Monday, 1 September 2014

Thunder-head-lights

It had been an odd day, anyway: a bomb scare to the north of us which faded from the social media as suddenly as it had appeared.  The city blackened under a sudden violent shower, followed by a double rainbow.

I missed both, but heading out in the early evening with the Accent Snob, noticed that our neighbour hood was ringed with thunderheads.  Saffron walls of cloud to the east and the south lit the streets in an eery glow.  I'd left my Nikon at home, of course.

To the west, the sky was mauve and peach, behind houses lit from the east, so it felt like morning and evening at the same time.

It was rather spooky, to tell you the truth.  The streets were nearly deserted, although I could hear voices from yards where Ottawans were determined to barbecue, damn it, on this last weekend before the year begins its turn in the direction of autumn and winter.
As I walked on, the thunderheads to the south and the east took the peach from the clouds in the west, and the upper windows of the houses blazed with lights -- although no one was home.  The dog pulled mightily on his leash; he wanted nothing of this nonsense and tried to go home. I only dropped my phone once, cursing him.
I don't suppose the view east -- yes, east! -- up McKay Street inspired his confidence, particularly when  I stood in the middle of the deserted street to get this shot, hauling him back with one hand, while poking the phone screen with the other.  The next morning, the sun rose in the east as usual.
But not as spectacularly.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Does the name Custer mean anything to you?

When Robin Williams died a couple of weeks ago, Facebook and Twitter and all those other social-media-type-things were abuzz, mostly with clichés.  Hey, people in grief aren't that original and besides, everyone was in a hurry to post something.  You could tell how old the posters were from the nature of their tweets.  Since most people on Twitter are under 40, the most repeated sentiment was: "Part of my childhood has gone!"

Anyone who reads this blog - I know there are at least half a dozen of you - will have guessed by now that I'm not under 40.  When I think of Robin Williams, I think of his stand-up, and my favourite memory is a crack he made, several times, in 1886.  Well, I don't blame him, it was a classic. I first heard it when he was performing in London, some sort of Royal Variety thing, with the Prince and Princess of Wales in the Royal Box.  During his routine, he kept ducking under the balcony to hiss conspiratorially to the audience:  "Are they laughing?"

In a routine mostly about current events, he imagined Lester Maddox, the ex-governor of Georgia, being asked to intervene with then-South-African Prime Minister PW Botha:  "Mr Botha, there are three million whites and fourteen million blacks in your country.  Does the name Custer mean anything to you?"

For the full impact, you really have to hear it in a Georgian drawl.  I've search all over and can't find this clip, but I found Robin performing before Prince Charles and his current wife in 2008:  

After a long wait for a non-clichéd tribute to Robin Williams, Billy Crystal finally broke his silence and delivered this eloquent elegy at the close of the annual In Memoriam for the Emmy Awards last week.

I have nothing to add.  Clearly, unlike the rest of us, Billy Crystal actually knew Robin Williams.

Friday, 11 July 2014

We didn't realiiiiize the future was created by teenaged guys...

From Neko Case, Kelly Hogan, and Ellie Kemper, a darned funny video.  There's already a debate heating up about the very real possibilities of being a woman and a geek (in a good way), but I really think they're missing the point and the joke. 

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Spot the (real) dog

One dog was tied up, waiting for his owner, eagerly approaching passers-by for affection. The other stuck to the safety of the shade beneath the bench.

It took a few seconds for me to realize why.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Home from the sea

Years ago, I attended a party at the home of my Friend of the Right Hand. My clearest memory of the gathering was a conversation with a violinist from the Victoria Symphony who told me a number of creepy Victoria ghost stories, including his own weird experience while working at the Maritime Museum. There's an old-fashioned cage elevator there and he said he was working it one night, glanced up through the mesh and saw someone peering down the shaft at him.

I thought of that today as I returned to the museum for the first time in years. I don't even know when I last visited; I remembered it as being a rather small, dark, and unexciting place.

