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

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

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

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Dappled snap

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

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

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

We caught our bus. We even got seats.

Monday, 23 March 2015

The authority song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'll have to look it up.

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

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Concluding with cartoons

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

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

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

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Triumph of the will


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

See you later!

Friday, 20 March 2015

The safer side of an English country garden

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

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

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

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

Perhaps it's safer to stick with the instrumental.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

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

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

Wednesday, 18 March 2015


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

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

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