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June 2013

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidToday is the last day of the year – in academic terms at least. At this time last year I was on the verge of flying off to Victoria (leaving for the airport straight from the School just as soon as the boys had departed) for what turned out to be my last (to date!) visit to BC.

Time to take stock…


A great deal has changed over the course of the year. My visit to Victoria last June/July was not to have been the only trip of the year. I was also expecting to join the Kickass Canada Girl and our lovely friends in Saanichton for Christmas – which would have been my first such in Canada and to which I was looking forward immensely. When I left BC in mid July I was thus expecting to be back before the year end and made my farewells accordingly. By the time I do visit next – this coming Christmas – eighteen months will have elapsed and many things will inevitably have changed. If nothing else, our beloved friends’ young boys will have grown (almost) beyond recognition.

The other significance of this particular day is that – had things gone to plan – this would have been my last day of term before retirement. Though I had intended to work until the end of July the serious business of education would have come to an end. Throughout these last two weeks I have been attending the farewell presentations and speeches to the Common Room of those who are moving on or retiring. I must admit to the odd twinge of envy for some of those who are hanging up their gowns and preparing for their post-School, post-work lives. It has not been easy adjourning this particular dream, though of course the presence by my side of the KACG makes up for pretty much everything. More than anything we are both eternally grateful that we no longer have to live on different continents.

The Girl herself is thriving. She loves her new job and now has the bit firmly between her teeth, already starting to build the role into something significant and substantial. She loves her rag-top roadster – in which we are intending to meander down to the Dorgdogne for a break in the sun (hopefully!) towards the end of July. She loves being able to go the the theatre and galleries in London – and she would be loving the bucolic English summer were we ever to get one!

All is good – all is good! Our lives are so blessed when compared with the travails of so many others in these uncertain times – and it is good for us to remember this.

These blessings we count daily!

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atlas obscuraWhilst searching the ever wonderful InterWebNet for items on the raven as trickster in North American First Nations cultures I came upon this article. The piece itself is brief, but acted as an introduction to this totally wonderful and unknown – to me at any rate – website… the Atlas Obscura.

Every so often one comes across something so splendid and beautifully executed that one simply has to share it. I have added this to my blogroll so that you can pay repeated visits whenever you so desire… which is exactly what I intend to do myself.




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347px-Nostradamus_Centuries1720On the subject of prediction Wikipedia offers us this:

A prediction (Latin præ-, “before,” and dicere, “to say”) or forecast is a statement about the way things will happen in the future, often but not always based on experience or knowledge. While there is much overlap between prediction and forecast, a prediction may be a statement that some outcome is expected, while a forecast is more specific, and may cover a range of possible outcomes.

When writing – only a little more than six weeks ago – on the subject of the many difficulties that we faced in putting on the School’s promenade production of Parzival, I wrote thus:

“They are – of course – public school boys, and they will – therefore – naturally pull it all together at the last possible minute and triumph effortlessly yet again.”

What can I say?!

In spite of the fact that the weather did (and is, quite remarkably, still doing) its level best to persuade us that there will be no such thing as summer this year – on three overcast and gloomy days at the end of last week the clouds parted and the haze lifted just in time for each evening’s performance so that the gods could smile beneficently upon us.

In spite of the rushed nature of the final run-in to the performances – featuring as it did missing cast members, argumentative musicians and under-rehearsed business – as the first night approached the boys – responding to that deep-rooted public school instinct – rose to the challenge and turned in the first of three exemplary performances. As they gained in confidence and relaxed into their customary chutzpah these performances grew in stature. Needless to say I was delighted – for them and for myself – as well as being somewhat relieved and really most grateful.

I would love to have been able to post some images of the performances, though you will – of course – understand why I cannot do so.

The feedback received from both pupils and staff has been overwhelmingly positive and I am deeply grateful to all those who put in so much hard work to make this show happen.

Thank you!


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Photo by Andy Dawson Reid“The good seaman weathers the storm he cannot avoid, and avoids the storm he cannot weather.”


Dress rehearsal night for our production of Parzival finds us one cast-member short (as captain of the under fifteen cricket side that has won through to the semi-finals of a national competition he is three hours journey from here and won’t be back until after the run-through) – several of the musicians are playing the score for the first time – some of the cast will be hearing music cues live for the first time (if they happen at all!) and most of the costume changes and property settings are as yet untested.

These anxieties are not – however – our main preoccupation. That – you may not be surprised to hear – is the weather!

The English summer is playing its usual tricks. As the summer solstice nears during what we used to call ‘Flaming June’ we would hope for – nay expect – the weather to be fine, sunny and warm. It has been cold, wet and grey!

Today – to the contrary – is oppressively muggy and close, but the threat of rain is ever present. I have been studying the forecasts nervously for the past two weeks now. The predictions seem to change almost by the hour. It will be rainy – it will be overcast – the rain will clear in time for the performances – the precipitation is set in for the day. One thing only is certain – there will be weather!

That this matters is down to the decision to stage the production as a promenade – incorporating external spaces. There is – of course – a wet-weather plan – but that represents the sort of compromise that we would rather avoid.

Oh well – fingers crossed!


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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidI was intrigued by this item in The Tyee on the recent re-naming of Mount Douglas as ‘PKOLS’. For non-Canadians ‘Mount Doug’ (as it is commonly known) is on the east side of the Saanich peninsular to the north of Victoria and was the site on which – in 1852 – the then governor of Vancouver Island – James Douglas – negotiated a treaty understood to be a promise to the WSÁNEĆ people that they would not be interfered with. PKOLS is held by the WSÁNEĆ nation to be the mountain’s original and true name.

