Tuesday, 31 March 2015

You banga da hell outa dis (another story from Demeter)

When I was little, Demeter worked at a clinic for kids with cerebral palsy in South Edmonton, on the opposite side of the North Saskatchewan River. One day, she was on her lunch break, trying to get some errands done, but held up by an endless stream of midday traffic and a light that refused to change.

Out of nowhere, a little man appeared at her side.
"You wanta cross the street, lady?  You banga da hell outa dis," he declared, demonstrating energetically on the crosswalk button to my startled mother.  "Just banga da hell!"

Monday, 30 March 2015

You're welcome

I feel guilty for not saying anything about St David's Day this year.  (It was March 1st, but you knew that, didn't you?) To make up for it, I'm offering Ioan Gruffudd, who has been on my mind because I was watching Forever this evening. Speaking Welsh. About Taliesin the bard.   I think this may have been filmed in Cardiff in 2000.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Another wrinkle

Yesterday morning I woke early, after a late night, unwilling to get up and dress just yet, but not wanting to wake my husband.  I padded down to the living room to retrieve my laptop, because I've been deliberately keeping it downstairs to discourage myself from going online before the day has properly begun.

However,  I had gone to sleep with the briefly glimpsed corner of a mystery on my mind.  It seems that the Disney corporation will be attempting to bring A Wrinkle in Time to the big screen.  There have been attempts before, including an adaptation to the small screen, an unsatisfactory televised version.  I'm wondering if a satisfactory version is possible, but I have a daughter living on the autistic spectrum, and thus have acquired an appreciation for movies, television specials, and graphic novels based on classics, so I tried to find out a little bit more.

In doing so, I noticed a sentence fragment in a Google search just before I went to bed, something about her son's death in 1999.  Madeleine L'Engle herself died in 2007, but I do not ever recall her writing about Bion Franklin's death; she devoted nearly a whole book to the final year of her husband Hugh. It was late, and I was working on something else, so I set my puzzlement aside for the morning.

With the covers over my head to block the dimmed light from the screen from the sleeping Resident Fan Boy,  I went back to the link --- and learned that Bion Franklin had died in his forties from the effects of alcoholism.  Bion?  The little boy who was the model for Charles Wallace Murry and Rob Austin?  I entered a few more search terms and stumbled on a 2004 New Yorker article, which said, among many other things, that Bion and his adopted sister Maria loathed the cycle of books about the Austin family, and that L'Engle's children and grandchildren alike detest L'Engle's Crosswick Journals series, especially Two-Part Invention which was L'Engle's memoir about her marriage to actor Hugh Franklin. Hugh Franklin drank quite a bit and had at least two extra-marital affairs.
Their eldest child Josephine read it and apparently thought: Who the hell is she talking about?

The New Yorker article, which has become quite notorious amongst L'Engle fans and which somehow I'd managed to miss, is not a hatchet-job.  It also reflects the love L'Engle's family had for her along with the exasperation.  But I, huddled under the covers with my glowing laptop, was fighting back my shock and a sense of loss.  I've read everything L'Engle wrote, with the possible exception of her poetry.  I grew up with the four books that begin with A Wrinkle in Time, and of course, I loved the Austin books which were about the sort of family I'd never had.  It turns out that L'Engle may not have have had that sort of family either.  The Crosswick Journals were the sort of books to which I'd turn again and again for comfort, wisdom and perspective.

As the shock wore off, an odd sense of relief took over.  I felt consoled by all this dysfunction somehow, and besides, I recognized something about her children's feelings -- anger, bewilderment, and the sense of having no say in the story.  It was the same feeling I had when I read the biographical essay featured in my father's order of service.  I wonder if they too had the cold sweat when they read the matriarch's version of their family?  Coincidentally, Alan Jones, L'Engle's ex-son-in-law, was the dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco when my dad's service was held there.  Possibly he still is.  Speaking of L'Engle, he refers to the "confirmed construction of the self by means of narrative" which could also be a charitable way of describing the legend my father built up to support his life in California.

I don't know what I'll find now when I revisit L'Engle's books, particularly the Crosswick Journals, but I've been rereading many of my favourite books this past year (no L'Engle ones, as it happens), and I'm rediscovering that no book will ever be the same, anyway. That's probably true of most things.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Some Canadian content for bedtime

This has been been an ear worm for me.  G'night. 

Friday, 27 March 2015

The Wandering Hands Society (more tales from Demeter)

The purse
Younger daughter elected to sit by herself on the bus yesterday. I didn't mind; she wasn't mad at me, and she is going to have to navigate the transit system by herself at some point.  Besides, I had a seat where, for most of the forty-minute ride, I had a reasonably clear view of her. I spent the time doing four things: noting who sat next to my daughter (three different women);  watching the Ottawa River, this day a mottled grey as the ice along it thins; fighting off thoughts of an unpleasant incident that happened on a Winnipeg bus last October; and remembering my mother's tales of defending herself against various pervs in London and Paris.

Demeter was a lovely young women - not that being plain exempts you from unwanted male attention; I can attest to that - and by her early twenties, was an expert in discouraging all sorts of nonsense, mostly from the members of what she called "The Wandering Hands Society". Her experience as a nursing student was somewhat of a crash course in sexual harassment in those far-off days when it was a little more run-of-the-mill and not the subject of public service campaigns.

