Saturday, 31 December 2016

All Christmases are last Christmases

It's the seventh Day of Christmas, and I still haven't seen this year's Doctor Who Christmas special.

Part of the reason for this is that while the Resident Fan Boy was in the living room, sleeping during the transmission (he says he won't and always does), I was upstairs watching the production of Richard III that makes up The Hollow Crown, a rollicking holiday fun-fest of drownings, smotherings, decapitations, and general treachery, warfare and murder. Take that, Prince of Peace.

However, some hours earlier, after the family had opened their presents Christmas afternoon, I watched the 2014 and 2015 DW Christmas specials. I think I was the one who dropped off to sleep during the original broadcasts in past years, so they were practically new viewing for me, and they both, at some point, have the same message: every Christmas is a last Christmas. We gather together, as Clara said to the Doctor, never knowing whether this will be the last time; that's why we reach out to family and friends as the days draw shorter and darker.

I pondered on this, thinking about Demeter watching us in Hades via Skype as we opened our presents after lunch, as is our custom, the Resident Fan Boy being the son of an Anglican minister who couldn't join the family by the tree until the four Christmas Day services had taken place. Demeter is still with us; the RFB's father is long gone, his last Christmas being nearly twenty years ago.

I think I was still watching Doctor Who when elder daughter appeared and told me that George Michael had just died. George Michael had a big hit with a song called "Last Christmas"; it's one of my least favourite songs ever, but there is no question that he was a huge talent. This was demonstrated to me beyond a shadow of a doubt on an Easter weekend nearly twenty-five years ago, when I, nearly nine months pregnant, willed elder daughter to stay put until after my birthday, which was the following Wednesday. I lay quietly in our bedroom watching the Freddy Mercury Tribute Concert (Mercury had had his last Christmas a few months before), and George Michael nearly blew Wembley Stadium away with this song.

May the coming year, as uncertain as it may appear, be filled with wonderful firsts, and, if there must be lasts, may they be things with which you are glad to part.

Friday, 18 November 2016

"You don't understand my phrases"

As winter nights (and Donald Trump and his merry band) close in inexorably, I bury my head in art, drama, and music.

Recently, we went to see the New Zealand String Quartet (one of whom is actually a New Zealander) at the lovely Dominion-Chalmers United Church.

Younger daughter was furious, saying it would be too long and at night, but I felt her relaxing into a Haydn concerto, and stimming happily during a piece composed specifically for the NZSQ, which involved a playful popping bass-line (rather like that in "Somebody That I Used to Know"), and a lot of dramatic pauses to stretch on the part of the violinists.

The Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter made a quick exit during the intermission. Good thing -- the Schubert quintet that followed (with a guest cellist from the U of O faculty to make up the number) was lovely, but l-o-o-ong, especially when the regular cellist broke a string during the vigorous third movement, and had to vanish back stage for several moments.

I spent much of the time listening intently, of course, and following elder daughter's movements with my bird binoculars, as she slipped quietly into the darker recesses of the balcony to take snaps with my camera, to be published on social media -- part of her job as a communications and marketing specialist.

I recognized the second movement immediately, a summery, sleepy bit of beauty which brought out-of-focus green fields of tall grass to my mind's eye, and tried to remember which film this might have been. When I looked it up at home, I realized that it's the music that closes Conspiracy a dramatic, all-star imagining of the Wannsee Conference of 1942.

On Bank Street, largely and rather worryingly deserted at 10:30 on a Saturday evening, I searched for a bus stop where the shops weren't dark, and was accosted by a bag lady, who had a few conspiracy theories of her own. She even gave me the name of another lady who, she assured me, would tell me a different story.

"You don't understand my phrases," she said.

She was right, there.

Thursday, 17 November 2016


I'd been looking for a quieter and more comfortable place to wait while younger daughter has her morning voice lesson, and had noticed that the church puts out a welcome sign for the sanctuary at noon, so I slipped into the choir stalls because it was the only place with a bit of light, and I thought I might read for half an hour.

Eventually, I saw the lady bustling around, turning on the lights and putting the sandwich board on the sidewalk outside. Beyond her, I could see Elgin Street brimming with buses and cars, but the sanctuary itself was still.

I've sat in the choir stalls before, while waiting for younger daughter's turn to practise for recitals -- but never in the daytime and never this far back. The church is ringed with stained glass windows of various styles and vintages: the nineteenth century's idea of gothic, pre-Raphaelite imitations, even a bit of art-nouveau.

My eyes were drawn to two tiny windows across from my hiding place, high up with the midday light brightening them. I carry bird binoculars in my bag to avoid being caught short at shows in the larger venues at the National Arts Centre, so I drew them out, and focussed on the window directly opposite me.

The photo I've taken doesn't really do justice to the image of a grave little woman in loose blue clothes, accompanied by what looks like a corgi on a lead, the buildings of downtown Ottawa looking bleakly beautiful and distant, caught in an oval frame, and supplicating hands floating above her short-cropped head.

The neighbouring window seems also to be dedicated to the rather lonely-looking little lady, who died at the age of 48 nearly thirty years ago: "A much loved and devoted member of this parish". In the choir, perhaps? Likely, given the position of the windows.

Who remembers her now? I hope someone does.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Not wanting to know

Oh, but last week was balmy, fading away into evenings of gentle shades of mustard and rust. We didn't know Leonard Cohen was already dead.

Down by the Rideau River, the pathway seemed to glow in a deep aquamarine. It all reminded me, a little uncomfortably, of an evening eight years ago, which also happened to coincide with the American election.
I slipped off to the Bytowne Cinema for a movie, but returned too soon, so tuned into one of the few television channels not covering the events south of the border, before scooting off to bed early.

The next morning, I awoke at 5:26 and thought:  I don't know who won.  Let's keep it that way for another hour.

So I guess my heart knew.

In the coffee shop, a young fella told us that his American girlfriend had voted Libertarian in the advance polls, being a Bernie Sanders fan.  They're planning to immigrate.

"The Canadian Immigration web site has crashed!" he said, the air of someone delivering astonishing news.  I knew; I'd been standing in horror by the radio speakers in my bedroom.

A man fixing his coffee at the creamer and sweetener station by the door, looked up.
"Trump got in?"

He must have been the last person in Ottawa to know.

A couple of days later, the young fella was seated with his girlfriend in the coffee shop.  He recognized me but thought he'd seen me the day before.  I reminded him it had been the morning after the election.  His girlfriend was a bit taken aback that he'd been discussing her vote with strangers.

"I didn't vote for Trump," she muttered.

I decided it would be unkind to point out that, if she hadn't voted for Hillary Clinton, she had essentially voted for Trump.

Every morning, for the past week, I've woken up with a feeling similar to that when I first learned that younger daughter was special needs.  I feel depressed, trapped, and rather terrified about the future.

At the very least, I don't know how I will be able to face seeing and hearing the likes of Newt Gingrich and Ann Coulter in the media again.

I don't care to discuss the very worst.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Hallowe'en seventeen

This year, I decided to splurge and ordered up a deluxe carving kit with special scoopers, and awls and saws of delicate sizes for intricate stencil work. Here is what elder daughter, the Resident Fan Boy, and younger daughter produced after a couple of hours of diligent chiselling yesterday.
By 8:30, the candies were gone, snaffled up by scores of goblins ranging from wide-eyed and worried toddlers-in-arms to the usual large gangs of gangling teenagers. Having spent seventeen Hades Hallowe'ens, we knew to take the pumpkins in and turn off the porch lights to discourage even larger trick-or-treaters.

