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.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

No time to write

I'm too busy singing, playing and keeping the three men fed and happy to write my blog posts! Today I went flying with Chris while George and Jonathan were out skiing with Christine, Julia and Ian; tomorrow with six other people the four of us will drive to a Lodge at Maniwaki for New Year's Eve. Chris, George, Jonathan and I will not come straight back home on New Year's Day, but intend to continue along the road via Mont Laurier to the Mont Tremblant area for another night away, and thence back towards Ottawa via the Omega Park and Montebello on Wednesday.

Last night we sang in six parts with Bill, Jennie and Christine and even had a go at the Geographical Fugue by Ernst Koch! We're having enormous fun.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Written at Tim Horton's

Two old gentlemen at the next table have come here to escape from their families after Christmas and to pass the time of day. They aren't in any hurry to leave. The place is decorated with pictures of coffee mugs sitting in drifts of snow, wrapped in scarves. We're waiting for our winter tyres to be fitted onto our car by the Frisby Tire Company. This is a job that would have been done weeks ago, had the queue not been so long, most drivers caught by surprise by the early onset of this winter.

Just made Apple Fritters now on the shelf! These people are good advertisers. Ho Ho Ho, Happy Holidays! is sprayed onto the window in mirror writing so that it can be read from outside; we have just learned that this would be considered highly insulting to Australian mothers, "ho" being a slang abbreviation for a woman of ill repute, down under. What a minefield language is. Hence the use of euphemisms, I suppose. The Ottawa Sun has a page of advertisements for the services of such women. "Extremely friendly" or "anxiously awaiting for you" (sic), they advertise themselves either as "temporary girlfriends" or "open-minded ... Egyptian Princesses" and such.

Where was I? I can't say we accomplished much yesterday but it was great relaxation—after a late breakfast, a short ride north to the Gatineau Park information centre at Chelsea where there's an old sugar shack by the car park, now used as a shelter for waxing one's skis or having one's Christmas Dinner on the picnic table within. Elva, whom we met here, said that she'd seen a family doing exactly that the day before.

Having walked the Sugar Bush Trail on clean, white snow, across the bridge by the beaver dam, now buried in a drift, I lit a log fire in the stove that heats the shack, George having a split a log for kindling with the axe provided (I averted my eyes as he was wielding it) and smoke began to pour from the chimney. Jonathan and George took many artistic photographs, providing an impressive slide show at the end of the day.

Lunch was chilli beef previously made by Laurie at his house on the hill, accompanied by cornbread freshly baked by Elva and me, after which Jonathan and I donned the two pairs of traditional snowshoes available, George volunteering to wade after us thigh deep and with great difficulty so that we could only do a few hundred metres of bush-whacking on the steep slope behind the house. All the same, "You are adventurous, Mrs Hobbs!" exclaimed Jonathan, and I took this as a compliment. I was following the deer tracks, but we made too much noise to spot any wildlife bar a small brown squirrel.

After an hour or so more music-making back at our house, supper was cassoulet—more beans!—for which Elva and Laurie had come to join us again. The most fun for the men was playing with the remote controlled toy helicopter that Jonathan has been inspired to give Chris as a present. It keeps crashing in the Christmas tree, but no harm done yet.

Chris, George and Jonathan having been playing Mozart's Kegelstatt Trio in the background as I have been typing this up. Wonderful.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Those are the words of the round we all sang at the beginning of Bill's and Jennie's party last Friday and they sprang to mind at midnight when the bells of the Notre Dame Basilica a kilometre away began to announce Christmas Day; like a small child, I was too excited to go to sleep.

Now it's Boxing Day, and we're just getting up for our family conference call over the international telecommunications network. We postponed it till now because of George's late arrival in Ottawa... actually landing a quarter of an hour early, but we still didn't have our meal until after six. The airport was surprisingly crowded, but we saw the Vancouver 'plane pulling into its gate and spotted George and Jonathan as they came down the escalator into the baggage hall with its tall Christmas tree and wall of water.