She was (and always has been) resourceful. To avoid being groped by strange men in dark theatres, she would declare in the loudest, plummiest voice she could manage, "If you do not stop that, sir, I will be forced to call the manager!" Alternatively, she could sit between "canoodling couples", and enjoy a show unmolested. Returning home on dark streets and sensing she was being followed, she'd approach a patrolling London bobbie who would accompany her along his beat, passing her on to the next policeman's territory, and so she continued, chatting genially, until she reached her front door.  When she tried that in France, she was startled by the gendarme's response:  "If I were not on duty, I would follow you myself!"  She further discovered that the strategy of sitting between kissing couples didn't work in Paris, either. Frenchmen turned out to be ambidextrous.

One of my favourite stories concerned another cinema visit with her younger sister, recently arrived from Kenya to train as a nurse herself.  Not long into the feature, my aunt whispered in alarm: "A man is fondling my knee!"
Demeter whispered back, grimly: "Switch seats."
She had a clutch bag with a sturdy metal edge.  When the wandering hand began to encroach, she brought the edge down with a satisfying crunch.  There was a muffled whimper, and her neighbour found someplace else to sit, but perhaps not to grope.

Things didn't change much when she came to Canada.  She was walking down a corridor in her first workplace, a clinic in downtown Edmonton, when someone gave her rear end a hard pinch.  Turning, she found a small group of seated patients grinning at each other.  She strode back.
"Which one of you did that?" she snapped.
The men lost their smirks and the ability to look at her, nor at each other.
"Which one of you pinched me?"
No reply.
But they didn't try it again.

Sitting on a bus many years later, I watched my daughter furtively, so she wouldn't suspect.  She felt my gaze anyway,and shook her head at me with a grimace.  As someone living on the spectrum, she usually objects quite loudly if anyone crosses her boundaries.  I can only hope fervently that this will be a good talisman against those hands that wander.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Give me your answer do

Almost every day, for the past three years or so, younger daughter and I have been able to see this poster across the street from our bus stop as we wait to catch our final bus home.

Almost every day, for the past three years or so, I have wondered: Exactly what trend is being set here?

Incredibly dangerous, to say nothing of uncomfortable, ways to double someone on a bike?

And while we're at it, where the hell is her left leg? Are her legs crossed? What is she wearing on her feet? It looks like she's got very large, very blocky, high-heel boots on. And how did she get on? And how did he get going with her on the handle-bars throwing off his balance and blocking his view?

In short, would you want these twits as neighbours? One comfort, I suppose, is that they'd been unlikely to be your neighbours for long before they win the Darwin Award - most likely posthumously.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

All my trials, Lord

One thing they don't tell you before you have kids: you will relive the school experience for as many times as you have kids - the embarrassment, the cliques, the bullying… and the homework.

Younger daughter is studying The Crucible this year, so I have to remind myself how it goes. It just so happens that the recent Old Vic production starring Richard Armitage has just become available for download on Digital Theatre.

It's long - almost three-and-a-half hours - so I've only watched the first half so far, but, my goodness, it's good! There's a sequence featuring the minister John Hale and the slave Tituba which is particularly memorable. No clip available of that, of course. Hale is played by Adrian Schiller, who looked familiar to me (well, most of the actors do, that's why they're playing the West End, they have the experience). It turns out Schiller was the creepy Uncle in "The Doctor's Wife", one of the better Matt Smith Doctor Who episodes. Anyway, Hale starts out as the epitome of reason and mercy and without losing that persona, soon has Tituba and the other young girls swearing that they have dabbled in witchcraft and naming names. It's stunning and disturbing.

The following clip shows the crucial moment in The Crucible, when Elizabeth Proctor, not knowing what her husband has told the judges, is called to testify about the real reason for the dismissal of their former servant Abigal Williams. The actors use a kind of northern English accent (Armitage describes it as Lancastrian/Colonial) which makes sense as American accents would not have emerged yet.

The real Abigail Williams was an eleven-year-old, but Arthur Miller's play was never meant to be historically accurate; it's a parable about the post-World-War-Two anti-Communism hysteria in the United States. A more accurate dramatization of the 1692 witch trials in Salem and the surrounding area is possibly the 1985 television mini-series Three Sovereigns for Sarah which still takes artistic license, but sticks a bit closer to actual events.

I'll finish watching The Crucible tomorrow, so I can devise a plan for helping the Resident Fan Boy steer younger daughter through her assignment. She'll accept help from him, but not from me, possibly because she thinks I resemble a witch these days.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Dappled snap

Younger daughter and I were hurrying up Metcalfe Street past the panhandlers crouching on the sidewalk squinting into the late afternoon sun. I managed to coax some change from under my parka. It's warmer, but not that warm.

Three quarters of the way up the hill leading to the Parliament Buildings, I noticed the sun reflecting off an office block on to the older buildings at the corner of Sparks Street. As we approached, I thought, I don't have time. I don't have time… but look how lovely that is. I fumbled for my phone, stabbing the screen with my finger, trying to get the camera function to come up. The buildings were getting nearer and nearer. Come on. Aw, c'mon...

