blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A warehouse full of goodness

This blogpost was written with help from Tricia Johnson, for which I am most grateful. 

A corner of the Ottawa Food Bank's warehouse
On Chris' birthday we were invited to visit the headquarters of the Ottawa Food Bank, at 1317 Michael Street. Along with ten other people, we had been picked from the pool of this year's supporters to meet some of the staff, to hear what the Food Bank does, and to get a tour of the warehouse. It turned out to be quite an education.

"Wealth in Ottawa is hidden; so is poverty," said Tricia Johnson during her introduction. More than 41,000 people in and around Ottawa are helped each month, 36% of whom are children.

"We're looking for solutions, not throwing food and money at the issues!" she stated. Even so, $6-million is needed to operate the Ottawa Food Bank each year. The main emphasis is to solicit donations from private individuals rather than companies, because the former are a more consistent source of income. The City of Ottawa annually contributes 3% of the Food Bank's income, and there are also regular offerings from institutions such as the Trillium Foundation. For instance, a grant from Trillium recently allowed the Ottawa Food Bank to put $90,000 towards a new vehicle. The truck-drivers, by the way, are all rigorously trained professionals assisted by unpaid volunteers.

The list of local community agencies to whom the Food Bank delivers supplies is very long; there are currently 112 of them. We saw this list affixed to the warehouse wall, and it includes after-school programs and summer lunch programs. Also listed are the agencies that provide emergency food hampers for individuals and families, and agencies that provide hot meals for people in need of food immediately. Before the Ottawa Food Bank was first established as a "temporary measure" in 1984, church groups were the organisations helping hungry people in our city.

In the main hall of the warehouse, products are boxed and stored within defined categories. $125,000 a year is spent on providing baby food (and diapers). The other food deemed essential has green and yellow labels in the warehouse: peanut butter, baked beans, soups. The less essential items —desserts, bottles or cans of pop, etc. — have pink labels. These are still wanted, though, for the sake of variety in people's diets.

The Food Bank relies on the assistance of some 3000 temporary volunteers to help sort the donations from food-drives throughout the year. Paul Brown, the operations manager, attributes this year's unseasonally warm weather to the poor public response to this year's Thanksgiving Food drive, only half as effective as usual.

The expiry date of foodstuffs is strictly adhered to and perishable items are very carefully stored and dispatched at the right temperature; food safety is a top priority. Paul had a lot to say about this. He ensures that all incoming products are carefully labelled, because one piece of bad publicity could ruin the Food Bank's reputation. Fresh produce arrives in refrigerated trucks. The Bud-Lite boxes we were shown contained frozen meat, not beer! Collecting and delivering meat is a new venture, supplying protein for hot meal programs that serve people throughout the city. The local Metro or Walmart grocery stores freeze their excess meat in advance of the pick-up. For community food banks, the Ottawa Food Bank purchases ground beef and frozen fish for food hampers made available to impoverished households.

Tofu and dairy products are also donated by the store chains. In the walk-in fridge (we all walked in to take a look) were milk and milk-based drinks — even cartons of caramel latte! A grocery chain recently offered several boxes of fresh oranges which couldn't be sold at their stores because one or two of the oranges weren't in perfect condition. Fruit juices, cereal bars and apples are set aside for school programs. We also saw boxes full of potatoes and carrots. However, one type of food that is not acceptable at the warehouse is anything that's pre-baked. "I just don't want it sitting here, rotting!" said Paul.

They are exploring various possibilities to discover which model of Food Banking works best and liaising with the local press to make this a public conversation.

He mentioned the Food Bank's own farm in Stittsville, where this year's squash, zucchini and cauliflower harvest was disappointing, because of the soggy fields. Generally though, the community farm has proven of great benefit to the city, school groups helping with the harvesting of (almost 100% organic) fruit and vegetables. The stated aim of the Food Bank is to provide their clients with at least 50% fresh food in their hampers, and they are starting to reach that target. A scheme that's been running for three winters now, reFresh, is an attempt to provide local fresh produce throughout the year, from various sources. One high school in town (I'm not sure which) is experimentally growing food in a top floor classroom garden year round, which they are donating to the Food Bank.