It certainly has changed! There are several exhibits, most in large well-lit rooms. I took away four things from today's visit.

1) The Jolly Roger flag had many variations, depending on which pirate was after you.

2) The courtroom three flights up (you could take the haunted elevator -- we walked) has been restored.
I think this is a later courtroom from the 1890s and not the one associated with death sentences and hence, the ghosts. No one was around when younger daughter and I came upon it, so I mounted the prisoner's box and faced the bench. I trust this will be the only time I do this.

3) We were lucky enough to be in town for an exhibit commemorating the centenary of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland, commonly called "Canada's Titanic". She went down in the St Laurence Seaway within 14 minutes on May 29th, 1914. A sign near the end of the exhibit goes over reasons why this disaster, which resulted in the deaths of more than a thousand people, is not well-remembered. One possible reason is that her passengers were not as famous -- although Henry Irving's son Laurence died with his wife, also an actor. The most likely reason is that Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo one month less a day later, and the world slid into war.

4) I was puzzled by a number of packsacks dotting the exhibits, usually brightly coloured with things pasted to them. It wasn't until I reached the second floor that I realized they were part of the Field Trip Project, a collaboration between children and artists in both Japan and British Columbia. British Columbia, of course, shares the spectres of tsunamis and earthquakes, but there is a special connection with the Japanese tsunami of 2011 and British Columbians, who began finding debris from the disaster on their shorelines as the ocean currents swept it across the Pacific.

The packsacks are the kind worn by Japanese schoolchildren. Some of the art on the packsacks is about the results of the tsunami, and others have chosen to address personal or political issues. This exhibit was unexpected and moving.

As we left, I managed one more furtive glance up the elevator shaft which was glowing with midday summer sunshine from the offices above. To my relief, no one was there.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Going out with a bang

As I've mentioned before, I do check obituaries at the Victoria Times-Colonist for various reasons.  Once in a very great while, I read one that is not made soppy by grief, or discreetly lacking detail.  Today, I ran into one that is so much more than an obituary.  This, my friends, has the making of a novel:

FERGUSON, George - What to say about George? Certainly, no one could accuse him of having been a loving son, brother, or father. He'd gladly have stolen the shirt off your back and he was generous to a fault with other people's money. Was he a small-time con-man with grandiose schemes? Probably. But another view of him is that he was the most exciting member of his family and of the families he married into. He was a poor man's rhetorician who beguiled certain woman into buying into his promises and dreams. This latter view is lent some support by the fact that he was a United Church minister who passionately improvised sermons for congregations in Quesnel, Barkerville, Bella Bella, Greenwood, Nipawin, Sask. and Kelowna. It is impossible to say whether or not George was actually religious. Anyway, God's name rarely came up when George was flush. 

George eventually became one of Oak Bay's characters. In the 1970's, he was an owner of the Blethering Place, along with his second wife, Janet. They also started the Old Blighty on Oak Bay Ave. They owned an antique store on the corner of Oak Bay and Foul Bay and they even had an auction, at which George was notable for having a parrot on his shoulder. One of his best stories was about being in his car with his new friend Chris in the seat beside him when it was suddenly surrounded by heavily-armed police officers. This was the beginning of the famous Rocancourt arrest scene of 2001. Some of George's favourite watering holes were the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, the Oak Bay Golf Club, and the Marina. Of late, George had to travel to and from these places on his senior's scooter, which he drove as recklessly - and sometimes as drunkenly - as he had driven his cars in earlier years. 

George was always an optimist about his future. Right up until the aftermath of his last surgery, he hoped that he could get into sufficiently good shape to charm another woman into supporting him, or perhaps invent something that would make him a billionaire or maybe even win the lottery! He never complained about his later lot in life, living cheerfully in a small apartment that was just barely on the right side of the Tweed Curtain. 