Just as we got to the intersection, my sluggish phone came through. I paused long enough to frame the shot, prayed the shutter would open and then race-walked once more.

We caught our bus. We even got seats.

Monday, 23 March 2015

The authority song

When something like this hurtles out of left field and clobbers me, I go back time and time again, trying to remember if there were any warning signs.

It's probably a futile exercise. You can't plan for everything, although heaven knows I try. I tried this time, but the awful thing is, the planning may have been a factor.

During March Break, I've adopted the practice of making a list of possible outings. The idea is to a) get younger daughter out and about once a day; and b) give her some choice in the matter. This year's selection included Kenneth Branagh's Disney directorial debut: Cinderella. I had checked ahead for showtimes and discovered that the IMAX version had pre-booked seating. Well, I thought, that's probably a good idea. The city is full of parents - and gawd help us, day camps - searching for things to do with their kids.

So, on the morning younger daughter had chosen to attend, I got up early, booked our favourite seats online (narrowly missing choosing seats smack in the front row), and carefully plotted the buses that would get us there on time to get to the washroom, purchase popcorn and drinks, and find our seats. (Trickier than you'd think; OC Transpo cuts back on bus service during March Break.) Then I gave younger daughter timely warnings and got her out to the bus stop.

It worked beautifully. Washroom first, and no line-up at concession.

That's where things began to fall apart. When I asked younger daughter if she could take her bag of popcorn, she scooped it up impatiently and snapped, "I'm not a kid anymore!!" Quite a bit of the popcorn went flying. She stomped over to get a straw for her pop, leaving me a little startled.

We made our way to our seats in the centre of the topmost row. The aisle is well-lit, but the middle seats aren't and I realized that I couldn't read the seat numbers. Normally, this isn't an issue, but this was a reserved-seating show, so I asked younger daughter, who was juggling her food and coat, to tell me the number of the seat next to her. She spent some time working out where to put her coat, then sat down. I asked again. She grumbled at me and stared ahead stubbornly. That's when I made the fatal error. I should know better, but it's been a while, and I thoughtlessly muttered: "Oh, please don't act like a bitch." Younger daughter may have deficits in certain categories of memory and comprehension, but her hearing is superb.

It happened so fast that it seemed she had disappeared and reappeared in the distant aisle, leaving me in a shower of popcorn. She was screaming at me at the top of her lungs: "I HATE YOU I HATE YOU YOU IDIOT!!!" Then she stomped down the stairs, and left the theatre.

The family sitting in the row ahead of us moved down several rows.

A few minutes later, she reappeared, grabbed her coat, and exited as I called after her, keep my voice level, "You don't have a ticket with you." She was watching me from the corner of her eye, holding her coat in front of her body when she vanished from my view.

I sat, fighting down the embarrassment and panic, knowing pursuing her would only start another scene. What if she left the building? What if they didn't let her back in? She had her bus pass with her; would she try to go home?

Finally I made my way down, apologizing to a mum and her little girl at the end of the aisle as I squeezed by. They had just arrived and had missed the drama; most people had, the theatre was nearly empty when we first came in. The family who had moved had returned to their seats.

I looked in the washroom. I asked the woman who had taken our tickets, the one who takes hundreds of tickets for the eight large cinemas -- of course she didn't remember seeing younger daughter. I went to the entrance and gazed out at the grey and icy parking lot, out beyond the box stores towards the Transitway station. I decided to return to the cinema. As I was standing in the ramp between the risers and the doorway, scanning the seats, the trailers started and I saw her come in as an usher closed the door behind her. I walked quickly to the far aisle, up the stairs, and had to climb over another family to return to my seat.

As I sat down, I saw she hadn't followed me.

It was a morning show, and the seats were half-filled. I prayed she had taken another seat, and I sat alone in my row - thank God - with her untouched popcorn and drink wedged in her empty seat.

When the movie was over, I picked up her food and my containers and spilling a bit, waddled down the stairs to the garbage containers as the credits rolled. As I pulled on my coat, I scanned the seats again, still not finding her, but a minute later, the lights came on and there she was, in the front row of the upper level, gazing at the screen and listening to the closing song. I waited for her to finish in the washroom, texting her dad with the briefest of details. (Of course, my phone had refused to transmit in the middle of the crisis.) I told the Resident Fan Boy that I was bringing her to his office.

We didn't say a word on the long walk back to the station. We sat separately on the bus. We walked silently through the Rideau Centre. When the Resident Fan Boy appeared at his building's entrance, I handed him the music for her voice lesson, turned and left.

On the bus home, I realized I hadn't handed over my iPod which the voice teacher has been using for recording the week's lesson. I shuffled through my music, each title just a little too appropriate to be a comfort: "The Shelter of Storms"; no. "The Mountains Win Again"- oh God, no.

Finally I settled on a good old rocker. It's kind of appropriate, but not enough to put more salt in my wounds.

When I got home, there was a message from the RFB saying that younger daughter had thrown up. It was a timely reminder for me that this whole business had been every bit as traumatic for her as for me. I made the slow turn into beginning to let go of my hurt, although I felt chilled and depressed for another couple of days. I am, after all, a grown-up, and for all younger daughter's indignation, her road to adulthood still stretches out a long way ahead. The late Madeleine L'Engle quoted someone in one of her books: To love someone is to have hope in them always.

