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November 2012

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Those who expect moments of change to be comfortable and free of conflict have not learned their history.

Joan Wallach Scott

“The time has come” – as the Walrus said – ” to talk of many things…”

More specifically the time has finally come to talk about how our lives have – once again – been dramatically altered over the last month, to the extent that all of our previous plans have had to be thrown out of the window and we must now start over again.

Put simply – Kickass Canada Girl no longer has a job in BC. In fact – for a over a month the Girl has had no job at all!

The facts are these:

The position in Victoria did not work out. These things happen and we need not go into the whys and wherefores here. Needless to say this eventuality was not anticipated and has required urgent re-adjustment of our plans and priorities.

As it turns out there are – quite simply – no other equivalent jobs going in Victoria at the moment. Indeed there are none in BC – in part as a result of the current provincial government hiring freeze there. The Girl had little choice but to return to the UK to seek employment here. She came back directly from Hong Kong after our visit there at the start of the month and has since then been attending interviews here.

And the good news? This very day the Girl has landed a plum new post in the UK which she will take up early in the new year. This will come as absolutely no surprise to all those of us who know her and recognise her totally kick-ass qualities. Well done Kickass Canada Girl!!

I will – naturally – write much more over the coming weeks on the subject of how our lives will change and what this will mean for our longer term plans. For the moment we are just happy to have been re-united, and to be able to move forward again.

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Best line in the latest episode of the long-running ‘Bond’ franchise – as Albert Finney’s highland gamekeeper, Kincade, greets the first two evil henchmen through the door of the Bonds’ ancestral home – Skyfall – with both barrels of his sawn-off shotgun:

‘Welcome tae Scotland’…

A considerable body of commentary has already been added to the InterWebNet on the subject of Skyfall, which Kickass Canada Girl and I saw – and enjoyed hugely – at the London IMAX over the weekend. Much of the critical reaction has been overwhelmingly positive – which pretty much reflects our view – whilst viewer comments on blogs and forums have comprised the usual baffling mixture of the amusing and the frankly bizarre. I don’t mean to cavil, but who really gets upset over minor plot holes in a Bond movie? Isn’t that rather missing the point?

I have no intention of adding to the tsunami of online reference material on the film itself – but the fact that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the franchise does merit a little consideration. It is my contention that there has been no other franchise in movie history that even comes close to matching the record of the Bond films. I am not interested here in box office take nor profits made – only in the length and diversity of what is, after all, a single and relatively simple idea – which has been turned into a hugely successful and apparently perpetual series.

And the real gotcha? It’s British!!

Enthusiasts might point to the manner in which the franchise has been constantly refreshed – indeed ‘re-booted’, as the parlance goes – in order to retain its ‘relevance’ – though what such pertinence might actually comprise is a matter for endless debate. Again, relevance – in the sense of the films having something to say about contemporary life – is not really the point. At least – not directly…

Some would suggest that the enduring appeal of the films is based on the timeless diet of girls, guns and gadgets. There have, however, been a multitude of other action films with similar ingredients, and I would argue that that this alone can not explain such longevity. My view is that it is more than simply a question of each film beguiling its own generation. I believe that the franchise is capable of continual renewal because of its mythic nature – a nature that was integral to Fleming’s novels from the start.

Bond’s genesis was in the immediate post-war period. As the old world shivered in the embrace of the cold war, Britain – reluctantly but with typical sang froid – dismantled and handed back the constituent parts of its empire. The fact that it had little choice in the matter is barely relevant. Intended or not, few other nations have handled the transition to the post-imperial state with as little turbulence.

What was lost however – along with the empire itself – was the nation’s sustained and carefully crafted imperial mythology. Largely the work of the Victorians, and with its stiff upper lips, sun never setting, pungent whiffs of patriotism and a dashed all-round sense of fair play, this self image – though partial (in all senses) at best – had served the nation well. Whatever republicans and modernists might protest to the contrary, we are a smart enough race to recognise the importance of a national mythology, which is why so many of our myths have survived in one form or another. The loss of empire and demotion from top-nation spot had, however, left a yawning void in our psyche – a void which clearly needed to be filled.

Enter the sixties. Enter James Bond.

In Fleming’s novels – and in the subsequent movie franchise – we have found a new mythic self-image. We like the patriotism, the sense of duty, the determination to succeed against the odds and the understated suggestion of heroism. We appreciate the dry sense of humour, regardless of the situation. We like the style – the tailoring, the cars, the yachts, the luxury lifestyle – strangely (and yet not!) at odds with the purpose of the role. We also like that the films showcase much that we are proud of in our culture – the music, the writing, the acting (Daniel Craig, Dame Judy Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, Javier Bardem – for goodness sake!), the camera work, the special effects – the pure, sophisticated, joyous class of it all!