Looking uneasily to the south, I wonder if there's a metaphor in there somewhere.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Sunday morning ornithology

I was hurrying back from an errand this morning to get ready to go for brunch with a friend - a rare enough occurrence for me here in Hades - when material started raining down on me as I drew near to our house. I thought I heard some of it splat and starting checking my clothes for bird splotches. Glancing down at the pavement, I saw chips and chunks of wood.

I retraced my steps, following a rapping sound and peered up into the branches of one of the maples, which is always the first to change colour and hence, lose its leaves.
This meant I had an unobstructed view of a pileated woodpecker. I see them every couple of years in this neighbourhood, if I'm paying attention, and if the foliage doesn't hide them.

A fellow backed into the driveway in front of me, and baffled, remained in his truck, evidently wondering what I was doing in front of his house, smack in the middle of the sidewalk. My right-hand neighbour approached me, smiling in a rather puzzled fashion. I showed her where to look, and the driver was now staring at her, as she walked around his truck and gazed upward. As I set off, I could hear her explaining, while she took some snaps of her own.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

A bit leery of Siri

Younger daughter has been preparing for a voice competition this month, so we've been making weekly trips to practise with her accompanist, who lives in a neighbourhood that is unfamiliar to us. During the first forty-five minute practice session, I decided to make myself scarce, and wandering rather aimlessly through the strange grey streets, decided to try and find a coffee shop.

"Siri" has been popping up on my phone unsummoned ever since my iPhone updated itself a few weeks ago - shades of the robot invasion. When she does, she immediately asks: "What can I help you with?" and, because I've only had an iPhone for a few months, follows up with a brisk "Go ahead, I'm listening" while I struggle to master the right combination of taps to turn her off and find what I was actually looking for.

One time, I snapped, "I don't need you now, Siri!" and was rewarded with a tart "That seems clear!". It's probably the British accent I've given her.

This morning, I was fumbling for a map, and when Siri appeared, I decided what-the-heck: "I need to find a coffee shop close by, Siri."

"Here's what I found," she replied instantly, providing the name, a map, and the time it would take me to walk there.

It was a charming tea shop, actually, which also serves coffee, pancakes, and sandwiches, while playing jazz recordings -- in short, the ideal place to bring younger daughter.

I feel so modern. And a little afraid.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Gee, I can hardly wait...

Georgia Nichols writes a very funny daily and weekly horoscope, which often has useful advice -- even if you think astrology is bumph.

Recently, she informed me - well, I read it in her column; she doesn't advise me directly - that this coming year, starting this month, will be like October 1992 to November 1993 and November 2004 to October 2005.  As I've mentioned, I've been updating my yearly and decade-long rundowns, so I did a quick run through my diaries to see what that may mean.  ("Connect the dots!" GN exhorts.)

What I found were two very different years.  In the autumn of 1992, we moved into our much-loved house, two blocks away from Demeter, where I hoped to raise our then only daughter.  That year was filled with the joy of our firstborn's first year, and while there were disasters hitting friends and family, they pelted around us like a rock slide that didn't quite hit.  A charmed time.

Autumn 2004 to Autumn 2005?  Oh gawd.  The year when I came to the realization that I would never feel entirely at home in Hades.  Elder daughter's entry into middle school with the ensuing crises of social awkwardness and shunning.  Younger daughter's ejection from the ideal school programme which had been nearly a perfect fit for her into "regular school" -- because she was "doing so well".

Dots to connect?

Upheaval and change.

Life as usual, then.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

A mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up Globe

This past week, the British media (the arts sections anyway) were in a bit of an uproar over the termination of Emma Rice's tenure as the artistic director of the Globe Theatre in London. She's staying for the 2017 season, but apparently is on the outs because she used "inauthentic" lighting, and other modern interpretations, which is apparently not the Globe's mandate, but has also been pulling in the audiences.

I was pulled in as well -- the Globe had a live-stream last month, which permitted me to take in the closing night of Rice's Bollywood-flavoured A Midsummer Night's Dream, which reminded me pleasurably of a simply gorgeous subcontinental production I saw in 2008.

Apart from the thrill of being able to watch along with the crowd on the South Bank, the production was a delight with Katy Owen as a truly manic and rather dangerous Puck, Miaow Miaow (yep - she's a cabaret artist) as a voluptuous and uninhibited Titania, and a male Helena who is the gay BFF of a bossy Hermia. If you follow this last link - and you really should - you'll see "Helenus"(Ankur Bahl) and Hermia (Anjana Vasan) slip in a riff from Beyoncé's "All the Single Ladies", but you'll have to press the play button yourself, because I can't embed it.

The Twitter reaction has been amusing. Lots of pointing out that if the Globe really wants authenticity, they can dispense with the female actors altogether, and encourage disease, prostitution, and fruit-hurling in the audience.

This being the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death, it's been a bumper year for seeing his plays. I have summer memories of a male "Maria" planted barefoot on a volcanic rock outcropping blasting an electric guitar accompaniment to "Lola" while his black Elizabethan skirts rippled in the breeze during the finale of a crossed-dressed Twelfth Night on the grounds of Camosun College. I watched Croatian dancing by flashes of lightening in another Greater Victoria Shakespeare Festival production of A Winter's Tale - no rain until the final bows, because Victoria is a bit like Camelot.

We bagged the Royal Seats for A Company of Fools and their warped take on Pericles, one of the few Shakespeare plays that I have neither seen nor read. And I saw a remarkable and illuminating eighty-minute, four-person interpretation of Romeo and Juliet at the Gladstone Theatre here in Hades. Among many other live Shakespeare goodies available both in Victoria and Ottawa, of course.

However, the very wisest thing I've done on Facebook this year is to "like" the BBC's "Shakespeare Lives" page. Along with vintage clippings of classic Shakespearean productions over the past fifty or sixty years, they featured the "Complete Walk", an ambitious collection of eleven-minute films of all Shakespeare's plays -- performed in the countries and counties in which they are set.  Some short clips are still available for viewing -- go take a look!

My take on the Emma Rice controversy?  Shakespeare knew all about appealing to the groundlings and the people who could actually afford seats.  He also knew about what happened if you crossed swords with those with the power to shut you down.  He persevered and survived.  I trust Emma Rice will do the same.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

French braid

Running out of time again. This picture was taken eleven years ago, during one of my "used years", as it happens, although it doesn't look it. This was back in the days before I blogged, when younger daughter still permitted me to do her hair. Demeter knitted the cardigan.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

To all the people I'm not speaking to

I heard this song on the radio while I was in the shower this morning. It's by an American band named Dawes, because the band used to be called Simon Dawes. So there you go.

They're from Los Angeles, which is evident from the video for this song which, naturally, is about a year old, because I'm just that on top of things.