I'll have to look it up.

In the week that has followed, we have slowly returned to what is normal for us, anyway. I give thanks that these meltdowns happen so infrequently. Otherwise, I'd be tempted to run away myself.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Concluding with cartoons

March Break is ending. Younger daughter is unhappy and volatile, yet I know I will only make things worse if I interfere. From the sounds of things, the Resident Fan Boy is handling the situation - he has been younger daughter's favoured parent for some time - but he will drained as he heads to bed.

I stay downstairs and think of today's outing to the Bytowne Cinema to see a collection of the animated shorts nominated for the Oscar this year. The winner, of course, was Feast, a charming if formulaic Disney number, about an adorable dog who lives for delicious people food, yet remains healthy and trim. It was younger daughter's favourite, of course.

I can't say if I had a favourite this year, but I was never bored. I rather like this one, a Danish/Canadian collaboration. I doubt it will be up on YouTube for long.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Triumph of the will


Just found a treasure trove of Bank of England will extracts which not only told me when my great-great-great-great-grandfather died in Aldgate (October 1800), but alerted me to two children of another great-great-great-great-uncle.

See you later!

Friday, 20 March 2015

The safer side of an English country garden

One of my Facebook pals posted a video of "Country Gardens", probably to herald the coming of spring, which showed up this afternoon, but was nowhere to be seen when younger daughter checked the front door.

When I hear it, I think of Demeter who told me of the trips back and forth between England and Kenya where she grew up. It used to come on over the loudspeakers and everyone would troop down to the dining room.

I became intrigued because I was puzzled why it seemed that there are few recordings of British singers doing this song. Jimmie Rodgers (the second of that name, and no relation to the first) had a hit with it in the UK, but he was very American. When you look up the sung version on YouTube, there seem to be rather a lot of Australians.

When I looked up the history of the song, I found Percy Grainger's arrangement for piano, made popular in 1918. (He was born in Australia, and died in the United States.) The tune apparently has been around for at least three centuries -- associated with Morris dancing, among other things -- but the words Jimmie Rodgers sings were written in 1958 by some fellow named Robert M Jordan who probably isn't English. Apparently, cardinals, tanagers, and fireflies are not things you'd find in an English country garden.

Perhaps it's safer to stick with the instrumental.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

"March has the first day of spring, but not the last day of winter"

Well, winter is on the way out. That's why we had a frost-bite warning last night here in Ottawa. But it's okay, it was only a paltry -13 wind chill this morning. Time for a last crack at the departing season with this Rick Mercer poke at Calgary's attempt to have designated tobogganing hills.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015


Nope. Still circling the painful subject of yesterday. Spent the bulk of the day buried in family history research, so am cheating with yet another Doctor Who fan-vid. This one is, once again, from the admirable BabelColour, and is cleverly based on the frenetic finale of the musical Half a Sixpence, one of those Sixties musicals I've never managed to see all the way through.

Half a Sixpence itself is based on, believe it or not, an HG Wells novel. The musical started out in the West End, starring a former skiffle star named Tommy Steele, who managed to pick up some startling dancing skills along the way. The show made it to Broadway and a film version was made in 1967. Here's the number as it appeared in the movie. It's longer to allow for the dancing (choreographed by Gillian Lynde who did the honours for Cats and scores of other musicals), and amusingly enough for the swinging Sixties, the original lyrics from the staged version have been cleaned up for the film.

Let's see how tomorrow goes. I may be feeling a bit less fragile by then.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Gang aft agley

Emotional wounds, like physical hurts, leave me chilled and exhausted. Shock is shock. At times like this, I turn to my tried-and-true therapies: family research, music, and (yes, still) David Tennant. When some warmth and energy return, I might go into detail, but right now, indulge me.

About a month ago, David Tennant received a special recognition award at the National Television Awards, held in London. What appeared on British television screens got posted on YouTube pretty damn quick, but just a couple of days ago, someone got hold of a video focussing on Tennant's reaction to the surprise presentation as he sat in the audience with his wife Georgia Moffett. This is made all the more touching by the recent revelation that Tennant's father Alexander McDonald is terminally ill.

Monday, 16 March 2015

A relatively gentle reminder

We tried to get out to Gatineau last week, before the Ontario public school system's March Break kicked in. Unfortunately, the Resident Fan Boy had slipped younger daughter's bus pass into the wrong pocket in her parka, so it wasn't discovered until the optimal departure time had passed.

We did make it today. When we arrived at the museum (formerly the Museum of Civilization, now, in a governmental fit of political correctness, relabelled the Museum of History which, elder daughter insists hotly, is a tautology), there was a long, looping line-up for tickets, and I was reminded forcefully why I avoid museums during official March Break. The place was brimming with large herds of Japanese students following a banner, and families, mostly with very young children.

Oh, it wasn't bad. We got to the ticket counter in about ten minutes, and weren't challenged about younger daughter's school status this time, although I'd been careful to bring documentation.

After an early lunch in the relatively recent, rather swish bistro, we lined up for fifteen minutes to await the IMAX film with mildly cranky kids munching on take-away food. This ensured that we were close enough to front of the line to snag my favourite perch above the projector, where we sat for another twenty minutes watching the late arrivals try to avoid sitting in the bottom rows by stumbling over those who were already seated.