While George did not live well by some people's lights, it should be universally accepted that he did die well. In hospital, two days beforehand, he said he'd finished with the medical procedures he had been avidly seeking for the past few years; he said he was 'checking out'. He was completely calm and committed to the decision. The next day, we brought in some beer, toasted his life with him, drank with him, and helped him to make several thoughtful good-bye phone calls. He reminisced a bit and gave us a few unhelpful instructions. He died without pain the next evening, from a slow gastric bleed, with his wits about him and a light heart.

Turns out, his timing was impeccable: the next day we found out that he had been racking up ominous bank and credit card debts. Clearly, those supplemental incomes were about to dry up. In earlier years, George would sometimes slip out of a town after he had accumulated local debts and after the relevant woman's purse had been snapped shut. But of late, he was in no condition to skip town. And women just don't see old men on scooters as the stuff of their dreams - they see them as impending burdens. Perhaps George felt cornered. Perhaps he thought that, under his present circumstances, dying was the only way out. Whatever the story, no one can deny that George made his final exit with style and grace.

You can view the original and see a picture of this rogue here. I don't know if he wrote it himself or sweet-talked an articulate friend into composing it, but hell, I'd rather like to have an obituary like this.  I think, however, I'm not quite colourful enough.  Maybe I could make something up.

Maybe he did. (Judging from some of the comments, I'd say not.)

Sunday, 6 July 2014

I'll drink to that

Every now and then, I triumph over adversity. "Adverse" would be an excellent adjective to apply to British Columbia's liquor laws as they pertain to minors.  Minors are not permitted in pubs in BC.  If you enter a pub with children to purchase lunch or even wait for somebody, chances are you'll be asked to leave.  Minors are not permitted in government liquor stores in BC.  If you're in a rush and would like to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner, forget it if you have a kid in tow.

This didn't bother me so much growing up in BC.  My mum simply didn't go to pubs and I would wait outside if she entered a liquor store. However, we've been living in Ontario for the past 14 years and are now used to not having to think twice before entering a pub or purchasing a bottle.  As far as I know (and you're welcome to pelt me with statistics if you feel otherwise), Ontario kids aren't any less responsible about alcohol than BC teenagers - not that either group is famed for its abstemiousness.

The British Columbia government is now discussing relaxing rules about allowing kids into pubs, but until then, we have a new wrinkle, theatres in Victoria are now trying to encourage more patrons by getting liquor licenses.  This means kids aren't welcome at evening performances, only at matinees.  Okay, I prefer matinees myself, so booked afternoon tickets for a performance of "Judy!" (a show about the life of Judy Garland) for my resident JG fan, younger daughter, who recently did a passionate rendition of "The Trolley Song" for her spring recital.

Younger daughter is also a Beatle fan.  Earlier this year, I was delighted to hear  that the Vic Theatre, a cinema in downtown Victoria where I first saw The Princess Bride and Gone with the Wind amongst many other films, had re-opened as an arts film venue.  I was even more delighted to learn they would be screening A Hard Day's Night, a film younger daughter has adored since toddlerhood, but has never seen on a big screen. My delight withered when I noticed that the film, while rated "G", was denoted as "19+" along with a blithe reference to beer and wine being available.  I had already told younger daughter about the film, and heart sinking, emailed the organizer for clarification (named Scarlett in a case of neat symmetry), fully expecting to be told "no dice".

Instead, she told me that while she hadn't been expecting any underage viewers to come, that we were welcome.  The next day, the "19+" had been removed from the web site and a note added advising patrons that liquor would have to be consumed in the lobby "as minors will be in the audience".

I think younger daughter was the only minor in the audience.  I also think most patrons brought their drinks in with them anyway.

Younger daughter turned to me while Paul McCartney was crooning "And I Love Her".

"Ohhhh… I just adore this song," she sighed.

