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Detail from a portrait by Jenny C HallI find myself moved to an unexpected degree by the recent death of that giant of the British theatre – Sir Peter Hall – at the age of 86.

It is a fact of life I suppose that, once one enters one’s autumnal years, the deaths of those with whom one is familiar – whether actually close or not – will have a cumulative and increasing impact. There have been losses over the past few years amongst that small group whom I personally hold to be ‘heroes’ which have been hard to take. Inevitably that number is only going to increase.

Peter Hall was not – for me – directly among that coterie. I am slightly ashamed to admit that I saw few of his many productions and – with rare exceptions – they do not feature in my personal canon of influential experiences. This is not in any way to denigrate the value of his vision, talent or achievement; in such matters opportunity and circumstance set us all on our own particular paths.

It is impossible, however, not to be overwhelmed by his impact and influence on British and international theatre during the post-war years. Consider:

  • he introduced London audiences to the work of Samuel Beckett in 1955 with the UK premiere of ‘Waiting for Godot’ when he was only 24.
  • in 1960, at the age of 29, he founded the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford, which he ran triumphantly until 1968.
  • he became the director of the National Theatre in 1973 and oversaw its protracted, painful but ultimately successful transfer from the Old Vic into its permanent complex on the South Bank in London.
  • he built an international reputation in theatre, opera, on TV and in film.
  • he was the founding director of the Rose Theatre in Kingston in 2003.
  • he was – throughout his career – a vociferous champion of public funding for the arts.

The news of Sir Peter’s death stirs a couple of thoughts and memories.

The National Theatre’s new home was opened in 1976 with a production of Howard Brenton’s ‘Weapons of Happiness‘ in the only one of the three theatre spaces then operational. I see from the InterWebNet that it ran for 41 performances – at one of which I was present. I marveled at the still unfinished building and at the wonderful standard of the production. The National was to become a most important venue for me – I have seen many productions there over the years; done the backstage tour more than once; participated in youth theatre workshops in its rehearsal rooms… and met the Girl for our first proper date in the bar outside the Lyttelton Theatre.

I am also a fan of the Rose in Kingston. Having been at school in Kingston and subsequently involved with youth theatre in the surrounding area, I was only to keenly aware of the lack of a theatre of any sort in what is an important centre to the south of London. I am delighted that the Rose now so splendidly fills that gap.

One sadness regarding Sir Peter’s last years was his diagnosis with dementia in 2011. Having observed my mother’s decline over her final years it must have been particularly poignant to witness such an intellect brought so low for so long.

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Given that the friends who visited recently from the UK (see previous post) had a mere four full days to spend in the provincial capital it was essential that we mapped out their agenda with particular care. Wishing to meet (and hopefully to exceed) their expectations we offered them a rich palette of options and put the choice in their hands.

For the Saturday they chose a day trip to Saltspring Island – and in particular to the Saturday market in Ganges. It would have been lovely to have cruised to Saltspring under our own power in ‘Dignity’, but a blazingly hot Saturday on the September long weekend is a bad time to fight with the queues both at the Sidney boat launch and at the public docks in Ganges, so we chickened out and took the ferry to Fulford instead.

A stall holder at the market – with whom, as is our nature, we engaged in conversation – swore that the crowd was scarcely half what it had been but a few weeks previously. Goodness knows what all of the other souls could possible have been doing – the place looked to be completely packed to us… and did I mention that it was blazingly hot?

It mattered not, of course, as we all had a splendid time, a very passable lunch and then returned home tired but contented.

The taking of photographs in the melee of the market, however, would definitely have been inadvisable, so I contented myself instead with assembling the odd assortment of images that you see represented below…

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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What is there more kindly than the feeling between host and guest?

Aeschylus

As revealed in my last post to these pages my efforts at the Victoria Fringe Festival on behalf of Intrepid Theatre had to be brought to a premature conclusion with five days of the festival still to run. The reason for this unfortunate abrogation of my responsibilities was a previous engagement welcoming to British Columbia our second set of visitors from the UK this year.

Our most welcome guests were themselves only to be with us for five days; scarce time to see all that they desired on their first visit to Canada (let alone to Victoria) and only just enough time to catch up fully with dear friends that we have not seen for over two years. Nonetheless – we had a good stab at covering as much ground as possible and I kept the trusty Fuji x10 to hand to document our various excursions.

Our guests are great gardeners and horticulturalists and an extended visit to the Butchart Gardens was thus near the top of the list of things not to be missed. The recommended agenda of a daytime visit followed by a bit of a break and then a return to catch the gardens under illumination during the evening was adopted; the Kickass Canada Girl and I accompanying our guests for the latter…

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 ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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The Victoria Fringe Festival has already made several appearances in these postings (here and here – should the gentle reader feel inclined to backtrack) as the Girl and I have become regular supporters in the couple of years a that we have lived on the outskirts of the city.

