Friday, 30 October 2009

Things David Tennant makes me do

Okay, I admit that this is evidence that I may be losing it. See, I put together one of these using my family's heads for Facebook, but then it occurred to me: I have a few pictures on DT on my computer....

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Do you think someone will sue me?

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

All you zombies

I don't go to cemeteries looking for dead people. I can find them far more easily online. No, even though I'm a family historian, all my dead rellies are buried across the ocean. Or are burnt to a crisp and scattered somewhere. I happen to live about a twenty-minute walk from Beechwood Cemetery which is really old (by Canadian standards), really historical, and really, really beautiful. Particularly in the autumn. So when I saw people on the sidewalks clutching phones, cameras, and mini-camcorders, my heart sank. It was the one perfect autumn Sunday to stroll up to the cemetery and there were policemen and a huge crowd ahead. Suddenly, the crowd lurched (yes, lurched) to the far side of Beechwood Avenue, cramming themselves on the narrow sidewalk, while the police patiently instructed them not to walk on the road. I had stumbled across the Annual Zombie Walk, and even though I had my camera with me, I didn't take pictures. (I stole this one from the Ottawa Citizen web site. Ashley Fraser took this as various people in rather disgusting make-up staggered across the St Patrick Bridge en route to the Parliament Buildings.) Did I mention I was squeamish?

As the rotting crowd of about 300 tottered away, I entered the cemetery driveway and passed two attendants who were chattering amiably as they stayed long enough to ensure that no undead blundered amongst the graves. I don't think the dead would care, but their living visitors might have taken umbrage. I climbed the steep hill that leads to the burial grounds and for a long time, I could hear the roars and moans of the fake zombies who were all very young and probably largely untouched as yet by death.

I am old enough to have been touched by death but, as I've said, I don't go to the cemetery in search of the dead, although I am happy to walk companionably beside them. The trees at Beechwood Cemetery vary wildly in age, and certainly in recent decades, they have been deliberately planted for variety, which usually means a full palate of colours at this time of year. After an unusually wet summer, the colours are not as vibrant as some autumns, but, you have to admit, they're not bad.

This particular afternoon, I headed as far east as time would allow. Beechwood Cemetery is enormous and I didn't even make it as far as the military section. Quite a few people drove through, and I climbed off the path to let them pass, while looking at recent monuments and poignant memorials to more ancient families, together at last.

The leaves on the ground scuttled and whispered between the stones in sunset-coloured herds, and I waited to catch my second leaf of the autumn. Finally a golden beauty fell directly in front of me. I snatched it and made a wish for elder daughter. The first wish is always for younger daughter who has so many needs. If I catch enough, I'll make a wish for the Resident Fan Boy although I somehow think that he has all he wants. Maybe that's a tad presumptuous. His last name is on one of these tombstones, but there's no relation, thank goodness.

Much of this weekend was spent in the company of the Resident Fan Boy's dead relatives. Research last winter led to the true identity of the second wife of the RFB's paternal grandfather. Further research a few weeks ago led to the name of his first wife. Last week, a sheaf of birth, death and marriage certificates I'd ordered from the General Register Office in England arrived, and they seem to confirm that the Resident Fan Boy's late father and his late paternal uncle were, in fact, half-brothers. Paternal grand-dad had two children with his first wife, three children with second, returned to first wife and had another child (said uncle) before first wife popped clogs, leaving him free to marry second wife. My late father-in-law had carefully given me enough false information to blow me off course, and the three children of the two brothers had no idea, other than something strange had been going on. So, at the Resident Fan Boy's request, I carefully composed a time-line to lead his sister and cousin (the one who's not speaking to me) through the tangled web of deceit designed to protect delicate Edwardian sensibilities. Both women profess to be quite uninterested, but have been pelting the RFB with further questions...