I could go on talking or I could stop
Wring out each memory til' I get every drop
Sift through the details of the others involved
The true crime would be thinking it's just one person's fault

Like an honest signature on a fake ID
Like the guilty conscience with the innocent plea
You can just ignore it, put it out of mind
But ain't it funny how the past won't ever let something lie

Let's make a list of all the things the world has put you through
Let's raise a glass to all the people you're not speaking to
I don't know what else you wanted me to say to you
Things happen, that's all they ever do

In a different time, on a different floor
I might mourn the loss of who I'm not anymore
So I'm driving up to Oakland for a good look back
And a few revisions to my plan of attack

I think I'll see Lily, see where she stands
I can't help how I feel, I don't think anyone can
Sometimes we're lovers, sometimes we're friends
Behold the magnetism between two dead ends

Let's make a list of all the things the world has put you through (we can qualify the spirit guides we listen to)
Let's raise a glass to all the people you're not speaking to (or why are moms compelled to bronze your baby shoes)
I don't know what else that you wanted me to say to you
Things happen, that's all they ever do

Monday, 24 October 2016

Multi-level journalling

Last October, I couldn't for the life of me remember what younger daughter had worn for Hallowe'en in 2006.

I've kept journals since I was ten - not particularly consistently, mind - and ever since 1990, in the aftermath of one of my "used years", I've done rundowns of individual years, which involves a quick précis of each month in a given year.

Recently, I got four years behind, but I'm stubborn, if nothing else, and spent the past spring and summer catching up.

Why do I do this?

Ira Progoff was the creator of the "Intensive Journal method" in 1966 and about twenty or thirty years ago, "Journal workshops" seemed to be all the rage.  I never attended one -- they're kinda expensive -- but we were going through a rather dreadful period in our lives, beginning with The Resident Fan Boy losing his mother and his job in the same week, a few months after we had taken on a mortgage.

I heard about Progoff from the Volunteer Coordinator at Victoria Hospice where I was myself a volunteer. I took any part-time job or contract I could muster, finished with my master's programme, then purchased the book, working through the exercises of dream recording, meditations, and micro/macro journalling.

Did it help?  Sort of.  It gave me a focus in the maelstrom of continually dashed hopes.  After nine months of agony, the RFB got a job with the federal government and our long inexorable path to Hades began.

But I can't blame Progoff for that.

To oversimplify the process, you don't really keep a linear sort of journal.  Your writing sessions become a sort of lens:  sometimes you write about the minutiae of the day; sometimes you skip waaaaaay back and look at a year, or sequence of years, looking for patterns.

The only Progroff practice I have really stuck with is my "yearly rundowns", which I'm not sure is even a Progoff practice, but it's based on those months of journalling his way.

Some years - the "used years" - are torture to write down.  I recently did a "decade rundown" of the years from 2001 to 2010, and was astonished at how much I'd forgotten, and how painful it was to remember some of it.  I have to wonder sometimes if I'm not simply re-injuring myself.

However,  I can't just let my life and my memories of the early lives of my children slip away into a blank, and that means the bad stuff as well as the good stuff. Lately, remembering that the  Progoff journalling  process involves several levels of journalling, I've been carting around between three to five journals:  one for daily "free writes", one for keeping track of my time, one for my genealogy scribblings, one for dreams, and, oh yes, a separate journal for the yearly rundowns.

It turns out that the "rundowns" are proving to be really handy way of figuring out when something happened.  On a prosaic note, the RFB recently wanted to know when we had the roof re-done, for the insurance records.

And younger daughter's 2006 Hallowe'en costume?  I hadn't written it in the rundown, nor had I written it in my regular journals, nor had I taken a photograph at the time or mentioned it in my correspondence.

It occurred to me, months later, that I could try asking her.  She's living on the spectrum and has severe memory issues, but not for everything.  She told me, clearly appalled that I'd forgotten, that she had been Peter Pan.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Avoiding the issue

You may have noticed that I haven't said anything about the American election.  It's not just because I'm Canadian.  It's also because what has been going on for the past few months has been as scary as all get-out.

One thing the American election has over other scary things such as ISIS, North Korea, and global warming:  there has been a helluva lot of satire.  In fact, the only way I've been able to bear finding out about what happened in each presidential debate is by tuning into John Oliver or Samantha Bee.

Or by searching out viral videos.

The following give pretty good synopses of the first and third debates.

For you Mary Poppins fans:

And you Weird Al Yankovic aficionados:

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm just going to dig a large hole and hide in it.  Will you come get me after November 8th?  (If Trump gets in, don't bother…)

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Hasty haiku

A couple of weeks ago, I was leaving the park with the Accent Snob, using the wooded path that leads past someone's fairy-lit backyard. I suddenly saw what seemed to be a tiny invisible blind being drawn to the ground just to the right of where my foot was striking the dirt. It took me a baffled second to realize that two maple seed-pods had helicoptered down at the exact same time, resulting in this unearthly illusion. Impossible to film or photograph of course -- not that easy to describe, either.

So I'm resorting to haiku.

Helicopter blades
Maple tree pair feathers down
Invisible blind

Nope. Still doesn't work.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Beautiful Scars

It is my habit to listen to the CBC Radio Two Morning show as I get up, and during this October, this song is the one that makes me stop what I'm doing.

I've posted about Blackie and the Rodeo Kings before and have explained that they're a kind of super-group, comprised of three highly-respected Canadian singer/songwriters:  Stephen Fearing, Tom Wilson, and Colin Lindon.  This is from a compilation of collaborations with male artists (hence the Kings and Kings - they did a Kings and Queens a few years back), and the collaborator in this case is Dallas Green aka City and Colour, joining in on Tom Wilson's haunting song based on a 2014 novel by Miriam Toews called All My Puny Sorrows,  loosely based on what led up to her sister's suicide.

(Coincidentally, Toews got a degree in journalism at University of King's College -- like elder daughter, though obviously about a quarter of a century earlier.)

About a year and a half ago, Wilson premiered the song on the CBC Radio show "q", with Toews listening.  You should listen, too.  It sounds like a completely different song. Wilson starts performing about four minutes in: 

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Art appreciation

"I never understood the Group of Seven," sighs the barista at Planet Coffee.
"Until I travelled from Toronto to Ottawa in October."

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

"They treated him like vermin"

Years ago, I was watching The Elephant Man, the 1980 film starring John Hurt, when it was broadcast on the Turner Classic Movies network.  Younger daughter, who was waiting to go up to bed, was sitting quietly in a corner of the couch, and informed me gravely, after a scene when John Merrick is pursued by a panicky crowd:  "They treated him like vermin."

I stifled my astonishment - younger daughter didn't say much beyond what was concrete and present in those days - and managed a calm agreement.  She had adapted the words from Dobby the Elf of the Harry Potter books and movies, when he's explaining his plight as a house elf.  It was an early indication to us of just how much she understood and perceived.

You see, in the early "aughties", when younger daughter was a newcomer to the public school system, she "scripted" a great deal to express stronger emotions.  Among her sources were the Harry Potter movies.  I remember her confronting me from the top of the stairs to convey some powerful disappointment when she was about six, using Hermione's despairing cry near the climax of the giant magic chess game in the film of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone:  "But you cawn't!  There has to be some other way!"

Another favourite came from the ghostly Moaning Myrtle in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:  "I don't know!!! I was distraught!!!"  This was delivered complete with Received Pronunciation vowels. The scripting eventually diminished, and younger daughter now relies on texts, emails, and indignant Word documents when spoken words fail her.

