Friday, 3 November 2017

Reasons not to be home

Showings are like your annual physical.  Chances are, you haven't lived as you ought and now someone's going to judge you.

Days after our house went on sale, a recognizable pattern emerged, one I faintly remembered from selling our house in Victoria seventeen years ago:  the stress of continually cleaning and clearing out, while packing and dealing with the ordinary everyday chores that don't go away simply because your life is in upheaval.

Seventeen years ago, I was doing this mostly on my own in Victoria while the Resident Fan Boy was starting his job in Hades, usually getting a few hours' notice before potential buyers showed up, scooping up an eight-year-old and four-year-old and heading out.

These days, I have one young adult daughter on the autistic spectrum and an elderly dog to get out of the house, but the internet means I get at least twelve hours' notice.  The downside is that I can't go downtown or into most shops or restaurants because of the dog.  The weather has been kind.

However, some agents show up early, assuming I'll, of course, be out at work.  This means leaving in a hurry while the prospective buyer waits outside, an awkward situation which sometimes has me struggling to hang on to the precepts of my "angel cards" which happened to include "enlightenment" the day I run into one of the McKenzie brothers on my front walk.

Enlightened people don't think dark and nasty thoughts about such people who have shown up five minutes ahead of the scheduled viewing time, while one attempts to marshal said dog and said daughter, both of whom have already been hustled out earlier in the day by another agent who showed up ten minutes early.

Enlightened people don't think ill of anybody - even a cheerfully loud man who asks questions in the third person while one is standing there, even after one has already answered his question about the roof:  "Beauty!"  (Yes, he really says that.)  "Did they give up their parking in order to have the deck?"

His large, brilliantly white SUV-type truck is squeezed next to the curb, and still taking up much of the lane.  I pass it as I head down to the coffee shop to take up vigil with the dog, sending younger daughter in to buy a drink, while I wonder why on earth such a person is looking for a house in an urban neighbourhood when everything about him screams "Suburbs!!!"

Enlightened people don't think that way.  An enlightened person would give him the benefit of the doubt.  An enlightened person wouldn't worry about subjecting such a jackass on one's very nice neighbours.

Give me strength.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

The eighteenth October

On the seventeenth anniversary of the day we moved into our Hades house, I board the bus on the heels of younger daughter.

And there's André.

During our first year in Hades, André was almost always our driver on the bus that took us to younger daughter's preschool. He always greeted younger daughter by name, and treated all the passengers with calm kindness -- even the ones who were being difficult or silly.

We mourned when his route changed, and younger daughter made him a card. For my part, I wrote to the OC Transpo web site, describing his specialness.

We glimpsed him from time to time, when younger daughter attended kindergarten near Westgate, and later when she was in a special programme in Blackburn Hamlet. (Younger daughter's school career was an immersive course in Ottawa geography, and OC Transpo bus routes.)

Now, I greet André warmly, and he says, "It's been about fifteen years, hasn't it?"

"We saw you in the newspaper!" I exclaim, before hurrying to my seat. André is one of the drivers who mans the emergency buses that act as temporary shelters in big apartment fires, and we had saved the article.

I'm careful to leave the bus by the front door, so younger daughter can say hello. And goodbye.

I tell him we're moving and that we'll always remember him.

So many things are coming full circle as we prepare to follow Orpheus. I hope he doesn't look back.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

A seasoned fool

The Fools celebrated their fifteenth anniversary of putting on their loopy, yet spot-on versions of Shakespeare's plays in Ottawa's park. (The actual company has been around quite a bit longer, but you can check the web site yourself.) That means they've done sixteen park productions, of which I've seen nine. I would have seen ten, except for the summer that my escape to Demeter took me out of town for the entire run of As You Like It, which, according to the Resident Fanboy, was superb. Damn.

On my last evening with the Fools, we squeezed our camp chairs next to a tall man sitting in a kitchen chair, effectively blocking the view of those behind him. Three rows ahead, another tall man, arriving minutes before curtain (had there been curtains), lowered himself into his "low-profile" chair, directly in front of another gentleman who had arrived more than half an hour ahead, leaving him little leg-room, and effectively blocking his view as well -- and quite a bit of mine.

'Twas ever thus

I strolled over to the snack-and-souvenir booth and exclaimed: "Diet coke and chips!"

The girl behind the table intoned with me, in exact, unplanned synchronization: "Luxury!!"

"Sister!" I exalted.

Another volunteer asked me if I'd seen a Fools play before, and after she'd heard my catalogue, offered me a "Seasoned Fools" sticker which I wore proudly, as I returned to my seat behind the man behind the tall man in the low-profile chair.

It was A Midsummer Night's Dream, one of my favourites, and was, of course, hilarious and charming - what I could see of it.

A few months ago, I made a list of about a dozen things I will miss about Hades. A Company of Fools came third, which isn't all that significant; it was a pretty random list.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Gremlins and psychopaths and genes, oh my!

When I have a "gremlin episode", I wonder nightmarishly whether I'm actually seeing things with greater clarity (horrors!), or am deluded with dark nocturnal pessimism.

Do I really want to know?

I'm thinking of a show I saw on TVO a few months ago, called "Genetic Me". A Scandinavian journalist - there's darkness right there - disturbed by what she sees as her negative personality resulting from unhappy incidents in her childhood and adolescence, explores where our personality comes from, ie. genetics.

Can we help it? No. And yes.
Does our family life have a role? No. And yes.

Apparently, we have some say in how unhappy or happy we are, because we can choose how we respond - and our choices may be rooted in what has happened to us in our family.

The strangest story involves her encounter with a Dr. Fallon, a leading expert in psychopathic murderers, who accidentally discovered that he too is a psychopath -- his brain scan confirms it. However, he's a "pro-social" psychopath. He dispassionately analyzes how a "good person" responds, and this has mostly worked for him, preventing him from damaging those around him. He gives his mother's raising of him credit.

The Scandinavian journalist has troubles with what she calls "ruminating" - the experts call it perseveration - the first time I heard this term was June 28th, 2000. A speech therapist used it to describe my younger daughter, then four.

So, I think, the gremlins are my own way of ruminating. I can embrace it, recognize it, and move beyond it.

Can't I?

I rose, walked the Accent Snob with the Resident Fan Boy. As we made our way back, I thought of ruminating, gremlins, my panicking amygdala. I did my Creative Visualization exercises, and the angel cards drawn from my Blessing Bag read: "Comfort", "Cooperation", "Healing".

I can't stop aging.
I can't change younger daughter.
I can work on how I respond to these things.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Defiantly patriotic

The blazing tangerine that has dominated the sky for a week of late September heat wave is finally making its exit, as I make my way down the humid street in search of stamps. The post office at the pharmacy is closed, but you can buy stamps at the regular register.