The Food Bank is responsible for 40-55 food pick-ups and drop-offs a day (14 tons of food are distributed each day. Inevitably, new immigrants from the middle-east want halal meat, chickpeas, lentils and such, rather than the more traditional sort of Canadian ingredients for their meals. A generous local supplier is selling bulk oatmeal to the Food Bank for a price five times less than what's charged in the stores. Apparently the Syrian refugee immigrants like to have such raw ingredients; they also prefer their food un-canned. Produce like this is quite often donated at cost.

What can individuals give that is welcome here? Well, not just food. Baby products such as boxes of diapers are also very much in demand. The conventional way to give to the food bank is to buy some extra items when you go shopping and (encouraged by the posters displayed in local grocery stores) leave these for the Food Bank in the receptacles provided. One of our fellow guests on Tuesday wondered whether a similar scheme might work for online shoppers.

A consulting firm recently donated the time and expertise of one of their young engineers to observe and then work on the logistics of the Ottawa Food Bank's truck routes, which apparently resulted in huge savings.

At the end of our tour we returned to the reception room where the Executive Director, Michael Maidment, spoke to us. He feels that Food Banks are the barometer for social conditions in a city, and his dream is for them one day to become unnecessary!

To acquire food, a person needs to register with the agency, showing some ID and stating where (s)he lives. The intake of clients is analysed, so that trends can be detected. One trend has already become noticeable: the number of seniors needing to be fed is growing.

There is never any income check, but usage rates and demographic statistics are tracked to better understand the need for food in our community. Nobody who wants help is turned away, but a few people might be redirected to a different agency for next time, if necessary. Families or individuals in need of food assistance are given "emergency" 3-5 day food hampers, usually available once a month. People in need of immediate food are directed to programs that prepare hot meals. Michael and his colleagues have initiated a 2-year study in partnership with the University of Ottawa to determine the effectiveness of various food bank models being used in our city.

The Food Bank also offers its resources and expertise in the event of disasters such as this year's spring floods, thus being a valuable part of Ottawa's emergency response preparedness.

There are fundraising, operations, outreach and event-planning teams, with 29 volunteers assisting the core members of staff.

Conversations between Food Bank personnel and Ottawa's Public Health authorities are nowadays taking place; this new initiative has led to the launch of "Health Smart", whereby substantial changes were made to ensure that the food given to hungry people has a lower fat, sodium, and sugar content, and increased protein and fibre.

I asked a question: "Are the recipients of the food given any guidance as to what to do with it?" and the answer is: yes. Into boxes containing eggs, milk, fish, ground beef, squash and such, recipes are often thrown in, too. Some of the distribution agencies even offer cooking classes for the people that need them, in foreign languages if necessary. One such encouragement program was entitled "Men Can Cook!" after which another came on offer: "Women Can Cook Better!"

The Food Bank network allows people to choose what to receive from their reliable service. The main message I heard from the kind and dedicated people in charge is that they are determined that all their recipients be treated with respect and dignity.

L'Économie, c'est nous

"Create your atavar and start to discover your role in the economy!" say the instructions at the entrance to the new Bank of Canada Museum on Bank Street. "We are all part of a vast, interconnected system ... L'Économie, c'est nous."

Entrance to the Bank of Canada Museum
Photo by Lisa Haley


Our tour group in the museum's foyer

This interactive museum which I visited last Friday replaces the former Currency Museum round the corner, on Sparks Street. The whole interior of the Bank of Canada building has been rebuilt and so the old museum is no more. The new one is still free of charge. In the foyer is a nice little shop and a Staircase, like the one in the NAC's new extension, where visitors can sit on the polished wooden steps, listening to an introduction. You then put on a "magical, interactive bracelet" as our tour-guide called it, looking like a bulky fitbit, that allows you first to choose a nickname and cartoon avatar and is then designed to activate the screens displaying information inside the museum. The bracelet allows children and other visitors to play video games in each gallery, such as the game that looks like the cockpit of a space vehicle in which you sit in the astro-pilot's seat and try to steer the Canadian economy along a safe trajectory. Under the injunction to Fly the rocket! visitors read:
How does the Bank of Canada control inflation?When inflation is rising quickly, we can feel unsure about the value of our money. The Bank helps by aiming to keep inflation low, stable and predictable. Like an astronaut carefully steering a rocket to a distant target, the Bank aims to maintain future inflation at 2%. This strategy is called inflation targeting. To hit the objective, the Bank analyzes (sic) economic data to form a forecast. This helps it adjust the interest rate at which commercial banks borrow and lend among themselves. Each adjustment takes time to ripple through financial markets and moves inflation toward the target rate.
The entrance tunnel to the galleries was all flashing blue lights like this summer's Kontinuum show, a block away from here (now closed).

Displays in the museum's first gallery (Zone 2, where you can "discover your expectations") showed

  • what can be done with money (save it, buy shares with it, or spend it). Apparently, the future is what drives our spending choices: the more optimistic we feel, the more we spend. As a company director, for instance, we might want to spend more or infrastructure, supplies and hire more staff, in the hope of positive outcomes.
  • how Canada fits into the global economy
  • the functions of Canada's central bank
A timeline showing the history of money was shown along one wall of "Zone 3", from 5400 BC (in Mesopotamia) onward. Our guide pointed out to our women's group how influential women were, during Canadian history at least, how they effectively controlled Canada's wartime economy, for example, while the men were away fighting. How lonely women took out Dominion of Canada war loans, like the $100 5% Victory Bonds "... pour que bientôt il me revienne." (I'm not sure I could have followed that 1940s' train of thought.)

An interesting display in one cabinet was of paper money giving evidence of runaway inflation in the past, from countries such as Mexico, Uganda, China, Viet Nam (sic), Turkey, Brazil and, of course, Germany, with their 50-million Mark bills of the 1930s. From Zimbabwe there was even a ridiculous, 100 trillion dollar bill.

Other unusual bills were pound notes from The States of Guernsey, the Isle of Man and the Royal Bank of Scotland, all different from a standard £ note. They had a 20 centisimos note from Montevideo, inscribed Banco de Londres y Rio de la Plata, 1865.

In another gallery, were the objects of value used for trading in the past, money substitutes. A long twisted rod from Guinea had been made by a shaman, adding the soul of a person who had died. Its value depended on the value of the soul!  If you broke the rod, woe betide you; the value was lost. In the old days, fabrics were used for exchanges between European traders and the chiefs of African tribes. Then there were the blocks of salt given as "salary" (salarium) for Roman soldiers, the salt being used to rub on wounds or to preserve meat. So we spoke of the symbolic worth of things, including gold. The more primitive peoples used beans, shells, beads as tender, and even wild boar tusks (teeth) — in the outback of Australia.

Nowadays too, there are money substitutes, such as the Oyster card for London transport.

In Canada, the banks originally printed their own money; later there were some "ghost banks" that only did this. However from 1935 onward Canada had its central bank, and in the present day, notes are printed at a secret location by the Canadian Bank Note Company (whose head office is on Richmond Road). They print our passports, too. The material used, which can't be torn unless you cut it with scissors, is polymer, polymer substrate being imported from Australia for the purpose. We watched a demonstration of how to tell a fake note from a genuine one. Look in particular at the holograms, and check for breaks in the smoothness of the banknote's surface. If you hold a genuine modern banknote up to the light, you will see small maple leaves in the top left corner. 

The images on the money we use "reflect who we are" as Canadians. Soon, the face of a black, female entrepreneur (Viola Desmond) will be featured on one of our new $10 notes. At the game station in this last zone, visitors can design banknotes with their own faces, but they won't be legal tender.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Some ancestors

What they looked like,
in those days
I happened upon a website that traced my ancestry back something like 11 generations, to the late 16th century.

My father Walter Robert Tullett (b. 1915) was the son of Walter Tullett (b. 1864). Walter, the second of eight children, was the son of another Walter Tullett (also spelled Tulet), b. 1836. His father was William Tullett (or Tewlet), b. 1799. William was the son of John Tullett, b. 1775. John was the son of Edward Tullett, b. 1736. Edward was the son of Peter Tullett, b 1700. Beyond that, the records fizzle out.

From the mid-19th century back, all the Tullett men worked on farms on the slopes of the South Downs in Sussex, not far from Shoreham-by-Sea, and lived to a good age.

The Tullett name has variations: Tulet, Tulett, Tewlet, Toolet, Tollet, Tyllet, Tillet, and so on, so you can never be completely sure!

My grandparents Walter and Louisa,
with my aunt as a little girl, before my father's birth
And their wives were mentioned too, with frustratingly little detail about them. My grandmother's name was Louisa Hill; she married my grandfather in 1907, in Newington, London, just south of the Thames. No information about her parents, which is what I'd really like to have found out, because she died when I was seven or so and I remember her; she looked rather like I do now. Her pedigree has always been vague.

My great-grandmother, married in West Grinstead in 1863, was called Emily Goacher. I have a vague idea that in the 1980s I visited her grave and discovered that she had died within a few days of her husband Walter, my great-grandfather. She was born in 1839 in Bines Green, the daughter of Henry Goacher (1797-1870) and Martha Mears (1806-1861). According to the census of 1901, Emily, Walter and their family lived at a place — a farm perhaps — called Crouches.

William Tullett, my great-great grandfather *, married Charlotte Woodman, born in 1802, the daughter of John Woodman and another Charlotte (surname unknown). She lived to the grand age of 84, dying in 1887.

My great-great-great-grandfather John Tullett married a Rachel Sayers, who lived from 1779 to 1806.

John Tullett's father Edward got married in 1760 to Elizabeth Whiting or Whitten (1740-1793) who must have been illiterate, because she signed her wedding certificate with an X ("her mark'). They had 13 "known" children so she must have died of exhaustion. They must have been contemporaries of JS Bach, though I very much doubt they'd ever heard of him! She was the daughter of Richard Whitten (or White) and Mary Arnold (b. 1675), the daughter of Thomas Arnold and Elizabeth Grant (dates unknown).  If I have worked this out correctly, Mary Arnold must have been my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother ...

Edward was the son of Peter Tullett (1700-1749?) who married Elizabeth Gratwick, born in 1700; she was buried on 12th January 1786 in Slaugham as "Elizabeth Toolet an aged widow". Peter Tullett's origins are confusingly doubtful. Elizabeth's parents were married in 1697. They were Joseph Gratwick and Mary Arnold (1675-1735). Joseph was born in 1668 and died in 1748, 80 years old.

So Joseph's father Andrew Gratwick (1631-1704) and his wife Winifred must have been my 8x great-grandparents. Andrew Gratwick was baptised on 26 December 1631 in West Grinstead, the son of John Gratwick (1593-1656) and either Mary (surname unknown), who died in 1659, or more probably Ann Michell (1604/5-1658).


* I mentioned a different great-great-grandfather (as well as some other ancestors on my mother's side) in a blogpost I published in 2013.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Dabbling in philosophy

There must be several little groups like ours around the city that deliberately meet to talk about profundities. We recently heard of a small group of retired men who do so while taking a morning walk. There are larger groups around, too.

We are a bunch of friends (Drew, Letitia, Nicola, Maha, Andrew, John, Chris and I) who have decided to meet somewhere congenial once a month or so, on a Friday evening, to talk in a semi-structured way about philosophical ideas. Nicola and Drew came up with the idea back in March and we first met as a group at the end of April, when our starting point for discussion was an extract from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, most of us having browsed through the Meditations beforehand.

Nicola's proposal for our series of meetings was that
... no previous knowledge of the text, the philosopher, or of philosophy should be required. What would be required, though, are a willingness to read the text, to speak a bit about our understanding of the text (or lack of understanding), to ask questions, and, especially to listen to what others ask and have to say. We would be meeting not to share what we know, but to share our questions, what we don’t know.
Our subsequent meetings have followed a similar approach and a similar pattern. We take turns. One of us chooses something to discuss and announces this by email well in advance (so that we can all do some reading and preparatory thinking), then he or she leads the discussion at the meeting; the rest of us join in with any thoughts we want to contribute, or we ask questions, or, if we prefer, we simply pay attention. Of course a lot of thoughts are generated spontaneously during the discussion. I find it makes for such a stimulating couple of hours that I have great difficulty getting to sleep on those nights!