This year there is – of course – a significant difference in that I am now a member of the board of Intrepid Theatre – the splendid organisation that runs the fringe (and other theatrical festivals) in Victoria.

The practical difference for me is that the period during which the fringe takes place – twelve days at the end of August and the start of September – is now considerably busier than it has been in previous years. When compared to the sterling efforts put in by the company’s staff those of the members of the board pale into relative insignificance, but there are duties incumbent upon them (us!) during fringe season which require time and effort.

For a start – there is an ambassadorial role to play. It is our job to meet and greet members of the fringe-going public, to make them feel valued and cherished, to listen to their views and criticisms and to build – where possible – the sort of ongoing relationship without which an organisation which relies so heavily on the support of the local audience could not survive.

The second (but closely related) role is to raise funds. Intrepid receives considerable and most welcome grants from government bodies without which it simply would not survive. Given that the ethos of the fringe is that all of the proceeds of the venue box offices go directly to the performers, the central costs of running the fringe must be covered by other means. Some of this shortfall comes from the sale of fringe buttons – a badge without which one may not enter a venue – but the rest must be raised by generous donations and other fundraising efforts led by the board. This year these included a fifty/fifty raffle draw that ran throughout the festival.

My direct involvement in the fringe was restricted to the first week only (for reasons that will become clear in a subsequent post) but in that brief period I worked at the Fringe Preview evening, at Fringe Kids (an event for children in Victoria’s Market Square) and – selling fifty/fifty tickets – on the queues of fourteen shows. In addition the Girl and I managed to see a total of seven shows.

The standard this year has been as high as any. Herewith our personal picks of the fringe:

  • Local comedian Morgan Cranny as ‘Vasily Djokavitch‘ (get the pun?) – billed as ‘Russia’s #1 State Approved Comedian‘. Highly amusing and directed by none other than Mike Delamont!
  • Gigantic Lying Mouth‘. Glaswegian spoken word artist Kevin P. Gilday in a dazzling blend of poetry, imagined conversation and multimedia – blending humour with much that was thought-provoking on the subjects of life, art and death.

…but perhaps best of all:

  • Englishman Charles Adrian as Ms Samantha Mann in ‘Stories About Love, Death and a Rabbit‘. Adrian has won awards for this show – a gentle confection of storytelling about love, loss and bad poetry – and it is easy to see why. It is a joy to see an actor so completely in control of timing, rhythm and inflection. Perfect!

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Get busy living, or get busy dying.

Stephen King

My apologies that posts have been somewhat erratic of late. Things have been busy!

I posted some images from the Victoria Classic Boat Festival two years ago. I make no apology for posting more this year because I think that the boats are gorgeous and the inner harbour extremely photogenic.

Next time round I will provide an explanation for all of this ‘busy-ness’ and a proper catch-up…

Photo 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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Image by Acuration on Wikimedia CommonsIn my last post I enthused about Peter Parker’s 1986 book – “The Old Lie” – the subject of which is the generation of young men who left England’s public schools to fight – and in many cases to die – in what became known in its immediate aftermath as ‘The Great War‘.

Parker’s thesis is that in great part the nation’s apparent excess of enthusiasm to go to war in Europe in the early part of the twentieth century arose from illusions whose roots lay the attitudes emanating from England’s great public schools. To understand why this should be the case he chooses (as might we also) to look back into the nineteenth century to determine how it was that these schools came to embody the ethos and ideals whence such notions arose.

Of the drivers for the widespread reform of the public schools that was effected during the nineteenth century two in particular are pertinent:

The first such was the influence on these schools of Thomas Arnold – head master of Rugby School from 1824 to 1841. Arnold’s avowed aim – of producing a “school of Christian gentlemen” – was to be achieved by the inculcation of his values of piety, discipline and high-mindedness into an elite coterie of upper school boys (Arnold has frequently been credited with the invention of the prefectorial system) who would then act as his instrument in shaping the younger boys, for whom Arnold personally had little time. So successful was this approach that as the ex-members of his Rugby elites spread out into the world (along with acolytes amongst the Rugby masters who subsequently applied for posts elsewhere) other schools rapidly adopted Arnold’s aims and methods.

The second driver was the Victorian policy of expansionism. As the Empire grew so did the need for the ‘right sort of chap‘ to enter the nation’s service in the administration of its far-flung territories. This (along with a slowly increasing militarism in the public schools which eventually found an echo in the extension of the Officers’ Training Corp (OTC) thereto) led to the espousal of values that promoted both a local and national patriotism – for house, school and country (in that order!).