I was thinking about this as I turned my toes westward, in the direction where the zombies had vanished. I imagine both my late father-in-law and his (half)brother would not have been pleased with me for dragging these skeletons out of the closet. However, I discovered an aunt and an uncle (both long dead) for my husband, his sister and cousin. Not everyone wants to know the truth about their family history (if the truth is indeed what I've uncovered -- people did lie, even on official documents), but, as I've said before, there is a certain comfort in reclaiming long-dead relatives, and I do think we forget them at our peril.

Is that why, I wondered as I wandered, hundreds of kids were staggering through Ottawa with extruded eyeballs and fake blood dribbling from their mouths? Because they can't remember where they come from? Are they so afraid of death that they think the state of un-death might be kind of neat? Or are they so unacquainted with death that they think spoofing it is a hoot? They probably haven't given it much thought. I'm probably giving it way too much thought.

When I got home, I told the family about my adventures. Elder daughter rolled her eyes. "I can't believe you've never heard of the Annual Zombie Walk. It's been going on forever." Eight years, actually. That's forever to a seventeen-year-old.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Giving thanks from the heart (well, maybe a bit lower down)

Thanksgiving in Canada, as I keep having to remind my American and British friends and relations, is celebrated the second weekend in October. Canadians have no particular links with The Mayflower or Plymouth Rock; we do have a rather shorter growing season in most parts of the country than in the US, and since many Canadians have English forebears, there is that connection with the Anglican Harvest Sunday. Coming from Victoria, the Resident Fan Boy and I are still struck by urgency of the traditional Harvest Sunday hymns. In a climate like Ottawa's, you better durn well have the crops in. The first frost is on its way.

All the same, this has never been one of my favourite holidays. For many Canadians (the more affluent ones, anyway), this is a weekend to get away. The last camping reservations fall on this weekend, and those with a cottage (in central Canada) or cabin (in British Columbia) usually retreat there for a final sojourn by the lake. This means, aside from the nightmarish gridlock that begins mid-afternoon the previous Friday, that those of us who remain in town have fewer options. The arty films of the autumn will not be opening just yet, there is little in the way of theatre and concerts, and most stores shut down, many for Sunday and Monday.

This means you'd better have all your ingredients for your Thanksgiving dinner ahead of time, whether the big dinner is on Sunday (when you have guests) or Monday (if you don't). And there's another thing: it's a holiday that requires me to spend several hours in the kitchen. We don't do turkey, but this year, because younger daughter seems unusually excited about Thanksgiving, we decided to try a new recipe, Pollo con Zucchini Fritti, which is actually an old Vancouver Sun recipe which I pasted in my book then promptly forgot to try. It involved a lot of sauté-ing, and quite a bit of scotch whiskey, chardonney, port, and cream. It was bloody delicious actually, and was followed up by the mandatory pumpkin-pie-completely-from-scratch-including-the-pastry-thank-you-very-much.

It wasn't until about 4 am that I realized that I might be in a bit of trouble. It took a while for my sleep-hazed brain to understand that the mild indigestion of the evening before had localized to rather more discomfort in a small knot below my rib cage on my right side. Y'know, where my gall bladder is.

I discovered I had gallstones five years ago when I attempted to take both daughters to a second viewing of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, then had to call the Resident Fan Boy at work to pick them up at the Rideau Centre because the pain in my side was enough to bring a sheen of cold sweat on my forehead and upper lip. I headed home on the bus, wondering if I'd just sent my family off to watch a lengthy film while I had a heart attack. I got home, and the pain (which, by the way, was almost as bad as my labour pains and that's saying something) suddenly vanished. It kept recurring over the next week as our annual retreat to Victoria, along with a side excursion to Disneyland, approached. My doctor's locum decided I needed antacids and a bland diet. I figured out myself that it was somehow connected to peanut butter.

Since then, I've had one or two attacks, always on a holiday involving rich food. I decided against surgery since avoiding peanut butter seemed so much easier, but in the past couple of years, I've been foolishly indulging in Kraft Smooth again in a sort of nutty Russian Roulette.