Anyway, when the opportunity came for viewing Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in IMAX, you'll understand why I had to take younger daughter, despite having seen this film on DVD scores of times.

In 2001, younger daughter was five and not quite ready for feature-length films.  I took nine-year-old elder daughter to the rather grubby Rideau Centre Cinema, which closed about three or four years ago.  The film was slightly out of focus, so you couldn't quite make out details such as what was going on in the magical moving portraits at Hogwarts Castle.  The cinema staff were unable to fix it, so I scored a couple of free passes by complaining online.

In this IMAX presentation - which marks the fifteen-year anniversary of HP and the PS, and promotes the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - every detail was crystal clear, as was the soundtrack which enveloped us, so I rather enjoyed the show and the memories that came with it.

Back in 2001, I marvelled at how closely the visuals matched my mental imagery of the books, especially Diagon Alley, the wizards' market concealed behind the streets of London.  In 2016, I smiled at the not-quite-convincing performances of the three beginning actors in the lead roles, the rather clunky special effects (by today's exacting standards), and how Daniel Radcliffe, as Harry, switches from small boy to pre-adolescent and back from scene to scene.  Clearly, the episode in Ollivander's Wand Shop, plus the Quidditch match, were filmed last, when Radcliffe was nearly a year older.

The next day, we moved from memories stemming from 2001 to those from 2005, when we went to catch Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - all the films have been showing at Cineplex this week, all in IMAX format. The Goblet of Fire is the first HP film that I recall being available in IMAX, but eleven years ago, the only IMAX theatre in Hades was at the Museum of Civilization, and an evening trip to what was then Hull and is now Gatineau was too challenging.

GoF is quite possibly younger daughter's favourite Harry Potter movie; she loves the Yule Ball and the musical score. It's one of my least favourite of the series, possibly mainly because GoF is my favourite Potter book, and there is no way that the film could properly capture both the complicated plot and the sly humour of the original writing. (Let's not get into the uncharacteristically clunky acting, even by the seasoned pros of the cast - which I suspect is the director's fault.)

However, the special effects, by 2005, were stunning. In 2016, younger daughter lingered until the end of the lengthy credits, drinking in Patrick Doyle's wistful music.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Why Persephone shouldn't be allowed near bookshops

This past summer, I made a pilgrim's stop at the one of the Holy Four Bookshops of Victoria. Then I came back a few times, for I had spotted my heart's desire.

The bookshop was Ivy's in Oak Bay*, conveniently close to one of my house-sits and perilously close for someone like me, who strives and fails to keep her luggage light for increasingly stringent airline requirements.

But, oh! It was Matthew Green's London: A Travel Guide Through Time, for which I'd longed since seeing it promoted on the London Historians Facebook page, and for which I'd been waiting to appear in paperback. I'm a sucker for the time-travel approach to history, having loved Ian Mortimer's A Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England and A Time
Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England

What excited me about Matthew Green's book is that the focus is on London. I adore London Walks; I bullied elder daughter into taking several during her two recent trips to England. These six tours are a little bit like London Walks, except that they involve overnight stays in ancient London inns, and begin with a step through a wormhole in time -- Green starts each tour with the traveller standing at a point in modern London before moving through the layers of time to: 1603 London where Shakespeare's plays - and neighbouring bear fights - are packing 'em in on the South Bank; a relatively tiny London of 1390 where Richard II reigns; plague-ridden London of 1665, before the Great Fire; the many contradictory worlds of Victorian London in 1884, post-Blitz and pre-Cool 1957 London; and the coffee-house London of 1716.

If you love London and history (and gawd knows, I do), this is bliss. Matthew Green carefully immerses your senses, supplying not only visual details, but what you will hear, smell, feel, and taste - heaven help you. He also gives practical survival tips: best not to appear alien or foreign in Shakespearean London; find a white stick, and you will be given a wide berth by 17th century Londoners fearing the plague; and if you're a woman visiting an eighteenth century London coffee house, disguise yourself as a man, or be taken for a prostitute.

This is a book I will want to re-read several times - preferably with a map, as the maps provided aren't that helpful for anyone not intimately familiar with the city. I will also want to pick up the many details I missed the first time around, not to mention examine the end-notes and check out the recommended reading list.  And I will be thinking of the members of both my family and that of the Resident Fan Boy who made London their home in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

So, as you may have gathered, I snapped in the book shop, and gave into temptation.  And I didn't even get charged for overweight luggage.

 I put the book in my carry-on bag.

*The other three are Munro's Books, Russell Books, and Bolen Books.  Look them up!

Monday, 17 October 2016

There she go-oh

Ran out of day again.

When this song comes up on my iPod, I never press the "skip" button.  Jeremy Fisher recorded this in 2007, but I probably heard it a year or so later.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Failing to peak at the cemetery

When the Resident Fan Boy and I took the Accent Snob for his first walk of the day early Saturday morning, the sun was reflecting brightly off the trees and we saw several of our neighbours packing the backs of their SUVs and/or hatchbacks. It was then we knew the autumn colours were peaking. Demeter has a friend in Victoria who would wait for the annual phone-call of her brother in Hades, telling her to book the earliest flight for that fleeting moment when the leaves reach their highest dazzle.

That moment wasn't last Wednesday, but it was the only time I had available to take the twenty-minute walk from our front door to Beechwood Cemetery. I took a few dozen photographs to compare my trusty Nikon with the camera in my iPhone. Here are a few of them:
My first truly successful panorama shot taken with my phone. Click to enlarge.

The Slater family - and some neighbours (digital SLR)

Taken with my phone

Taken with my single lens reflex. All of these can be enlarged by clicking on them.

A final phone shot before heading home. 

Saturday, 15 October 2016


Almost a year ago, I was writing about the connection between Madonna's music video of her 1984 hit "Material Girl" and the 1954 movie version of the 1949 musical version of the 1925 series of stories "Gentlemen Prefer Blonds".

So it seemed to provide a symmetry of some sort when I came across this new Postmodern Jukebox video which features a gal who can sing a 1920s hot jazz rendition of "Material Girl" in addition to playing trombone, tap-dancing, and doing a mean Charleston.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Are potatoes actually vegetables?

"I haven't seen potatoes like that in years!" the man says.

He's walking behind me and I think he's talking to younger daughter who's always a couple of paces to my rear. Maybe I should just re-name her Euridyce for this blog.

"I used to deliver them to the First Nations depot up north," he continues. Younger daughter has caught up with me at the light. I catch her eye, and she grins.

The man catches up with us as well. He's wearing a backpack over a sleeveless shirt on this brisk October morning. He doesn't appear to be looking at us, but his sunglasses make it hard to tell. I surreptitiously check for a blue-tooth or earbuds, but no, we seem to be his audience. When I hesitate, trying to decide whether to cross the street now or a block later, he also halts, turning his back on us.

There's the fruit and vegetable delivery truck we've just passed; he's still talking about it: "I was up north, with the First Nations. It was years ago."

Abruptly, he starts talking to the traffic signal.

"C'mon, change! You've been red too long!"

I guess we're off the hook.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone

In October 2007, I took the twenty-minute stroll from my house to Beechwood Cemetery and, facing west from the Tommy Douglas monument, took this snap:
Not quite nine years later, I went to the same spot:
The trees that have flourished in the past decade just about hide the luxury condo that was completed about a year ago, whose tenants now enjoy the view of Parliament Hill that used to be available from the cemetery.