Back at the house we had a merry evening with music galore, before, during and after our very informal Christmas Dinner, the young men playing the rented violin and 'cello, George also on the piano, Chris playing his clarinet and singing, me singing and on the piano: solos, duets, trios and quartets. One of the pieces I've found is a six part round. We need two more musicians to do that one properly. Any volunteers, please get in touch!

Monday, December 24, 2007

On Christmas Eve

No shortage of juxtapositions today!

After a slow and lazy start, and a chat to my sister and my mother in Wales by 'phone, we picked up Faith's parcel waiting for us at the post office, then drove down dry roads to the Flying Club where we waged an almighty battle against our wing-covers. Had we not left the covers off our aeroplane for the last few days because of the torrential rain we've had, when the temperature dropped last night, the wet material would have frozen, the resulting ice sticking to the wings so that we'd never have got them off again. Today, we were in a position to fit them, dry, onto dry wings, but the wind gusting to 25 knots made it impossible for us to hold onto them and tie them down, so wildly did they billow. In the end Kathy Fox most kindly offered to be a third person in our ground crew; then we could just about do it.

I was intending to write another blog post about how to humidify one's basement by (a) leaving one's wing covers to dry all over the floor, and (b) having the melt water flood the carpeted area at the bottom of the stairs where George is about to sleep, but I never got round to it, so you'll just have to imagine. Here's a picture of Chris trying in vain to prevent the flood in our basement.

It was Kathy's birthday today and she managed to treat herself to a celebratory flight before the wind picked up too much and the blizzard (sorry, "light flurries") began. We sympathised with her bad luck in being born on December 24th when people are too preoccupied with Christmas preparations to party with her, but she says that as the years go by this seems to matter less and less. We felt more sorry for the African gentleman who'd come to service the coffee machine and who slipped and fell on the ice in the car park as we were leaving, banging the back of his head so badly that blood flowed and he was knocked unconscious, his boxes flying all over the place. Had he fallen a moment later we'd have driven off and been none the wiser, but luckily we saw the accident in the rear view mirror and were able to leap out of the car and hurry over to help. Chris immediately dialled 911 (it's not 999 here) for the ambulance that took a long while to arrive because of the unusual address. Meanwhile the gentleman on the ground had come round and was all for getting up and driving away, but we insisted he stay where he was, lying on his side. We used Chris' pullover as a pillow for him, before the flying club staff came to help with a real pillow and a blanket. Then we witnessed a little more drama as the ambulance men had to work hard to persuade the man to go with them. He had no health card, it transpired, perhaps because he is a recent immigrant, probably very alarmed at the thought of having to pay for all this medical intervention. His English wasn't too good, so I'd tried to reassure him in French, but hadn't thought to ask where he came from. I did establish that he lived alone at home so there was apparently nobody who cared that he'd fallen over. I hope he is all right; we are still thinking of him.

Late for lunch, we ate some soup at Piccolo Grande on MacKay Street, now run by a very nice Indian lady from Kenya who always recognises us when we stop there, and read the papers to calm ourselves down. On the way home we bought a floor mat to mitigate muddy wet footprints round our kitchen door and some of Chris' favourite Ambrosia apples from the healthfood shop, Nature's Buzz.

As we were doing all this, George and his friend Jonathan (three hours behind us) were coming through customs and immigration at Vancouver airport after their long, long flight from Sydney, and checking into their hotel, so when we came in, we had a conversation with them over the Skype link. Simultaneously, on the other virtual line, we were watching Emma and Peter with little Alexander in London, who was toddling round his other grandparents' house! What would we do without the Internet? When those calls were done, I clicked on the BBC website to hear the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College, Cambridge. Chris ventured out into the snow again, to go running at the gym.

This evening I've contrived to dry the basement carpet, catch up with my washing and make some mini trifles for tomorrow, that entailed peeling a pomegranate and removing the lovely seeds. We practised four Schubert songs and a movement from a clarinet sonata by Vanhal. And I have sent some more e-messages to my friends and relations.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Playing and singing

Isn't this a wonderful sight? This is a corner of the violin shop from which we have hired a 'cello and a violin in anticipation of George's and Jonathan's arrival on Christmas Day.

