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Celebration

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Photo by Andy Dawson Reid“Now I will believe that there are unicorns
That in Arabia there is one tree, the phoenix’ throne
One phoenix at this hour reigning there.”

William Shakespeare – The Tempest

To those who live in any degree of proximity at all to mother nature – be it through custody of some humble (or grand) garden (or yard!) or by virtue of residing on the brink of the barely-charted wilderness – the persistence of the myth of the phoenix will make perfect sense.

To the centrality of the bird (with its magical ability to fly all-seeing above our prosaic earth-bound existence) to mythologies from around the globe is added the life-giving power of the renaissance/resurrection connate in the cycle of the seasons. The added bonus in many versions of the myth of the cleansing/regenerative power of fire only adds to its potency and illuminates the Christian church’s desire to appropriate this pagan apologue (along with many others of course) into its oeuvre – however temporarily it may so have done.

Further idle musing upon the subject of the bird summons for me images of autumn – of the fallen dead leaves fueling November bonfires – of the blade-razed stubble burning in crimson swathes across the moribund fields as the chilled charred soil surrenders to the winter… and then of spring – the first tender shoots pushing their tremulous way through the dank, inclement loam, searching for the first warming kiss of the sun god’s life-giving rays…

But I fear that I digress – and this time I have not yet even begun…

This post – although appearing at an appropriate juncture in the new year – is not actually about nature at all, but rather concerns a quite different rebirth – though one just as keenly welcomed as is (or would be!) the spring itself – or indeed the fiery metempsychosis of the indomitable bird. Allow me to elucidate…

Way back in the early days of these dribblings I posted to this blog a miscellany of images which included one such of my favourite Greater Victorian supplier of meats – Orr’s of Brentwood Bay. I proselytized all too briefly regarding the extensive merits of this Scottish family institution at the time, but in a further post not two years later I found myself reporting the sad news that Orr’s was no more – having in the meantime gone out of business.

It is with great delight – therefore – that I can now report that Fraser Orr has again set up shop in the neighbourhood, this time even closer to us in Saanichton. We will once again be able to source Ayrshire ham, black pudding, Scotch pies, Forfar Bridies, Clootie dumplings, proper haggis and all manner of wonderful meats and other provender from the auld country.

Joy of joys! For this we are truly grateful…

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© User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0“Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.”

Rabbie Burns – ‘Address to a Haggis’

Hmmm!

A little more than a year ago we spent a most enjoyable evening at the Greater Victoria Police Pipe Band’s ‘Robbie Burns Supper‘. As may be determined from the scribblings with which I marked the occasion, a great time was had by all.

This year – for a variety of reasons – we decided instead to celebrate the ‘Immortal Memory‘ at home and duly purchased a haggis from a local purveyor of ‘meats and more‘, intending ourselves to furnish the neeps and tatties as accompaniment – along, of course, wi’ a suitable wee dram!

Now – we have greatly enjoyed much that we have purchased at the aforesaid emporium over the last year or so and we are jolly glad that it is within but a short distance of us. On this occasion – however – we were to be seriously disappointed. To be fair to them (though I’m not entirely sure why we should be so) they did not cook the haggises themselves but rather purchased them in from a third party.

On first sight the beast certainly looked authentic; I had no argument with the appearance and texture of the sheep’s stomach which forms the traditional enclosure. The puddin’ was most carefully cooked – as it should be – and then cautiously unwrapped. We rubbed our hands, licked our lips and cut into the casing…

What emerged proved to be something that tasted almost exactly unlike a haggis. To be fair – it tasted almost exactly unlike anything at all! It had not the texture of a haggis – it had not the consistency of a haggis – it had not the aroma of a haggis… Had it not been for the appearance of the sheep’s stomach there would have been no way to tell what it was that we had in front of us.

For those unfamiliar with this great (and simultaneously most humble) delicacy, the Edinburgh butcher MacSween’s describes it thus:

Now I find myself in something of a quandary regarding next year’s festivities. Do we take a chance on another locally produced puddin’ or do we revert to celebrating the occasion in a more formal setting?

Or do I simply bite the bullet and make my own haggis?

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Well, well – who knew! Though this particular anniversary has crept up on me entirely unawares, it turns out that I have been posting to this blog now for five years.

Golly! That calls for a small celebration…

Since the first entry on January 26th 2012 I have submitted five hundred and twenty eight posts (including this one) and uploaded one thousand, four hundred and thirty six images – the great majority of them my own.

A great deal has happened throughout this apparently fleeting five year period, and not just in our lives alone. Much has changed in the world and I feel particularly blessed that life has been generous and kind to me and to those that I love. I can only wish that all else in this sadly troubled world could be likewise blessed. Any little that I can do to help I will, and I feel sure that for so many others the same applies.

It is a slightly odd fact that I probably wouldn’t have noticed that this humble journal had passed such a significant milestone had I not been looking at a completely different statistic. Every now and then I cast an eye over the logs for the site to see who is looking at what, from where and how often. I know! It is a bad habit – not unlike ‘Googling’ oneself (don’t do it!)… but it is none the less fascinating. Apart from those brave souls who are regular readers the logs reveal that the greatest number of hits on the blog by far are the result of a Google search for the string:

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

This is – of course – the title of the seventh chapter of Kenneth Graham’s “The Wind in the Willows“, concerning the strange history of which I composed this post in May 2012.