You can click on the photos to enlarge them. If you want.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Screen teens (write of passage number forty-two)

On a beautiful afternoon of what was probably the last warm Saturday of the year, I suggested lunch at a restaurant on the Rideau Canal, one which I've been meaning to try for years. This involved a hefty bus ride, lengthened by a re-routed crawl around the War Memorial, as Hades scrambles to get ready for Canada's sesquicentennial next year.

About half a dozen teenaged girls boarded the bus at the Rideau Centre, and artfully arranged themselves in the seats just ahead of us. They looked as if they'd been cast by an agency: willowy, various shades of blond - except for an Afro-Canadian, an Asian Canadian, and a prettily plump dark-haired girl who was reading the protest signs at Parliament Hill:

"'Stop execlutions in Iran... What's that?"

One of the willowy blonds looked down on her witheringly from her perch in the sideway seats.
"Executions.  There's no 'l' in 'execution'."

The subject was quickly dropped for gossip, continuing the length of Bank Street into the Glebe.

"Don't invite Max -- we hate him, remember?"
"So invite him and then we can all ignore him."

"Cassidy? I hate her!"
"So do I!"
"So do I!"
"I really hate her --- wait --- I don't think I know her..."

My phone tapped.  It was a text notification from elder daughter, seated next to me:

I wouldn't go back to high school if someone paid me.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

In which Persephone remembers how to baby-wrangle

Rees is a tall tall fellow who runs the local organic store with his family. I usually spot him running errands along the main street, but this morning he has shown up at one of the local coffee shops with a muffin and his son Rowan, who is probably about nine months old. (My baby-dating skills are a little rusty.)

Rowan has one of those infant alien heads -- a high dome with wispy tufts of blond hair which is, no doubt, chockfull of brains. As his dad parks his stroller and takes his seat at the neighbouring table, Rowan gazes at me with a faintly uncertain air, but he's young enough to be amused by my removing and replacing my reading glasses, before we graduate to napkin-passing and balled-up-paper-bag-tossing. He adds an ethereal air of mystery to the proceedings by periodically pointing with religious awe to the skylights - until he remembers his father's blueberry muffin.

My mission is to distract him long enough so his dad can eat, but he scores a few pincers of muffin, which he consumes, giving me the grin of someone who has won the round.

I'll concede his victories, but I think the whole thing is a draw.

Monday, 10 October 2016

It's Thanksgiving in Canada

As Canada's short growing season comes to a close, the farmers' markets have their final sales and close up their booths -- except for the pumpkin purveyors.

This morning, for the first time since last spring, I wanted to huddle under the duvet rather than get up and ferry my summer tunics to the basement in exchange for the warm winter tops which have slept away the summer in the plastic storage tub.

Younger daughter prepared dinner rolls for the very first time -- from scratch. I spent the morning making my pumpkin pies -- also from scratch. Elder daughter roasted the organic chicken, and the Resident Fan Boy took care of the vegetables.

Time to feast and try to ignore what's going on south of the border and the oncoming winter.


Sunday, 9 October 2016

Auf Wiedersehen

I was working in the kitchen last weekend and reached over to turn on an audio book to engage my brain from the more mundane.  The Resident Fan Boy had left the radio on at Espace musique (or whatever Radio-Canada is calling it these days), and before I could switch the machine to the CD setting to listen to Wolf Hall, my ear was caught by some rather lovely French horns, so I decided to enjoy them.

It definitely sounded like Handel or Haydn, but I couldn't place it.  During the final movement of whatever it was, the music seemed to be ebbing away and I turned up the volume.  I heard distant voices and clumping, and wandered if another signal was intruding.  Toward the very end, I could hear voices calling out softly:  "Auf Wiedersehn!"

I was rather spooked, until I worked out that I'd been listening to Haydn's "Farewell Symphony" which I haven't heard in years.

I gather this was an older recording made in London in the late forties or early fifties, hence the need to make audible departures.

A quick look around YouTube reveals that some orchestras play it straight - if you'll pardon the expression - while others take the opportunity to milk the joke for all it's worth.

Here's one of the latter sort.  The fun begins around the three-minute mark.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Falling behind

So this is all I'm posting today. It's from a day or so ago and is in the neighbourhood.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Seeing double

I'm sitting in yet another coffee shop, measuring out my life in coffee spoons as it were, when I see the unmistakable back and posture of a dead friend.

She's a slim redhead, hair pulled back in a high ponytail, checked top, white trousers, sandalled feet, standing by a stroller.

Only, my friend died six months ago, mourned by her three university-aged sons.

I remember the first time this happened. I was a university student myself, running some sort of errand in downtown Victoria when another redhead strolled past me, and I thought: Oh, there's Pete. Then I started, my heart hammering against my ribcage. Pete had been dead for five years.

I see doppelgängers of the living, too. Last summer, I had to physically restrain myself from calling out a greeting to a curly-haired Bohemian with the flowing edges of her floral skirt dancing around her young ankles, because her double is now an elementary school principal, whose ankles are decidedly mature.

Change and loss. They are always with us, as are, it seems, our dead.

I gaze at the familiar back from my corner in the café, and find myself battling tears.

She can't see them.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Church lady

Younger daughter and I were seated in the second row, centre at a downtown church when the lady approached us. She had been handing out programmes for the noonday concert at the door we didn't use.

"If you move to the left side," she pointed out, "You'll get a better view of the pianist's hands."

I thanked her, explaining that neither of us play piano, and, as the pianist we were about to hear is sometimes younger daughter's accompanist, we preferred to see her face anyway. The woman nodded absently.
"Well, thanks for coming."

We were actually there at elder daughter's recommendation, as our pianist was working temporarily at the small but influential arts organization where elder daughter is a communications and marketing specialist. Elder daughter soon joined us with a few of her workmates, who whistled and cheered appreciatively at the appropriate breaks in a programme that included Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and a twentieth century Argentinian composer who reminded me of Gershwin.

Tea, coffee and cookies were on offer after the recital, so I dropped twenty dollars in the donation tin and suggested younger daughter get herself some refreshments.

The lady who had suggested the seat change was on duty behind the table.

"What would you like?" she asked as younger daughter hesitated.

"Uuuuuuh....tea, please."

The lady poured it out briskly and younger daughter paused uncertainly, possibly because she wasn't sure about juggling a paper cup with cream and sugar.

"Is there something wrong?" the lady inquired, rather sharply. She had rather a schoolmarmish quality.

"No, no," said younger daughter hastily. "There's nothing wrong..."

"Are you confused?"

This is the point when a mother of someone on the spectrum has to swallow her impulses and not murder church ladies, many of whom are volunteers, after all.

"There's some milk and sugar here," I informed younger daughter, while I stepped to the side of the table, so I could face my daughter but take myself out of the line-up.

It didn't quite work.

"And what are you having?" asked church lady.

"Me? Oh, nothing, thank-you."

"Then perhaps you can move elsewhere to make room."

I've had a lifetime of dealing with church ladies and can schoolmarm with the best of them. Keeping my voice level and calm, I looked at her pointedly.

"If you'll excuse me, I need to finish assisting my daughter."

