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.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Have a nice day


This is what you'll soon be able to read on the sides of buses trundling around the UK.


Apparently that PROBABLY was inserted to keep the advertising standards authorities quiet, like the "probably" in a famous Carlsberg lager advert, though a lot of the British Humanist Association who support this anti-God campaign would have preferred to leave the word out. Personally I rather like the inclusion of PROBABLY because it allows room for open minds. It's that NOW that bothers me, giving the command a bossy tone which is bound to alienate some of the very people at whom it's aimed. People can't be converted by nagging at them—that's a fact of life, and bad psychology.

The Humanists came up with the slogan in response to a rival campaign, as seen on the back of London buses in the months leading up to this face-off:

is there more to life than this?
explore the meaning of life
starting soon at a church near you

(sic) Maybe the Queen's English Society should have been the ones to organise a counter-campaign. The ALPHA COURSE organisers obviously wanted to appear trendy by minimising punctuation and capital letters and being lax with their syntax. The other side certainly has a better grasp of English, but that's by the way.

It's interesting to see the strength of feeling revealed by people's comments on the donation page for the NO GOD initiative. A hell (!) of a lot of people obviously loathe and detest Christian evangelists. I can't say I'm very keen on them myself, either, though "probably" not for the same reasons.

STOP WORRYING ... ? I wasn't worrying, actually, nor do I need to be reminded to enjoy my one and only life. When I'm dead, I expect to stay dead, although I hope and believe there's something essential within me and apart from me that will continue beyond my death in the lives of the people who love me. The concept of a Hell or Heaven after death is a red herring. It has always seemed to me that there's a Heaven and Hell in this world, never mind the next. That's what we should be WORRYING about. But I don't suppose the Humanists' slogan is aimed at people like me. The poor souls who usually fall prey to religious fundamentalism are almost invariably the sort who need emotional support to fill some empty space in their lives, and if you then take their acquired beliefs from them I'm afraid you pull the rug from beneath their feet. You can have great fun baiting such people with logical argument and snide remarks, and I've done it myself, but I can't help feeling this pastime is rather cruel.

What my opinion boils down to is that we should keep quiet about whatever it is we each mean or don't mean by GOD. Western thinking came a long way between the supreme confidence of Luther's Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott, and Proposition 7 of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:

Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.

But there does seem to be a perennial urge in human beings to say the unsayable. In Goethe's Faust, poor Gretchen asks him a nervous question: "So you don't believe in God?" and Faust answers her in overwhelming poetry, which is the only possible way to talk about such things:

... Name ist Schall und Rauch,
Umnebelnd Himmelsglut.

Anyway there's far more to life than thou art 'ware of, Horatio, and more to our appreciation of life than having a nice day. Sometimes we come to the "edge of doom" and look over it with horror. Sometimes we look over the "Doors of Bliss" (as Samuel Palmer did) and marvel at what dwarfs us. I for one refuse to have all this reduced to a trite catchphrase, so I have not sent the Humanists any contribution.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Where to start?

I've procrastinated too long this week, wanting to write a blog post about an extraordinary Japanese pianist I heard play last weekend and a Japanese painter whose exhibition I visited today, another blog post about my visit to Carleton University on Tuesday to see some rather different art on show, and (the toughest challenge) wanting to blog about the recent campaign to put an anti-religious slogan on the "big red buses" (as my 23 month old grandson calls them with such enthusiastic emphasis) in London, which has to date raised nearly £115,000 for this {...} cause. Fill in the adjective of your choice!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I have been engrossed in a British aristocrat's letters home: It Is Bliss Here, written in wartime and published posthumously, sixty years later. Myles Hildyard, 1914-2005, was educated at Eton, the son of a judge, and became an army officer at the beginning of World War II. His ancestral home, looking like this in John Piper's drawing of 1977, was Flintham Hall.

I came across the links in the above paragraph via Landschaft, a website created by a "tone-sculptor" (i.e. experimental composer, not unlike the fictional Hermann Simon in the film series Heimat, if you ask me) called Alan Walker, his project "encompassing music, photography, film-making and historical research, exploring themes of nostalgia [...] tapping into the lost memory of the landscape."

The way that's put calls to mind the quintessentially English poem:

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

This is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain.
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

(A.E. Housman).

I've just learned that the Spanish word for "homesickness" is "nostalgia", the word originating from the Greek "nostos" (=return home) and "algos", (pain). This morning my Spanish conversation group read an article by Cesar Antonio Bello—in the Ottawa Latin American immigrants' paper Mundo en Español—entitled Nostalgia, seeming to claim that if you do tap into your longings for the land of lost content, good things can come of it, for it creates a web of solidarity between those who have left the place they came from and the people who stay. Human society thus becomes more interconnected every day:

... Es lo que permite que la solidaridad humana se exprese como una densa red [literally = dense network] global que une a los que se fueron y con los que permanecen en el lugar de origen. La nostalgia es pues un sentimiento de apego [= a feeling of attachment / devotion] con todo lo que amanos. Está [...] es también parte de nuestra identidad en un mundo cada dia más globalizado e interconectado.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I'm excited by a story one of the German diplomats told our German conversation group on Thursday when she brought us an article to read about schools in Germany for German-Turkish youngsters, particularly focussing on such schools in and around Berlin.

Before we read that excellent article from Der Spiegel, Cristina, who used to live in the Turkish-dominated district of Kreuzberg, told us about one Berlin school whose name until very recently had been synonymous with violent aggression and lack of discipline among its multi-ethnic pupils (80% of them the children of recent immigrants), but which in the last two years has turned itself around. The story of the Rütlischule in Neukölln is a thrilling one. In 2006 the members of staff couldn't face entering a classroom without the means to dial for police intervention in case they got beaten up by their pupils. In the end the threat became so overwhelming that the teachers went on strike, thus making national headlines. Everyone at the school seemed to be "against" everyone else:

Im Chaos handelte fast jeder gegen jeden, jetzt lautet das Zauberwort "Miteinander"...

Nowadays, directed by Hr. Aleksander Dzembritzki, it's a model school, as described here in Die Zeit. There are numerous music and sports societies. Its proud, self-confident pupils have designed their own, trend-setting uniform, calling it Rütli-Wear. Their "magic" slogan is "Together" -- "Miteinander".

How has Dzembritzki achieved this miracle? When new pupils join the school they and their parents are made to sign a contract in which they promise to conform to three simple rules:

  1. Jeder Schüler hat das Recht, ungestört zu lernen.
  2. Jeder Lehrer hat das Recht, ungestört zu unterrichten.
  3. Jeder muss stets die Rechte des anderen beachten.

(i.e. Every pupil has the right to learn without being disturbed by others. Every teacher has the right to teach without being disturbed. Everyone must always respect the rights of others.) If they misbehave they are immediately sent to a Trainingsraum for private, individual correction. If five visits to the Trainingsraum do not improve their behaviour they are then suspended from attending the school.

The article read by our group did not mention the Rütlischule, but told similar success stories about private schools. In a former British army barracks in Spandau the Tüdesb-Schule (a privately funded Gymnasium for children of the well-integrated Turkish middle-class) is in operation. Some parts of German society are suspicious of schools like this, thinking they might be a breeding ground for Turkish separatism and Islamic extremism, but they should look at the facts. At the Tüdesb-Schule, less than a fifth of the teachers are of Turkish background. German is the language of instruction and the primary foreign language taught is English; Turkish comes second. The school is, according to the article, a "religionsneutrale Zone" where Islam is not on the syllabus. The children learn "Ethics" instead.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Notices at the hospital

I accompanied Chris to an appointment at one of the Ottawa hospitals last week. When we arrived we could find no helpful sign pointing to the X-Ray Department, so we asked the friendly, white haired gentleman—an unpaid volunteer at the Visitor Information desk—where the X-Ray Department might be, where Chris' doctor had told him to go. We were told to go in the direction of Diagnostic Imaging.