To those critics who carp that such a brutish, womanising, unreconstructed chauvinist – Fleming’s ‘blunt instrument’ – is entirely unsuited as a mythic role model, I would simply point out that this is to misunderstand the nature of myth itself. Are not the Arthurian heroes also deeply flawed characters? Are not the North American creator figures – the Raven and the Coyote – also amoral tricksters, equally likely to steal, to gorge themselves and to fornicate their way through the firmament as they are to create the sun – the moon – mankind?

It was little surprise to me that Danny Boyle chose to foreground Bond amidst the panoply of cultural icons representing modern Britain in his definitive Olympic opening ceremony. It was only a momentary surprise that Her Majesty herself chose to sanction this choice by breaking with all tradition and appearing alongside – and thus endorsing – this fictional character.

Bond is now a key ingredient of the new mythical self-image that we have constructed for ourselves. And we like what we see…

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“It’s mornings like this;
The stingy sun trying to hold back
Even the warmth of its reflection
Flashing coldly in the lake.
When November leaves drop in sudden gusts,
Like a red and yellow flock of birds
Swooping at once to ground.
Or even nights:
When winds reach wet hands
To take you spinning with random paper
Down back street gutters, under straining bridges
To clogged rivers.
It’s this:
The time of year, along with spring,
When poets must take care
Not to sing the same old songs
Stolen from tribal memory.”

Thomas R. Drinkard

In my opinion – humble or otherwise – November is quite the grimmest quantum of the year… far worse than Eliot’s ‘cruelest month’. There are entire days on which the light struggles helplessly to elevate itself beyond a Stygian post-apocalyptic twilight, and the dismal rain lashes the last few leaves from the traumatised trees to besmirch the sodden earth like eviscerated corpses smeared across the battlefield of the dying year.

The shortest day is yet a month away – and our subsequent celebration of ‘Sol Invictus’ has scarce reached the planning stage. Like the dormant green shoots themselves all thoughts of spring are still lodged securely underground – safe from the winter frosts. They will not expose their tender heads to the chill air for many months yet.

The Michaelmas term is always the longest – and the toughest – of the school year. The aim is to crack the preponderance of the curriculum before the solstice break – to form a platform for the anticipated achievements of the new year. The cause is noble, but the casualties are heavy – in terms of exhaustion, langour and ennui.

There comes a point at which one is just counting the days – and at such times, indeed, ‘poets must take care’…

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There are days when I feel particularly like the grumpy old man that I fear I am rapidly evolving into. Dour grey November mornings don’t help much with this, even at the weekend when what lies ahead are a pleasant few days of relaxing with the Kickass Canada Girl, eating and drinking well, going for brisk – if damp – walks, and watching the TV coverage of the home nations being beaten to a pulp on the rugger field by the strapping demi-gods of the southern hemisphere.

At my previous school – with just such grim days in mind – they practiced a rather splendid custom. A former member of the teaching staff had left a bequest to the common room with particular instructions for its use. On one grey miserable Monday morning each November – to be chosen on the hoof by the common room secretary – the bequest would pay for Madiera and Bath Oliver biscuits to be served at the daily mid-morning staff meeting held in the school hall. The date was never revealed in advance so each year on one dank Monday morning at least there would be a pleasant surprise.

However, I digress…

My mood this morning was not ameliorated by my running up against one of those irritations that the InterWebNet provides as a counterbalance to the many benefits it extends. Let me be uncharacteristically direct:

I wished to make a risotto. This is something that I do frequently and at which I have acquired a certain skill. However, the last few times that I have done so I have been disappointed with the chicken stock that I have used.

Now – let’s get this straight. I have at the moment neither the time nor the inclination to make stock from scratch. I know that to do so would yield better results, but on this occasion I intended to use a store-bought product. It quickly occured to me that the InterWebNet might be able to assist me in tracking down a superior comestible, so I fired up the Girl’s iThing and Googled (which is clearly now a verb!) “best store-bought chicken stock”.

You can probably imagine the results. Eleventy-gazillion items all advising me that there is no conceivable alternative to doing the job the hard way – that I am somehow lacking as a man if I do not already have to hand a considerable quantity of chicken detritus and that if I think I stand even the remotest chance of making a decent stock with less than two days hard sweat and toil – then I had jolly well better think again!