As is seemingly inevitable in this enlightened day and age the article attracted the usual brief storm of comments expressing opinions both in favour of and against the unilateral action that had been taken. This comment in particular caused me to raise an eyebrow:

“History should be respected, whether liked or not, and not appropriated by every group with a new agenda.”

This by way of reference – not as I thought first to the colonial appropriation of a First Nations landmark – but rather to the recent reclamation thereof by the WSÁNEĆ nation. Unless – by chance – the comment was intended to be humorously ironic, then it truly missed the point in spectacular fashion.

All of which cultural imperialism puts me in mind of the Irish playwright, Brian Friel’s, masterpiece – ‘Translations’.

For those who have not seen (or indeed read) this splendid play, the context is that of the British Ordnance Survey of Ireland carried out during the 1830s – a process that involved mapping, renaming and anglicising Ireland, of which the British were at the time – of course – the occupiers. A good explanation of the historical context of the piece can be found here.

Friel claimed that – though the political was impossible to avoid completely – his subject was not the situation in Ireland per se, but that this was “a play about language and only about language”. His interests are in the nature of communication – and the difficulties thereof – between peoples and races.

The play has – at its centre – a quite startling conceit, of the sort that marks out a playwright as belonging to the highest echelons of his profession. The Irish villagers speak only Gaelic and do not understand English. The British Army officers conducting the survey have – naturally – no Gaelic. Neither side can understand the other. The entire cast – however – perform throughout in English! The audience must decide for themselves which language is being spoken at any point. This unexpected inversion only serves to highlight the cultural chasm between the two sides, an inability to communicate that has – almost inevitably – tragic consequences.

Friel’s piece rightly offers no easy answers. It does – however – offer insight into the effects of such cultural colonisation. Insistence on strict maintenance of a native language as a pure act of defiance runs the risk of that language ossifying and become inert. Should that happen the culture that is based upon it will die as surely as had the coloniser set out to destroy it. Language must live and evolve if the culture itself is not simply to become a museum piece – even should that require the assimilation of an alien tongue.

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If you are a regular follower of these ramblings you may well have noticed that there has been something of a falling off in the frequency of posts over this last period. The reasons for this will be only too evident to any of you who have been engaged at any point in the pursuit of thespism. The first night of the School’s production of ‘Parzival’ takes place exactly a week from today and pretty much all of my spare time – and indeed of my energies – are currently being poured into that endeavour.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!

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Image taken by Mark Barker on 9th May 2006May 15th was International Conscientious Objectors Day.

I had not realised – until I read this article in my regular Saturday newspaper, the Independent – that there even was such a thing. This is remiss of me, particularly given that the subject is of considerable personal interest.

It is sobering – given the appalling treatment meted out to those who sought to be to be regarded as conscientious objectors during the First World War – that they are now viewed with increasing respect – their courage and fortitude in making a stand for what they believed being at last recognised as such. One can only hope that the same emendation is eventually extended to all those who make such commitments – regardless of origin or circumstance.

Growing up – as I did – during the late 60s my youthful ideals were strongly slanted in the direction of pacifism. Decades later I find myself grateful that – in spite of the inevitable realignments that occur with age and in the light of experience – my position has not changed as much as it might have done. I still believe that violence – if it can be justified at all – must only ever be used as a last desperate act of defence, when all other avenues have failed. War is always an admission of defeat – of failure to resolve a situation by more civilised means.

Lest my comments here be misconstrued it should be understood that I have the greatest respect for our armed forces – for what they do and the way that they do it. They should not however – in my view – be placed in such positions as those in which they frequently find now themselves.

I was horrified – for example – in the early 80s to learn that the Argentinian Junta had sent its brigades of teenage conscripts to occupy those godforsaken disputed islands off the Argentine coast. That this had been done for purely political reasons – to prop up an ailing regime – was abundantly clear. My horror increased a thousandfold when it became apparent that our own government intended sending our young men thousands of miles to kill other young men – and to be themselves killed. No desperate acts of defence here – but a call on the young men of two nations to sacrifice the most precious gift that they would ever possess for reasons that primarily amounted to the saving of political face!

Lest this anachronistic war be considered in some way exceptional I surely need only draw attention to the farce that was the justification for the war in Iraq – not to mention the shameful political maneuverings that have led to the current stalemate in Afghanistan… and if there ever was country that has suffered enough over the past few centuries this must be it!

The Great War itself – of course – epitomised of the hypocrisy of modern warfare – as a brace of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren and their cousin oversaw the laying waste of a continent and the destruction of a generation. If we as a race are truly incapable of conducting our affairs without recourse to violence then at least let our kings and barons – or their contemporary equivalents, our leaders and generals – lead their troops into battle personally – as once they did.

And if they will not do so then there can be no surprise when some amongst us also decline to participate.

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One of the motivations for my adapting Wolfram von Eschenbach’s ‘Parzival’ in the first place – and in particular for the decision to stage it as a promenade – was that my previous school – at which it was first staged – is possessed of a particularly fine set of ancient buildings, some dating back to the school’s foundation in the 15th Century. The desire to see spaces such as the chapel, the original schoolrooms and the courtyards and cloisters pressed into service as theatre spaces was – frankly – irresistible.

Equally, one of the prime challenges of re-staging the production in my current school (which is only sixty years younger when all’s said and done) is that – as a result of its relocation in the late 1960s – nothing on the site is more than 35 years old. There are certainly some interesting spaces (in addition to the normal theatrical venues) but none of them can provide that authentic patina of age.

No matter. We must make best use of what we have. Here are some of the chosen locales. Interestingly, the newest buildings provide some of the most appropriate settings, being built – as they are – using ‘traditional’ materials and styles.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

There is a splendidly traditional ‘collegiate’ court – which did not exist at all until just before Christmas last year…

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

…not to mention an atrium which houses one or two bits of such antiquity as the School yet possesses.

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

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