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Life as we know it

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“Hard times require furious dancing”

Poems by Alice Walker

Sometimes it is difficult to know quite what to write…

There was a relatively brief period – of which my recollections are still very clear – back towards the end of the last century during which it seemed that a corner had been turned and that the world was after all going to become a better place.

The Berlin Wall had fallen and the Iron Curtain had been rent asunder. Apartheid had been consigned to the trashcan of history and there was hope of a long-awaited resolution to the Irish question. Reaganism and Thatcherism had been kicked – if not actually into then certainly in the general direction of – the extremely long grass.

Things could only get better…

Then came the millennium… and we all know what happened next!

The further that recent history descends determinedly into farce the harder it becomes to conceive any rational view of it.

In the UK the tory party – clearly considering its brilliant strategy of holding (and losing) an entirely unnecessary referendum on leaving Europe to be an unqualified success – repeated the exercise by calling (and losing its majority at) an entirely unnecessary election. Seems that the tories – believing that they currently face no viable opposition from other parties – have determined to do the deed themselves and have emptied the barrels of the shotgun into both feet simultaneously.

One might take some pleasure from the unexpectedly reasonable performance (certainly with regard to its recent history) of the UK labour party, were it not for the fact that they seem to be enthusiastically celebrating losing the election by some fifty seats! Strange days indeed!

Then – of course – there is Trump! Trump!! How on earth did the world get from Obama to Trump?!

Of recent terrorist atrocities throughout the world it is also hard to know what more can be said – though it is clearly important to say something if only to reinforce that which we all know already – that this too shall pass. However painful for those directly involved, in retrospect it will become clear that in the grand sweep of world progress these small tragedies will be shown up for what they truly are – utterly meaningless and mindless.

One of the truest things I have read recently concerning these hideous events was penned by Guardian journalist Hugh Muir under the banner “This is a war on joy“:

“There is no obvious or significant ambition to destroy the pillars of the state: the men who use cars and vans as weapons and strike at random with foot-long knives aren’t obviously seeking to obliterate army barracks or police stations or the Bank of England. Theirs is a war not on the foundations of a free society or on our vital infrastructure, but on people enjoying the benefits of a free society. It is, in many ways, a war on joy, motivated by a warped sense of piety.

We go out and dance and drink and eat. To zealots, these things are decadent and trivial. Yet they are in themselves small acts of political symbolism: we go where we like, do what we like, wear what we want, we love whom we choose, because we have a social framework and a political system that largely allows us to do that. If the extremists cannot dismantle the system, or the foundations that underpin it – and they know they cannot – then they seek to strike and terrorise ordinary citizens who benefit from the gaiety it offers and the freedom it brings…

But there is a bigger danger, and it is that we now start to think twice about the things that bring joy – the night in a pub or a music-filled bar or club, the evening of shared experience in a public place, the mass sporting events, the standing-room-only concert halls, the shopping malls, the cinemas, the theatres – the many experiences that give life texture and richness. The risk in those places isn’t likely to disappear any time soon, for they seem to encapsulate everything the murderers hate. But the risk will always be minimal; we are going to have to price it in. How we work, how we play: they are two sides of the same coin. Even at a time as painful as this, the biggest risk is that we let the zealots rob us of what makes us who we are.”

You heard the man… Go out and spread joy!

 

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There are many across the globe – it would seem – who have over the last half decade or so (and certainly since the financial crisis of 2008) come to feel that the society of which they are a part has been of late seriously in ‘democratic deficit’. They may be right.

Certainly there have been in recent times a plethora of elections and referenda throughout the western world and in the melee that passes for electoral normality these days the body politic has done its best to destroy any possible vestige of complacency in those who govern us – by means of the delivery of a number of short (and not so short), sharp shocks to the system. Once upon a time we might have called this ‘sticking it to the man‘ – but we were all a great deal younger then!

In the UK the repercussions from the 2016 Brexit referendum will rumble on for years yet and may even lead at some point to a rerun of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Prime Minister Theresa May – in an effort to demonstrate irrefrangibly the strength and stability of her government – has decided that the UK has not suffered enough at the polls in recent years and has called another (apparently one-sided) election for June. She has presumably been seduced by the prospect of doing to the UK Labour party what the Progressive Conservative Party did to the Social Credit Party in the 1984 Canadian federal election (and in turn had done to them by the Liberals in the 1993 election!).

Trump’s administration in the US is the gift that keeps on giving… should you happen be a satirist (or indeed just a smug cynic who likes to be proved right!). The orange one has only held the reigns of power for a few (though seemingly endless) months, but has already provided enough material for a trilogy of (extremely weird) mordant film-scripts. You quite literally could not make this stuff up!