What followed was a rather delightful film about the Galapagos Islands which couldn't even be spoiled by the kid kicking the back of my seat, nor the little girl (another late arrival) who chatted at her mum during most of the movie. I learned all sorts of things about the Galapagos, the unique species, how they arrived on the islands and evolved, how the islands themselves are constantly changing, bubbling up through volcanoes, greening, then eroding back into the ocean.

One of the neatest discoveries is the dandelion tree, which has evolved from the dandelions sprung from spores that blew across that corner of the Pacific Ocean millions of years ago. Those are the trees in the photo above; they remind me a bit of the Truffula trees in Dr Seuss's fable The Lorax.

Afterwards we took a second stab at an exhibition about the sinking of the Empress of Ireland (the centenary was last year), which the Resident Fan Boy, younger daughter and I had to rush through last autumn because we hadn't allowed enough time. This exhibit was also good enough to not be spoiled by more than one ankle-biter who would grab both receivers of an audio display, press the French version to one ear, the English to the other, then invariably drop one receiver with a smack and a crash while trying to hang both up at once.  Or the mothers almost tripping me with their strollers because they were distracted by their phone conversations as they passed scenes of death and devastation.

But, as March Break museum visits go, it was a pleasant day. All the same, I was aware I'd had a relatively gentle reminder to not press my luck, and plan a visit on a quieter day.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

March sunset

Our house faces west, and when the sun climbs in the window at sunset, I know we're getting close to the equinox.  At the park, there are no windows to clean.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Sydney Smith was right

Last night, I phoned Demeter and learned she's been ill for a few days.  She told me she's decided to stop flying out to Hades for Thanksgiving.  Today, we had freezing drizzle and ice pellets intermittently throughout the day, so that by the evening, I found myself picking my way down a sidewalk covered with what seemed to be tapioca, and every time I stepped into the street for surer footing, cars would zoom toward me, driving me back to the slippery pavement.

So it was just as well we were booked for a "Family Dinner" at Table 40 which, fortunately for us, is at the end of our block.  We've been going to them for about four years now, roughly once a month, so they know us.  The menu is set, and you serve yourself from the platters brought to your table.  Tonight, it was broccoli and leek soup with parmesan popcorn to sprinkle on top of the greenest soup ever, short ribs served with creamy scalloped potatoes and warm cherry tomatoes, salad with greens and cucumbers and crunchy stuff on top, and finally, apple fritters.

I don't think I've ever had apple fritters before.  (The picture above is of beignets, which are close to what we had, except our fritters were brown.)  They're rather like really chewy Tim-Bits with apple in the centre and they were served with cups of chocolate sauce and raspberry coulis for dipping.  Each bite seemed to light up the pleasure centre in my brain.

By the time we were picking our way home in the gathering darkness, I felt better.

They don't call it comfort food for nothing.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Face the face

We knew winter was coming back; it's way too early for a Hadean spring. Snow today, freezing rain forecast for tomorrow. Maybe that's why I found myself feeling suddenly achy, and chapped.  I hope so, because otherwise, it means I'm coming down with something.  Either way, I need to get to bed early.

Anyway, I posted a rather maimed version of "Face to Face" on this blog seven years ago.  I suppose I've been thinking about Pete Townsend because of including a video featuring him last week, so I wondered if someone had found a more complete version of what is, after all, one of my favourite Pete Townsend songs.

There are now about five.

They're all interesting, most recorded in different years.  One particularly intriguing take is a slightly more laid-back performance, heavy on the bongos and featuring Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd, of all people.  Great footwork by Townsend, but it's difficult to fully appreciate it with the irritating camera work.

But they do have the original "official" video featuring Townsend's daughter Emma (now a Cambridge graduate and a journalist) and all of the first verse. And yes, it's supposed to end like that.

I'd dance myself to bed, but I'd probably break something.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The last straw

This can be enlarged by clicking on it.
About two years ago, I had a good old rant about the family research web site Geni in which I'd discovered that putting my research on a Geni web site is a tacit agreement (on their part, not mine) that, despite the privacy settings, all relatives further out than five generations are fair game for any so-called family researcher to claim -- and edit.

So I did the best I could to remove the relatives I could, and remove the information from those I couldn't.  (Closing your Geni account doesn't make any difference; your tree stays even if you don't.)  I decided to be philosophical about it; it was a handy place to store online documents and a platform for sharing discoveries with the branch of the Resident Fan Boy's that had invited me to Geni in the first place.

Last summer, I had another small shock.  Geni had adopted an "opting out" privacy policy -- all the ancestors within the five-generation limit had been set to "public".  It was up to the profile "managers" (as they call us) to set them back to "private".  Since the message was at the Geni inbox, I didn't find out about this for a few weeks.  I was cross enough to set every single profile to private -- it took me the better part of the morning -- only to get a rather snippy message from Geni telling me I was a naughty girl for re-setting the profiles beyond the five-generation limit as it was not in the spirit of sharing.

I remained philosophical.