Nothing adverse about that.  And yes, I did thank Scarlett in person.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

On my way and damned quickly too

Okay.  Running out of time today.  Time for a placeholder.  It's been actually quite difficult to find this video, which I remember fondly from my pre-children days (and also post-children days because this song appealed to them mightily).  
I believe this song was a bigger hit in Canada than anywhere else, but I'm still searching for confirmation.

And, as has been stated, running out of time.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Farewell to Nova Scotia

It was only when our taxi was tooling along the highway from Stansfield Airport in the direction of Dartmouth that it occurred to me that this was, in all likelihood, our last time in Nova Scotia.

I was in the front seat with the taciturn driver, gazing at the trees, still winter-beaten in mid-May. The last time I'd come this way was on a hot day in early September 2010 with my then-eighteen-year-old elder daughter about to embark on her first time living away from home, studying at the University of King's College. At the time, it seemed like the first of many visits, especially when we returned by train to spend Thanksgiving with her a month later. However, the years slipped by and here I was on only my third trip to Halifax, ready to see her receive her degree.

It wasn't a unreservedly joyous week. Elder daughter was still severely jet-lagged, having only flown in from London two days before, where she had had a month's internship with the London bureau of the CBC.  This left her homesick for London, a city she's always dreamed of calling home, and eager to leave Halifax where she has slogged and stressed over term papers, exams, and the diplomatic struggles of editing the university magazine, with little time for the social life that is associated with post-secondary education.

We learned, while sitting with the other families in the surprisingly intimate All Saints Cathedral leafing through their programmes and waiting for the graduands, that elder daughter was receiving a first class honours degree in journalism, one of three awarded in her category.  The Resident Fan Boy and I wept in quiet pride, although our eyes had plenty of time to dry during the four-hours-plus ceremony. Younger daughter made it through this trial, but melted down when we had to wait for a restaurant table after the long trek back to the university to pick up the frame for elder daughter's diploma.  On top of that, when we were finally seated, the family at the next table belonged to a former dorm mate who used to be a close friend but no longer is.

So, with four days left in our stay, I was almost as eager to leave as elder daughter.  The weekend was saved by my awareness of the finality of it all and my resulting determination to grab opportunities.

 The first of these was the Ghost Walk of Historic Halifax.  A ghost walk is painless and quick (if a wee bit creepy) way to learn a city's history.  I've taken such walks in Victoria, Ottawa, and London (the one in England).  This one was run with appropriate melodrama by an actor whose tour emphasized the events that have shaped and scarred Halifax: its ancient days as a British fort, its part in the 1812 war, the sinking of the Titanic (what bodies were recoverable were brought to Halifax to be claimed or buried), and, of course, the Halifax Explosion of 1917 which somehow isn't nearly as famous as the Great Fires of London or Chicago, or the San Francisco Earthquake, although many more people died in Halifax that day.  The tour ends at Alexander Keith's history brewery under his rather unsettling wooden statue.

Yet somehow walking out in a cool spring evening hearing spooky tales made me fond of Halifax again and sad to leave it.  I made a pilgrimage to the tiny Unitarian Church in the south end of the city. I walked through the Public Gardens in the first furls of spring, having previously seen it in the summer (after Hurricane Earl devastated it) and the autumn. And we made a hasty visit to the unexpectedly charming and thorough Museum of Natural History which was a 15-walk from elder daughter's final apartment in Halifax.  An added bonus:  I was able to manage the long walks and the relentless hills of downtown Halifax - a final sign that my knees have made a recovery.

When the time came to leave Halifax, it was not with a sense of relief, but a feeling of having said goodbye properly.  I can, with a good conscience, breathe a sigh and a wish for her.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Catching butterflies without a net

"They look like they're dancing," commented younger daughter whose autistic struggle for words seems to lessen the further we are from school.  Standing above the ever-changing fountain at the far end of the sunken garden which is the original Butchart Garden (the Rose, Japanese, and Italian Gardens came later), I swung my camera up and caught them.

Sometimes life works.