It is also – also ‘of course’ – the title of Pink Floyd’s debut album, which was itself named after the aforementioned chapter from “The Wind in the Willows“.

Now – if one were to take the time to ‘Google’ “The Piper… etc” one would observe that the massive majority of references returned are to the Floyd album, leading one to the conclusion that that must be the true object of any such search. Further investigation (of the sort that only the zealot would pursue) reveals that to uncover any reference to this blog one must plough through seven pages of search results before so doing. This would suggest that the considerable number of souls who make this search are indeed themselves fairly zealous in their endeavours (or they would not bother!) but also clearly that when they finally land on the reference concerned – which is quite clearly not about the Pink Floyd album – they are still prepared to give it at least a cursory look.

I have no idea what to make of this, but I am of course most grateful for even the most casual of visitors.

Good fortune and blessings to all!

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Photo by Andy Dawson Reid“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”

T.S. Elliott – ‘The Journey of the Magi’

‘Tis Epiphany… The feast that celebrates the day on which the Magi supposedly reached Bethlehem and by some accounts – through their offerings of gold, frankincense and myrrh – kicked off the whole business of gift giving at Christmas. Who now would wait until twelfth night for that particular pleasure?

Wikipedia offers this snippet regarding the last night of Christmas:

“A belief has arisen in modern times, in some English-speaking countries, that it is unlucky to leave Christmas decorations hanging after Twelfth Night, a tradition originally attached to the festival of Candlemas (2 February), which celebrates the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.”

Given that most folk these days like to get Christmas kicked off good and early – and who can blame them given the general dreariness of December in many parts of the northern hemisphere – it would be a wonder if the trimmings and decorations could ever last long enough to get through the whole of January – though should they so do it would certainly brighten up that month as well.

We here are strictly ‘trad’. It is January 6th – down come the ‘deccies’ – out goes the tree – hoovered up are the many needles that have dropped and been ground into the carpet! Everything is packed away into the Christmas Cupboard (see attached illustration!) ready for next year.

Now all that remains is to find somewhere to dispose of an extremely fragile Christmas tree. There are a number of local organisations that offer tree chipping services over the next few days for a charitable donation, or I could simply impose myself (once again!) on our dear friends in Saanichton, whose landscape design and garden maintenance business naturally possesses its own chipper.

In either case the trick is to get the tree to its destination without it shedding its entire remaining compliment of needles all over the Lexus!

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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 ReidI purchased the apartment in the small village in the south of Buckinghamshire (in the UK) that the Kickass Canada Girl and I were to have such trouble selling before we moved to Canada last summer – back in the first year of the new millennium.

When I took possession in the November of that year I knew that the place needed a fair amount of renovation before I would be able move in but as I was, by great good fortune, at that point housed by the school at which I then worked, I was able to engage a builder and to give him free reign over the apartment in the run-up to Christmas.

As I mentioned in the very early days of this blog, the Georgian manor of which my apartment was but a portion occupied a prominent position in the centre of one of those arcadian English villages (four hundred inhabitants (or thereabouts), sixteenth century church, one pub (of varying quality), a cricket club (likewise!), a huddle of ‘artisans’ dwellings and farm buildings) which are, of course, all as pretty as a picture postcard!

Most days, after leaving work, I drove the short distance to my new residence to check on the (apparently inevitably) glacial progress of the building works. It would be dark by the time I wound my way down the hill into the village so I was accustomed to not really being able to make out that much of the surroundings. Given the sleepy, bucolic nature of the place, therefore, you might imagine my surprise – nay, total shock! – on entering the village on one such dark evening to come face to face with a single small terraced cottage – just across from the pub – that had been adorned with sufficient Christmas illumination that it must surely have distracted pilots on their run-in to Heathrow airport.

Lest you think my reaction excessive you should remember that in the main the Brits don’t go in for American-style public displays of decoration for the outsides of their residences (the which they tend to find a little on the… er, garish side) preferring instead the traditional Christmas tree, tinsel and paper-chains on the inside.

Canadians are (as in most things) somewhat more restrained than their neighbours to the south, but do have something of a liking for illuminated inflatable figures of such size that they must needs be deflated should the weather forecast prophesy wind speeds in excess of the balmy. This year – ignoring my habitually raised eyebrow – the Girl persuaded me that – as we are both now Canadians (if only in the honorary sense on my part) – we should make a little more effort to join in. As you can see from the image that heads this post we didn’t exactly go overboard… but this seems to me to be a suitably mid-Atlantic compromise.

Those who find my attitude to such things snobbish will be delighted to hear that back in 2000 I rapidly received my comeuppance. Having grumbled to all and sundry about the unsuitability of such a vivid display for a sleepy rural village I discovered – on my next visit to the pub – that the owners of the cottage had lost a young son to a cancer and subsequently each year decorated the frontage as part of a fund-raiser for an appropriate children’s cancer charity.

That shut me up!