This morning after a minor disaster doing my time-lines, I went to Geni to double-check some information that I hadn't stored at Ancestry.  On my home-page was a long list of "merges", that is, blending profiles from different researchers.  It didn't really affect me because it concerned the immediate family of the second cousin who had issued me the invitation to Geni, but two things made me enormously uncomfortable:
1)  With one exception, the merges concerned living relatives;
2)  I didn't  recognize the name of the person doing the merging.

Above, I've taken steps so you won't recognize any names either. It's from the home page of the "merger" which I had immediately checked.  It turns out I'm not the only one who doesn't know who he is and is not okay with his "fixing" other people's family trees.  You'll also see that he is very unperturbed.  He says he is a volunteer Geni "curator" whose job it is to merge as many trees into the "World Family Tree" as possible.

I'm not getting into the pros and cons of "collaborative trees" here.  There are plenty of impassioned arguments going on in the comments sections of popular genealogy blogs and web sites.  Suffice it to say, I double-checked my privacy settings, all set to the maximum that Geni will allow, and discovered that Geni staff can go into any profile they please.  Our friend above said, in response to yet another exasperated request that he stop putting his oar in, that as a "curator", he has "special privileges".

That was enough for me.  I went straight to my Geni tree and set to work feverishly, first deleting my daughters' profiles which are supposed to be visible to family only.  As I worked through the morning, I discovered that if I deleted profiles in a certain order, that is, children, spouses, then siblings, then I could usually delete the profiles in my direct line.  When I couldn't, I went directly to the profile, and  sometimes could choose "delete"from the Actions menu.  Failing that, I used my old trick of manually erasing all information from the profile itself, using the "edit" tab.  Once that was done, I found I could delete those profiles as well.

By late afternoon, I had cleared my side of the tree to my name only, and the vast majority of the Resident Fan Boy's paternal relatives.  I'm leaving the RFB's maternal ancestors because, as I've said, it was those cousins who invited me in the first place.  Besides, they're usually the managers of those profiles, so I couldn't delete them anyway. (I can't delete my husband or his immediate family because other cousin manage their profiles, for example.)

For good measure, I went into my photo file at Geni, and deleted all photos of living relatives and my own deceased ancestors.

I will now wait and see if I get another snippy message.  If so, I will complete the job and close my account.

You can lecture me all you want about collaboration, Geni.  Cooperation still doesn't mean co-opting other people's work -- particularly without their permission.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

No beginning and no end

Still Life and Street - a 1937 woodcut
It's the third day of what desperate Ottawans are calling "spring". Filthy piles of snow are melting into filthy puddles, and the buses and sidewalks are suddenly full of people pushing walkers, or in motorized wheelchairs. You don't see much of the elderly or disabled in the winter months; this isn't the ideal city for them.

I thought about this as I followed the Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter down Sussex Drive toward the National Gallery. Last March, I struggled to keep up with them and had to stop for rests every time my knees gave out. Today, I gave thanks for being able to walk and stand. Evidently, I've been given a respite, but I'm grimly aware that last year was probably a preview of my own eventual decrepitude. Rather like winter, which always comes back, and is forecast to close in again this weekend.

Best to rejoice in what is. Among the exhibits currently at the gallery is a retrospective of the mind-bending images of MC Escher. It's a small exhibit by the Gallery's standards, only taking up three large showrooms, but with Escher, that's probably ample enough brainwork for one afternoon.

For those -- like me -- who are only familiar with posters of creatures seeming to crawl out of two-dimensional designs, or stairs that keep flipping over, it's something else to see Escher's early work: woodcut scenes from Italy created out of delicate crosshatching or hundreds of vertical strokes. In the centre of the first hall is a display table showing a sketch of a scene, the block with the woodcut for the same scene, and finally the print made from the woodcut. I found myself rather preferring the block with an image that wasn't a negative, exactly, but the city-scape at night which seemed to be emitting its own light.

Above is one of the prints that made me stop, go back and gaze. It's an early example of Escher playing tricks with a view out the window -- with no window. The street simply grows out of the desk and the books blend into the walls of the buildings. It's subtler than his more famous stuff. Go take a good look.

Below is a work from twenty years later which is more recognizable as Escher. I saw the devils before I found the angels. Is it a judgment?

Circle Limit IV - a 1960 woodcut
When I got home, I went up into the bedroom and wondered at an unfamiliar but not unpleasant odour. I realized the Resident Fan Boy had opened the window for the first time in five months.

He'll have closed it by the weekend.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Falling icicles and fossils

Oh, Ottawans are deluded. One day of plus-zero temperatures (Celsius of course!) and they're warbling about spring coming. They wander in a happy daze, getting beaned by plummeting tusks of ice. Early this afternoon, I took the Accent Snob for a splash through the slushy puddles that make up the sidewalks on the side streets, and we were blocked by an enormous clump of smashed white snow. It took me a minute to realize that it was one of the huge accumulations on top of the shrubbery lining the posh house on the corner. It had evidently slid off in a lumpy crunch sometime during the relatively balmy morning. The dog and I made a detour around it, as I checked quickly for outstretched legs. No casualties.

A European lady whom I glimpse every few months walking her pug, greeted me with talk of spring. I told her that I've learned not to even consider it until May to shield myself from disappointment. She strolled away laughing. It was pointless to remind her that when spring comes, it will last two weeks. Memories here are as short as the winter is long.

