would see the futility in this.

Last January, I won two complimentary tickets to the Great Canadian Theatre Company at A Company of Fool's annual Twelfth Night, which meant I had to redeem my coupon before the next January 5th. Luckily, the very play I wanted to see began its run last week.

Ann-Marie MacDonald is one of those terrifying people who seem to be able to do anything. In Canada, she's a highly visible broadcast journalist for the CBC, has also acted, and written award-winning plays, screenplays and books -- including Fall on Your Knees which put me in such a blue funk I couldn't finish it. Fortunately, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is not one bit depressing. It's a witty and whimsical fairy tale in which a dowdy, naive and put-upon English professor named Constance finds her thesis -- the possibilities of Othello and Romeo & Juliet as comedies -- suddenly coming to life.

The problems are in the consequences of halting the tragedies at their respective points of no return. When Othello is handed the incriminating handkerchief and shown it was Iago leading him into madness and jealousy, Iago becomes a danger to Constance and Desdemona is revealed to be something like a lady pirate. When the deadly confrontation between Romeo and Tybalt is averted with the news that they are now cousins by marriage, Juliet rapidly deteriorates into a bored teenage bride with the hots for Constance whom she has mistaken, in true Shakespearean comedic fashion, for a man.

How does it all work out? It's a comedy; there's a happy ending, of course.

The cast consisted of five able actors led by Margot MacDonald, co-founder of the Fools and "Restes!!!" (crowed younger daughter who remembers A Midwinter Dream's Tale with pleasure). We also had Geoff McBride and Zach Counsil playing all the male roles; we've seen both of them many times before - they're very good. Sascha Cole and Pippa Lawrence played all the female roles (with maybe one male role snuck in); we've seen neither of them before - they're also very good.

So a lovely afternoon, enhanced by the mini-drama behind us involving a pretty young man informing those sitting next to them that he was sitting there in hopes of not getting kicked out. I don't know where he got this idea, as the performance was sold out and a burly young man appeared in due course and claimed his seat. Later, we discovered there were "Latecomer's Seats" to avoid interruptions in the performance and pretty young man was -- sitting pretty. Another happy ending, of course.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Name that tune

It's 4:15 in the afternoon, so the sun has nearly set and the relatively balmy afternoon that has hovered around 0○ Celsius with golden sunshine slanting off the melting snow suddenly plummets to a markedly cooler evening with the wet pavement whitening into ice.

Younger daughter has homework and thus has requested that we duck into our neighbourhood Second Cup for a consoling hot chocolate. All tables are in use, but a couple of armchairs are available. A dapper gentleman occupies the third, studying his laptop.

I get the warm drinks. As I carefully settle into the unaccustomed seat, I focus on the music playing in the background and search my daughter's face for signs of recognition.
"I don't know it, Mom,"
"You heard it last summer when we went to see Jersey Boys," I tell her.
"Oh, yea-ah!" She brightens. "Which song is this?"
"It's 'Sherry' by the Four Seasons, and the song before it was popular when I was your age."
She doesn't seem particularly keen to know, so we go back to sipping our drinks.

A lady standing by the pick-up counter is checking her cellphone and absently croons, "Sherry, won't you come out tonight?" I also detect a rather tuneless croak from the neighbouring armchair, but I may be imagining it.

Cradling my vanilla bean latte, I strain a little to hear the next song. Younger daughter excuses herself. Another tune begins, and I'm nodding my head to it, when the dapper gentleman smiles at me.
"I was about to ask you what this one is."
"It's the Traveling Wilburys. 'Last Night'.
"Really? You get a point, then."
"Yep. And the one before it was 'Wild Life' by the Talking Heads."
"Wow, you really know your music!"
"Well, certain eras. If you asked me about hip-hop…"
Or Lady Gaga, I think to myself. I could manage "Judas"...

The fella is packing up.
"I know this one," he says, rising and leaving.

It's "Eight Days a Week". Well, anyone would know that one.

Monday, 2 December 2013

In my ears and in my eyes

Is it just me, or is American Thanksgiving getting stranger by the year?  Up here in Canada, life went on pretty much as usual, our Thanksgiving being in October, but strains of the weirdness next door kept    seeping in.  For one thing, Canadian retailers have, for the past two years, been adopting the completely reprehensible tradition of Black Friday, which sounds like the anniversary for a massacre, but is in fact the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States as it is the day after the American Thanksgiving.  So why should we, non-observers of American holidays, be observing this orgy of consumerism and spending - especially when we go through a similar state of madness on Boxing Day?  Because Canadian merchants want in on the money, of course.  And Merry Christmas to you, too.

This particular Black Friday Eve (shudder), we were eating out prior to going to a special concert.  More on that later.  We were flanked by the now ubiquitous big screens that haunt any relatively affordable eatery these days, and they were tuned to an American Thanksgiving football game.  It was halftime.  Selena Gomez and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders were gyrating on a large platform in the shape of the Salvation Army insignia.  The sound was off, and I really didn't want to know anymore.