A habit we've acquired here is to join the party at Jennie's and Bill's house to sing carols once a year, and that's what we did last night. We took my viola and Chris' clarinet along. This morning Chris sent Elva an email describing how we had

ended up at about a quarter past midnight getting lost (even with Ali in the car) trying to drive a Paris-based, Klezmer clarinet player back to the place where he was staying. He had spent the last part of the party teaching me Klezmer scales and wondering why I couldn't "just let go and let the music happen".

Other instruments at the party were the piano, a violin, a flute, a recorder and Bill's guitar. And our voices of course; the South American participants (from Columbia and Mexico)—preferred to sing in Spanish:

Belén, campanas de Belén,
que los ángeles tocan
¿qué nuevas nos traéis?

There was a French Canadian couple too; Marc Antoine demonstrating the correct pronunciation of Il est né, le Divin Enfant! Jouez hautbois... that we all repeated in chorus (sounding the Z). We sing in four parts, some of the carols very well known, some of them less familiar unless you have done a little pub caroling from time to time. A local folklorist called Shelley Posen has compiled an anthology of "old and little-known Christmas Carols", such as A Song for a Time that dates back to the days in Old England when everybody knew his place:

A song for a time when the sweet bells chime
Calling rich and poor to pray
On that joyful morn when Christ was born
On that holy Christmas day.

The squire came forth from his rich old hall
And the peasants by two and by three.
The woodman let his hatchet fall
And the shepherd left his tree.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hindered by berms

We had a major snow storm on Sunday, which has made it difficult to get about. Bus riders for example have to clamber over berms of snow to get from their bus stop into the bus, as this news report says. "Berm", is a word I have only learned very recently but I know it now, having lost a battle with one early yesterday morning, when attempting to drive Chris to work. The car felt so out of control as we approached the heaped up snow blocking the end of our street that at the third attempt I gave up and we swapped seats; a more masculine style of driving was required to cross this barrier into King Edward Avenue before the lights changed.

If you want to go sledging though, or sledding, as they say here, the berm is a good thing, a safety feature. At Green Creek, for example, at the Orleans end of the Rockcliffe Parkway, there is a:

Very large natural city-wide hill, multi-level slope, straight run, wide open run offs, parking provided, lighting, no obstructions, well bermed away from the Creek. Placement of hay sacks on the berming at the base of the hill.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Going to fetch the tree

All photos for this post were taken by Carol Hinde.

The current weather report for Ottawa, measurements taken at 2p.m., reads as follows: temperature -12˚C, heavy snow, feels like -23˚C, wind: E 39km/h, wind gusts: 59km/h, relative Humidity: 92%, pressure: 99.74 kPa, visibility: 0.2 km, ceiling: 200 ft. So the drift of snow now pressing up against our kitchen door is up to my thighs and my flower pots and garden bench have long since disappeared. Leaning against our front door is the freshly cut Christmas tree that we went to fetch yesterday from Bob's and Tracy's property just outside the village of Bourget, in Prescott and Russell county.

Before I describe the fetching of it, you ought to click on the link to Monty Python's Lumberjack Song to put you in the right frame of mind.

John, Chris and I met three of the Buchan family at the Dynasty restaurant yesterday, setting off in convoy along Highway 17 down the Ottawa River, through Orleans and Cumberland. Chris having regretted the loss of one of his mittens as we shovelled more snow off and around the aeroplane before our brunch, our first stop had to be the Rockland branch of Marks Work Wearhouse to stock up on insulated mittens. Then we took Highway 8 south across the flat, white country fields through the lively little community of Clarence Creek and beyond. "Come back soon!" said the road signs, as we left the villages behind.

