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September 2016

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ballot“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Winston Churchill

Following the abrupt and unlooked-for result of the EU referendum in the UK at the start of the summer the British Labour Party has set about sustaining the sensation of stupefaction amongst the good inhabitants of that bewildered territory by doing its best to tear itself apart. The challenge by one hundred and seventy two members of the Parliamentary Labour Party to the stewardship of its previously unexpected leader, Jeremy Corbyn – based notionally on his perceived non-electability in a general election – reached its denouement with his re-election as leader with an increased majority of party members’ votes.

Might this be the end of the matter? Hell no!

The battle behind the scenes is not just about the party’s chances in the next general election. It concerns rather the wildly differing views of the nature of democracy itself held by the constituent members of the organisation. Fundamentally, those to the left of the party do not believe in parliamentary/representative democracy. The idea that those who are chosen to represent the electorate should be gifted power once every five years, on the basis of an agreed manifesto, is anathema to those who believe that ‘true’ democracy requires rather that power should rest continually in the hands of its party members.

To those who wish to be constantly engaged in politics this is perhaps understandable. British democracy – as in many other parts of the western world – is predicated upon a direct but limited connection between the electorate and those who represent them. Once elected the members of parliament are largely protected from interference by those who put them there – until subsequent ballots allow the electorate to issue a judgement as to how well – or how badly – they have performed. This actually suits the majority of voters well – preferring as they do not to have to think about the grubby business of politics more than is absolutely necessary.

To those on the further left such a state of affairs will not do at all. These people hold the view that the members of a political party should be able to exercise judgement on its elected representatives at any point by de-selecting them should they be deemed not to have toed the party line. Further, these zealots would like to be able to dictate policy through decisions taken by the membership at party conferences. It should be clear that this could well mean that the wider electorate could not only lose the ability to pass judgement themselves on their chosen representatives, but that they might also wake up to discover that the party for which they had voted no longer subscribed to the manifesto on which they made their choice. By such means the actuality of democracy would be re-calibrated away from the involvement of the forty six million plus who make up the total electorate toward the half a million or so who are members of the Labour party.

When it comes to the hard core – of course – there are those on the left who do not believe in party democracy either. They are playing a long game in which they believe that ultimate power rests with a smaller number of party activists who – in the longer term – can utilise a palette of well documented strategies to ensure that the motions adopted as a result of ‘democratic’ votes are those of their preference. Such devious manipulations are – naturally – to be kept at arms length from those in charge of the party, but to those of us who witnessed such methods in use during the 1970s and 1980s – be it by political parties, trade unions or even in student politics (as did I myself) – present denials that we are in fact experiencing a re-run of that period in the Labour Party’s history ring somewhat hollow.

Churchill quote was apt. He recognised the failings of the UK’s parliamentary system, but he was also right that pretty much anything else would be worse. Certainly recent experience should warn the nation away from any experiment which attempts to extend democracy by increasing the use of referenda. My view – which I have long espoused and which I have seen championed increasingly across the various media in recent weeks – is that the most effective way to improve democracy in Britain would be through electoral reform.

That the Labour Party is vehemently opposed to such a course speak volumes.

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Photo by Andy Dawson Reid“We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.”

Calvin Coolidge

It is a matter of days now until we can celebrate the first anniversary of our ownership of the really rather splendid North Saanich residence from which emanate these meanderings. Time has simply cantered by…

It is also very nearly five months since I scribbled this update which included a brief passage concerning the ongoing legal dispute between the Kickass Canada Girl and I and the former owners of the property (and quite possibly their realtor (estate agent!) and maybe also our home inspector (surveyor!!)). I am still not able to regale gentle (and patient) readers with the full details; needless to say the case grinds on and on, and we are thankfully not holding our breaths (or we would by now have expired).

Indeed we have determined that we should no longer curtail our respiration (metaphorically speaking) in more ways than one! We have decided that we can wait not a day more before getting cracking on the first phases of our renovations.

The first task is the one that we did not expect to have to do. I realise that I have not – to this point – revealed the gruesome details of what must be done. Without going into the whys and wherefores the nub of the matter is this… as the photos in this post from last year show, the house currently has three sun-rooms that traverse the entire back of the building facing the sea. The areas beneath these have been enclosed to create further spaces that sit uncomfortably somewhere between inside and out.