So far, the other topics we have come up with have been:
  • Philosophical paradoxes (Chris leading), discussed at the end of May.
  • 'The Value of Philosophy' from the title of the last chapter of Bertrand Russel's book "The Problems of Philosophy" (Drew's suggestion), discussed in September.
  • Plato's / Socrates' allegory of the cave (my suggestion), discussed in October.

Next it will be Andrew's turn, and for a change we have no homework to do, because he is keeping us guessing about the philosophical purpose of his chosen subject. However, he has told us this much:
The topic for discussion this time will be "A Mysterious Machine". A machine will be described and the results of its simple operation analysed in detail to reveal that the World is a very strange place.
Andrew is a physicist.

The young man behind the coffee bar in Sandy Hill where we met last time, who happened to be studying philosophy at university, couldn't help overhearing our discussion of Plato's cave, took me aside at the end to ask, "Are you all teachers, by any chance?" --- an astute question.

I admitted that was so, because at one time or another, come to think of it, we have indeed all been (or still are) teachers of one sort or another.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Preventive medicine

Under the aegis of the Ontario Health Insurance Plan the Ontarians are quite thorough as regards preventative (or preventive) medicine. Unlike other parts of the world, Ontario, or Canada in general, provides generous health benefits, mostly free, although, as people never fail to point out, we do contribute to the cost of this generosity, up to $900 per resident, from our annual income tax.

Fair enough, in my opinion.

Now that we're old enough to start following doctors' orders, Chris and I have been taking advantage of various preventative services. During the last month-and-a-bit, we have been examined like a couple of old cars that need maintenance checks because of their high mileage.

My family doctor recently gave me a three yearly, hour long, routine check-up which paid attention to most of my organs, followed by a whole battery of blood tests: to analyse cholesterol levels, blood glucose levels, essential chemicals for liver and kidney function, along with a urinalysis and a colon cancer test. I was recommended to book a routine mammogram, at the local hospital. During the last few years I have had regular bone density tests done, as well as ultrasounds to look for heart and ovary defects, and a cystoscopy, all free, with all the results so far reassuring. The cost of my annual eye-test is covered by the OHIP, besides. This year I'm also getting free inoculations for more than 20 types of pneumonia as well as my annual flu "shot" (flu "jab", they'd call it, back in Britain) and a just-in-case vaccination against shingles. How much all these tests would have cost had it been a private service, I dread to think --- not cheap!

My husband has undergone a similar number of examinations, and a couple of weeks ago had two investigative surgical procedures done at the same time. The surgeon and anaesthetist offered Chris a local anaesthetic for this, but he was allowed to choose a general anaesthetic if he preferred. He did prefer the total knockout; OK, no problem, he was told. I was obliged to accompany him to the hospital and back that day, so that he'd have company and a ride home after the operation and recovery period; thus we both got to witness the impressive efficiency of the hospital and the friendliness of its staff who treated us with polite and cheerful calmness throughout; a nursing assistant brought him all the way to our car in a wheelchair at the end of the morning, for example. We had been at the hospital since 6:20 am, when it was still dark.

Once again, no charge for any of the services mentioned above, and if things were to go wrong in future and we needed rides in ambulances and either emergency or long-term treatment, there'd be no charge for that, either. The emotional costs would be high, at any rate; anxiety is not so easy to prevent or pay for in advance, but at least we wouldn't have to worry about going broke during those bad experiences.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Singing about a dead canary

I went to a most peculiar DOMS concert on October 18th, before which free coffee and cookies were offered to the audience, courtesy of the local Retirement Residence, the accompanists playing harpsichord, violin, viola, cello and oboe; a tenor sang. He (David MacAdam) was dressed in 18th century garb, complete with wig. The idea was to perform a little-known cantata (mini opera) by Telemann, the score for which had been discovered in a 20th century shop; it consisted of four arias, alternating with four recits, a lament for a pet bird. Apparently it was commissioned by a patron who really had lost his canary to a marauding cat.