The cashier offers me a choice: a selection of geological landscapes or large, maple-leaf-shaped stamps festooned with rainbows. Canada is not only celebrating its sesquicentennial, but also a dozen years of "marriage equality".

"I have several relatives whom I can really piss off with these," I muse, examining the latter sheaf.

The cashier laughs.

"I'm feeling pugnacious," I tell her. "Maybe I can use them on our Christmas cards."

It's getting dark as I pass the local bookstore, where a dozen people are strumming ukuleles.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Must be Wainwright week

PBS recently re-televised a truncated version of last year's Shakespeare Show, but they didn't excise Rufus Wainwright's performance of this.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

The liturgical year

The Resident Fan Boy is a P.K. (Preacher's Kid), the son of an archdeacon, so when he wandered out into our neighbourhood, he first saw this new variation on street signage from the other direction, and caught himself thinking: No, isn't it Trinity?

Wednesday, 9 August 2017


Younger daughter has been repelled by the steady decomposition of a squirrel in the gutter near our house. I introduced her to this, by the man who's now chiefly famous for being Rufus Wainwright's dad. My Grade Eleven Biology teacher used it for his theme on a module on molds. Good times.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Those hallways

I've probably mentioned this before, but I used to have a friend who marketed !2-Step teeshirts and greeting cards. My favourite was a pair of staring white eyes against a pitch-black background with the caption: "I know that when one door closes, another one opens, but MAN, these hallways are a bitch!"

I loved it because you don't need to be recovering from an addiction to find yourself in a dark corridor after a door has slammed shut.

The door will open.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Why do they call it the past when it's never past?

I wish the original was available online; it's got a killer clarinet, but this'll do for now.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Levels of entertainment

There's always so much more to a concert than the music -- especially at Chamberfest.

A few nights ago, the Chamberfest Chamber Orchestra, eighteen top-notch musicians led by Julian Rachlin, a violinist who, I gather, is a big deal - I'm not that knowledgable about violin virtuosi - contrasted Vivaldi's Four Seasons with twentieth century composer Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.

I'm fond enough of Vivaldi and the Piazzolla piece had its moments - again, I don't have a great ear for violin music - but what was going on in the audience and on stage provided plenty of entertainment.

We had the usual drama with the generous donor who has a reserved seat right in front of us. This time, a lady sitting with a party of four, when confronted with the donor claiming her seat, handed the laminated reserved card, on which she had been sitting partially, to the volunteer who had come to help, with an air of largesse and mild puzzlement, as if she didn't understand what "reserved" meant, or was under the impression that the seat had been reserved for her. (She and her party had probably paid top price to seat in the front row of the balcony.) The Resident Fan Boy calls this "Ottawa entitlement". Gawd, I'll be glad to leave this city...

The volunteer asked repeatedly if the party would like to take special seats in the second row, for their comfort. The gentleman in the party switched seats with the "gently puzzled" lady and shook hands with the donor -- perhaps guessing the reason for the reserved seat.

Meanwhile, there was plenty of excitement below. The virtuoso snapped a string in mid-passion, and barely breaking stride, commandeered the concert-master's instrument, while she relieved the second violin of hers. Second violinist scurried backstage to re-string, and the instruments went back up the food-chain in the next movement.

The first violinists included a towering gent with flowing ginger locks named Edwin Huizinga who mugged at his fellow musicians and plucked his violin, not lasciviously but slyly, during the second movement of Vivaldi "Winter" concerto. I can't provide you with a visual, but here's the movement in question:

Elder daughter tells me that Huizinga is a character (really?) who prefers couch-surfing to home ownership. I gather from his Facebook profile that he's rarely in one place for long.

For comparison purposes, here's the "Winter" portion of Astor Piazzolla's Four Seasons of Buones Aires - without the mugging, as it's a different chamber group.

Personally, I only really like the final minute -- which is rather Pachelbel-ish. As I've said, I'm not much of a violin-fancier.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Persephone ponders her cohort

In the middle of a row with the Resident Fan Boy - which usually lasts a day or so because speech fails me - I dreamt that I was standing on a sort of porch gazing into a deep pool of green water.

Suddenly, I saw a fish fall into the water; it turned into a kitten with a resigned expression on its furry face. The fish-kitten began to sink like a stone as I looked on in bafflement. A friend from high school plucked the plummeting creature from the water and berated me. I followed her to a staircase and told her that she had no right to be so high-handed with me.

"I dreamt I called Gwen a bitch," I informed elder daughter the next morning. "I woke up thinking she'll be unfriending me on Facebook."

Elder daughter curled up on her bed, laughing. "You sound like such a Millennial," she said.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Elegiac Elgar

Saw the flick Dunkirk today, so now I've got Nimrod on the brain.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Just try to name them all

Running out of time again, and I recalled that I haven't checked in with Thebigbluemeany for years.

I found this gem, among others.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

A complex tapestry of smooth silk

I really didn't want to go out last night, and as usual, when this happens, I ended up being so glad I did.

Elder daughter works for the Ottawa Chamberfest, so we have season tickets, of course. Still jet-lagged, I clambered ponderously up into the balcony of Dominion-Chalmers United Church, the sanctuary glowing golden in the early evening sun of midsummer to hear a quintet specializing in early music called Cinquecento. I imagined they might be something like the King's Singers.

Well, not quite.

Five men duly appeared below, in dark but casual suits with open-necked shirts in muted shades of blue, green, silver, rose, and purple. They passed a tuning fork like a cigarette between them, opened their mouths and the most full and beautiful notes flowed out and filled the church.

They were singing, mostly in Latin, pieces by 16th century English composers: Tallis, Byrd, and Tye. All the pieces were ethereal and lovely, but I particularly liked a Tallis Vespers (or Compline?) prayer Te lucis ante terminum (sung in two different settings, at different points of the concert) which begins with the voices singing plainsong before splitting off into complex skeins of colour.

The English translation, which says in part: ". . .From all ill dreams defend our eyes/ From nightly fears and fantasies/ Tread underfoot our ghostly foe . . . ." had a certain appeal for me.

I'm still a little bit in outgoing Victoria mode, so at intermission, I struck up a conversation with the fellow in our pew, whom I'd noticed drinking in the music with eyes closed. It turned out he's in a choir, and he had interesting observations about how the quintet spent the first three numbers subtly adjusting to the scope and acoustics of the church. Remarkably he had not heard of the 40 Part Motet at the National Gallery. (Gee, I hope it's still there.)

I don't often stand for standing ovations, because I think Ottawa audience stand for pretty well everything. I stood this time. They gave an encore of a 16th century setting of Ave Maria.

It wasn't this one, but it's the only video I can find of Cinquecento in action. It was recorded last year. It's beautiful.

Monday, 31 July 2017

A pillar of fire

While waiting for a Chamberfest concert to begin at Dominion-Chalmers United Church, I glanced over from my seat in the left gallery, and saw the evening sun catching the ornate plllar.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Smoky mountains

If the sky is clear enough, you can see Mount Baker in Washington State from Willows Beach in Victoria, so I recognized it immediately from the runway at Victoria International Airport.

The first leg of the flight back to Hades this year was to include a four-hour layover in Calgary, where all the traffic congregates in one wing while the other two are oddly deserted.

First, however, I had to get across British Columbia, so we flew north-east - and directly at Mount Baker.

We veered to the left of it.

I had never seen it so close -- which is a wee bit alarming, because as lovely as it is, it's a volcano.

And not far beyond lay other terrors.
The Interior of British Columbia has been relentlessly savaged by wildfire this summer. This first plume flowed like a flesh-coloured serpent across the horizon. I think it was somewhere near Harrison Springs.

Below us, smoke bubbled up like a cauldron of burning witch's brew, from some conflagration in a hidden valley.

And not long before we reached Calgary, we saw this rising somewhere out of the Canadian Rockies.
I had to explain to younger daughter, when she saw the photo, that this, unlike Mount Baker, wasn't a real volcano.

A pall of smoke spread hundreds of miles over Alberta. I saw it from the plane to Hades.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

The last house-sit

There's a last time for every house-sit.  Usually, I haven't known it at the time.  Over the past sixteen summers, I have house-sat at about ten different addresses.  The houses have become my home over the weeks, before I surrender them back to their owners, hoping for another invitation to keep their house secure, the plants watered, the pets alive, while having a retreat and some elbow room in my daily visits to Demeter. I've usually been invited back, sometimes four more times.

Yesterday, I moved through a snug, but surprisingly spacious bungalow, playing a game with myself that I call "Removing the Evidence".  I systematically try to remove every clue I've been there, so that the owners can return from their trip, slip into a clean bed, and not notice that I've ever been there, apart from the fact that the plants are green and blooming.

And I said goodbye to the rooms as I trundle my suitcase to the front door.  This time I know.  It's the last time.

Friday, 28 July 2017

The Emily Carr tree

On my evening returns to the house-sit, I sit on the left-hand side of the bus, and from there I can see what I've come to call (in my own mind) "the Emily Carr tree".

It seems to burst out of a larger tree like Athena from the head of Zeus, and bristle against the sky.
Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky - Emily Carr (1931)

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Mandala sidewalk

In my years away from Demeter, three crosswalks in downtown Victoria have materialized in a whimsical way. One is your standard rainbow sidewalk - we have one in Ottawa, too, on Bank Street, which is kind of the gay downtown. Another is a colourful assortment of puzzle pieces near a games shop. This is my favourite: a frame of mandalas around the intersection at Fort and Broad.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Missing the point

Although I've been a prisoner of Hades for the past seventeen years, only returning to Demeter for the summers, I lived over half my years on this planet in Victoria. It was only this week that I made it out to Point No Point.

The Resident Fan Boy has been there, of course, but his family had a car, and a car is what is required, ironically enough, to get out to most nature areas.

Unless you're a determined, strong, and able cyclist. I am none of those things.

Here in Hades, I've only been to the Gatineau Park once, and that was on a field trip with a few scores of thirteen-year-olds. That was an interesting day.

The Unitarian Church in Victoria has, for many years, held a "service auction" as a fund-raiser. Demeter usually offers to knit one of her colourful sweaters, but this year, she bid on a trip out to Point No Point, because she knew it coincided with my visit.

On a brilliant morning, we set off in a convoy of three cars containing mature women - median age probably about seventy-five. Many of them, including Demeter, could not make the steep descent to the beach, nor even to the corridors of rain forest running along the tops of the cliffs, so before lunch at the restaurant (which, unfortunately, has a menu describing the Strait of Juan de Fuca as "Juan de Fuca Straight", delicious as the fare was), I scrambled down the long incline, picked my way over the pebbles, and stood, transfixed by the booming surf.
And I do mean "boom". Occasionally, I'd turn to scan the cliffs behind only to hear what sounded like a rapidly approaching, ravenous giant.

I only got caught once, with water swirling around my ankles, over my socks, and into my shoes. My fault - I panicked. Had I waited, the waters would have retreated enough to escape with dry feet.

As I wobbled slightly on barnacled rocks, soon to vanish under the incoming tide, it occurred to me that if this was my first time at Point No Point, it was likely my last.

You reach a point in your life when you stop assuming you'll be back, that you'll have another chance. The first time this happened for me was when elder daughter graduated from her university in Halifax, and I realized we probably wouldn't return.

I took far too many photos of breakers, hoping to seize and preserve one perfect rising, curling, crashing.

My time ran out, and I climbed the winding path, past ancient trees with trunks that wind and meander like serpents in the shade.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Yet another placeholder

This is where I was yesterday.

Because we don't have a car - and I don't drive - I had never been here, despite living in Victoria over half my life. More tomorrow.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Gone for the day

I'm off on a day trip. Might tell you about it.  Here's a place-holder - a Peggy-Lee-style take on a very very popular song.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

What does the sleep-deprived blogger say?

Woke up at 4:14 this morning; have been waking up at 4:40 since my family left, so this is not an improvement.  Will I wake up at 4:14 tomorrow? 

So, I'm operating on even fewer brain-cells than usual.  Time to cheat with yet another Postmodern Jukebox video.  This one is from three years ago, and I love the bit where Tambourine Guy comes charging in from the left - just wait for the iridescent mini-dress.

Very busy day tomorrow, so I'll probably cheat again.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

About face (write of passage number forty-six)

The lady doesn't seem at all pleased to see me.

"Don't sit next to me," she snarls.  She's sitting in the first forward-facing seat in the bus, while I've taken the sideways seat just in front of her, in order to help Demeter steady her walker.

The lady snaps a couple more times.  I think she's talking to me; she never actually makes eye contact, so I ignore her.

A family boards, taking a scattering of available seats.  There is a young girl among them; I'd say she's about seven.  She seems to hang back; resisting her family's directions to sit down, she clings to one of the railings.

Snarly snappy lady does a complete about-face.  She begins teasing the young girl and interacting with a purple bird puppet on the child's right hand.

"Does he have a name?  I want to see him fly!  Ow, he's pecking me!"

The girl smiles and relaxes.

So do I.

I guess I just wasn't young enough.

Maybe I needed a puppet.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Orca strait

I had heard about this Victoria Foundation project months ago while I was still in Ottawa, but to be confronted by it in person, where it's displayed outside the main branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library, was a whole other kettle of orcas.

This is the work of Victoria-based Kwagiulth artist, and Victoria Foundation board member, Carey Newman, who had scores, well, maybe hundreds of prominent and not-so-prominent Victorians come to workshops to create individual tiles, then pieced them together into a trio of killer whales - we call them orcas in this part of the world.

If you click on the picture, you may be able to make out the individual tiles, which include Queen Victoria, and Emily Carr. This was, of course, all in honour of the 150th anniversary of Confederation.


Thursday, 20 July 2017

Sky boy (write of passage number forty-five)

He's tiny and excited, taking his seat next to his young blond mum in the top of the double-decker. He's wearing some sort of headband, and his sandy hair sticks up like a cone behind it.

His mum tells him, "I used to ride on the Sky Train when I was a little girl; it's really high up too!"

"Well, this is the Sky Bus," he informs her.

"You can call it that if you like."

"'Cuz it touches the sky."

I look out at the blue expanse, and imagine the top of the bus is brushing against it.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Hat trick

The Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter returned to Hades yesterday, leaving me here, for only the third time in seventeen summers, alone to savour rather more solitude than I'm used to.

In a way, it's intoxicating. Despite devoting a section of each day to Demeter, I am largely free to go where I will.

In a way, I'm rather forlorn. I enjoy my unfettered state, yet I find myself looking longingly at families wandering together through the streets of Victoria, aware as I am of the griping about fatigue and hunger that is the inevitable byproduct.

So I find myself remembering a snippet of sweet memory from about sixteen years ago. Elder daughter, who was about nine or ten at the time, needed a summer hat, but was now old enough to resist. I grabbed a moment in a shop to have her try on a few, the time being limited by how much her younger sister could stand to wait.

I think it was the third hat, a simple beige affair with an artfully shredded brim. It touched her crown, and I saw the sun rise in her face.

Long after she abandoned it in favour of pre-adolescent hatlessness - she refuses to wear a sunhat to this day - I kept it safe and treasured the memory of that brightening smile.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

From bag to verse (write of passage number forty-four)

He's all in black, wearing a jacket on a warm day, and seated at the bus stop,loaded down with a suitcase on wheels and a couple of shopping bags. When he asks me for the time, I can't place his accent.

He says he's on his way to the Paint-in at Moss Street and offers to read me a poem.

Oh heck,why not? I think, so he pulls sheaves of vellum from a sort of large wallet, and unfolds a large sheet which, fortunately, bears large handwriting.

Unfortunately, he spends a little too much time on the preamble, and the bus pulls up before he can begin reading.

This never happens in Ottawa.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Wasn't expecting this one

A woman? Sure! Jodie Whittaker? That was a well-kept surprise, wasn't it? (I gather she suddenly zoomed into the list of contenders in the final hours of the countdown. Mind you, I wasn't paying close enough attention.)

I can almost hear the fanboys bellowing. The Resident Fan Boy seems okay with it.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Learning you were wrong

Little time today, so I'm cheating again. Aubrey Logan is another Postmodern Jukebox performer I would love to see live. (We did see the bassist.)

Friday, 14 July 2017

How much will you pay to live in the attic?

Events of the past few weeks leave me with this song on my mind. I heard it first as a child, when it seemed spooky and largely incomprehensible. Later, it sounded to me like a man making doomed overtures to a woman.

As it turns out, Paul Stookey,who wrote it, can explain precisely what it means, but before you click on the link, I should warn you that there's a reason that so many poets and songwriters suggest that readers and listeners seek out their own interpretations.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

The poets and the saints

I studied Our Town in Grade Nine English (maybe Grade Ten - it was a long time ago).

It was the practice - and probably still is - to take turns reading the roles. Our teacher, an intense Australian, took the part of the Stage Manager who narrates, and I spoke Emily Gibbs nee Webb for the third, devastating act of the play, and so had one of the final lines: "Mother Gibbs? . . . . They really don't understand, do they?"

I was also branded for life by the exchange between Emily and the Stage Manager, after the realization of the nature of life and living has collapsed in on her. She asks (and I'm paraphrasing because I'm relying on memory): "Are any human beings ever truly aware of life as they're living it -- ev'ry ev'ry minute?" The Stage Managers replies: "No. The saints and the poets, they do, some."

We had a young curmudgeon in the class who took the role of the depressed and disappointed choirmaster. I don't ever recall him saying much at any other time, but he read the part of Simon Stimson to perfection -- a slight, curly-hair boy in a mustard-coloured shirt and black-framed eye-glasses sounding like a cynical and dispirited middle-aged man. I wonder if he grew into it.

So, when I heard that Blue Bridge Theatre was mounting a production of the play, I knew I wanted to go, having never seen a live production of it, apart from the filmed version of the 2003 Broadway revival starring Paul Newman.

And when I heard that Gary Farmer was playing the Stage Manager, I knew I had to go. Gary Farmer was "Lenny" in a stunning Blue Bridge Theatre production of Of Mice and Men which I saw in 2012. This Our Town featured three other actors from the OMaM and the same director.

I thought it was going to be good. It was.

As in Of Mice and Men, I was approaching a work first encountered in adolescence, and seeing through my older and, regrettably, not much wiser eyes.

Our Town is popular in high schools, both for studying and performing, because it has next-to-no scenery, few props, only the slightest hint of sex, and focuses on the love story of two young people.

It's only when you're older that you notice how very grown-up a play it is, that the story is as much about the elders as the youth. Things hit me in the solar plexus that simply didn't register when I was in my mid-teens, not least the bitter-sweet revelation of what has become of the elder Mrs. Gibbs'(Cyllene Richmond) legacy and her dream of visiting Paris.

Also as with Of Mice and Men, the ensemble work was universally fine, from the young lovers to their parents to the village characters. The music was fun, but a bit distracting -- more Tennessee Appalachian than New England Appalachian. And in a strange but moving moment, Simon Stimson (Jacob Richmond), the alcoholic organist, staggers on before the wedding in the middle act and sings "Ombra Mai Fu", which is better known as "Handel's Largo" and is listed, in the first act, as being among the half dozen or so things of "culture" recognized by the denizens of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire.

Frondi tenere e belle/ del mio platano amato/ per voi risplenda il fato./ Tuoni, lampi, e procelle/ nonv'oltraggino mai la cara pace/ ne giunga a profanarvi austro rapace.
Ombra mai fu/ di vegetabile/ cara ed amabile/ soave piu.