These three sun-rooms must be removed, and will be replaced by a simple deck with stairs down to the garden (yard). A new and sizable sliding window will need to be installed in the living room, into what is currently just a hole in the wall.

This is a not insignificant project and will require building permits and suchlike. To which end we have engaged a designer (and ‘Architectural Building Technologist’) who has produced a first set of draft plans, the which will be used to set the whole kit and caboodle in motion with a view to actually building next spring. We rather like the elegant simplicity of his suggested solution and – should you persevere with these meanderings – you will eventually see how it turns out.

The ‘second’ task we had already started last year – before we discovered the extent of the issue described above. The house has a heat pump – a sort of air-conditioning – which is jolly good but does not provide the sort of ‘spot’ warmth that is required for comfortable winter living. Our first actions on moving in last October were to arrange for natural gas to be laid on and to order a gas log insert for the drawing room fireplace. When everything kicked off a few weeks later we had to put the installation on hold and – until a few days ago – that was the way things had remained. With winter rumbling into view in the distance this part of the project had to be rapidly re-instated and we now have in place a splendid and highly efficient gas log insert – complete with remote controls, timers, temperature settings and other gewgaws that we will never use.

Progress! Progress!…

 

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“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

William Arthur Ward

As posited in this entry in the ‘captain’s log’ of but a few tides back the good ship Dignity spent the past month berthed in a snug slip at Westport Marina – the which lies on the east coast of the peninsula but a little to the north of Sidney.

As was almost inevitably the case we did not get out on her as much as we would have liked (the weather broke, life got busy, etc, etc) and upon the brief voyages that we did essay we found at least one important job that needs to be done in short order (replacing the raw water pump. Boating people will know that this is not a good place to have a leak!).

That having been said much was learned and fun was had. The Kickass Canada Girl was introduced to the delights of Sidney Spit on a sunny day (as well as to the boat!) – my brother, our dear friend (and constant ‘bailer out’) from Saanichton and I supped ales at Port Browning on Pender Island (alcohol-free in my case – boo!) – and I discovered that I can conn my way into and out of a marina on my own, in addition to being able to take the boat out of the water single-handedly.

Pictures were – as you would expect – snapped and a selection are presented below for the reader’s delectation:

Time to get her name on that stern!

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThis is the passage between North and South Pender islands…

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid…and this is Port Browning.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThese shots were taken at Sidney Spit.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidTime to head for home.

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

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Image from Pixabay“Well, I dreamed I saw the knights in armor coming, saying something about a queen.”

Neil Young – ‘After the Goldrush’

I had a hankering – just the other day – to listen again to Neil Young’s splendidly mysterious classic – ‘After the Goldrush‘. I don’t recall now what brought the song to mind… maybe I heard a snatch of it – or read something somewhere… It matters not.

What I did not want was to listen to Neil Young singing it! Nothing against the Canadian ‘national treasure’ of course – it is just that for this particular piece I have always had a different sound in mind – one which involves the female voice. This whimsy is probably the result of having loved the 1970s ‘a cappella’ rendition by Prelude – which is the version of the track that I heard first.

The recording of the Prelude version is – however – sadly showing its age somewhat these days, and I found myself scouring the InterWebNet for a more recent cover that might achieve a similar effect. As ever such a thing was eventually uncovered – in the (slightly) more up to date version (1999) by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt (and who would have ever thought that I would be be listening to that combination?!).

The exercise started me thinking. There are instances when only a specific genre of music will do. This particular mood – for example – clearly demanded the dulcet tones of the old-fashioned female torch singer in delivery of eloquent and poignant versions of classic tunes – perhaps with a slightly twist of mystery for good effect.

Time to put together a suitable compilation CD – I decided – commencing a further search. Herewith the list of tracks and versions with which I have come up thus far to satisfy this requirement (in no particular order):

  • Alfie (Burt Bacharach, Hal David) – Vanessa Williams
  • Wichita Lineman (Jimmy Webb) – Cassandra Wilson
  • Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell) – Joni Mitchell (from the ‘jazz’ album ‘Both Sides Now’)
  • One (Harry Nilsson) – Aimee Mann (album version)
  • Cry Me a River (Arthur Hamilton) – Diana Krall
  • After the Gold Rush (Neil Young) – Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt
  • The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (Robbie Robertson) – Joan Baez
  • Somewhere (Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim) – Barbra Streisand
  • The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress (Jimmy Webb)  – Judy Collins
  • This Woman’s Work (Kate Bush) – Kate Bush
  • Unchained Melody (Alex North, Hy Zaret) – Sarah McLachlan
  • That’s What Friends Are For (Burt Bacharach, Carol Bayer Sager) – Trijntje Oosterhuis (live with guitarist Leonardo Amuedo)
  • Nothing Has Been Proved (Chris Lowe, Neil Tennant) – Dusty Springfield

Should the gentle reader care to add any suggestions of his or her own before I commit this list to plastic such would be reviewed with great interest…

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Flyer

flyer

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high-jumpMore on that anon” – was the promise made at the end of my last post concerning our attempts to set up a new form of youth theatre in Victoria. That item was posted on June 1st and it is now September 9th. “Just what the heck is happening?” – I hear you cry! “How long is anon anyway?“.

OK – here is the lowdown…

As was detailed in the aforementioned post the UK has long benefited from a thriving youth theatre community, much of it supported by local authorities. The municipalities in BC (the equivalent of the UK’s LAs) tend – where they have a theatrical offering for young people at all – to buy in courses from the local commercial organisations.

I discovered late last year, however, in the course of my researches that the District of Saanich had just recently adopted a new Youth Development Strategy. This estimable document was couched in familiar language – its principles very much in accord with those that I myself espouse. My subsequent approach to them – after the usual period in which nothing at all appeared to be happening – led to a meeting with a particularly dynamic Youth Programmer who set up a gathering of like-minded people which included a young lady who was subsequently to become the other half of our team. The meeting also led to our contacts with the University of Victoria, Claremont Secondary School, the Belfry 101 program and the Kate Rubin Studio.

By early summer our fact finding mission into Victoria’s youth drama provision was complete and it had been decided that we would set up an after-school group at the Teen Lounge in the Saanich Commonwealth Centre. As Parks and Recreation (the department responsible for the municipality’s leisure centres) programs run in parallel with school terms our new venture would not start until September – which suited us well as it would give ample to time to develop the initial curriculum…

…which is exactly what we have been doing over the past months. We are at the time of writing less than two weeks from the date of our inaugural session and – in curricular terms – the structures are all in place. We will, naturally, be adding and developing the detail as we go along.

All efforts now switch to publicity, in an attempt to ensure that we do not find ourselves standing alone in an empty space – devoid of eager young creatives – with our session notes dangling impotently from our hands… wondering what to do with ourselves.

Our concern bears the title  – ‘Youth Performance Arts Collective’, which will be at once be abbreviated to ‘Y PAC’. This soubriquet may strike the gentle reader as being a little pompous – and that reader might have a point. The guardians of the public services in BC take their responsibilities seriously and are impressively earnest about what they do. I can live with that!

Any introduction of notes of irony can wait…

 

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On the fringe

Fringe-badge-16-mint-background-2008-1The 2016 Victoria Fringe Festival – the thirtieth such since the festival’s inauguration – has just reached its conclusion.

Looking back to last year’s event – which clearly took place in a period during which we had rather more time on our hands – I observe that we were able to get to a fair number of shows. This post – from September last – provides the details of those that the Girl and I deemed to be our pick of the 2015 fringe.

Having been occupied this year with our most welcome visitors from the UK we found – upon their departure – that we had missed the first week of the festival entirely. With the Girl now gainfully employed and thus not available for entertainment purposes during the working day our opportunities to attend fringe events were further restricted.

As a result we perhaps spent a little more time this year than we did last perusing the fringe programme, in an effort to ensure that those performances that we could attend were, after all, worth seeing. Our efforts seem to have paid off.  We saw three shows; we greatly enjoyed each of them.

Half the Battle‘ – written and created by Edmonton based Owen Bishop – is a one-man two-character piece with a twist… Bishop plays both parts simultaneously! Inspired by the burial beneath conjoined tombstones of a Canadian second world war pilot and co-pilot, ‘Half the Battle‘ imagines the men inextricably joined in the afterlife as two halves of the same character. It perhaps hardly need be said that the performance was funny and affecting in equal measure and was quite brilliantly played without the slightest waver by the talented Bishop. The use of the hackneyed phrase “tour de force” is normally rightly deprecated. In this instance it would be entirely justified.