It is perhaps in the nature of such establishments that these new values (new at least to the public schools!) were quickly subsumed in the mystique and self-mythologising which has long been their stock in trade – much of it based on Classical virtues and ideals (remembering of course that for the longest time such schools taught little other than the classics!). For the young adults in the sixth forms of these schools the notions of ‘good form’,’ playing the game’, ‘keeping a stiff upper lip’ and so forth became the mark of the man. By the time the continent slid inexorably into the cataclysm that was the First World War a generation of such young Christian gentlemen were eager to put their new-found values – and themselves – to the test… in the service of their (house, school and) country (still in that order!).

To understand how it was that influence of these developments within elite institutions spilled over into the outside world – touching those for whom an education at such an establishment was never an option – it must be remembered that the social structure of nineteenth century Britain was utterly hierarchical. Those in positions of influence and power still came largely from the upper classes that the public schools had been created to serve. Young boys of middle and working classes were encouraged to follow the example of their ‘betters; with the public school ideal being promoted as the quintessence. ‘The ‘school novel’ became a successful and popular genre and glowing articles in periodicals aimed at young men espoused the values and virtues of public school heroes much as did later ‘comics’ with sportsmen, explorers and astronauts.

The social hierarchy naturally extended into the armed forces. Officers came from privileged backgrounds – enlisted men did not. Though there might be a germ of truth in the widely held critique of the British infantry as being “Lions led by donkeys” (sent to their deaths by incompetent and indifferent leaders) and it is certainly true that some of those in positions of command did remain safely many miles behind the front lines, this was certainly not the case for the junior officers who led men on the ground.

Parker makes the chilling point that whereas the mortality rate for all Britons involved in the conflict was a little under 12%, for public school educated officers it was more than 17%. The eager young subalterns (armed only with a service revolver and wearing a distinctive uniform) leading their troops over the top presented all to easy a target for the German snipers, who were well aware that without the leadership of their officers the British infantry was literally headless.

At this remove we can but study the histories; or perhaps more appropriately to read the poetry, written by the young men themselves once disillusionment set in as the conflict progressed and the extent of the lie became apparent.

Many of these young men, however, went to their tragic deaths with no opportunity to gain such enlightenment.

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Image by Roger McLassus from Wikimedia CommonsI have recently finished reading Peter Parker’s 1987 book, ‘The Old Lie‘ – which is helpfully subtitled ‘The Great War and the Public School Ethos‘. I came to it – as happens with many of the tomes to which I am drawn – through a reference in another book, though I can no longer recall the details of that volume nor the context in which it referred to Peter Parker’s book.

For those perhaps unfamiliar – should such there yet be – the title refers to Wilfred Owen’s first world war poem, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est‘ – which ends:

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori
.”

The Latin quote which Owen brands ‘The old lie‘ is by the Roman poet, Horace, and translates thus:

It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country

It is necessary also to understand that the public schools of the subtitle are those of England and Wales, which are pretty much the antithesis of public schools anywhere else in the world. As Wikipedia informs us:

A public school in England and Wales is an older, student selective, fee-paying independent secondary school which caters primarily for children aged between 11 or 13 and 18. The term “public” should not be misunderstood to mean that these are public sector schools: they are in fact private sector. Traditionally, public schools were all-male boarding schools, although most now allow day pupils, and many have become either partially or fully co-educational.

Public schools emerged from charity schools established to educate poor scholars, the term “public” being used to indicate that access to them was not restricted on the basis of religion, occupation, or home location, and that they were subject to public management or control,in contrast to private schools which were run for the personal profit of the proprietors.

The Clarendon Commission of 1861 – a Royal Commission set up to investigate the state of the nine leading public schools in England – concerned itself with seven boarding schools (Eton, Charterhouse, Harrow, Rugby, Shrewsbury, Westminster and Winchester) and two day schools (St Paul’s and Merchant Taylors’). The ‘Public Schools Yearbook’ was published for the first time in 1889 – listing 30 schools – and by 1902 the publication further included all schools that were members of the Head Masters’ Conference (HMC).

Given that to obtain a commission in the armed forces at the turn of the twentieth century it was necessary to be wealthy, to be well educated and to come from the ‘right’ background it is little surprise that the great majority of the junior officers in the service at the start of the war had been educated in these schools. As the war progressed many more of them joined up directly from school and, even when the numbers required for the ever swelling force argued a widening of the constituency, this was achieved by offering ‘temporary’ commissions (for the duration of the war only) to those from the middle classes with grammar and independent school backgrounds.

The eagerness with which many Britons rushed to war in 1914 is widely recognised, and perhaps none were keener than those who had recently left – or were about to leave – England’s public schools. Even as the war progressed and the full horror of modern mechanical warfare became apparent there was no shortage of young men who believed that this moment in history was just that for which they had been born, raised and educated.