Our destination was down Schnupp Road, where the Schnupps live (Bob's German neighbours). Carol made sure we had her car in sight as she turned off this road down the long, snowy driveway towards Bob's house, the tall fir trees all around us, some of which must be felled, Christmas or no Christmas, or they would get too crowded. (We couldn't help wondering how this used to work before human beings settled here; would wandering herds of moose have to knock some over?) Above all, the trees threatening to grow into the power lines must be lopped before they cause power cuts.

Once we'd stopped the two cars in front of the house, the first instinct of all six of us was to hurry straight inside where it was warm. The house had a beautiful, light and spacious interior under a three storey high cathedral ceiling and the largest side of the house consisted entirely of windows to show the view. Deer frequently pass by and last week a flock of wild turkeys landed in the field. There's a pond that can be swept for skating, but the last time they did this three people came in with broken bones. Anyway, Tracy had made preparations to make any visitors feel welcome the moment they stepped in, with a fire in the grate, not one but two large Christmas trees lavishly decorated, greenery over the mantelpiece and red bows on the banisters, wine and cheese laid out in readiness on the tables. In the corner stood a large dinosaur skeleton made of wood which unfortunately fell in half when Kathryn examined it, but nobody seemed to mind. Their little boy of four was away visiting his grandmother.

Though some of us weren't in much hurry to choose our tree, it was felt that we should venture out before sunset in case it got too dark to see what we were looking for, so no sooner had we managed to struggle out of all our outdoor things we had to start putting them on again. It was advisable to put snowshoes on as well.

Don and Bob, truly rugged lumberjacks, brought their power saws along (Bob's was a very noisy chain saw). You're not a proper Canadian if you don't possess one of these.

The trees under consideration were not directly on the driveway, so in order to examine them we had to plunge into the deeper snow before beginning the lumberjack work. Kathryn held the Buchans' tree steady as her father sawed, but trees are heavy things. As we yelled "Timber!" down she went under its weight.

"I'd like my tree to be no bigger than me," I suggested, but as there were no suitable trees my size, a bigger one it had to be, and "we can cut off the top part for you." The same applied to John's choice. As the others were working on that, I salvaged some trimmed-off branches for decorative purposes.

Now the downed trees had to be carried or dragged back to our cars and trimmed quite a bit more before all three of them could be crammed into the back of Carol's Volvo. We emptied that car of all its removable contents, flattened the seats, decided to take an extra passenger in our smaller car, put bags round the trunks so that the Volvo's front seat passenger wouldn't get knocked out, put the smallest tree into a large plastic bag—How many pilots does it take to bag a fir tree? (the answer is four)—so that it could be slid on top of the other two trees, but they still wouldn't fit. "Only another foot and a half sticking out at the back!" someone said. "Push!" The experts pushed, the onlookers stamping our feet in a vain attempt to keep the blood flowing, but it was no good, the largest tree had to be trimmed again, Don's smaller saw the tool for this, not the chain saw which might have wrecked the car, and the deed was done to a great cheer.

Quickly, we repaired to the wonderful warmth of indoors for a celebratory glass of wine. Not only were we served refreshments; as we said goodbye, Tracy gave us a gift-wrapped decorations to hang on our trees at home, and a warm invitation to "come back soon" —which we well might.

After pushing again to rescue our car from the wall of snow that Chris had reversed into, wheels spinning, we climbed back in and drove home a different way, via Carlsbad Springs, Russell Road dark and mysterious under the lowering stratus clouds, unlit except for the Christmas lights in people's gardens and round their windows and doorways. We passed a pub called Jacques' Trap, which if you say it aloud, sounds like something none too appetising. We might take George and Jonathan for a meal there when they come.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Lunch party at Marina's

Here I am with some of my friends from our deutsche Konversationsgruppe at lunch today. Left to right: Marina (from Macedonia), Celestina (from Croatia), me, Ülle (from Estonia), Rosemary (from the States), Mayumi (from Japan), Nadiia (from the Ukraine). Another dozen or so people came along as well, but are out of sight in this picture.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Europe at peace

Carol and I went out to see Joyeux Noël at the National Archives yesterday evening, a fictional version of a historical event on the battlefields of France during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, 1914, when British, French and German soldiers stepped out from their trenches to fraternise during a brief ceasefire. They sang together, shared drinks, played football and helped one another to bury the dead whom each side had blown to pieces. Afterwards, because it had de-motivated them from continuing to kill one another, the officers and men concerned in these extraordinary acts of military disobedience were punished by their "superiors". But the memory of their respite remained.