So the Pollo con Zucchini Fritti came home to roost. I shifted myself carefully, praying the pain wouldn't escalate into the cold sweat phase which actually requires labour breathing. Please, no, please. I won't do it again... I took some Tylenol which has worked for me, and woke up functional and only slightly queasy two hours later when I had to get up and escort younger daughter on the long bus trek to school. As we walked through the rainy streets to the bus stop, I was filled with the euphoria similar to that I exuded when they finally gave me the epidural in both my labours. One function of pain: it feels so damn good when it stops. So I did celebrate Thanksgiving this year -- at 7:20 this morning.

Maybe I should substitute one percent milk for the cream in the Pollo...

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Spin around ninjas

Last night elder daughter wrapped herself in a bath sheet before her shower and excitedly told me about a literal video. I guess she forgot to tell me earlier.

Now, literal videos are one of the things that have gone sort of quasi-viral on YouTube. I saw my first one when Stevyn Colgyn featured Dusto McNeato's literal video of "Take On Me". Elder daughter, all long legs and grey towel, sat on the stairs and told me that "the guy who did the Total Eclipse of the Heart literal video did the Barenaked Ladies' One Week".

As you might imagine, I had to get her to repeat that a few times until I got the gist of what she was saying and she was really ticked off with me in short order.

"You mean Dusto McNeato?"
"No, the guy that did the "Total Eclipse of the Heart" literal video, the one you showed me."
Now I was really confused. I don't remember ever showing her anything to do with "Total Eclipse of the Heart", a song I never liked with a video I liked even less.

Which makes it, I guess, the perfect subject for a literal video. After elder daughter vanished into the mists of her shower, I checked YouTube and discovered that our mystery literal video wizard is "dascottjr" who, classy guy that he is, credits Dusto McNeato at nearly every turn, while making some pretty damn fine literal videos. Gotta love the name of the "literal singer" for this one. Update - after repeatedly getting his literal videos creamed at YouTube due to copyright issues, "dascottjr" moved this one to the safety of Funny or Die, so the below video won't work but the Funny or Die link will:I still can't for the life of me remember showing this to elder daughter. (I mean, would you forget this one in a hurry?) One of us clearly has a faulty memory.


Anyway, here's the one elder daughter liked:Gotta love that Can/con.

"dascottjr" has done a whole mess of these things, even more than Dusto McNeato, I think, using videos from the sixties, eighties, nineties, and aughts. I like this one for The Killers:I'm now summoning up the courage to see what this guy did to "Love is a Battlefield"...

Sunday, 4 October 2009

The things I do for David Tennant

Some things may have already been established, if you are one of the half dozen people who regularly read this blog. (Hello. I'm always so glad to see you...): 1. I have issues with things involving numbers and technology. 2. I am squeamish. 3. I like David Tennant. This weekend has brought these three items together in surprising and disturbing ways.

On Friday evening, while blog-browsing, I became aware that the 2001 BBC Radio Four production of Much Ado About Nothing (featuring DT as Benedick, "the married man") is available at for something like £75. Now, as much as I like David Tennant, that's a bit rich for my blood, but legal audio downloads of the same are available in the $20 price range. So, I, the legal audio download virgin, embarked on a frustrating evening of typing, clicking, pasting, what-have-you. The site I'd chosen fervently assured me of how easy the whole process was, but my computer failed to access their helpful how-to video, and their so-call contact site refused to recognize my password. After several attempts, I managed to download both halves of the play, verify my licensed right to view and burn the same (this required obtaining permission, ooooh, about five times), then after several bouts of filthy language and attempting no less than three media players, actually was able to listen to the thing. After a suitable calm-down period, I will be enlisting the resident seventeen-year-old's aid in burning it to a CD. Or two. This I will do for David Tennant. (As an aside, younger daughter heard a portion of the play during breakfast and vanished upstairs to get her anime version. She wanted to know where the kiss was.)

