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, March 30, 2008

First, the flowers

And now for spring! Magnolia buds opening in an old cemetery at Whitchurch, Wales, celandines by the canal at Bude, Cornwall, daffodils and primroses outside the Woodlands Tearoom at Helebridge, gorse near Bodmin Moor. We're no longer in Britain now, but I was able to capture these precious images before I left.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The last of our winter photos

I am not going to post any more cold pictures after this one, this winter. The thaw has begun, everybody says so, and tomorrow evening we're boarding the overnight 'plane for England and our house can leak as much as it wants to; I'll not care (until I get back).

Last weekend we went out for supper with thirty members of the Ottawa Jaguar Club. We were guests at their annual dinner, an event which was more to my liking than their previous event (a visit to the Stebro Exhaust Manufacturers) would have been. The food was rather special, served at the Algonquin International Restaurant, part of the Hotel Management Building where novice chefs learn their skills and serve (rather painstakingly) as waiters. Chefs hats and the tools of their trade were on display in the lobby: sharp knives and a First Aid Kit being the most prominent items.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Bill sent me a message this morning asking for information about container ship cruises because his son wants to come home from Europe that way. Meanwhile Bill's daughter presently in Canberra is planning to take our son George to Alice Springs and beyond next month, or vice versa. My sister and brother-in-law are setting off to meet their daughters in India at the end of next week, one of whom is posting links on Facebook to photos of her boyfriend's trip to a family wedding in South Africa. Elva has been telling us about her recent meetings in hazardous Peru and then Bonn and the time it took getting back to Ottawa from Bonn; because of the weather her horrendous journey lasted more than 24 hours. At this very moment Carol and her parents are driving north towards Canada after their spring break at Hilton Head in South Carolina. That's going to take a while, too. Another friend of mine, Rosemary, is sending me emails from Lacoste in Provence attaching pictures she has taken of the vineyards and the old town (that looks remarkably like Roquebrun in the Languedoc-Roussillon area where I once spent a very enjoyable week). From France, Rosemary has also taken a trip to Bonn to visit a couple of German friends from our Konversationsgruppe who live there now. Another three friends of mine have been travelling to Cuba and yet another is moving to Jakarta, Indonesia, in April.

What is it that makes people want to move around so much? It's nothing new. I'm sure this urge to see the world was the main reason that young men left for the Crusades in the middle ages. Young women would have gone too, I expect, had they had the opportunity.

Next Tuesday evening Chris and I shall be setting off for our week in Cornwall where neither of us has been before.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Imaginary post war characters

Thinking about extending my novel into Part Two, since Carol has been wanting to know what happened next, I've been searching for anything that might give me a sense of how it felt to live through the 1950s. Actually I did live through most of that decade but have only have the vaguest memories, childish ones at that, because I was only nine when the 1960s arrived.

I've found a tattered copy of the Penguin edition of Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim on our shelves. Though I'd have approved then as I'd approve now of any book attacking snobbery and pretentiousness, I'm upset (shocked—I admit it) when I come to the paragraph where the main character overhears his despised boss singing: "some skein of untiring facetiousness by filthy Mozart." To me, Sir Kingsley was going too far with that phrase. I know he was being deliberately shocking for very good reasons, but there's still something wrong and nasty about a person who could think such a thought. Anyway I don't find it funny and find it hard to sympathise either with "Jim" or his creator from this point onwards. These sneerers are all the same, throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The children's story Tom's Midnight Garden (1958) by Philippa Pearce with its wonderful neo-Romantic illustrations by Susan Einzig, is far more congenial to me.

(I hesitated to publish this blog post because it reveals so much about me!)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

In questa tomba oscura...

In questa tomba oscura, lasciami riposar:
Quando vivevo, ingrata, dovevi a me pensar,
Ingrata, ingrata!

Those words are from a poem by Guiseppe Carpani which Beethoven, along with sixty-two other composers, was challenged to set to music in 1808. The Beethoven version is a song that Feodor Chaliapin used to sing and that Chris and I are learning now. He's being very lugubrious about it:

In this dark tomb, let me repose.
While I lived, ungrateful woman,
You should have thought of me.

The image of the ghost in the dark tomb was very apt this late afternoon as we had scraped so much snow off our roof onto the deck it had come half way up our living room windows making it dark indeed within.

If you want some light relief, on no account should you listen to anyone singing The Lost Chord, even though Dame Clara Butt did find "something of the grandeur of Beethoven in it", but I can recommend I'm The Guy Who Found The Lost Chord, by Jimmy Durante.

Holed up

On the left is a picture from one of my recent shopping trips (Chris took this photo). We're still putting up with the snow, not that we have any choice. From time to time we go crazy and try to do battle with the accumulations (see above), but it's of no use really. We just have to (pretend to) be patient. This time next week we'll be heading across the Atlantic towards a milder climate and in the meantime, thank God for Music, indeed. We've been playing Elizabethan vocal duets transposed for clarinet and violin by Thomas Morley and John Bennet. Chris having written some transposition software, we got the computer to help with this. The other thing I've been busy with, yet again, is touching up my novel. Carol, who has just read it through (as far as it goes at present), sent me an encouraging message to say that she "loved it" and wants more, although if I embark on more, does that mean another ten years' hard work? That's a daunting thought. Anyway I now have a few more (unpublished) printed copies of the first twenty chapters to pass around.

