Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Chalk shock

When I was in Grade Five, we had a Welshman called Mr Jones for Math. When you raised your hand, he would query, "What is it, vach?" If your answer was wrong, he would scoff, "No, that's not it, you silly girl!"  Somehow, this was not wounding, couched in his Welsh accent.

In fact, his aura was a happy combination of gentleness and sternness; I don't recall anyone acting out in his classroom.  If you weren't paying attention, he'd pelt you with a piece of chalk, a bit of a shock to his Canadian students.

He also clearly loved math, and a teacher who loves his/her subject has won half the battle. My mother enjoyed hearing tales of Mr Jones.  Growing up in British schools, she'd been pelted with her share of chalk, and she passed along a multiplication trick from my grandfather (another Welshman): If you're stymied when the 11x sequence gets past 9, simply add the two digits of the number to be multiplied and put it in the centre. So, for example, 11x23: 2+3=5, put it between the digits of 11 and you get 253. Try it with a double digit number times eleven.

Mr Jones was incredulous when I told him, then openly delighted when he found it worked.  It takes a Welshman to astonish another Welshman.

The school year rolled around to spring, and some bright spark came up for the perfect April Fool's trick to play on Mr Jones.  His class was after morning recess, which afforded the opportunity for every one of the thirty students in his class to locate and pocket a piece of chalk. The ringleaders set up a lookout at each door at the end of the cloakroom, then ran to take their places.

The instant Mr Jones appeared, he had to duck out under a hail of chalk.  When he came back in, he was laughing, saying it was the best trick ever played on him.

Our principal, an ex-military man who had us march in PE and addressed us by our last names, was not so pleased.  The next day, two students were appointed to make a public apology at the beginning of math class.  Mr Jones listened politely, in some bewilderment:  "It was a splendid joke," he protested.

My math progress varied widely with the teachers I encountered over the years.  If I had had a teacher like Mr Jones every year, I do think I would have made steady, if unspectacular, progress.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

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

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

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


Monday, 30 March 2015

You're welcome

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

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Another wrinkle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Some Canadian content for bedtime

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

Friday, 27 March 2015

The Wandering Hands Society (more tales from Demeter)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Give me your answer do

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

All my trials, Lord

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

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

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

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


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

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

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Dappled snap

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

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

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

We caught our bus. We even got seats.

Monday, 23 March 2015

The authority song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'll have to look it up.

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