It is at such times – when the doubtless worthy denizens of the InterWebNet take it upon themselves to decide that I actually needed an answer to a completely different question to the one that I had asked – that I begin to doubt the efficacy of the entire enterprise, and the unconnected world seems like an increasingly good idea after all.

See what I mean? Grumpy old man!

 

It was a very good risotto – even though I did not make the stock…

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Limbo (noun)

1 – the supposed abode of the souls of unbaptized infants, and of the just who died before Christ’s coming.

2 – an uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution; an intermediate state or condition.

Origin: late Middle English: from the medieval Latin phrase in limbo, from limbus ‘hem, border, limbo’

 

‘Limbo’ has of course an alternative meaning, not – naturally – from the same Latin root but probably derived from ‘limber’ and dating only to the 1950s.

The older usage first appears in the 14th century and, as suggested above, takes two common forms – the ‘Limbo of the Patriarchs’ and the ‘Limbo of Infants’. Both commonly associated with the Catholic Church the former refers to the temporary state of those who, regardless of any sins they may have committed, have died in the sight of god but cannot enter Heaven until redeemed by Jesus Christ – whilst the latter concerns the permanent status of the unbaptized who, dying in infancy, are too young to have committed personal sins but are still tainted by original sin.

In common with a number of other religious terms the word limbo does not itself actually appear in the bible. Neither is the concept of limbo directly spelled out in the scriptures, though some argue that it is implicit in a number of references therein. Though widely used from the middle ages onward the Catholic Church has in recent times rather distanced itself from the conceit – the current Pope being amongst those who have raised questions as to the efficacy of the concept.

Let us not, however, get bogged down here on the subject of pensile lost souls lurking on the border between this life and… whatever may (or may not) follow. Let us in this instance hold fast to the here and now and concentrate instead on the second definition above.

The astute reader will by this point have deduced that I have allowed myself to get sidetracked into this somewhat arcane rumination because I cannot yet – for legal reasons (and I have always wanted to find an opportunity to utilise that particular idiom!) – write about what I really want to write about.

Soon, however… Soon!

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Some more images from the far east. We were really rather taken with Hong Kong…

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Travel is the most private of pleasures. There is no greater bore than the travel bore. We do not in the least want to hear what he has seen in Hong Kong. 

Vita Sackville-West

Mindful of the above I certainly have no intention of boring. Here instead are just a few images from our hectic but most enjoyable wedding trip…

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Serious kudos – and indeed many grateful thanks – to Air New Zealand for getting me safely to Hong Kong the other night – a task that proved somewhat more demanding than anyone might have expected.

I rather liked the service in their premium economy – at the expense of which I had swallowed hard before selecting, but can frankly no longer face the prospect of flying for 12 hours in a standard economy seat. Air Canada do this better than most because with them it is possible to book the exit row seats (with their considerably increased legroom) in advance. Most other airlines either don’t do this at all, or simply add one’s name to a lottery for the seats which are then allocated nearer flight time. Sorry – I need to know for sure when I book…

I was certainly impressed by the enormous measure of New Zealand Pinot Noir that the stewardess splashed into what can only be described as a tumbler – to accompany dinner. I was further stunned when she offered to top it up a minute or so later when I had scarcely got beyond sampling the bouquet. Unusually for me – I declined.

However, it was some short while after dinner that the Air New Zealand cabin staff really earned my undying gratitude. Feeling suddenly rather clammy and nauseous I thought I had better head for the washroom to be on the safe side. The washroom was occupied and as I waited outside I suddenly found myself on my hands and knees – with no idea how I had got there. The next thing I knew I was lying on my back in the galley, surrounded by cabin crew and having oxygen administered. I had blacked out in a fairly serious way!

When they got me back on my feet – having first asked for, and located, a doctor on board to take a look at me – they moved me up into business class where they had made up a bed for me. As a result I subsequently enjoyed seven hours good sleep and a first class breakfast! Though still rather fuzzy headed when we landed the next morning I mostly felt embarrassment and something of a fraud. I have not had such an attack before, but I gather that they are not that uncommon. I found another doctor in Hong Kong to give me the once over and it she could find nothing out of the ordinary. She suggest that I had probably experienced a vasovagal syncope!

Clearly this was one of those isolated incidents – probably brought on by tiredness (I had been up early and done a day’s work before rushing to the airport in the evening) and dehydration. The Air New Zealand staff were brilliant throughout and made me feel very much better about the whole episode. My thanks again to them.

Well – this is one way to get an upgrade, but I can’t say I recommend it…

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