Here's an extract from Chapter 18, copyright Alison Hobbs 2008, which begins where I was imagining some other people holed up, in the 1940s:

On April 20th a Stalag Sports Day took place, with fatigues suspended for the afternoon, orders from the Camp Command.
“What are we celebrating, then? Breaking-up for the school holidays, are we?”
“It is the birthday of the Führer,” snapped a German guard, tugging on the leash of his growling dog. “Heil Hitler!”
“All the flippin' flags out!” muttered the inmates, in tones of heavy sarcasm. “Heil bloody 'itler, 'appy Birthday to you!”
None the less, Tim enjoyed the races round the compound, coming second in one. Small white clouds raced too, across the sky, in a breeze that made the leaves tremble in the surrounding line of trees. It's been a year since Crete, he realised, and I am not dead yet. What's more, I'm fitter again; I can feel it. Box cameras were brought out to snap the wrestling matches and Tim was reminded of the pastimes on his troop ship. What had become of Emrys Williams, old Pughie, and those other Welshmen? Had they survived the battlefields till now? Were they still fighting for dear life or singing their hearts out in their male voice choir? He recalled one fellow, a basso profundo almost, who'd 'upped the tone of the thing,' as Lt-Col Reddaway at the training depot would have put it, by performing Sarastro's aria from The Magic Flute in a ship's concert, with the chorus joining in at the end. Now that was an idea! They could try that one for the summer concert here. If Tim couldn't find a copy of the music he might be able to write out the chord progression from memory; he was fairly sure he could recall the solo part. It had been one of the arias Dr Marshall had made him analyse at Lofty Pines, oh, long ago, and how he had gone over it, over and over on his piano in the living room at home! He slipped into his hut for his manuscript book, the best present his sister had ever given him.

Mavis gave a start and softened towards her fireman, Matthew Judd, as they sat on a bench in the Kenningford municipal gardens during her lunch break. He had interrupted her reverie by murmuring something rather sweet. From behind the high fence they could hear the thwack and bounce of tennis balls from the club courts where Mavis used to play, before the War. She had been thinking of the Ehrmann boys in their white trousers, white shirts, of Rainer's tanned collar bones.
“"Mmm? What was that you said?"”
“"You heard me, vain woman!"” Her absent-minded question, that he must have taken for flirtatiousness, had given him the excuse to bring his face very close to her ear, which he now pecked at with damp lips. "I said you're lovely, you're a lovely girl."”
I love your loveliness: those had been his actual words, but he must feel too embarrassed to repeat them now. “"Oh Matthew!"” She bowed her head, submitting her shoulders to more of his kisses. She liked that. It caused little shivers to run up and down, burying her memory of old sensations under a heap of new ones. This was the only way, Mavis told herself, to cure herself of what she'd lost. And maybe I should let Matthew marry me after all, she thought, he is so persistent these days. Sooner or later I'll give in if I'm not careful.
“"I know you're all wait-and-see with me, Mave,"” he was saying, “"but I think it is about time you were my wife, good and proper. I'm serious now. Every time I go into London to drag those poor devils out of the rubble, I tell you, I think of you and how we shouldn't be wasting our lives waiting and waiting. We might have a lot less time left than you think. I mean to say, look at your brother!"”
“"Don't, Matthew. That's not fair. Tim's doing all right where he is. At least, he sounds cheerful enough when he writes. Ma seems to think he really loves that work he's doing. Anyway, no one's thinking of bombing the Stalags, are they?”"
“"You never know. They might. And what then? Or at the end of the War, eh? How's he going to get out of that place? Anything could happen."

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Google's limitations

I'm constantly amused by the Google ads that have been appearing alongside my emails since I got myself a Google email account. Just now, for example, I received an email from the friend who writes to the Spanish conversation group, half in Spanish and half in English, telling us about our next meeting at a house on Queen Elizabeth Drive. On the strength of the words used in this invitation, Google thinks I'm likely to be interested in websites advertising a cheap 'phone line to Argentina...

Recibís llamadas como si estuvieses allá

...Cunard's cruises on the QEII, or the purchase of a pocket beagle puppy. Well, they are very cute, even though they're not to be confused with Queen Elizabeth Pocket Beagles!

Some adverts are very apt, of course, like the link to a how-to book that pops up when our snowshoeing outings are discussed by email.

Yesterday there was an exchange of emails between us and others about what we're going to do about meals during our self-catering holiday in Cornwall, which we said we were looking forward to as an antidote to the cabin fever we're presently suffering in Ottawa (see previous blog post). I see some useful adverts against that one, for

Couple's Cottages: Warm up your Winter in Ontario with Couples getaway packages. Book Now!
Delicious Vegetarian Meals In One Quick-and-Easy Step
Great Recipes & Ready-To-Serve Dips All The Ingredients For A Good Time
and even, I'm horrified to see,

Fantastic Enema Recipes Reviewed And Rated For You!

pointing me to this website.

I must admit I sometimes wonder what Big Brother must be deducing about me.

Another moaning email from Chris talking about how much snow still lies around is accompanied by adverts for ice/snow traction cleats, snow melt cables, radiant heated driveways, snow throwers and "snowbear snow plows" (sic).

I think the Google spying system looks at attachments as well, because when I sent a copy of one of George's web-pages with an email last night, although the email itself contained no mention of the sports activities mentioned in the attachment, one of the adverts at the side was for headbands and visors that "keep sweat out of your eyes while exercising."

Monday, March 3, 2008


Freezing rain today, snow tonight, cold and windy tomorrow, snow on Wednesday, flurries on Thursday, up to 12cm of snow on Friday, Saturday and Sunday: that's our forecast for this week. Meanwhile the local authorities are dynamiting the ice on the Rideau River to get rid of it. Desperate measures for a desperate populace. As they say in New Brunswick, we're all going "shacky-wacky." In an attempt to counteract it, I've been propagating Busy Lizzies.