"Tender and beautiful fronds/ of my beloved plane tree/ let Fate smile upon you./ May thunder, lightning, and storms/ never disturb your dear peace,/ nor may you by blowing winds be profaned.
"Never was a shade/ of any plant/ dearer and more lovely,/ or more sweet."

Needless to say, the melody has been haunting me all week.

Our Town is,by its nature, a very WASP play, but this production featured Laurence Dean Ifill (as milkman Howie Newsome) as well as Gary Farmer who is of the Cayuga Nation. The only reference to this is if you are watching carefully as Professor Willard (Julian Cervello) is giving an anthropological history of Grover's Corners and mentions that the indigenous people are long gone. Farmer's eyes close as he listens.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

What are little boys made of? (Part Two and write of passage number forty-three)

My heart sinks when the bus on the way back from Butchart Gardens stops near Elk Lake, where several young kids are lined up.  It's day camp season in Victoria.

I was a day-camper for my first three summers in Victoria, ages 9 to 11 -- eons ago.  In those days, there were few day camps and we were transported daily by ancient, retired city buses.

Now, the hapless and hopeful counselors must marshal their charges on to city buses, to fidget and chatter cheek by jowl with unenthusiastic passengers.

This lot look roughly in the 6 to 8 range with a couple of taller boys who are either big for their age or some kind of junior assistants.  There are about fifteen children in all, and they have been instructed by their twenty-something counselors to stand.  Most of them ignore this, being small enough to fit several to a seat.

One little boy (there's always one) is sitting by himself, inches away from me.  His name is James and he's spent the first ten minutes of the journey playing with a rubber frog he's retrieved from the sandy pails dangling from the fingers of the distracted female counselor.  She has a nose piercing and purple hair-ends; she's busy pivoting to keep an eye on everyone in her end of the bus.  Her bearded co-worker is overseeing about half a dozen kids in the back of the bus.

For the next ten minutes, little James dozes off, but as he rouses, it becomes clear he isn't happy.  His small face screws up, and tears start dripping down his summer-coloured cheeks.  I wave to catch his counselor's attention, point discreetly in James' direction and draw imaginary tears under my eye.

He looks up at her in abject misery and butts his head against her hip as she reassures him that "we're almost there".  (This is debatable -- we're still in the upper reaches of Douglas Street.)

One of the big boys slips in beside him and tries to jolly him out of it, gently poking him, and trying to draw his attention to what's out the window, finishing with a droll "Drip-drip-drip".  Female counselor tells him this isn't helpful and to cut it out.

I'm a little worried, given my proximity, that wee James is bus-sick. but it's becoming clear that his discomfort is growing; he's starting to grab a bit at his groin and cry harder.  In other words, he's really wee James.

Mercifully, the group's stop is not quite downtown, and, out on the sidewalk,  I see James at the head of the fleeing line, clutching his counselor's hand.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

What are little boys made of? (Part One)

We're approaching  Demeter's condo building.  A man and his son or grandson -- better not to assume, especially these days -- have reached it just ahead of us, and the little boy, who is more of a knee-gnawer than an ankle-biter, has just entered the code with a flourish.

We carefully brandish our entrance keys to signal that we have a legitimate means to enter the building, and that it's okay to hold the door for us.

We follow them into the elevator, and, after the buttons for  our respective floors have been pushed,  the knee-gnawer looks around and announces:  "No smoking!"  He gives us a keen gaze.

"Good thing I don't have smokes," I observe soberly.

He turns and grills his grandfather (or father). "Do you have smokes?"

Assured, he turns to the Resident Fan Boy and points:  "Do you have smokes?"

Younger daughter doesn't escape the interrogation.  She is quietly amused and bemused.

As the door opens, the man catches my eye:  "Well, that's a relief!"

We leave the pair to rise above us, like smoke, to the third floor.

Monday, 10 July 2017

. . . but they don't listen to me

I know I'm back in Victoria when I see the twisted branches of the arbutus trees and Gary Oaks -- and when I see pewter verticals of the cedars.  These were in Butchart Gardens today.  I'm a little too drowsy to say much else.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Tossed upon cloudy seas

On the night of the Thunder Moon, I went to water the outdoor plants of this summer's house-sit, and saw this.

My Nikon is back in Ottawa, so I made do with my phone and got something vaguely Van Gogh.

However, as a friend has pointed out:  "The best camera is the one you actually have on hand."

Saturday, 8 July 2017


I don't know if I can even begin to describe my excitement when I decided to check the line-up for the Victoria Jazz Fest a few days before departing for the annual retreat to visit Demeter and escape the hazy summer heat of Hades.

I expected to find the usual array of undoubtedly talented musicians of which I'd never heard. That's fine -- I'm open to being educated. Instead I found a listing for the Postmodern Jukebox, one of my favourite means for coming up with a blog-post when I have no time.

Hands shaking, I checked their website, because they usually have two or three travelling troupes on tour somewhere in the world. There was a promotional video showing them heading off in a tractor trailer "to Canada" -- presumably they think there's nothing but farms up here -- and I thought I could spot Sarah Niemietz and Casey Abrams among the throng.

I frantically booked tickets. I couldn't believe that PMJ was coming to Canada - I think they'd been to Montreal on one of their so-called "North American" tours - and that they would be performing at a venue that was actually accessible to me. Younger daughter, who has been exposed to PMJ through my Facebook shares, was pretty excited too.

At the appointed time, the Resident Fan Boy, younger daughter and I made our way through a beautiful post-solstice evening, walking the few blocks from Demeter's condo to the Royal Theatre. That was an additional treat for me; I haven't been to a performance at the Royal in about twenty years. Between our absence and extensive renovations to the theatre (first opened in 1913), there simply hasn't been the opportunity.

We were up in the gods, three rows from the top of the upper balcony, but I'd brought bird binoculars, and gazed rapturously at the distant performers

I haven't posted many of Sarah Niemietz's performances on this blog, which is odd, because I love her style and watch her PMJ videos repeatedly. She can take a song I like and take it to a different level.

The live performance had the extra thrill of hearing Casey Abrams sing backup for her on this one.

Niemietz, who, I've just discovered, is the same age as elder daughter, can also take a song I could live without and turn it into something fine.

Last summer I was able to identify this Justin Bieber ditty for my 12-year-old niece - because I'd heard the Postmodern Jukebox version.

I've posted more than one Casey Abrams PMJ video.  He's a force of nature. This song, originally recorded by Haddaway, features Maiyah Sykes on backing vocals (she's the lady in the Louboutins).  She blew away the crowd in Victoria with her solos.