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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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musicHard on the heels of my last post (which detailed the first two days of an elongated weekend of musical delights here in Victoria) and following a brief intermission, comes the second half… as it were!

To The Belfry theatre on the Sunday for a matinee performance of a new entertainment – “I think I’m fallin’” – based on the songs of Canadian singer/songwriter (and all round icon) – Joni Mitchell.

Now, one might argue – were one being particular – that this is not strictly a piece of theatre at all… at least not in any form that I have previously encountered. It is in fact more of a performed homage. There is certainly no overall narrative and such character as there be rises largely unfiltered from Mitchell’s poetic lyrics themselves.

The five massively talented singer/musicians brought their full vocal and instrumental gifts (including a couple of particularly wonderful voices and some gorgeous harmonising) to bear on new and in some cases most imaginative arrangements of the songs. Inhabiting the stage in a variety of configurations the cast mercifully resisted the temptation to over dramatise the selected numbers; the songs being allowed to breathe on their own and all the better for it.

If the above comments intimate in any way that I might not have enjoyed the piece then they have misled. Certainly it helps to be a Joni Mitchell enthusiast to fully embrace the show – but there is, as you might expect, no shortage of same in Canada. I came late to Mitchell (as to many things!) but I am now a perfect proselyte.

The final event in our busy (extended) weekend actually took place on Tuesday – giving us a much needed night off on the Monday. Along with 1500 other like-minded souls we gathered at the Theatre Royal in downtown Victoria to re-kindle acquaintance with a face from way back when; Roger Hodgson – co-founder and former member of Supertramp.

For many of us who were in our late teens back in the UK in the early 1970s Supertramp provided an essential part of the sound track to our growing up. Their beautifully produced and quirkily dramatic songs put them into much the same camp as Genesis and other similar(ish) progressive rock outfits. It turns out that – if anything – the band was even bigger in Canada than in Europe.

Supertramp were unusual in that they featured two main songwriters – in Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies – who shared the writing duties in a roughly even split. When Hodgson decided to leave the band in the early 80s Rick Davies carried on as the leader. Eventually Supertramp stopped playing Hodgson’s songs completely whilst the latter – now touring as a solo artist – featured just those compositions.

As is often (though not exclusively) the case neither constituent has been able to match the achievements of the original line-up (at least in the eyes of the record-buyers/concert-goers) and in both cases their later careers have consisted in the main of providing a nostalgic revisit to the glories of the past…

…in which – in this instance – we were happy to indulge.

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indexI am habitually to be heard at around this time of year bemoaning the sorry reality that the weather has turned against us, that the nights are drawing in, that everything natural is dying and that this be my least favourite time of the year (at least until the following February or March; which months frequently offer strong competition). Shortly after voicing such jeremiads I am highly likely to be heard again – apologising to those for whom November is their birth month and as a result the main event in a much loved season!

Since our arrival in Victoria last year I have been obliged to modify this inveterate impression somewhat. The Victorians – presumably as a means of counteracting similar bouts of ennui – appear to have chosen this particular quantum of the pre-Christmas season to stage a wide range of quite unmissable events. Thus is was that over the weekend just passed we found ourselves with no less than four delectable entertainments to attend in five days.

In a post from early October last year I wrote:

“Friday found us back at the Mary Winspear Centre for another charity event for which the Girl’s best friend was helping to organize the silent auction. The most worthy cause on this occasion was the raising of funds to support the excellent work done by ‘THRIVE Malawi‘.”

This year’s equivalent fell a month and a half later – but still on a Friday. The main attraction was also a repeat performance:

“The centrepiece of the event was a concert by local ensemble – The HiFi. All you need to know about this assemblage of musos – who describe their schtick as “New Orleans, West Coast brouhaha” – is that not only are all concerned amazingly talented musicians, but one of them is actually an internationally reknowned boogie pianist appearing under a pseudonym for contractual reasons. Anyway, they all appeared to be having a lot of fun – as were we!”

We have now seen The HiFi twice and – frankly – we love them most dearly. If you live around Victoria do keep an eye out for them at Hermann’s Jazz Club, where they are regular – if infrequent – performers. Should you appreciate good music in any form you would surely find it difficult not to be impressed.

On the subject of the ‘dearly beloved’ – come the Saturday night we were back at the Mary Winspear to catch Barney Bentall and the Cariboo Express. Barney Bentall was a leading figure in Canadian music in the 90s and had a string of hits with his band – The Legendary Hearts. Of The Cariboo Express Barney’s website reveals the following:

“The Cariboo Express is a one-of-a-kind variety show cast with renowned Canadian musicians, led by Canadian superstar Barney Bentall, along with Ridley Bent, Dustin Bentall, Kendel Carson, Matt Masters, Wendy Bird, various special guests and a backing band comprised of some of Canada’s finest musicians. Each of the core members have music careers of their own, but every November the group convenes to raise funds for various worthy charities in the spirit of song, community and giving back to society.”

Saturday was our second time with the Express and it is difficult to put into words just how much fun this show can be. With up to fourteen musicians on stage at any one time – each of them having a seriously good time – no audience could possibly resist.

We didn’t even try!

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