However, it's March Break (never Spring Break here), and I've made a list of outings for younger daughter and left it by her breakfast place. She chose the Museum of Nature today, so we set off to fit it in before her voice lesson which is in the same neighbourhood.

The lady at the admissions desk asked for student identification for younger daughter, a first. Younger daughter's school gave up on providing student cards years ago, and I don't carry her report cards around with me. I will now. "She looks older," said the lady kindly, but younger daughter is petite and still looks quite younger than her actual age. As we made our way to the cloakroom, the real reason occurred to me - March Break doesn't begin until next week for the public school system, so she stood out among the handful of tiny visitors to the museum today.

And indeed, I've never seen the Museum of Nature so empty. We practically had the Dinosaur Gallery to ourselves. This meant we could use the audio-visual displays for once. I've rarely had the opportunity to appreciate just how wonderful they are. They're a blend of interviews (subtitled - a huge bonus for younger daughter), animations, quizzes and puzzles. I learned about how fossilized leaves give clues to climate and landscapes: long thin leaves mean rivers, large smooth edges mean tropical, jagged edges mean temperate, and a long spout at the tips means rain forests. I learned there was an enormous Y-shaped inland sea stretching across what is present-day North America, and that the left arm of that "Y" stretched over what is now Saskatchewan, which is why they can find ancient shark teeth in the Pasquia Hills. I suppose it will be back some day, but not teeming with the creatures suspended over the entrance - not even with their skins on.

Younger daughter carefully avoided me, spending a long time at several monitors, murmuring the text from the screens to herself. Diplomatically, I kept my distance until it was time to leave, and we walked out into the sunshine, stretching our legs to avoid the slush and puddles along Metcalfe, listening to the dogs barking and squelching at the dog park on Frank Street, on our way to the coffee shops of Elgin.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Daylight saving whine

I was standing at the pick-up counter of our local drugstore this morning when I realized how peculiar I was feeling. It was 8:30 am, but 7:30 standard time and that was the whole problem. I was navigating myself through the day in a city full of sleepy and cranky people, and it will take at least three days before I feel anywhere near normal again.

Arguments for and against daylight savings time can be found here, but I found myself laughing hysterically at this item from HBO's Last Week Tonight

Beware, it's not very respectful to Germans, and downright rude to cows:

I admit I'm a bit punchy, so I may not find this as funny when my circadian rhythms recover.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Watching a book

CapitalCapital by John Lanchester

This book begins like a novel, and somewhere in the middle turns into a television series. This is not a bad thing; at some point I began to be strongly reminded of a British show from a few years back called The Street in which each episode was about a different household with characters from other household overlapping.

That street was working-to-lower-middle-class; the street in Capital has evolved over the years into a very posh street, although the characters we meet are from all walks of life: an African refugee, a Muslim shopkeeper and his family, a Polish builder, a Hungarian nanny, a city banker, a promising young soccer-player, a City banker and his spendthrift wife, and a dying old woman - plus a dozen others.

Lanchester does an admirable job of inhabiting each of these very different characters, and the narrative is very compelling - even if the ending is not all that surprising.

I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see this televised in the not-so-distant future.

View all my reviews

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Too damn tired

It's March. It's Ottawa. It's Daylight Saving Time, and I get one less hour to sleep.

Friday, 6 March 2015

A shadow of his former self

Oh, I had noble plans. I had the day mapped out. Then I ran into my father. The one who has been dead for six years. The one I haven't seen for many more years than that.

I have a British subscription to Find My Past, but the site is offering free world-wide access this weekend, so before embarking on the day's activities, I tried entering some familiar names. I stumbled across three articles about my dad, two with pictures, all from Bay Area newspapers which is where he settled after he left us for the final time. The articles themselves didn't contain anything of which I wasn't aware; they concerned his involvement with the local branches of Junior Achievement and the American Diabetes Association.

I wasn't prepared for the heavy sad feeling somewhere below my heart. In the first photo, he is back-lit in a group of four men, but I instantly recognized his stance, his posture and the shape of his head. It was taken when I was about the same age as younger daughter is now, and struggling through a haze of depression in the final months of high school. I noticed with another small shock, that the photo had appeared in the San Mateo Times. My aunt, my mother's sister, lived in San Mateo for many years.

The second photo was taken three years later, after I had decided, based on a dream I'd had, that he had died. I was staying with a family friend in Muswell Hill, in the house he'd often visited with my mother, and was haunted by what I had imagined were vestiges of him. The photo is crystal clear. He is unmistakeable.

It took me a while, but I recovered and got on with my day. I didn't weep. I saved the articles and archived them until I can decide a safer place to store them. As I have mentioned in this blog before, a number of people need to be safely off the planet before I can tell his story to those who remain.

Grief, it seems, takes strange shapes, as tangible as a knot in the stomach and insubstantial as a shadow. It returns in a different form every time.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Goin' somewhere?

I woke up this morning rather dreading the day -- I've actually been dreading this day for some time.

However, the afternoon ended with the Resident Fan Boy, younger daughter and I making the long return by bus in sunshine that just about gave warmth, having made some decisions for the coming year. Whether we've made the right decisions probably won't be revealed to us for some time. Months, maybe. Years, probably. Days, if we're really unlucky.