I didn't hear another word. Elder daughter tells me I can be terrifying, but I think that's more in the case of young men who are surprisingly easy to intimidate, often with not much more than a brief glance and a short sentence. Church lady was damned lucky Demeter wasn't there.

Back at our table, we were soon joined by elder daughter's friends, who were giggling about the "snack lady". Apparently she had been somewhat waspish with them as well, which is a comfort, albeit a small one.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Always late to the party

A couple of weeks ago, Tom Power left his post as host of the CBC Radio Two Morning show to take over "Q", the show formerly hosted by He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. This meant, among other things, that the music during Power's final week was particularly arresting.

I was standing in front of the bathroom window when this came on, and I was transfixed. Although it's at least four years old, I don't remember hearing it before.

Maybe it was just my time to hear it.
Not sure why the back-up singers are done up in Sixties mode.

As far as I can tell, there are usually two back-up singers, but the song can work just as well with one back-up singer - if the singer is k.d. Lang, who can sound like a choir on her own.
Of course, the irony is that this performance took place on "Q" - when He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named was still in charge.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Switching (Write of passage number forty-one)

The bus is trundling along Charlotte Street when I first glimpse the unicycle.

It's a tall black one with a huge wheel, and the young man atop of it is also tall and all in black, from his baseball cap to his sneakers. His earphones are blue - a worrying addition given the speed he's going, darting back and forth from sidewalk to gutter. He catches up and passes us at each bus stop, and as the traffic slows on Laurier Avenue East, his lead on us grows.

We're surrounded by the after-school crowd from l'ecole secondaire publique De La Salle, so the chatter is also darting seamlessly from French to English and back again, although the accents in both languages remain steadfastly Central Canadian Anglophone, much like the civil servant conversations I often overhear earlier in the day.

It seems that every year, no matter which school, francophone or anglophone, an awkward boy with an oversized backpack plops in with the gang of gabblers, then switches seats, further and further forward, away from his schoolmates.

If I peer through the front window of the bus, I can still make out the stick-like silhouette of the unicyclist, darting perilously back and forth between the line of cars on the street and the pedestrians on the sidewalk -- blocks ahead of us and getting smaller all the time.

Monday, 3 October 2016

A warm feline

During the last run of what I fervently hope are the final hot days of the year -- Hades can still be hit with a humidex into October -- I was taking the Accent Snob for his midday sniff-and-pull around the block. Suddenly, up ahead, I spotted a cat sprawled in a shady patch of sidewalk, directly in our path.

It saw the Accent Snob, and its ears twitched. The Accent Snob paused uncertainly.

"Nope," I told him. "I'm sticking to the shade. Let's go."

As we approached, the cat rolled sinuously to its feet and glided toward the dog, who halted again. The cat squinted and sniffed the Accent Snob's nose, then stroked its back against the AS's front legs before dropping to the pavement and rolling languorously onto its back.

"Whaddaya know?" I remarked to my bewildered pet. "A cat who likes dogs!"

Fair enough. The Accent Snob's past is a mystery to us, but we suspect he's lived with cats, and to tell you the truth, is rather catlike himself, although we'd never say that to his face.

That may have been the last day I will hear the cicadas this year. In the evenings, the crickets chirp on, although they'll probably be silent by Hallowe'en.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

In which it is demonstrated once again that Persephone is rubbish in an emergency

I had just crossed a side road and was heading east, so all I heard was the thump. The next thing I heard was the cyclist. He was livid.

"Jesus Christ!! I don't believe this!"

So I knew he was okay, sort of. I turned to see a fella in his fifties sprawled on his back in the cycling lane. His bike seemed to have slid partially under one of those tank-like grey cars.

A lady with long blonde tresses, evidently also in her fifties, crept out of her vehicle and gingerly picked her way around his supine body. "Omigod! Are you all right? I'm sorry!" I guess she'd tried to pull into traffic and somehow had not managed to see him, despite his bright blue helmet and reflective vest. No wonder he was cross.

As people approached, I saw no one on the phone, so I darted into a shop, where the proprietor tried to hand me her cellphone. I gathered she wasn't going to make the call, fished out mine, trying to remember how to access the keypad, as I mostly use the thing for texts.

Then, of course, I couldn't hear the operator, who ended up shouting over my babbled explanations that I needed to tell her if I needed police, firefighters, or an ambulance. She transferred me to another operator, and I had to go out on the veranda that edges the line of shops to see how things were. While I was gibbering away, the cyclist had been helped to the curb where he sat shaking his head and a firetruck pulled up.

I gave the operator my details, and slunk on my way, my ego almost as bruised as the cyclist's elbows.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Fifteen years behind

Since last spring, I've been spending one the first hours of my morning in coffee shops. I'm fortunate to have four of them within walking distance -- it's a caffeinated sort of neighbourhood. As I scribble in my various notebooks, I half-listen to the piped-in music and every now and then, I hear something I like:

This is from 2001 - no one can accuse me of being up-to-date - and for once, I really like the accompanying video, which features a lot of lonely and distracted people, plus some fine hula-hooping.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

A sense of direction

I don't recall hearing the sound of cicadas until September 1st, 2000, my first full day in Hades. I thought the piercing, intensifying buzz came from the wires. I've mentioned before that the electrical shrill of the cicada is my least favourite noise in the world. The hotter it gets, the louder they get.

Sometimes, when I go out for my evening walk with the Accent Snob, I try to pretend I'm wandering through the streets of Victoria.  I do this by mentally changing my orientation.

This may not make a lot of sense, but I'll try, because I can't believe I'm the only person that experiences the world this way.

See, when I was a little girl in Edmonton, I knew where east/west/north/south was, even on a cloudy day, or at night.  I had an internal compass.

I noticed, though, when we travelled to another neighbourhood, city, province, country, that my compass seemed to disappear, or at least swing around another way.  For example, when we moved to Victoria,  just before I turned nine, the sun appeared to rise in what I thought of as being north, and set in my perception of south.  For the most part, my internal compass remained in this new orientation through our moves within Greater Victoria , to View Royal, and to Esquimalt.  I came to think of this as "Esquimalt orientation", because when I was in downtown Victoria, or points east such as Oak Bay (with the exception of the area around the University of Victoria), the sun appeared to rise in the west and set in the east.

Does this make any sense?  Am I the only one this to whom this happens?

I've never found it distressing; it's just the way things were and are.  When we moved to Fairfield just after the birth of elder daughter, the sun slipped into "downtown orientation" and sank in the east.  I rather liked it that way.

Here in Hades, most of the city is in "downtown Victoria orientation" for me -- except for our street, most of Lindenlea and Rockcliffe Park, and all of Vanier, which all, for some reason are in "Esquimalt orientation".

The odd thing - if you haven't given me up as being crazy already - is when I take the Accent Snob to the park alongside the Rideau River.  As I step into Ivy Crescent, the world slides back into "Edmonton mode",  the sun setting into my childhood perception of west.  It's almost a nostalgic experience.

When I'm feeling sad or homesick or both, I try to force my orientation back into "downtown Victoria" mode which results in the illusion of transforming New Edinburgh into an imaginary neighbourhood somewhere to the south of my last Victorian home.  It takes quite a bit of mental effort to hold it there -- especially since the surrounding redbrick buildings and Dutch-oven houses  are nothing like the 1970s condominiums and gingerbread-y older houses of Fairfield.