David Tennant was also instrumental in our procuring tickets for Vision Theatre's production of The Pillowman at the Arts Court Theatre in downtown Ottawa last night. I knew from what I'd learned about the play that it wouldn't be my cup of tea, but David Tennant had waxed lyrically about the script when he appeared in the world premiere at the National Theatre in London alongside Jim Broadbent. Elder daughter declined, after reading the review in The Ottawa Citizen, so the Resident Fan Boy accompanied me. A blind-folded man in a prison jumpsuit and sock feet sat at a table on the stage as we took seats in the very front row. He sat there silently until the stage lights abruptly came on and the play began.

Oh. Dear. Let me say right now, the writing in this play is very very good as were the performances of the actors: David Whitely and Bradley Cunningham Long as the sadistic but horrendously funny good cop/bad cop interrogators (Whitely was playing Ariel, the role played by Jim Broadbent in London and Jeff Goldblum on Broadway); Geoff McBride as Michal the damaged brother who is innocently guilty and wisely simple; and best of all, Kris Joseph as the bewildered, tortured, enraged, and passionate Katurian.

If you're ever planning to see this play, the following may spoil it for you. Or not.

After an hour and a half of listening to Katurian's disturbing short stories of the torture and murder of children (illustrated at first with sort of animated chalk drawings, then silhouettes of deranged puppets), Katurian's brother lay lifeless, staring upwards on a mattress in a prison cell, as the audience departed for intermission. The Resident Fan Boy and I sat frozen in our seats, contemplating another hour of prison torture and the promised revelation of the gruesome details of another Katurian short story involving a mute little girl: The Little Jesus.

"I don't think I can face it..." I finally stammered to the Resident Fan Boy.

And so we left. Not because it was a bad play. It isn't. Not due to any lacking in the performances. There wasn't. As a matter of fact, the long agonizing revelation of the true horrors of the plot as Katurian and his brother await further torture and execution is an amazing tour-de-force for the two actors, Kris Joseph and Geoff McBride, who come off as a kind of twisted version of The Smothers Brothers (which, considering the end of the scene, is perhaps a little too appropriate). Katurian, listening in growing shock to what his stories have led the childlike (and oddly logical) Michal to commit, swings from brotherly patience to enraged exasperation to tearful protective love.

The simple fact is that I couldn't take any more. The violence is relatively bloodless, much less than other productions from what I can make out from photos online, but that makes it all the more horrible. Anyone making this into a movie would probably show everything in graphic and gory splendour, but this production (even the bit with the severed toes) restrained itself and let the narrative do its blood-chilling work.

As we made our way to the elevator, the woman from the box office hastily checked that we weren't leaving because we thought the play was over, which has apparently happened several times due to the length.

"No," I assured her. "The writing is great; the acting is great. I just can't bear anymore." She thanked us for coming.

On the bus home, I mulled over my decision, thinking of a psychologist friend who left American Beauty in a fit of disgust, thus missing the strangely redemptive ending. Looking at a synopsis of The Pillowman, I somehow doubt we were missing redemption, just more death and despair, with a couple of plot twists. Besides, I wasn't leaving in disgust. I can't say the same for the Resident Fan Boy who was appalled at the laughter during the interrogation scene. I told him that it was supposed to be funny, in the blackest possible way, but he was sure that the audience took too much delight in it, and that this is another symptom of society's growing callousness to suffering.

Maybe so. I was chagrined last year when elder daughter saw Roman Polanski's Macbeth and failed to fathom what had scarred me for life when seeing it when I was her age. (The Resident Fan Boy and I were discussing Roman Polanski and his arrest for the drugging, raping, and sodomizing of a thirteen-year-old girl three decades ago while waiting for The Pillowman to begin, another queasy quasi-relevance.) She also viewed The Exorcist for a school project with no qualms. Clearly, exposure to graphic violence has toughened up audiences over the years.

But not me. I'm not sorry I went. I wonder, however, if I would have found the stomach to continue had David Tennant been in the lead role. Part of me hopes not.