Before the film began we listened to violin duets (arrangements of Weihnachtslieder) accompanied on the piano by a pastor of the Lutheran Church, and sang three verses of Stille Nacht, also sung by one of the German characters on screen, and then we were addressed by the German and French Ambassadors who drew our attention to the difference between then and now. They both mentioned the turn away from emnity made by Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle when in 1963 they signed the Elysée co-operation treaty, encouraging an initiative to link the young people of their respective countries that is still going strong nowadays. In French it's known as the Office Franco-Allemand de la Jeunesse; the Germans call it the Deutsch-Französisches Jugendwerk. Something else I hadn't realised is that since 2003 (forty years on) German and French cabinet ministers have been holding joint meetings twice a year. The German Ambassador said that the men of the trenches in 1914 must have had an inkling of what Europe would one day become, once peace were allowed to flourish. The film told an optimistic story, he claimed.

The fraternisation scenes were done very well, so that the only way you could tell the men apart—even though they spoke three different languages their looks were strikingly alike—was by the hats they wore, and when the hats were taken off for the football game there was no way of telling which nationality was which.

Interestingly enough, the director of the film noticed that his groups of French, British and German actors kept themselves to themselves at the start of the filming, but once they started work on the fraternisation scenes, the barriers came down:

A family bond on the set was very much there after that.

Sunday, December 9, 2007


With less work to do at the weekend (apart from digging a wide path in the snow so that PTN could reach the taxiway) we could relax at Elva's and Laurie's house. Here's yesterday evening's view from their back window and the inside view of their fireplace.

Today we flew to Cornwall and back with a fascinating view of white fields, black trees. The flying club is gathering for its annual pot luck party, with Santa's 'plane due to land at sunset.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Merriment behind us

I think the party went well. In spite of slippery roads under falling snow at least one hundred and fifty people arrived to sit at eighteen tables with a homemade gingerbread man at each place and candles in the middle, a candle flame nearly starting a fire from one of my sheets of music that someone was studying. As the guests arrived—several dressed in their national costumes—punch was handed out (2 cups water, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 4 cinnamon sticks, 3 cups cranberry juice, 2 1/2 cups orange juice, 1 cup lemon juice and 42 fluid ounces 7-Up, plus ice cubes, frozen raspberries and sliced limes, vodka not included) while Vija played her medley of Christmas songs on the organ.

One of the Japanese ladies told me she had owned her kimono since she was eleven years old. Daniella showed me the hand-embroidered pattern on the sleeves of her Romanian blouse. Mayumi demonstrated the suitability of a fashionable snow suit for northern winters because next time we invite these people out, in January, it will be to go snow-shoeing.

I trotted around at the heels of the press photographer who has a professional knack for posing people photographically. Before they moved from that favourable position, I would take my picture too. Mrs Claus (Edeltraud, disguised in a Santa Claus outfit without the beard) followed me round the room so as to add more colour to my snaps.

There's always an element of the unexpected at such events. This year I hadn't expected a Japanese diplomat in a black suit to turn up between meetings so that he could tell us in a fine baritone solo voice that he was dreaming of a white Christmas, everyone joining in the repeat, nor was I expecting to have to sing in Estonian after taking my turn as emcee at the mike for the other musical items. The Estonian tune was easy to pick up, fortunately, and the words of the chorus went:

Tiliseb, tiliseb aisakell,
lumi hell, lumi hell,
Tiliseb, tiliseb aisakell,
kiirgab mets ja hiilgab maa.

which has something to do with sleigh bells.