After the show, we escaped down the back staircase and burst out into the night, still in twilight.  Victoria is several longitudes north of Ottawa, enough for sunsets past nine thirty in late June.  We were jet-lagged, but unexhausted.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Just what I needed

This features three of my favourite Postmodern Jukebox performers -- and I got to see two of the musicians in this video live last week.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Family matter

I guess it was a good day to visit the museum.

Younger daughter was having one of her "on" days, when the sliding doors of her brain are open, and she is comfortable and functioning.

She was delighted by the transformation of the First Nations section, which now opens with columns and buttons which allow you to hear the vanishing indigenous languages of British Columbia, and to see where they used to be spoken.

She dove into this year's Terry Fox exhibit, and painstakingly read through every item in every display.  The Resident Fan Boy found comfortable places to sit while she did so, while I learned the ins and outs of the access elevator to accommodate Demeter's walker.  It involves finding the correct button with a bright light on the dashboard to blind you, holding said button for the correct length of time while the platform finds the correct level, then releasing the button at the correct time so that the door will open and let you out or in, releasing you from the embarrassment of hollering and banging for a patient RBCM staff member.

However, I had come for the Family Bond and Belonging exhibit, a sort of three-dimensional album.  Families from all over British Columbia have contributed film and videos of days at the beach, in the living room, in the backyard.  Some of these films look very old indeed -- from the 1920's and thirties, at least.

There's a sort of 1970s-style living room where you can plop down and watch snippets of these, ricocheting back and forth through the years.

There are galleries of photos, some from the Royal BC Archives, some from contributing families.  They represent a myriad of experience:  being First Nation, British, Chinese, Indian, or gay in British Columbia.  Having a family of blood relations, or chosen friends.  Living now, or a century and a half ago.

My very favourite display is at the very centre of the exhibit -- a dazzling collection of costumes: historical, cultural, military, occupational, again, many contributed by families, with stories attached.

I want to go back, of course, but repeated Victorian summers have taught me what Thomas Wolfe always knew -- that you really can't go home again.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Dismayed in the shade

Out on errands on a sunny day in Victoria, I find myself footsore and weary, so decide to catch the bus home.

I settle on a bench in the shadow of the arts supply store, juggling my purchases, bus schedule, and bus pass.

A lady strides up, clad in light-blue stone-washed capris. Her blond hair is clipped back into a small ponytail, and she's wearing sunglasses.

"Well, howdy-doody!" she greets me with cheerful briskness.

It's Victoria, so I smile up from my seat at her and respond, "How do you do?"

She pauses a micro-second.

"Oh, I see, you're just going to sit there."

Off she goes, leaving me slightly baffled.

Do I know her? I don't recognize her voice, and her sunglasses do nothing for my mild prosopagnosia. Frankly, she's a wee bit generic and could have been anybody I've met in Victoria during the past three decades -- or a complete stranger mistaking me for someone else. (This happens pretty often, so I guess I might be a bit generic too.)

When I describe the incident later to the Resident Fan Boy and Demeter, they recall all the times when an unfamiliar person has struck up a conversation with them, imagining them to be an acquaintance.

We fantasize comforting scenarios where my brisk mystery lady confronts a bewildered friend:

"Why were you so stand-offish the other day?"
"Excuse me?"
"I said hello, and you just sat there like a lump, smiling at me as if you didn't know me."
"Where was this?"
"At the bus stop at Island Blue Print."
"Are you crazy? I don't take the bus…"

Oh gawd, I hope that's what happened and she wasn't an old pal...

Tuesday, 4 July 2017


Sometimes a theme just emerges from a day. It doesn't always have much meaning, but there it is.

For Canada Day this year, my mystery theme appeared to be hoops.

The Resident Fan Boy was determined to see the Ottawa festivities, so we hurried from our house-sit to Demeter's house. And there were hoops in the opening moments, as various First Nation dancers bounced and whirled around the Eternal Flame to the rhythm of the Spirit Drums.

July 1st 2007 - First Nation Dancer performing while the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family look on.  The dancer is possibly Ojibwa, as hoop-dancing is associated with that nation.

(Bono and The Edge also sang "One", which was nice of them.)

We had lunch at the only sushi restaurant we could find open on Canada Day, then made our way to Centennial Square to see what we could catch of the free concerts.

Well, actually, we couldn't see much of anything, because Demeter, very sensibly, is using a walker these days, so we couldn't clamber into the stands. We found a table under a small parasol by the fountain, and chatted amiably with a volunteer, while people-watching and half-listening to a jazz fusion band who claims Pat Metheny as an influence.

During the final number, which was apparently a well-known number, but since we couldn't see the band and couldn't hear everything the announcer said, I'm not sure what it was. I did like it -- it had a steady, travelling sort of rhythm, and, lulled by the music and the heat, I dreamily watched two people off in the distance, tossing and dancing with hula hoops, which seemed to hover around their bodies, as if they were in suspended wheels of bright colour.

Maybe it was this number.

In the evening, Cirque du Soleil whirled in hoops of steel and fire.

Meaning? Coincidence, probably. But Joseph Campbell pointed out that the way of escaping the ups and downs of the wheel of fate was to move to the centre -- something like the dancers, performers and acrobats of this one day.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Eating crow

Oak Bay Avenue

You can click to enlarge

Sunday, 2 July 2017


I hear it somewhere behind me: a liquidy expulsive sound.  I'm sitting on a patio inches from a sidewalk.  Flinching, I'm unable to see through the shrub at my shoulder, but the origin of the noise slouches up the street, past my elbow, in all his denimed, tractor-capped glory.

"Sorry," he mutters.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Sequential and sesquicentennial

I so wanted to snap a picture this afternoon.

I went to use the facilities at the Bay Centre in downtown Victoria and found a line-up snaking out nearly to the corridor.

It was a winding curve of women of many colours and shapes. I saw an older woman in a sari, a young redhead with sunburnt shoulders, and two Japanese students using the waiting time to maple-leaf each other with tap water and temporary tattoos.

Almost the entire line was a whiplash of red and white. One girl used the time-honoured out of wearing a Canadian flag as a cape, but it was mostly scarlet tops and white or cream trousers, or red caps and sun hats, or patriotic hair decorations.

And I thought of how Canada has changed, and especially, how Victoria has changed. It was once said that there was nothing wrong with Victoria that four hundred Ukranians couldn't fix. It was a bit homogenous when I was growing up here.

But I didn't pull out my phone.

Taking pictures in a women's washroom borders on the creepy.

So I took this one.

Friday, 30 June 2017

One star at a time

On the eve of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, Canadians are taking to social media to argue about "the most Canadian song". Well, I've answered this question on the blog, and naturally it's a Tragically Hip song.

But CBC Music decided to ask which was most Canadian: "A Case of You" by Joni Mitchell, or "Bobcaygeon" by the Hip.