After dinner, we walked as quickly as the ice would allow, making our way to the utterly beautiful Dominion-Chalmers United Church, host to many wonderful concerts, especially for the Ottawa Chamber Society.  We would be seeing what would be essentially a Canadian super-quartet:  Craig Northey of the Odds; John Mann of Spirit of the West; Steven Page - former lead singer of the Barenaked Ladies; and Andy Maize of the Skydiggers.  If these names mean nothing to you, try to imagine the lead singers of four well-known indie/pop bands in your particular country coming together to re-interpret the Beatles, backed by a top-notch arranger and a chamber group of gifted musicians.

We were seated in a centre pew, about half a dozen rows back from the stage and watched the church fill with people of all ages, kids and teens, university students, middle-aged civil servant types and people obviously in their seventies.  With a pang, I realized that this last category were the Beatles' contemporaries.

The concert began with a kind of overture which began with a quasi-classical feel and glided into familiar queasy chords as Craig Northey appeared, looking boyish as ever, but rather greyer than I remembered him from the nineties.  Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to. . . . Soon he was joined by the other three, supplying the harmonies for "Strawberry Fields".

After an enthusiastic response from the crowd, pianist and arranger Andrew Burashko explained to us that they were trying to "dis-orient" us because, as most of the audience knew, "Strawberry Fields" doesn't appear on Sergeant Pepper.  (Neither did it appear on the programme nor on the CD for sale in the lobby.)

From there, they marched on, with no further explanation (none being needed, really) into the songs from the Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, each song with a different arranger, with the singers taking turns in the lead.  Of the four, Steven Page is the best-known - younger daughter recognized him with some excitement - and he and John Mann have the strongest and most versatile voices, so I guessed correctly that Mann would be singing stuff like "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and Page would be singing stuff like "She's Leaving Home".  However, Craig Northey isn't chopped liver either, and I was surprised by how moved I was by Andy Maize's interpretations of "Within You Without You" and "A Day in the Life", perhaps partially because George and John are no longer with us.

There was an intermission between the "sides" - you used to have to turn the record over, kids - and the crowd was unusually loose and friendly.  Maybe Ottawa was a nicer place in the sixties.  Several people complimented younger daughter on the Sergeant Pepper logo top she had carefully selected for the occasion.

We had permission to take non-flash photos during the concert, but the lighting was such that the handful of pictures I took were washed out and not much helped by editing with iPhoto.  I wanted to concentrate on the music anyway which ranged from classical to rock to full-blown swing.  I was amused that certain elements were carefully preserved.  In "Lucy in the Sky", for example, the singers and musicians stomped three times before each chorus.

I did dare to video a snippet of "Lovely Rita" with my iPod. The singers are washed out visually, but the sound is good.  Steven Page is the lead vocal (he's second from the right) here, occasionally forgetting the lyrics, but letting his voice power him through.  Just before I stopped recording to listen again, you can hear younger daughter laughing delightedly as those fabulous musicians in the Art of Time Ensemble veer into big band.
As the chamber musicians faded into that final long chord, the audience applauded, whistled and cheered its appreciation before being given, as promised, two encores: "Penny Lane" and "All You Need is Love", the latter, once again, movingly sung by Andy Maize with chorus and harmonies provided by the other three and the whole damn audience.

I was genuinely sorry that it was over and we found our way back into the cold winter's night with the CD carefully tucked away. At home, we were confronted with Lady Gaga and the Muppets presenting some kind of holiday special with five-minute commercials every five minutes.

Very strange.

I can't leave without making sure that you understand the calibre of the singers at this concert. It was, as I told the Resident Fan Boy, my iPod playlist come to life. Here are four of my favourite songs and videos featuring each of the night's artists.

First, Craig Northey and the Odds with this song and video from 1996 in which Bruce McCullough from The Kids in the Hall takes a girl to the roller rink (does anyone roller-skate anymore?) and gets dumped. I'm not sure where this was filmed, but it feels like the Maritimes to me:

On the West Coast in 1988, we have early Spirit of the West and John Mann with hair. (He's been elegantly bald since the nineties.)

And here's Andy Maize with the Skydiggers in 1993 in a rather unstable copy of the video for "I'm Wondering". He's the one in the tractor cap.

And finally, this heart-breaking song and video from 1992. I think both illustrate how mind-boggling awful school can be.
Very strange.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Wah-Who Dorey

In a week I can only described as "Mist-mas" -- that is, repeated slow-motion and still-frame shots of the infamous Zapruder footage in which a curtain of red mist sprays from John Fitzgerald Kennedy's head -- it was a mercy to be also assaulted with visions of the Doctor past, present and future, as the world also observed the other 50th anniversary.

For November 23rd this year was like a Christmas Day to millions of Whovians world-wide, ready to watch, re-watch, analyze and dissect the long-awaited episode The Day of the Doctor - both on television and in cinema.