The outcome of the recent French election was met with divergent reactions throughout the western world. The heavy sighs of relief from well-meaning social democrats everywhere as the French (following the example recently set by the Dutch) chose to reject the far-right populism of Le Pen for the centrist Emmanuel Macron were, of course, to be expected – not to mention welcomed with open arms. The howls of rage of those on the right in countries having little connection with France took me momentarily aback. A little contemplation, however, shed further light on the matter.

In a manner somewhat akin to that of the Bolsheviks in the early years of the last century (who believed that their communist revolution must not be limited to Mother Russia and her colonies but must sweep across the civilised world) those on the far right require that all nations should bow to their brand of populism… that the European Union must be seen to fail, that all forms of collaboration must be suppressed and that the globe should revert to comprising a set of adversarial nation states.

As ever there are some areas in which the right and the left are practically bedfellows. Both strains reserve their greatest hatred, not for each other, but for those who occupy the centre ground. The recognition in the latter part of the last century that elections are primarily won and lost in the centre inspired such dogmatists to paroxysms of rage. What they required of the centre was a large pool of clear blue water, such that their class war might be kept alive indefinitely.

One thus finds oneself assaulted by those on both flanks (though particularly by those on the left in this case) braying about the failure of centrist, liberal politics, along with the demand that such be consigned to the dustbin of history – all the while conveniently ignoring the fact that their own brand of dogma has itself demonstrably failed repeatedly.

Such ironies…

In British Columbia – meanwhile – the recent provincial election resulted in the first minority government for many a long year, with the crucial balancing riding being won by a mere nine votes!

Now that’s how you send a message!

 

 

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidIt was with great sadness that we heard the news over the weekend of the passing of that wonderful British actor – Tim Pigott-Smith.

Still performing on the stage in his seventieth year, Tim Pigott-Smith was amongst the very best of his generation of thespians and was duly awarded an OBE in this year’s New Year Honours for his services to drama. His career encompassed film, TV and stage – with wide screen appearances in films such as ‘The Remains of the Day’, ‘V for Vendetta‘, ‘Clash of the Titans‘ and ‘Quantum of Solace‘, and starring stage roles in (amongst many others) ‘King Lear‘, ‘King Charles III‘, ‘Enron‘ and ‘A Delicate Balance‘.

It was a TV role, however, that was to make him a household name; the part of police superintendent Ronald Merrick in ITV’s 1984 adaption – under the title ‘The Jewel in the Crown‘ – of Paul Scott’s epic quartet of Raj novels. Pigott-Smith deservedly won a BAFTA award for his portrayal of this complex and flawed character, standing out even amongst the glittering array of talent that had been attracted to this vast and ambitious project.

I was certainly far from alone in declaring in 1984 that this be the finest television drama that had yet been made; beautiful filmed and acted, thoughtful adapted and deeply thought provoking to view, complex, stirring and heart-breakingly moving. This was television drama as the highest possible art form. In the three decades since the series’ first showing I have still seen nothing to compare with it.

We were fortunate enough to have met Tim Pigott-Smith on a number of occasions through friends of ours. For once the old adage that one should never meet one’s heroes seemed simply not to apply in his case. He was a complete gentleman, generous with his time and attentions and an excellent conversationalist. There is no question that he will be greatly missed.

I think that it is perhaps time to re-watch “The Jewel in the Crown“…

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Image from Wikimedia CommonsMy apologies to email digest readers for the circulation of yesterday’s post regarding the sad passing of Beau Dick – Kwakwaka’wakw master carver and hereditary chief.

I correctly calculated that the embedded videos that I had included would not appear in the automated email, endeavouring to counteract that omission by providing a link to the original posting. Sadly the link itself did not make the cut either!

An example of force majeure, mayhap!

Here it is again

 

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Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul

William Ernest Henley

On all too many occasions over the past five years I have found myself eschewing the gentle whimsy with which these meanderings are customarily imbued and instead penning some heartfelt lament for the state of a world in which acts of violence and horror have become almost commonplace. Watching from afar such scenes being played out on streets and in locations that are beyond merely familiar takes on a particular poignancy. My deepest condolences and sympathies to all those who have been affected by this latest atrocity, played out at the gates of the mother of parliaments in London.

I find it impossible to imagine what could possibly go through the mind of someone who could commit such a heinous crime. What I do know is that – should such a creature have any means of rational thought whatsoever – their reasoning could not possibly be that the act that they are about to perpetrate could make the slightest difference to – or to advance in any way at all – whatever cause or belief it is that they espouse.