I happen to think that "Bobcaygeon" is an Ontarian song; to me, it's all about cottage country, and that's always been out of my reach. Ontarians, bless 'em, think that Ontario is Canada. Some Hip fan told me to "STFU", and a Joni Mitchell fan remonstrated gently with him, saying his response "wasn't very Canadian".

Well, you don't tangle with Hip fans, to whom "Bobcaygeon" is practically a hymn, and I know that the song speaks to a lot of people, some of whom may not even be from Ontario.

Here's a current Canadian song. I don't think it's the most Canadian song ever, but when I hear it, I will think of the spring of 2017. I probably like it because the band is British Columbian, so their music speaks to me.

It's certainly not a hymn either; I apologize in advance for the "F" and "S" bombs - which, come to think of it, is rather Canadian of me.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

That deadly piper

When I rose yesterday morning, there was a birthday reminder from one of my online calendars, and my heart lurched. It was the birthday of a recently deceased friend.

Two weeks ago, word came from a mutual friend that the poetry man had died two weeks before that. The length of time between his departure and its announcement in an email from the university department where he'd worked, the lack of an obituary, and the knowledge that the poetry man had battled depression for years all seem to indicate a suicide.

I felt punched, bruised, numbed. The only clues I had to my feelings on the matter were strange, intermittent leakages of tears as I fired off a brief and, I hope, compassionate email to his estranged wife, to let her know that I'd heard. She's someone I've known since adolescence, and it's entirely in her character to keep a discreet silence, shielding their vulnerable children.

Eventually, I moved to the bookshelves in the study, and pulled out a baggie of poems, sent to me, at my request, some time after we left for Ottawa, when I first learned that the poetry man wrote poems. I remember my relief when I first read them and realized that they were good.

The poetry man was a gracious fellow with a gentle, erudite Alabaman accent. Even before I knew he was a poet, I was always struck by his measured and lyrical way of speaking. He introduced me to the novels of William Faulkner, each one a challenge, each one not like any of the others.

While I may not have been quite as enthusiastic about Faulkner as he was, he and I did an appreciation for the Hooters. I sat up for a while, listening to a couple of my favourites, including this one, which turns out to be about suicide.

Surrender into the night,
Silently take my hand.
Nobody knows what's inside us,
Nobody understands.
They handed us down a dream,
To live in this lonely town.
But nobody hears the music,
Only the echo of a hollow sound.

Where do the children go,
Between the bright night and darkest day?
Where do the children go,
And who's that deadly piper who leads them away?

Together we make our way,
Passengers on a train.
Whisper a secret forever,
Promises in the rain. No, whoa...
We're leaving it all behind,
While castles are falling down.
We're going where no one can find us.
And if there's a heaven,
We'll find it somehow.


Sunday, 30 April 2017

Ideas are like stars

I've just had a significant birthday.  Or is it an insignificant one?  It leaves me with a zero at the end, anyway.

As an antidote, I pulled together songs that came out in a year that ended in "7".  For 1997, I chose "Ideas Are Like Stars" by Mary Chapin Carpenter, a song that, for me, doesn't belong so much to 1997, as it belongs to 2001, and my first winter in Hades.

I'd just acquired the CD A Place in the World, and younger daughter had just been "identified" as having Special Needs.  This song would come on, and I'd have to dive into the basement to smother my sobbing.

While searching for videos, I came across a new recording Mary Chapin Carpenter has made, with an orchestral score and choir.

Today Joseph is sitting alone, with occasional nods to the waitress
She tops off his cup while she's snapping her gum, making her rounds on the lunch shift
Counting out coins, he leaves them arranged, in neat lines and circles and arcs
She just stares at the tip that spells out her name and ideas are like stars

And yesterday pedaling down 4th Avenue, between the stalls and the bookshops
The sepia tones of a lost afternoon cradled a curio storefront
And inside the air was thick with the past, as the dust settled onto his heart
And here for a moment is every place in the world and ideas are like stars

They fall from the sky, they run round your head
They litter your sleep as they beckon
They'd teach you to fly without wires or thread
They promise if only you'd let them

For the language of longing never had words,
so how did you speak from your heart?
Yet here is a box that swears it has heard that ideas are like stars

Tonight Joseph stood out in the yard, as Debussy played from the kitchen
Celestial companions `til mornings first lark, shone overhead and he listened
And who was that shadow there by the gate, who was that there standing guard
It was only loneliness, and loneliness waits, and ideas are like stars
Ideas are like stars.

I've since learned that the Joseph in the song refers to American artist Joseph Cornell, and have found a video featuring the original 1996 recording, with images of Cornell's artwork.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Queues and pews

There's an Ottawa mentality about queuing and seating. Oh, I'm sure similar attitudes exist elsewhere, but here in Hades, it's just so damn noticeable.

Recently, the Resident Fan Boy, younger daughter, and I went to the first screening of the day at the Bytowne Cinema. We, and some others, were standing around in a scattered sort of semi-circle, waiting for the box office to open in about five minutes. An older lady asked me, "Is this the line?"
"No," I replied.
"Well," she said. "Maybe it's time to start one." And she actually reached out to nudge me into place.

I looked around in disbelief. I could see the staff dismantling the locks and setting out the signs. There were no more than ten people standing outside. Ignoring her, I moved toward the opening door, following those who had arrived before us and who weren't in line either.

The Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter went in to get our preferred seats, the ones on the left side of the left aisle. We've discovered from years of attending films at the Bytowne that our view is unimpeded, few people sit there, and it unlikely anyone will clamber over you to sit by the wall. They saved me a seat directly in front, while I fetched the popcorn.

Unfortunately, they'd chosen seats two rows behind Line-up Lady. This would normally be no problem because of the way the seats are staggered, I'd have a clear view over her right shoulder. After a few minutes, the film not having started, she got up, paused meaningfully by my seat and informed me that she was moving because the smell of popcorn made her ill. I cheerfully made sympathetic noises, because I find, on the whole, refusing to take the bait from someone who's annoyed with you for the egregious sin of eating popcorn in a cinema - just for an example - is far more satisfying in the long run.

So, a few days later, we arrived in good time for a performance by the guitar virtuosi Assad Brothers at Dominion-Chalmers United Church. The Resident Fan Boy, a veteran of many years of Chamberfest seating wars, hurried to the balcony where our season tickets are, and sat to the far left of our pew. The tickets give you the section, pew number, but no seat assignment, simply ending with the word "Pew", so, if you're early enough, you can stake out the part of the pew closest to the central view of the stage. The view is perfectly reasonable from other parts of the pew, but, hey, there has to be some perk for showing up early.