We did both, of course, but there was a price to be paid and rather more than the twenty-two dollars each.  First off, we didn't manage to get tickets for the 2:10 pm (Eastern Standard Time) showing of TDotD, in spite of ordering tickets pretty well the second they became available online here in Hades on October 25, nearly a month before the airing date.  The only show for which tickets were shown being online were for 7 pm our time at the South Keys Cinema which is some distance from our house and more than halfway to the airport.  All other tickets were "encore" presentations the following Monday.  It was a couple of weeks before the Resident Fan Boy noticed that, not only were there shows available at local (-ish) Ottawa cinemas for the exact same time as the programme would be released in Britain (all sold out, of course), but that the show for which we held tickets did not appear at the Cineplex web-site. We fired off an email and a phone message and two anxious days passed, until we were re-assured that, although our show was a "programming error", it would take place anyway.

"We were a bit surprised that this is so popular," said the young fella on the phone.

Well, whew.  We comforted ourselves with the fact that Space Canada would be showing the episode commericial-free, for once, and that we would have the benefit of close-captioning for our first viewing, because, let's face it, David Tennant talks a mile a minute.

Who Day dawned with the first snow of the season, lending even more of a mock-Christmas cast to the afternoon, especially as the pub where we had a quick pre-television lunch was full of families just in from the morning's Santa Claus parade.  We scuttled back home and tuned into Space Canada with minutes to spare.

And the Resident Fan Boy and I had a fine time.  (Younger daughter vanished upstairs to listen to music - you might want to do the same thing if you're still avoiding spoilers.) We cheered and gasped in all the right places - so far as we knew - especially in those tingly few seconds when we thought we might see John Hurt regenerate into Christopher Eccleston.  We hooted with delight when John Hurt's Doctor gave an exasperated "Oh, for God's sake!" in response to Eleven's "Geronimo!" and Ten's "Allons-y!" (Quite right too!) I was particularly relieved that Billie Piper wasn't Rose, and I found this story easy to follow;  I usually have to see a Stephen Moffat story twice before I understand what is going on.

However, we were going to see this story twice and the RFB carefully planned our itinerary so that we would arrive at South Keys Cinema at 7 pm, enough time to find seats for the 7:30 screening.  The #9 bus was spot on time, so it took several minutes of waiting at the Hurdman Station before we realized something was amiss.  Bus after bus went by, none of them destined for South Keys.  When a #98 finally turned up, it was packed with early Christmas shoppers and the driver wouldn't let us board.  Finally a #97 had enough room and, forced to stand, I gazed in despair at the clock on the bus.  It was already 7:10. Yet another day spoiled by OC Transpo, I thought miserably.

By the time we entered the theatre, all seats were filled except the very front row.  About ten feet ahead, the screen towered above us, as we craned our heads to see the bottom half of the images.  Matt Smith's chin looked humongous from this angle, and though I could tell that the eye-stalks of the Daleks were supposed to seem to jut into the audience, I was not in the position to appreciate it.

Knowing that David Tennant would be making his appearance soon,  I ducked out of my seat and made my way to the back, where I stood behind the wheelchairs.  I learned later that the Resident Fan Boy made to follow me, but was sternly ordered back by younger daughter.

And there I remained for the next hour, moving unobtrusively to keep the blood from pooling into my ankles, and marvelling at the 3D effect on Joanna Page's breasts.  Crikey. 
Not in 3D, thank goodness

I had a sneaking suspicion that the cinema crowd had already seen this at home because there were few big laughs in an episode that was pretty funny. One particularly big silence followed one of my favourite gags when Queen Elizabeth I explains that although she had the body of a weak and feeble woman, so did her Zygon double. It was a youngish crowd; maybe they missed the historical reference.

Anyway, we emerged from the theatre feeling pleased, on the whole, that we had been able to see the episode on a large screen in 3D, but annoyed that, at $22 a pop, Cineplex couldn't be bothered to have reserved seating and had the nerve to sell seats that bloody close to the screen. The Resident Fan Boy found a manageable angle, even in the front row. Younger daughter, who was seeing it for the first time, seemed happy enough with the experience. I was, however, still hopping mad at OC Transpo and, feeling that my spitting at the next bus driver would be unproductive, we caught a taxi just outside. Well, someone else had ordered it, but they were nowhere to be seen, so the cabbie told us to hop in and as the wind chill was something like -14, we swallowed our guilt and hopped.

We don't have a red button in Canada, so we didn't see the following spoof by Peter Davison until nearly a week later. It is splendid and takes a few viewings to catch all the in-jokes. Not being a Classic Who fan, I've probably missed a few, but I particularly enjoyed Georgia Moffett-Tennant's method of scarfing ice cream and John Barrowman's darkest secret:

Oh, and non-North-Americans may not get the reference of the title. It's another combination of "Who" and Christmas: