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Image from Pixabay…to those who receive the latest utterances from this source by email.

I was as surprised as you may have been that yesterday’s episode came bundled with the last nine postings also in tow. Sorry about that.

I don’t know for sure why that happened. There was a change to the blog during the week – in that I followed Google’s exhortation (never a good idea!) to make the site more secure by forcing the use of https instead of http. Now – that’s all techie stuff which I will reluctantly explain – if you really want me to…

Thought not!

Anyway – that change may have encouraged the mail plugin that I use to re-send the last batch of messages (thinking that the postings had changed). I guess we will find out when we see what happens to this one.

Apologies in advance should you get another unwanted batch of ten!

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Image by Jeff Dahl on Wikimedia.orgI wouldn’t mind betting that the anecdote that forms the basis of this post will ring a bell with many who read it – with similar circumstances being quickly brought to mind… because – after all – that’s just the way life is!

Way back in the early 1980s the BBC produced a six-part adaption of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘school’ novel – ‘Stalky & Co’. The piece translated well into six thirty-minute episodes because it had in fact originated as a set of individually published stories that Kipling had subsequently fleshed out into book form.

I enjoyed the stories enormously, being set in a boys’ boarding school (based on the United Services College in Devon which Kipling had himself attended) and featuring as they do a gang of juvenile protagonists who display a know-it-all, cynical attitude to patriotism and authority which was – naturally – right up my street. I subsequently bought the book and it is one of those that I still revisit on a regular basis.

At some point it occurred to me that it would be good to own a copy of the BBC series on DVD as well. Unfortunately, the usual investigations on the InterWebNet revealed  that the BBC had not thought fit to release the series, though I did find an online petition (the which I quickly signed) urging the corporation so to do.

I thought no more about it; the years passed and ‘life’ happened!

Then, at the end of July this year – whilst pursuing an online link on a related topic – I discovered that the petition must have had an effect, because the series had finally been released (in a very stripped down form – ie, just the media with no add-ons) and could be purchased from Amazon in the UK. I did so immediately and then sat back to await further news.

After a while I received an email telling me that the DVDs had been dispatched and should be delivered to me in Canada by 17th August. That date came and went with no sign of the goods. Being familiar by this point with the vagaries of Canada Post I thought I should leave things for a while, but finally – after another month had passed – I decided to contact Amazon. Those who have had reason to do such a thing will know that it takes considerable effort as the company goes out of its way to make it as difficult a possible, but I persevered and a few days ago awoke to find an email from Amazon UK acknowledging my query, apologising for my delivery clearly having gone astray and promising to send out a fresh copy.

As I probably hardly need add… when I visited our post box at the end of the street later that very same day – sure enough – there were the missing DVDs!

Hmmmmm!

 

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A final batch of photographic images from the recent sequence…

Having survived the rigours of our efforts at the Victoria Fringe Festival and enjoyed the company of our friends from the UK, the Girl and I took a well-deserved couple of days off and scooted westwards around the coast to a quiet resort on the other side of Sooke. The wild-fire smoke that had been so pervasive a little earlier in the summer made a brief return (much of it this time from Oregon) and as a result we felt disinclined to do much that was strenuous. Fortunately our suite featured a splendid rooftop hot tub in which we could be-sport ourselves and – apart from indulging ourselves with the tasting menu in the Copper Room at Sooke Harbour House – that was pretty much all we got up to.

I did take the Fuji x10 for a stroll along the beach…

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

 

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Detail from a portrait by Jenny C HallI find myself moved to an unexpected degree by the recent death of that giant of the British theatre – Sir Peter Hall – at the age of 86.

It is a fact of life I suppose that, once one enters one’s autumnal years, the deaths of those with whom one is familiar – whether actually close or not – will have a cumulative and increasing impact. There have been losses over the past few years amongst that small group whom I personally hold to be ‘heroes’ which have been hard to take. Inevitably that number is only going to increase.

Peter Hall was not – for me – directly among that coterie. I am slightly ashamed to admit that I saw few of his many productions and – with rare exceptions – they do not feature in my personal canon of influential experiences. This is not in any way to denigrate the value of his vision, talent or achievement; in such matters opportunity and circumstance set us all on our own particular paths.

It is impossible, however, not to be overwhelmed by his impact and influence on British and international theatre during the post-war years. Consider:

  • he introduced London audiences to the work of Samuel Beckett in 1955 with the UK premiere of ‘Waiting for Godot’ when he was only 24.
  • in 1960, at the age of 29, he founded the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford, which he ran triumphantly until 1968.
  • he became the director of the National Theatre in 1973 and oversaw its protracted, painful but ultimately successful transfer from the Old Vic into its permanent complex on the South Bank in London.
  • he built an international reputation in theatre, opera, on TV and in film.
  • he was the founding director of the Rose Theatre in Kingston in 2003.
  • he was – throughout his career – a vociferous champion of public funding for the arts.

The news of Sir Peter’s death stirs a couple of thoughts and memories.

The National Theatre’s new home was opened in 1976 with a production of Howard Brenton’s ‘Weapons of Happiness‘ in the only one of the three theatre spaces then operational. I see from the InterWebNet that it ran for 41 performances – at one of which I was present. I marveled at the still unfinished building and at the wonderful standard of the production. The National was to become a most important venue for me – I have seen many productions there over the years; done the backstage tour more than once; participated in youth theatre workshops in its rehearsal rooms… and met the Girl for our first proper date in the bar outside the Lyttelton Theatre.

I am also a fan of the Rose in Kingston. Having been at school in Kingston and subsequently involved with youth theatre in the surrounding area, I was only to keenly aware of the lack of a theatre of any sort in what is an important centre to the south of London. I am delighted that the Rose now so splendidly fills that gap.

One sadness regarding Sir Peter’s last years was his diagnosis with dementia in 2011. Having observed my mother’s decline over her final years it must have been particularly poignant to witness such an intellect brought so low for so long.

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Given that the friends who visited recently from the UK (see previous post) had a mere four full days to spend in the provincial capital it was essential that we mapped out their agenda with particular care. Wishing to meet (and hopefully to exceed) their expectations we offered them a rich palette of options and put the choice in their hands.

For the Saturday they chose a day trip to Saltspring Island – and in particular to the Saturday market in Ganges. It would have been lovely to have cruised to Saltspring under our own power in ‘Dignity’, but a blazingly hot Saturday on the September long weekend is a bad time to fight with the queues both at the Sidney boat launch and at the public docks in Ganges, so we chickened out and took the ferry to Fulford instead.

A stall holder at the market – with whom, as is our nature, we engaged in conversation – swore that the crowd was scarcely half what it had been but a few weeks previously. Goodness knows what all of the other souls could possible have been doing – the place looked to be completely packed to us… and did I mention that it was blazingly hot?

It mattered not, of course, as we all had a splendid time, a very passable lunch and then returned home tired but contented.

The taking of photographs in the melee of the market, however, would definitely have been inadvisable, so I contented myself instead with assembling the odd assortment of images that you see represented below…

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

 

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What is there more kindly than the feeling between host and guest?

Aeschylus

As revealed in my last post to these pages my efforts at the Victoria Fringe Festival on behalf of Intrepid Theatre had to be brought to a premature conclusion with five days of the festival still to run. The reason for this unfortunate abrogation of my responsibilities was a previous engagement welcoming to British Columbia our second set of visitors from the UK this year.

Our most welcome guests were themselves only to be with us for five days; scarce time to see all that they desired on their first visit to Canada (let alone to Victoria) and only just enough time to catch up fully with dear friends that we have not seen for over two years. Nonetheless – we had a good stab at covering as much ground as possible and I kept the trusty Fuji x10 to hand to document our various excursions.

Our guests are great gardeners and horticulturalists and an extended visit to the Butchart Gardens was thus near the top of the list of things not to be missed. The recommended agenda of a daytime visit followed by a bit of a break and then a return to catch the gardens under illumination during the evening was adopted; the Kickass Canada Girl and I accompanying our guests for the latter…

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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The Victoria Fringe Festival has already made several appearances in these postings (here and here – should the gentle reader feel inclined to backtrack) as the Girl and I have become regular supporters in the couple of years a that we have lived on the outskirts of the city.

This year there is – of course – a significant difference in that I am now a member of the board of Intrepid Theatre – the splendid organisation that runs the fringe (and other theatrical festivals) in Victoria.

The practical difference for me is that the period during which the fringe takes place – twelve days at the end of August and the start of September – is now considerably busier than it has been in previous years. When compared to the sterling efforts put in by the company’s staff those of the members of the board pale into relative insignificance, but there are duties incumbent upon them (us!) during fringe season which require time and effort.

For a start – there is an ambassadorial role to play. It is our job to meet and greet members of the fringe-going public, to make them feel valued and cherished, to listen to their views and criticisms and to build – where possible – the sort of ongoing relationship without which an organisation which relies so heavily on the support of the local audience could not survive.

The second (but closely related) role is to raise funds. Intrepid receives considerable and most welcome grants from government bodies without which it simply would not survive. Given that the ethos of the fringe is that all of the proceeds of the venue box offices go directly to the performers, the central costs of running the fringe must be covered by other means. Some of this shortfall comes from the sale of fringe buttons – a badge without which one may not enter a venue – but the rest must be raised by generous donations and other fundraising efforts led by the board. This year these included a fifty/fifty raffle draw that ran throughout the festival.

My direct involvement in the fringe was restricted to the first week only (for reasons that will become clear in a subsequent post) but in that brief period I worked at the Fringe Preview evening, at Fringe Kids (an event for children in Victoria’s Market Square) and – selling fifty/fifty tickets – on the queues of fourteen shows. In addition the Girl and I managed to see a total of seven shows.

The standard this year has been as high as any. Herewith our personal picks of the fringe:

  • Local comedian Morgan Cranny as ‘Vasily Djokavitch‘ (get the pun?) – billed as ‘Russia’s #1 State Approved Comedian‘. Highly amusing and directed by none other than Mike Delamont!
  • Gigantic Lying Mouth‘. Glaswegian spoken word artist Kevin P. Gilday in a dazzling blend of poetry, imagined conversation and multimedia – blending humour with much that was thought-provoking on the subjects of life, art and death.

…but perhaps best of all:

  • Englishman Charles Adrian as Ms Samantha Mann in ‘Stories About Love, Death and a Rabbit‘. Adrian has won awards for this show – a gentle confection of storytelling about love, loss and bad poetry – and it is easy to see why. It is a joy to see an actor so completely in control of timing, rhythm and inflection. Perfect!

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Get busy living, or get busy dying.

Stephen King

My apologies that posts have been somewhat erratic of late. Things have been busy!

I posted some images from the Victoria Classic Boat Festival two years ago. I make no apology for posting more this year because I think that the boats are gorgeous and the inner harbour extremely photogenic.

Next time round I will provide an explanation for all of this ‘busy-ness’ and a proper catch-up…

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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Image by Acuration on Wikimedia CommonsIn my last post I enthused about Peter Parker’s 1986 book – “The Old Lie” – the subject of which is the generation of young men who left England’s public schools to fight – and in many cases to die – in what became known in its immediate aftermath as ‘The Great War‘.

Parker’s thesis is that in great part the nation’s apparent excess of enthusiasm to go to war in Europe in the early part of the twentieth century arose from illusions whose roots lay the attitudes emanating from England’s great public schools. To understand why this should be the case he chooses (as might we also) to look back into the nineteenth century to determine how it was that these schools came to embody the ethos and ideals whence such notions arose.

Of the drivers for the widespread reform of the public schools that was effected during the nineteenth century two in particular are pertinent:

The first such was the influence on these schools of Thomas Arnold – head master of Rugby School from 1824 to 1841. Arnold’s avowed aim – of producing a “school of Christian gentlemen” – was to be achieved by the inculcation of his values of piety, discipline and high-mindedness into an elite coterie of upper school boys (Arnold has frequently been credited with the invention of the prefectorial system) who would then act as his instrument in shaping the younger boys, for whom Arnold personally had little time. So successful was this approach that as the ex-members of his Rugby elites spread out into the world (along with acolytes amongst the Rugby masters who subsequently applied for posts elsewhere) other schools rapidly adopted Arnold’s aims and methods.

The second driver was the Victorian policy of expansionism. As the Empire grew so did the need for the ‘right sort of chap‘ to enter the nation’s service in the administration of its far-flung territories. This (along with a slowly increasing militarism in the public schools which eventually found an echo in the extension of the Officers’ Training Corp (OTC) thereto) led to the espousal of values that promoted both a local and national patriotism – for house, school and country (in that order!).

It is perhaps in the nature of such establishments that these new values (new at least to the public schools!) were quickly subsumed in the mystique and self-mythologising which has long been their stock in trade – much of it based on Classical virtues and ideals (remembering of course that for the longest time such schools taught little other than the classics!). For the young adults in the sixth forms of these schools the notions of ‘good form’,’ playing the game’, ‘keeping a stiff upper lip’ and so forth became the mark of the man. By the time the continent slid inexorably into the cataclysm that was the First World War a generation of such young Christian gentlemen were eager to put their new-found values – and themselves – to the test… in the service of their (house, school and) country (still in that order!).

To understand how it was that influence of these developments within elite institutions spilled over into the outside world – touching those for whom an education at such an establishment was never an option – it must be remembered that the social structure of nineteenth century Britain was utterly hierarchical. Those in positions of influence and power still came largely from the upper classes that the public schools had been created to serve. Young boys of middle and working classes were encouraged to follow the example of their ‘betters; with the public school ideal being promoted as the quintessence. ‘The ‘school novel’ became a successful and popular genre and glowing articles in periodicals aimed at young men espoused the values and virtues of public school heroes much as did later ‘comics’ with sportsmen, explorers and astronauts.

The social hierarchy naturally extended into the armed forces. Officers came from privileged backgrounds – enlisted men did not. Though there might be a germ of truth in the widely held critique of the British infantry as being “Lions led by donkeys” (sent to their deaths by incompetent and indifferent leaders) and it is certainly true that some of those in positions of command did remain safely many miles behind the front lines, this was certainly not the case for the junior officers who led men on the ground.

Parker makes the chilling point that whereas the mortality rate for all Britons involved in the conflict was a little under 12%, for public school educated officers it was more than 17%. The eager young subalterns (armed only with a service revolver and wearing a distinctive uniform) leading their troops over the top presented all to easy a target for the German snipers, who were well aware that without the leadership of their officers the British infantry was literally headless.

At this remove we can but study the histories; or perhaps more appropriately to read the poetry, written by the young men themselves once disillusionment set in as the conflict progressed and the extent of the lie became apparent.

Many of these young men, however, went to their tragic deaths with no opportunity to gain such enlightenment.

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Image by Roger McLassus from Wikimedia CommonsI have recently finished reading Peter Parker’s 1987 book, ‘The Old Lie‘ – which is helpfully subtitled ‘The Great War and the Public School Ethos‘. I came to it – as happens with many of the tomes to which I am drawn – through a reference in another book, though I can no longer recall the details of that volume nor the context in which it referred to Peter Parker’s book.

For those perhaps unfamiliar – should such there yet be – the title refers to Wilfred Owen’s first world war poem, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est‘ – which ends:

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori
.”

The Latin quote which Owen brands ‘The old lie‘ is by the Roman poet, Horace, and translates thus:

It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country

It is necessary also to understand that the public schools of the subtitle are those of England and Wales, which are pretty much the antithesis of public schools anywhere else in the world. As Wikipedia informs us:

A public school in England and Wales is an older, student selective, fee-paying independent secondary school which caters primarily for children aged between 11 or 13 and 18. The term “public” should not be misunderstood to mean that these are public sector schools: they are in fact private sector. Traditionally, public schools were all-male boarding schools, although most now allow day pupils, and many have become either partially or fully co-educational.

Public schools emerged from charity schools established to educate poor scholars, the term “public” being used to indicate that access to them was not restricted on the basis of religion, occupation, or home location, and that they were subject to public management or control,in contrast to private schools which were run for the personal profit of the proprietors.

The Clarendon Commission of 1861 – a Royal Commission set up to investigate the state of the nine leading public schools in England – concerned itself with seven boarding schools (Eton, Charterhouse, Harrow, Rugby, Shrewsbury, Westminster and Winchester) and two day schools (St Paul’s and Merchant Taylors’). The ‘Public Schools Yearbook’ was published for the first time in 1889 – listing 30 schools – and by 1902 the publication further included all schools that were members of the Head Masters’ Conference (HMC).

Given that to obtain a commission in the armed forces at the turn of the twentieth century it was necessary to be wealthy, to be well educated and to come from the ‘right’ background it is little surprise that the great majority of the junior officers in the service at the start of the war had been educated in these schools. As the war progressed many more of them joined up directly from school and, even when the numbers required for the ever swelling force argued a widening of the constituency, this was achieved by offering ‘temporary’ commissions (for the duration of the war only) to those from the middle classes with grammar and independent school backgrounds.

The eagerness with which many Britons rushed to war in 1914 is widely recognised, and perhaps none were keener than those who had recently left – or were about to leave – England’s public schools. Even as the war progressed and the full horror of modern mechanical warfare became apparent there was no shortage of young men who believed that this moment in history was just that for which they had been born, raised and educated.

Just why these young men should have been so intoxicated by this zeal to serve and even, perchance, to die for their country is the subject of Peter Parker’s book. I will delve further there-into in a subsequent post.

My particular interest in this subject? I spent greater part of the last two decades working for two of the schools listed above and have many colleagues and friends who gave their service to the others.

 

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