When I'm surrounded by the multi-coloured autumn leaves that are unmistakably eastern Ontario, it will be even harder and impossible during the six-month Hadean winter.  The brief two-week spring, which is the only time Ottawa is anything like Victoria, is the easiest time.

Still, it's a way of looking at the neighbourhood with different eyes and I play the game for as long as I can.  It's harder the closer I get to our house.  The deafening chorus of crickets and cicadas eventually undoes me, and I'm standing alone, except for the dog, in Hades.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Brow beaten

The Resident Fan Boy warned me about a week before I returned home that younger daughter had tweezed her eyebrows.  We've been taking her to a brow bar regularly for the past two or three years, but she told him she saw one stray hair and then she had to even the brows out...

The RFB sent me a snap and although she looked very different, it wasn't a disaster.  When I arrived home in the late afternoon after about twelve hours since waking, younger daughter was the only person home, as the RFB and elder daughter were still at work. I didn't mention her eyebrows, but reminded her that we were taking a favourite cousin out to dinner, and that she might enjoy dressing up and putting on some make-up.

The cousin arrived, younger daughter descended in a dress for the occasion -- and with next-to-no eyebrows.  The rest of us exchanged startled looks and pointedly said nothing.

When she was away from the table, elder daughter asked what I was going to do.

"Keep quiet and try to start a conversation through texting," I sighed.  I was massively jet-lagged and my speech was slurring a little.

The next morning, I printed up an article about eyebrows, looked up some tutorials on YouTube and texted younger daughter, upstairs in her bedroom, sending her one of the links:
How do you feel about your eyebrows?

I still feel beautiful!  Simple steps from "beauty -" (the link I'd sent) would help to give advice on how to regrow my eyebrows!  As a matter of fact, they really are embarrassingly over plucked!  

This happens to everybody when they first start plucking! It happened to me and it happened to your sister!

And I thought of elder daughter's pencil-thin brows the summer after some jerk in Grade Seven accused her of being a lesbian.  I thought of Jean Harlow.

The next time younger daughter was out of her room, I snuck in, left the article I'd printed up, and removed her tweezers for hiding.

She hasn't mentioned missing them, and slowly and fuzzily, her eyebrows are coming back.  She draws a dark thin line through them each morning.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Distracted dog-sitting

There's a bench by the Rideau River, surrounded by boulders where the dogs dance by and sign their names. Over the river's edge, there are more boulders leading down to the river, a favourite spot for canine swimming. It's not strictly legal, but no one enforces the rules.

So I am not surprised to see a white terrier wading in the greeny-brown water. He or she clambers up the rocks, makes an arc around the Accent Snob (who has never shown the inclination to swim), and trots quickly, but with no sense of urgency, along the dirt-and-gravel path that follows the river west.

This is a surprise, because, aside from a woman seated on the bench and gazing into her phone, there is no one else nearby. Puzzled, I peer both east and west. In both distant directions, there are people strolling on the pathway, already accompanied by dogs.

I watch the damp white terrier grow smaller and eventually vanish around a bend.  Perhaps he's catching up with his people, I reason to myself.

The Accent Snob continues his meandering sniff under bushes, shrubs, and stones.  I've stopped yet again to watch and wait for him when the woman on the bench finally tucks her phone away, rises, and leisurely makes her way to the ledge.  Her body language changes from languid to startled as she looks around her in all directions.  Cripes, I think, it was hers.

"Are you looking for a dog?" I call.  "He trotted down the path that way."

She's saying something, but I'm about twenty yards away and can't make it out, so I have to haul on the Accent Snob's lead to get closer.

"Was it a white dog?"

I swallow an unhelpful comment, and merely affirm.  She takes off away from me, dangling a sky-blue leash.

How many unaccompanied dogs does she think come bounding through this park? For his sake, I hope she found him.

Monday, 29 August 2016

What is essential

Whenever I think of Gene Wilder, I see him sitting in a wheat field, pretending to be a fox.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Close calls and the Clash

People have asked me about my summer holiday. I don't think of steeple chases as being holidays. This year's Victoria visit ended in the same tempo as the previous five weeks, that is, manufactured calm stretched over panic.

Having packed on the afternoon of the day before my departure, I noticed an email alert from Air Canada, warning of severe thunderstorms forecast for Toronto and Hades -- my exact route home.  Sitting in Demeter's dining room, I was hit by an avalanche of flashbacks from August 2003.

That was the year the Resident Fan Boy returned to Hades before us, because we'd begun the trip visiting the RFB's cousins in Alberta.  So, on that fateful August morning,  I arrived at Victoria International airport, marshalling eleven-year-old elder daughter and seven-year-old younger daughter, and thinking for three.  The check-in agent offered to switch our tickets from a route through Toronto to a transfer at Vancouver to a direct flight to Ottawa, which would land us in Hades a full hour earlier.  I considered my Virgo husband, all set to meet us at the airport, and refused.

After the long flight to Toronto, I comforted myself and younger daughter with the prospect of seeing the RFB in an hour or so.  Our flight to Hades was scheduled to leave at 4:10 pm, and we boarded at 3:50 pm, so we didn't see the lights go out.

The first indication that we had a problem was when the pilot told us we were unable to disconnect from the boarding tunnel.  The next was when the flight attendants started handing out ice cream bars.  A lady with a cell phone across the aisle informed us that it was the whole American north-east, plus Ontario.  After over an hour, we were told to get out, reclaim our luggage, and re-book.  We descended the escalator into hell.  (My grandmother always said that hell would be like an airport.)

Crowds of flustered people pressed up against dimly-lit luggage carousels.  Backed-up toilets (electronic flushers).  Rows of locked luggage trolleys (electronic release mechanisms).  Piles of pet-carriers containing yelping and dehydrated animals.  Huge line-ups to pay phones, because in 2003, not that many people had cell phones.

I didn't know where to go first.  Where would I take the girls for the night?  How could I explain this to younger daughter, who was begging to be taken "home to Ottawa, to see Daddy"?

It became increasingly clear that our luggage was not going to appear, especially when the generator for the carousel broke down after a couple of hours.  A young man showed me how to use my credit card in the pay phone, and a lady, noticing younger daughter's distress, let me in the line ahead of her.  I called the RFB, but he was waiting for us at the airport in Ottawa, and our answering machine, being electric, didn't work.

Fortunately, I had my address book with me and desperately put a call through to friends in Etobicoke.  Unfortunately, their elder daughter was home.  A nice girl, but not that swift on the uptake:
"Oh hi!  We're having a black-out!"
"Yes, I know.  We're at the airport..."
"Yeah?  Where ya going?"
My heart sank.
"Nowhere.  The planes are grounded."
"Man!  I hadn't thought of that!"
I'll bet, I thought, glancing at the long line-up behind me.  I could hear her father asking who it was.  He was there in twenty minutes, even with no working traffic lights, by which time an announcement informed us that ticketed luggage would be forwarded to the appropriate airport.  This left us in the clothes in which we were standing, but with the books, tapes and toys in our carry-on luggage.  In those days before liquid restrictions, I also had cosmetics and saline solution for my contact lenses.