British comedian, Gerald Harris, is that staple of fringe festivals the world over – a storyteller! Lest you infer that I regard the form as being in any way inferior to other performance arts let me at once set you right. The oral tradition is one the most fertile and immediate of all the forms – but only if the storyteller is a good one! Harris not only has the requisite performance skills – his manic energy clearly keeping some in the audience guessing as to his intent – but he is also quite obviously a writer. As a result ‘A Tension to Detail‘ – Harris’s meditation on his mostly solitary life as an onanistic British Jew – was splendidly constructed and paced, and delivered with panache.

Finally, ‘Bushel and Peck‘ – a surreal physical comedy of (relatively) few words by multiple award winning Canadian comic actor Alastair Knowles (‘James and Jamesy‘) and choreographer Stephanie Morin-Robert – is that most wonderful of things, a performance that delights whilst completely defying easy categorisation. It must be my ‘poor theatre‘ leanings I suppose, but I do derive great pleasure from watching accomplished performers create a rich and beautiful visual spectacle with no set, everyday costume and the bare minimum of props – in this case a table lamp, a plywood board, a pair of hair-dryers and a packet of white balloons! (My liking for the surreal can probably be traced back even further to my early affection for the Goon Show).

As ever, should you happen upon any of these performers at fringe events around the world, I would heartily recommend giving them a look.

 

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Image by B0rder on Wikimedia CommonsOn Saturday last – for the second time in as many weeks – the Kickass Canada Girl and I found ourselves witness to a gathering of Canadians making an unanticipated act of homage to a musical icon…

Having bid a tearful farewell last week to ‘The Tragically Hip’, this latter occasion featured a fair sized gathering of Victorians over two nights at the Royal Theatre bidding an unlikely ‘hello‘ to Sixto Rodriguez.

Some readers may already be familiar with the frankly bizarre story of Mr. Rodriguez and they may thus choose to skip ahead, but for those – like me – who were previous oblivious to his existence, here is a brief outline.

Sixto – known professionally simply as ‘Rodriguez’ – is a singer/songwriter from Detroit who had a brief and scarcely noticed career in the late 60s/early 70s during which he released two albums – ‘Cold Fact‘ and ‘Coming from Reality‘ in 1970 and 1971 respectively – which were critically well received but sold barely a copy. On being as a result dropped by his record label Rodriguez – phlegmatically and with considerable good grace – retired from the business and returned to his former career in construction.

This might well have been the end of the story were it not that – by dint of a speculative re-release of his albums and through much word of mouth – Rodriguez subsequently became a considerable sensation in South Africa to the tune of some half a million records sold. This rise to the status of a musical icon would have represented a gratifying – if belated – acknowledgement of his talents, were it not that Rodriguez himself was entirely unaware of this turn of events and the South Africans had no idea who he was – having been provided with none of the necessary back-story. Indeed, the rumour rapidly spread that Rodriguez had at some point committed suicide – though even here the details of his supposed demise varied widely from the merely tragic to the quite grotesque.

Eventually – toward the turn of the millennium – a couple of South African fans determined to discover the truth concerning his fate and the man was eventually tracked down to his home in Detroit. On discovering that he was – after all – yet alive he was persuaded to visit South Africa to play a series of concerts, which he duly did in 1998. This again might have been the end of the tale but for a Swedish film director – Malik Bendjellouldeciding that the story merited turning into a documentary film. The resulting production – ‘Searching for Sugarman’ – has won a plethora of awards, including – in 2013 – the ‘Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature’.

As a result of the subsequent interest Rodriguez – now in his mid seventies – has resurrected his musical career and gone back on the road, whilst at the same time trying to establish what exactly happened to the royalties from all of the albums that he did not know he had sold in South Africa. The two sell-out shows in Victoria – in a 1400 seat theatre – pay testament to the ongoing curiosity concerning his story.

If one were to be critical one might observe that the career in construction has clearly exacted a heavy physical toll on the man and his once remarkable voice is a shadow of what it was. It is also obvious that when Rodriguez stopped making records in the early 70s he simultaneously stopped writing, and though his oeuvre displays considerable poetic talent it is also brief in the extreme. Nice to hear cover versions of other people’s songs from that era, but perhaps not entirely worth the rapt adoration that the man received from the packed house on Saturday. I couldn’t help but speculate that it was the narrative that was being applauded rather than the performance itself.

A fascinating study in philosophical anthropology, nonetheless…

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