Put simply, terrorism – the purpose of which is presumably to sew fear in the minds of a population – does not work! Further – I can think of few places (other perhaps than Glasgow!) that it might work less than in London. I had drawn to my attention this morning these two headlines following yesterday’s incident:

You’re not even in our top five worries, Londoners tell extremists

Londoners show defiance by remaining unfriendly and quite impatient

This stoic response should come as little surprise. The gentle reader will recall that during the second world war Blitz some 32,000 lives were lost, 87,000 persons were seriously injured and more than a million properties destroyed or damaged in London alone. What might be less well known is that over the decades since the IRA’s mainland campaign started in the early 1970s London has been subjected to in excess of two hundred different terror assaults.

There is little more to say. Didn’t work then… Won’t work now!

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Image by Alana Elliott on Wikimedia CommonsBefore I came to Canada in 2015 I was entirely unaware of Stuart McLean, or indeed of the much loved weekly CBC Radio show – The Vinyl Café – that he hosted for more than twenty years.

I am absolutely certain that the Kickass Canada Girl – who has long been numbered amongst the humourist and storyteller’s many fans – had for my benefit at some point extolled his virtues long before we crossed the pond for keeps, but I am a bear of advancing years (as well as very little brain) and there has been such a lot to learn (this is called “getting your excuses in early”!).

Once in Canada, of course, and having had the opportunity to experience the show ‘in the flesh’ (so to speak) I rapidly became a convert too. It was therefore deeply saddening to hear the news this week that Stuart had succumbed to the melanoma that he had been battling for more than a year.

I am way too much of a Vinyl Café neophyte to be able to indite anything remotely apposite at this point. I urge the gentle reader instead simply to ‘Google’ “Stuart McLean” and to peruse some of the many tributes to the man. This page of twitter reactions gives a good idea as to just how deeply loved he was.

For myself all I would say is that there was something about his writing and on-air manner that reminded me of how radio used to be when I was growing up in the UK, where my earliest exposure to the outside world came exclusively from the BBC’s ‘Home Service’ (later Radio 4). That’s pretty much as good as it gets in my book.

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Image from PixabayThe year just ending will be difficult to forget… no matter how hard one might wish to try. The grim catalog of events which has confounded us has been, of course, most widely promoted already – just as have the all too understandable reasons for seeking sweet oblivion in the face thereof. It is difficult to recall another recent period during which this little blue/green planet feels as though it has been buffeted to quite such an extent by the ‘slings and arrows…‘ etc, etc.

Though our own year here on Vancouver Island has not been entirely without incident there is no doubt that we have escaped considerably more lightly than have many. I thought I might canter briefly through the high (and low) lights for the benefit of anyone who would like to be brought up to speed – and in the process maybe to answer some questions that I have not thus far addressed.

The year has certainly flown by, but then they all do once one attains a certain age. The Kickass Canada Girl was shaken quite badly this last time last year by the passing of her aunt and took a while to recover her joie de vivre. The process of introspection that followed led her to reconsider what might have become a permanent retirement and she has instead returned to the world of work – providing assessment services for a charity that organises volunteers for the (mostly) elderly. This focus has renewed her sense of purpose and restored a spring to her step.

I have made reference already to the legal matter that has thus far prevented us from starting renovations to our North Saanich home – and also to the fact that we have now set same in motion regardless. It is a good thing that we have done so, as it turns out, since the latest thinking is that we should now apply for a court date as a means of chivvying things along. It is apparently inconceivable that such an appointment could be scheduled before 2018 and we are not prepared to wait another year before getting things started. This coming spring will see definite moves forward.

I spent three months at the start of 2016 studying for (and mercifully passing) my various boating qualifications before finally – with the summer already more than half gone – finding and purchasing a boat! Next year ‘Dignity‘ will doubtless be much in demand – particularly if the summer is anything like the one that we enjoyed this year.

I also spent a fair amount of time this year trying to establish a youth drama programme – a project which is most dear to my heart. Considerable progress has been made but there have also been a number of unfortunate setbacks. I am not convinced that we yet have the right framework and the early part of the new year be given over to further study and much head-scratching. These things take time, I know, and my fingers are firmly crossed for the season to come.

During the summer my brother and his S.O. became our first visitors from the UK – he celebrating his sixtieth birthday. By all accounts they had an enjoyable visit (in spite of still not having seen a bear!) the which included a trip to the interior (Kamloops, the North Thompson, the Okanagan) and a great deal of merriment and indulgence in our own ‘hood’. Hopefully this will be the first of many such.

Reviewing the year’s deaths amongst the great and the good is always salutary; this year as much – if not more – than many. I just wish that that number did not include quite so many who were younger than are we – though I fear that it will increasingly be so.

Still – let us be of good cheer and celebrate the turn of the year in whatever manner suits each of us best.

Happy Hogmanay to all – and ‘Lang may yer lum reek!‘.

 

 

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It is Christmas Eve…

On this day each year I routinely upload a few images of Christmas trimmings and suchlike and wish everyone the compliments of the season.

Why should this year be different?…

…to friends, acquaintances and gentle readers…

from the Kickass Canada Girl and the Imperceptible Immigrant.

Have a wonderful Christmas and a splendid Hogmany!

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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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidWhen Bob Dylan set out in the latter part of 1965 on the American, Australia and European tour that would wind its way long into 1966 – having already that year shaken the American folk scene to its core with his first public amplified appearance at the Newport Folk Festival – he took on the road with him an electric band… the Hawks.

The Hawks – based in Arkansas – had been the backing outfit for rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins before striking out on their own in 1964. Following a recommendation from a friend they were hired by Dylan in 1965 to back him for the electric component of his upcoming world tour. The format of the shows comprised two parts – a solo acoustic set by Dylan followed by the more controversial amplified section.

For an outfit based in the deep south the Hawks had a strong Canadian component – at one point featuring four Canadians and one American. One of those Canadians – who had headed south on his own as a sixteen year old in 1959 to join the band – was Jaime Royal Robertson… better known now as Robbie Robertson.

The Hawks famously morphed into The Band. Robertson emerged as a major songwriter whose later history need hardly be catalogued here. Suffice it to say that the man who wrote “The night they drove old Dixie down” is a legend in his own right and I have recommended him before in these jottings with reference to his wonderful recording – Music for the Native Americans.

Robertson – now seventy three – has recently published a first volume of his autobiography – “Testimony” – and Victoria’s excellent Bolen Books invited him, somewhat speculatively, to come to the city for a reasonably rare public appearance. Roberston – never having visited Victoria – agreed and the ensuing event – at the University of Victoria’s Farquhar Auditorium – drew a crowd in excess of a thousand souls, each of whom received a signed hardback copy of the book as part of the package.

Needless to say I would have crawled over broken glass to attend the event. Our coming to Canada – and coincident attainment of a certain venerable stage of life – seems to be offering us opportunities to reconnect with those who have become our heroes and exemplars over the years. Given the tragic number of such who have passed beyond these shores during this strangest of years this is clearly an important and necessary experience.

Robertson described the effect on a fresh-faced twenty three year old of having to endure – night after night over a period of some nine months across three continents – the fury of Dylan’s acolytes at their hero’s adoption of the electric guitar and the accompanying band. The start of the second set was routinely met with boos, heckles, the throwing of objects onto the stage and – infamously at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall – the denunciation as ‘Judas‘ of the recent Nobel laureate.

If one can endure this sort of experience as a young man I guess one can endure just about anything.

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Image from Wikimedia“The worst part about being lied to is knowing you weren’t worth the truth”

Jean-Paul Sartre

The release this week of UK cabinet papers from the 1980s reveals as true something that opponents of Margaret Thatcher’s administration have long protested – that she and other leading tories had continued to plan the dismantling of the welfare state – including the privatisation of education and the National Heath Service – even in the wake of her sophistical proclamation that “the health service is safe in our hands“.

It is – of course – jejune to be shocked at the mendacity and dishonesty of politicians of all hues… a truism that has been borne out in spades this year. As far as I can recall I graduated my own education in such matters shortly after the 1979 UK general election in which Thatcher came to power. That election campaign had featured prominently the infamous Saatchi and Saatchi advert showing a long snaking queue for the dole (unemployment) office, under the banner heading “Labour isn’t Working“.

In 1979 the tories inherited an unemployed total of 1.4 million. The monetarist policies pursued by the Thatcher government saw this figure rapidly rocket to north of 3 million! It subsequently became apparent that the thinkers behind the tories’ strategy – and in particular Keith Joseph, the chief architect thereof – had known all along that their policies would indeed cause unemployment to soar… a price that they considered ‘worth’ paying.

Such hypocrisies have led me to adopt the attitude attributed to Louis Herren – foreign correspondent for The Times in the 1960s and 70s. He would ask himself – on being briefed by some politician or other – “Why is this lying bastard lying to me?“.

Good advice!

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