I put my coat on my spot and dashed off to the washroom, because the line-up at Intermission is a nightmare, especially with a sold-out audience. When I returned, I found another older lady standing by my coat and looking pointedly at it. Under her watchful gaze, I carefully rolled up my coat, stowed it under the pew, and took my place next to my husband, feeling somehow that I had broken some secret rule. She remained standing, as a couple established themselves at the other end of the pew. Eventually, a gentleman greeted her and they sat down.

Meanwhile, in front of us, another mini-drama was unfolding. A lady was trying to explain to the couple in front of us that she had reserved seating on the prized left end of the pew, that is, dead-centre in the front row of the balcony.

She was holding up a fairly sizeable plastic laminated square, which read: "Reserved". Apparently, the female half of the couple had been sitting on it. I watched as the reservation lady calmly and patiently explained the situation, apparently to no avail. The other lady was making sweeping gestures towards other parts of the balcony. Eventually, one of the volunteers joined the conversation, and the couple made room. Elder daughter explained to me later that the reservation lady is a major patron of Chamberfest; in fact, it is safe to say the concert was taking place thanks to her support. She has to claim and explain her reservation every damn time.

The concert eventually started after a bus-load of Montreal music students rumbled into the upper balcony pews about fifteen minutes after the show was due to start. The brothers rippled and nodded. I've never heard nor sensed such an intent audience.

This was my favourite, particularly the "Musette Rondeau", which is about at the 3:50 mark in this video.

From our pew, their bent legs made them look a bit like Muppets.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

"Go home to your families!"

In mid-February, before I was felled by the flu and locked up inside for a week, I battled the mean streets of Hades -- well, mean sidewalks, actually. Oceans of colourless slush hemmed in by the berms which the city had failed to scrape away. Exhausted, damp, and chilled, I found myself on a twilight bus, checking my phone, like the other grey citizens of Ottawa. I saw bad news, and reacted in my early twenty-first century manner: I reposted it to Facebook, texted the Resident Fan Boy, and read the details at various news links on social media.

The lady next to me indicated that she'd like to get up.
"Oh, I'm getting out too," I assured her. "I'll just shut down my phone."
"I'm sorry, but I couldn't help noticing -- has Stuart McLean died?"

And we pulled our things together, sidling toward the exit, while talking of the Vinyl Café concerts we'd been to, and our favourite Dave and Morley stories. She said her parents would be especially upset; I told her the Resident Fan Boy had been a Stuart McLean fan since Morningside. She was probably a little too young to remember that far back.

I guess scenes like this were playing out across Canada on the evening of February 15th. By dinnertime, my expatriate friends were chiming in from the other sides of the globe.

I started listening to the tales about Dave and Morley when our daughters were tiny, and we couldn't get out much. The RFB and I attended our first Vinyl Café Christmas concert about twelve years ago. We spent that evening tucked up in the highest reaches of the upper balcony of the National Arts Centre, wrapped in the warm waves of laughter. After three or four years, we started taking our daughters along. Elder daughter love the stories; younger daughter loved the music. Since Ottawa was almost always the last stop of the tour, between 2003 and 2014, the Christmas show was our signal that the holiday was prepared for and truly beginning.

Stuart McLean was midway through the concert tour in 2015 when he learned he had melanoma. There was no Vinyl Café Christmas in Ottawa that year. In December 2016, the CBC stopped transmitting the Vinyl Café repeats. My heart sank a little then, but that mid-February phone flash still came as a shock. He was only 68. We had hoped for more Christmases, and more stories throughout the year.

One of the year-round features of the Vinyl Café programme on the radio was The Vinyl Café Story Exchange. The rules were simple. It had to be short, and it had to be true. Here's a story I'd always meant to share:

The week before the Christmas of 2005, the Resident Fan Boy and I attended the final Sunday matinée of the Vinyl Café season at the National Arts Centre. We were in Southam Hall, which is the largest of the four theatres that make up the complex. Before the Hall was renovated last summer, the rows in the orchestra section were lo-o-o-o-ong and curved, with no centre aisle. To add to the confusion, odd-numbered seats were all on the left, and even-numbers all on the right. The RFB and I attend several events at Southam Hall each year, so we took our seats by entering from the left aisle. Lots of people coming to the Vinyl Café, however, were from out-of-town, and/or rarely had a reason to come to the NAC.

Shortly before the show, a roly-poly lady entered our row from the left, and laboriously picked her way towards the centre, necessitating every one in her path to stand up and let her by.

A few seats beyond us, she stopped, quizzed a couple of people about their seats, and only then double-checked her ticket. It became clear from her body language that she was in the wrong row, marooned smack dab in the centre of the huge theatre.

By now, those of us who had risen to let her by were commenting on her predicament.

"Well," I remarked, "at least she's keeping going! Better than turning back and irritating the same people twice!"

"This is like a Bob and Morley story," declared the fellow sitting in front of us. He launched into an pitch-perfect Stuart McLean impression, complete with the trademark Stuart-stutter: "She was in the wrong row, so she-she-she just kept going! She-she didn't want to irritate the same people twice!"

We were all breaking up. The lady got to the very end of the row, way, way over on the right side of the concert hall, then had to circle back to the left side of the correct row, and get all those people to stand up to let her by.

The fellow in front kept up the monologue: "She-she-she finally made it to her seat. Ev-everybody applauded. She had no idea why!"

We all promptly broke into applause. The lady looked about her in bewilderment, as we dissolved into conspiratorial giggles.

That's what you could call a Canadian mean streak, I guess. It was about as mean as Stuart McLean ever got.

If you were there in person at a Vinyl Café Concert, Christmas or not, you got to hear the final line that never made it on the radio broadcast. The applause would just go on and on, until Stuart called out in mock-exasperation: "Go home to your families!"

That's just what I did, that frozen February evening.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Some years begin with a whimper

If "begin as you mean to continue" applies to years, I may be in trouble. I did try to begin 2017 with energy and motivation, but soon found myself wheezing, whimpering, and coughing in a corner of the living room, felled by the Resident Fan Boy's Christmas gift to me: a man-cold in all its phlegmy glory. He also gave me the DVD set of Wolf Hall, lest you think less of him.

As someone who hasn't really had a bad cold in over a year, I am out of practice with invalidism. I do wipe down surfaces with rubbing alcohol to excellent effect, but got trapped in our tiny front hall with four of the RFB's power sneezes, which, he insists, he is unable to contain.

Heaven help us if we're ever in hiding.

I'm deriving dubious comfort from this song from The Divine Comedy which was released in 1999, but, I believe, didn't chart in Britain until a decade later. It's about allergies, but I'm living with symptoms -- particularly those liquidy sneezes in the instrumental bridge.