The soloist in his greatcoat and breaches strode onto the podium at the start carrying a bird cage with a canary lying in it, not a real one, a stuffed toy, singing a translation of the German words O weh, mein Kanarin ist tot --- Alas, my little canary is dead! etc., etc. At the end of this, the oboist played an obligato counter melody as the singer took the bird out of its cage and enfolded it in a large and lacy handkerchief, singing of his inconsolable grief. The most entertaining part of the cantata was the aria where he paced back and forth singing a livid condemnation of the cat that got the bird, rolling his Rs: Eat until your throat is swollen, eat, you shameless plunderer! Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! May the bird inside you scratch and claw your belly and innards till you spit him up again ... The crunches were repeated after the middle section. After that, music and words became solemnly mournful again, the tenor sitting on an antique chair to sing the aria "My sweet canary, good night!" clutching the little corpse, still wrapped in the hanky, to his breast. The final recit. ended with a furious upward scale accompanying a second curse against the "nasty cat": Because you ate my dearest friend, so be it. Now in turn should you be stoned until you're dead. (Actually it said "until your dead!" in the programme notes; DOMS needs to employ an editor.)

Laughter and applause.

The harpichord player / music director then announced "a moment while David puts the canary to rest and adjusts himself!" As it happened David merely discarded his fancy jacket off for the rest of the programme which was a recital of an aria in Italian from Handel's Alcina (also discovered in a junk shop) and another, in English, from Handel's oratorio Theodora.

The audience gave the concert full marks for originality, but oh dear, it really had been very odd.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

An ancient and eternal instinct

We had the good fortune to be invited to a brunch for five couples, last weekend, at which our host and his wife initiated a philosophical discussion over which I'm still brooding.

He is an educator (a Professor of Political Thought and Humanities) who has recently written a book about globalisation, civilisation and the human condition, and Chris, of course, asked questions. If I understood him aright, Dr. R. sees civilisation (civilization, if you prefer that spelling) as the enlightenment of decently governed citizens. Contrary to the conventional notion that civilisation began in ancient Athens, he feels that the ancient Athenians did not get it quite right, because their decencies only involved the elite. Europeans were never truly civilised either, so long as they sought power over others within their various empires. The Chinese, despite their impressive governments and achievements, have not yet allowed their citizens sufficient freedom of thought. Our host made the provocative comment that human beings never became truly civilised until the 20th century, when at last --- in North America! --- the whole of society was engaged in civic responsibility, with shared standards of decency, not just the elite.

Well, that is debatable.

Around the brunch table, none of us being native-born Canadians (we were an Iranian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Dutch, Latvian, German and British mix), we also began to talk about Plato's (i.e. Socrates') concept of Ideal Forms and later, related philosophies, but, as conversations do, the theme wandered, and at one point we were thinking about the "thin red line" that divides a civilised, moral way of life from its opposite. I am not very good on such occasions, full of l'esprit de l'escalier, always imagining after the event what I ought to have contributed to the conversation. Thinking about those borderlines, as I shall do for days, if not weeks, I keep recalling the novel Mr. Sammler's Planet by the Nobel Prize winning writer Saul Bellow (set in 1960s New York), which I am now rereading. Mr. Sammler, who has suffered a great deal from the perversity and brutality of other people, comes to the conclusion that there is after all, within every human being, an instinctive awareness of the border between moral and immoral behaviour, and at the end he exclaims in a prayer for a friend who has died: "For that is the truth of it--that we all know, God, that we know, that we know, we know, we know."

Saul Bellow himself said: "You read the New Testament and the assumption Jesus makes continually is that people know the difference immediately between good and evil... And that is in part what faith means. It doesn't even require discussion. It means that there is an implicit knowledge -- very ancient if not eternal -- which human beings really share and that if they based their relationships on that knowledge existence could be transformed." (My emphasis.)