When I got home, there were pumpkin pies to be made for tomorrow's pre-March-Break potluck at younger daughter's school. Well, they'll be getting one pie; the other was for tonight's dessert, because it would be cruel to make pumpkin pie and deprive elder daughter. While they baked, I folded laundry and ran smack into a memory from my own last year of high school.

It was the Christmas talent show and the last number in the darkened gymnasium was performed by a couple of brothers who were in the drama club with me. I remember them as being delightful, open fellows with a stinker of an elder brother who had, thankfully, graduated the previous year. Strumming guitars with ease and energy, they sang a ditty I'd never heard before, about going to see a film about Gunga Din. There was no internet in those distant days, so it took a while before I found out it was a Bob Dylan song, although from the sound of things, the brothers had based their setting on the version by the Byrds.

The following cover sounds a lot like how I remember that grey December afternoon. It was, as far as I recall, my last happy memory of high school.

(Singers Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, are, of course, the former lovers whose story is told in the motion picture Once.)

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Gould comfort

It's March in Hades, which means veering from flash-freezes to freezing rain to slush. It was the last item today. I ventured out on the long afternoon journey to Bells Corners and was confronted with several shallow and not-so-shallow bodies of water, close to the curbs and overwhelming the feet of several driveways, effectively corralled by small walls of snow. One has to trek over squishy layers of grey matter to avoid ankle deep moats that cut across the sidewalks, while taking care to keep as close to the houses as the drifts will allow, because that ninth car in every ten will fail to slow sufficiently and one will re-learn the concept of water displacement in a curtain of salty filth.

I made it on to a bus with relatively dry feet, only to discover I had failed to re-synchronize my iPod when recharging it, so my music menu and assorted podcasts that help me through the hour-long trip to the outer reaches of Nepean were not available. This left me to choose between listening to the radio or contemplating my rich inner life -- the windows being too coated with mud to see out.

I chose the radio, and heard the middle of a piano piece with a voice humming along in my left earbud, so I knew it was Glenn Gould who was notorious for singing along with his nimble fingers. (Mind you, I also have a recording of the full score for Tchaicovsky's Sleeping Beauty in which you can hear, if listening on earphones, André Previn's "dee-di-di-di-dee" during the introduction to the famous waltz, so Gould was not entirely alone in this habit.)

I peered out at the passing Ottawa River, seeing someone cross-country-skiing on the snow-covered ice, ice-fishing huts near the Québec side, and someone else carrying what looked like large blue wings - all of these rather perilous pursuits in a thaw, no matter how temporary.

When I got home, I stumbled upon this:

Having someone in the house living on the autistic spectrum with a talent for music, I find I feel rather protective of Glenn Gould, even though he's far beyond needing anyone's protection now.

The temperature is plummeting tonight, meaning all those ponds will be miniature skating rinks.


Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Save it for later

Elder daughter sidled up to me in the kitchen last week and inquired, sotto voce: "How did you do it?"

We've been struggling over the past few weeks with younger daughter's descent to the breakfast table. The descent has been occurring later and later, until she was missing breakfast more often than not and worse, making her lift idle in the bus stop in front of our house. Our lives for the past half-dozen years have run on the theme of "Is it adolescence or autism?", so any attempts to reason with her were loudly rebuffed.

Finally, I remembered reading somewhere that writing is not nagging, so I wrote her a letter detailing the problem and making some suggestions, leaving it on her bed. We did hear an indignant "How dare they?" from behind her closed door, but, wonder of wonders, she has been down to eat breakfast in plenty of time for a week and a half.

This means, among other things, that we also have plenty of time to listen to the radio before she leaves. This was playing this morning:

I don't remember The Beat (known as the English Beat outside of England), although I do recall General Public, their next incarnation. Cute though, isn't it? The Beat in a fifties beat club which still manages to look thoroughly eighties. Maybe it's the hair.

While we're at it, here's Pete Townsend doing an acoustic version some years later:

Townsend offers a prize for anyone who can tell him what the song means. There's an unsavoury theory that the title and chorus are a play on words. I really hope they aren't.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Duh, Persephone

I have been meditating on musical reinterpretations, which isn't as pompous as it sounds - I've been avoiding doing things I should be doing again, and this works as well as anything.

Anyway, last week this video went viral: 

Now, most people are focussing on the fact that it's older people in the video, but what struck me was this wasn't just a karaoke version of the original by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars - it's an honest-to-goodness re-recording of the audio and sounds, and it's edgier.  Nuthin' wrong with the slick original, y'understand.

While I was comparing the two (fabulous way to procrastinate and avoid - trust me), I had a feeling of déjà-vu, and tried googling Purple Rain, a film I've never seen.  I did see plenty of music videos from it, years ago, including this one:

That's when it occurred to me that the "Wait! What time is it?" break in "Uptown Funk" is a direct reference to "Jungle Love". This became even more obvious when I checked the comments for all the videos.

Duh, Persephone.

I also discovered discovered several mash-ups of "Uptown Funk" with "Jungle Love", and this recent performance of the latter song by Morris Day himself -- who is now probably roughly the same age as Alex Boye, if not the dancing grannies.

Rather a neat circle, isn't it? Day is backed by Haim:

Morris Day and the Haim. I just got that.

Duh, Persephone.