Younger daughter was beside herself. She clutched my hand from the rear seat of the van, nearly twisting my arm out of its socket.  However, as we entered the dimly-lit hall of our friends' condo building, she turned and asked:  "Are we into Toronto?"  (We had stayed here for a visit during March Break the year before.)  One bowl of melted strawberry short-cake ice cream, and she was much better!

Later, as my exhausted daughters slept, I opened the blinds, got back into bed, and gazed out at a pitch-black city, listening to CBC radio on the headphones of my Walkman, trying not to fret about how I would get the girls home.  The voices on the radio were describing how clear the stars were, but all I could see were clouds of mosquitoes just beyond the screens.

The next morning, I tried to reach the bus depot, and the phone was answered by an agent in Alberta. I tried to reach my travel agent and Air Canada -- nothing but voice mail and busy signals.  I finally phoned Via Rail, let it ring more than two minutes, then got through to book train tickets.  I learned the Resident Fan Boy had managed to book plane tickets.  I thought of the hell we'd left the night before - nothing in the news reports indicated that anything had changed - and decided to chance the train.

Our hosts, who had given up their bed to us, tried to convince us to stay, but I had the overwhelming feeling that I had to get younger daughter home somehow.  They relented and packed an enormous care package of cookies, fruit, peanut butter sandwiches, several cartons of apple juice, and bottles of water.  I wondered how on earth I'd manage to cart this along with our carry-on luggage.

At 11 am, Union Station in downtown Toronto was steamy and crowded.  The line-up at our gate turned out to be for the 9:30 am train.  They told me to expect the 12:35 train at 1:45.  Then 2 pm.  Then 2:30.  Elder daughter had assumed the task of checking the notice board, walking the length of the station and reporting back.

I rationed out food to the girls with each delay, buying myself time and giving silent and fervent thanks for the heavy bag of goodies as it became lighter and lighter. I used my new credit card skill to phone the RFB every couple of hours, as my hopes dwindled.  With each passing hour, I wondered desperately if I should find a bus to the airport.  Which would get us home quicker?  Staying here as the trains were steadily delayed, or setting up camp at the airport where, the radio told me, the computers had completely broken down?

"I have a Clash song playing in my head," I told a fellow mum, who was attempting to shepherd half a dozen teenagers back to Windsor. She grinned broadly and began to growl:  "Da-duh-duh, duh-duh, duh-duh DA!  Should I stay or should I go?"
"If I go, it could be trouble!"  I sang back.
"If I stay, it could be double!" We were both dancing now.  I think we embarrassed the teenagers.

At 3:30, they told us our train was cancelled, and that we would be hooked up with the next train to Ottawa. That's the closest I came to breaking down completely.

At 5 pm, I stumbled up the steps to the train platform and a guard said that this coach was for First Class. Maybe it was the sight of two bedraggled little girls that convinced him to allow us into the railcar -- air-conditioned, comfortable and spacious with, glory be, a food cart with reasonably fresh food.

The train took two hours to reach the Toronto city limits, ordinarily a twenty-minute trip, but rail switches had to be done by hand. Out the window, we saw Lake Ontario and lush fields with butterflies and dragonflies having no trouble keeping pace with the train.

During the seven-hour train ride (usually four hours), we did puzzles, listened to story tapes and the CBC, read books, ate, drank, and chatted with our neighbouring passengers, all from Toronto: an elderly lady determined to attend a wedding, and a mum and her two daughters who had decided to sweat the wait for a family visit to Carp -- I thought they were all very nice, but nuts, but didn't say so, of course!

Younger daughter dozed off, there was a blood-red moon on the horizon, and we stopped off-line to let a luxury American passenger train pass. We could see the fancy lamps in the sleeper cars.

The Resident Fan Boy was waiting for us at the station when we arrived after midnight, some forty hours after getting up to go to the Victoria airport. People jumped the tracks to head for the parking lot; the VIA employees wisely decided to overlook this. Younger daughter wrapped herself firmly around her dad, and we returned by taxi to our stuffy house. The power was back, but air-conditioning was forbidden.  The following day, Resident Fan Boy found our suitcases amongst the hundreds at the airport, because I'd tied gaily-coloured ribbons to the handles.  No one asked him for ID.

All this flashed through my skull in August 2016, prodding me to re-book my flight -- to a 6 am departure the next morning.  I said my goodbyes to Demeter before going to bed, rose at 2:45 am to finish last-minute packing and call a cab at 3:30 am to ensure arrival at Victoria airport at 4:30 am.  My cabbie grew up in Belleville, one of the towns we passed through on that slow train ride thirteen years ago.  He loves Victoria, has no desire to return to Ontario.

Sadly, neither did I.

Pat Bay Highway was like a country road at that hour and I arrived early.  The plane had been described as going to Ottawa, but had a stop in Toronto, descending through thunderheads.  I had to leave the plane, wait in the lobby and then queue with my ID and boarding pass to get back on.

The threatened thunderstorms never materialized.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Those days are over

I am working on a longer post -- which will probably be less interesting than this cover of one of my least favourite Police songs. (Oh, don't get cross; it's a fine song, but I don't happen to care for it.) I think what really makes this version work is the fabulous back-up:

Friday, 26 August 2016

A last hip shot

Sorry, running out of time today, but I can't resist this last call-out for the Tragically Hip from Mclean's Magazine, who had videographers on the west coast of Canada (Vancouver Commodore Ballroom - long a favourite venue for Canadian bands), on the east coast of Canada (the Grand Parade by Halifax Harbour -- the Hip's final tour didn't go any farther east than Ottawa),  in the Prairies (if Calgary can be considered near the prairies, it's practically in the foothills of the Rockies), in a Toronto venue long associated with the Hip, in a small town that shares its name with a classic Hip song, and in the town square of the Hip's hometown of Kingston, because everyone couldn't fit into the arena where the concert was held.

The crowd is predominantly white, and in the 30-50 age range, but those are Hip fans for ya.  It's still pretty darn touching. (And is that Neko Case smiling and weeping in the Commodore Ballroom?)

Thursday, 25 August 2016

This is only a test

So at the tail-end of my Double Leo Sister's surprise visit with her family, I was sitting in a Greek restaurant, feeling fortunate to have survived the three days with no emotional explosions. (Oh, there were explosions, but none directed at me, so I was all right, Jack.)

The painting below caught my eye, and I stared at it for a few minutes in disbelief, before asking the Jolly Not-So-Green Giant Brother-in-law if I were seeing what I thought I was seeing.

I want you to look at the painting before scrolling down. What do you see? Go on, I'll wait:


My brother-in-law told me it was a blue door and two shuttered windows on a house of sand-coloured brick set into a courtyard.

I saw three dangling Tardises -- or what ever the plural of TARDIS is.

I sent the photo to the Resident Fan Boy in Hades. You can probably guess what he saw.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Classes of classical

Elder daughter has now been working for a small but major arts group in Hades for the past five months, and has survived her first music festival with them. Part of her job is keeping the social media posts for the organization fresh and interesting. Heck, I'm hooked! This appeared on Twitter and Facebook today.

I particularly enjoy the stand-off between Beethoven and Mozart over who represents "classical" (we were taught in Music Appreciation that Beethoven straddles Classical and Romantic) -- and I love the bit where John Cage's silence is blotted out by Claude Debussy.