Just why these young men should have been so intoxicated by this zeal to serve and even, perchance, to die for their country is the subject of Peter Parker’s book. I will delve further there-into in a subsequent post.

My particular interest in this subject? I spent greater part of the last two decades working for two of the schools listed above and have many colleagues and friends who gave their service to the others.

 

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Having been out for a significant chunk of the day on Friday last (not returning home until around six o’ clock of the evening) I realised on our return that I had not yet checked the mail.

Now – for our first month in this house, back in 2015, the post was still delivered to the door. Ever since then we have been obliged to scamper along to far end of the terrace to the new roadside mailbox stack – an ‘improvement’ to the service which has naturally been planted in quite the most inconvenient of locations. These days I usually break out the bike and cycle up the road: Friday being no exception.

As I went to get my bicycle from the store in which we keep all of our outdoor equipment I glanced – as is my habit – out to sea. I was immediately taken by an unusual pattern of marine movement; an odd assemblage of a not insignificant number of assorted vessels. One gets quite used to the tracks that boaters take across the bay and this unusual gathering of craft – some eight or ten of them – was definitely not normal. Something was up.

We live up on the hillside above Highway 17 (the Pat Bay) at a point at which it follows the coast quite closely (a little below the uppermost ’17’ on the accompanying map) on about the same latitude as the top end of James Island. It takes less than five minutes to ride down the hill and to cross the highway on the pedestrian bridge to get to the shore. Coming back up takes a a little longer as one might expect, for the gradient is quite severe.

As I rode along the terrace I could see that the cluster of boats below was still extant, though now moving slowly southwards down the coast. Curiosity got the better of me and I decided that I just had to ride down to see what was going on. Once I reached the waterfront I could see that the craft had arranged themselves into a broad U-shape between the shore and James Island – a stretch of water called the Cordova Channel. There was clearly something unseen at the centre of this formation.

Image by djmboxsterman on PixabayA little patient watching and waiting revealed the answer: a pod of some five or six Orcas! My best guess is that the boats were trying to guide the Orcas out of the channel into the open ocean, thus preventing any of them becoming beached in the shallows around Cordova Spit.

What a stunning and beautiful sight! Inevitably I had neither camera nor mobile phone with me (hence the splendid stock image accompanying this piece) though I very much doubt that I could have got any decent shots in any case.

This is not a sight that one sees every day. Had anyone suggested – ten years ago – that on a Friday evening in August I would have been watching a flotilla of small boats shepherding a pod of killer whales past the bottom of my garden…

…I would have had a good chuckle!

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Now that the wildfire smoke has dissipated – from the coastal regions of southern BC if from nowhere else – much of the Salish Sea and its surroundings have sprung back into their normal summer focus… with bright sharp colours and sparkling vistas.

A trip with good friends on ‘Dignity’ to Sidney Spit provided an opportunity for some relaxed photographic reconnaisance:

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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For the past twelve days the Georgia Strait and surrounding areas have been enveloped in a miasma of smoke from the wildfires (to which I made reference in this earlier post) which are still ablaze in the BC interior. The image at the head of this missive (and at the top of my last post) give an idea of the impact that this effluvium has had.

There have been mornings on which my customary first gaze out of the windows has given the rapid impression of a seriously hazy day, only for the realisation to dawn that the layer of vapour was not the result of any early morning micro-climatic condition, but rather a dense layer of smog lying immovably atop the sea.

The more northerly view from our deck normally reveals Moresby Island, with the higher Pender Island pair behind. On a clear day we can see further – all the way to the mountains behind the Sunshine Coast north of Vancouver. The more southerly view stretches out across Sidney Island to the American San Juan islands beyond – and then all the way to distant Mount Baker.

For the last several weeks it has been just about possible to make out Sidney Island, but even Moresby has occasionally disappeared into the murk, leaving only the Little Group visible in the immediate foreground.

It really has all been quite depressing.

The reason that this cloud of noxious fumes has hung low over the sea (and of course over Greater Vancouver and beyond) for so long is that a ridge of high pressure became wedged over the BC coast – depriving the region of the usual cleansing zephyrs that should have dissipated the pollutant.

Finally, yesterday (Saturday), the weather system began once again slowly to move, the winds changed direction and – as if by magic – the banks of smoke dissolved, leaving ‘not a rack behind’. The sun renewed its efforts and Mount Baker became once again illuminated by the late afternoon glow.

Then, as an evening of croquet and good cheer in the garden with our dear friends from Saanichton entered its twilight phase, the first rains for nearly two months began gently to fall.

Today the world (this part of it at least) is a different place!

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