I had been let into the secret that everyone would be encouraged to dance round the spread of desserts at the end, and almost everyone did, the press photographer stretching high above people's heads with his camera in hand to capture the action. The sale of my own photos didn't pick up until after the dancing was over, but as I still made $161 towards our snowshoe and mukluk repair funds, I can't complain.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Merriment and mayhem anticipated

Having packed my bags for tomorrow's party, I see I am taking two photo albums, a photo order book and money box, a shoe box full of my homemade greetings cards for sale (each of them wrapped in cellophane), another box containing 120 word sheets for the carols we're going to sing, divided into sevens tied in rolls with a red ribbon round each roll. That's enough copies for 17.1428571 tables, if you do the sum. I also have various accompaniments set aside in case Vija, the organist, needs them, and 24 x 3 copies of the melodies of three of the songs for those people who can sight-read and are willing to sing in German and Spanish as well as English and French. I'm bringing a conductor's baton, a music stand, a pair of maracas, a tambourine and some toy jingle bells to liven up that song. I have also packed a salad bowl and some salad servers to contain the homemade coleslaw I've been asked to contribute. That is still in the fridge and I don't think I have made enough; coleslaw seems to shrink when you let it lie. Perhaps I should be topping it up instead of writing this blog. I have also packed a pair of party shoes to take along (can't wear these in the snow) as well as two cameras, two spare batteries and two spare films. You are right, Faith, this is far too much fuss, but at least I'm not on the catering committee which I believe goes to even more trouble. In her car, Ülle will be bringing her accordion and four Romanians, wearing their national costumes.

Monday, December 3, 2007

High risk of conflagration

In the Guardian today, Hassan bin Talal, the former Crown Prince of Jordan, commented,

We live in a world that is so charged with anger, offence and distrust that the slightest spark can set the tinder aflame. Unless we work to quell underlying hatred and to dispel misunderstanding, we risk conflagration at any moment.

This is a comment on the news about that misnamed teddy bear in Khartoum, but he could have been referring to any case of deliberate or accidental provocation within a clash of cultures, such as last week when I overheard women of three or four different national origins (only one of them born in Canada) disagreeing over the way a specifically Canadian Christmas event should be presented. The sparks were flying. Christmas is an incendiary topic: anger and distrust was in the air and offence taken on both sides. The question was, should the "Canadian" entertainment for our annual party on Friday include any items other than the usual sing-alongs in English or French, these being Canada's two official languages? Or should we encourage contributions from other parts of the world, a Christmas carol from the Ukraine, for example? What is Canadian about Ukrainian culture, some of the old hands would like to know? But there are over a million Ukrainians in Canada out of a total population of about thirty million, and since they must have brought their Christmas traditions with them, why shouldn't they be shared?

When it comes to the point, it seems there is no such thing as a "Canadian Christmas" because every possible version of it was once another nation's, and the other difficulty is that every woman's concept of Christmas is full of very personal associations. The older she is, the more they mean to her, so any deviation imposed from elsewhere causes vexation.

As Christmas gets closer and the to-do lists pile up most women's tempers tend to flare. We've got to find ways of keeping ourselves calm, because it's meant to be the season of peace and goodwill! Well, perhaps some of us here will relax a little once we get beyond Friday afternoon. Meanwhile, here's what my view from the kitchen looks like after dark at the moment. The garden's keeping cool enough—no problem.

Been busy

As I haven't written here for over a week, I had better give some reasons. Last week, having gone into town on Monday to meet my Spanish conversation group I did some Christmas shopping. Thereafter I was busy preparing food, because on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday, one lot of people after another visited our house: Claude, Pat, Vivien, Averil to speak French round the fire, Barbara, Christine, Mayumi, Paule, Anke, Tanya, Rosemary, Nadiia, Greta, Eva, Frances, Melita and Ülle coming to sing Christmas carols in German. On Thursday evening I played the piano at Jack's (for Chris' singing lesson). On Friday two delivery men brought me a new washing machine and tumble-dryer; later that day, we treated Carol, Don, Roger and Laurie to supper and yesterday evening, David and Liz, ditto.

On Saturday, Chris took me flying.