Diagnostic Imaging encompasses not only X-Rays but also Mammography, Bone Density Scans, CT Scans, Ultrasound Scans, Nuclear Medicine and Gastric/Specials [sic], so I suppose the X-Ray Department is an obsolete concept these days, but isn't it confusing for people under stress to have to translate medical jargon as soon as they first arrive, especially if English isn't their first language? Oh well, no doubt by their third visit or so they get used to it.

In the rather gloomy and cramped waiting area the only decoration on the walls is a cluster of notices speaking volumes about the current state of Canadian hospitals, despite the fact that the professionals and assistants who work in these places do an excellent job and usually deal very kindly with you if you're anxious or in pain. The first notice on my list, by the way, appears in triplicate:

ALL PATIENTS. Please be assured that each Diagnostic area takes patients in order, with the exception of EMERGENCY / URGENT ADD-ON cases. Your patience is greatly appreciated.

ALL PATIENTS. We apologize for delays due to high workload volumes. Our team is performing their best to help everyone.

The Queensway-Carleton Hospital believes that its employees deserve a safe work environment. Aggressive behavior and / or coarse language will not be tolerated.

Time to renew! These facilities are being upgraded to serve you better.

Wedding on the airfield

An unprecedented happening at the Rockcliffe Flying Club today. We watched a newly qualified private pilot getting married on the lawn in front of the clubhouse, with the usual airport activity going on around the ceremony, aircraft taxiing in, being refuelled, tied and untied, and from where I stood (not an official wedding guest) the engine noises were drowning out the couple's wedding vows and the officiator's homily. But a happy atmosphere prevailed, the guests keeping out of the northerly crosswind inside a large white marquee erected for the reception.

PTN is just visible in the background of this photo in her winter tie-down spot. After I'd taken a few more pictures, Chris took me for another wandering flight around the Gatineau Hills and RFC instructors took some of the wedding guests for joyrides in the club 'planes, too.

Audible minorities

Saying goodbye to the Australian High Commissioner's wife Kerry last Tuesday morning (at the Guyanese High Commissioner's house), some of us broached the subject of the Australian accent, and to my surprise, for I hadn't realised this, Kerry told us that you can't tell from people's voices in Australia which part of the country they come from. Yet Australia is a huge land mass! The uniformity must be partly because (for English-speakers at least) the country is so young, but even so, I find it puzzling and wonder whether regional accents and dialects other than "Strine" will emerge as time goes by.

I followed this up with George afterwards, ensconced in his observation tower at Parkes at the end of a monotonous night-shift therefore glad of a distraction on our Skype link, and he said there was a difference between the voices of city dwellers and country people, but he agreed with Kerry that there don't seem to be any regional differences.

I was also interested in what Emma told me the other day about walking through Daejeon in Korea the day before her conference began. She said,

It’s the first time I’ve been to a country where I look different from the local population. I was expecting to feel awkward about this, but actually it makes some things easier. For while in France, Italy or Russia people expect you to speak and understand their language, here there is no pressure – they take one look at you and know that you are going to struggle. I bet it’s frustrating if you did speak Korean, but for me it makes life simpler.

Chris and I were indulging in some pleasant escapism by watching our dvd of The Ashes this week. Great cricket, and great entertainment, the sports commentators and players speaking in their distinctive lingo. It does strike me though how alike the two teams are, ditto their voices. (Sorry, fellas, but from this distance that's how you seem to me!) If someone unfamiliar with cricket watched the video it would take them a while to tell which side was which. In fact we did this experiment with three of our Canadian friends last night and they hadn't a clue. Nor did they find the game as gripping as we do, more's the pity.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Voice of Fire

There's a famous / notorious painting in our National Gallery here called Voice of Fire. The photographs I took yesterday from the air over the Gatineau Park (click to enlarge these two) will remind me that the trees speak with that voice too, sometimes, and should be treated with respect.
I have decided to cast my vote tonight for a Canadian-Iranian Muslim gentleman who stands for the Green Party in our part of town, by the name of Akbar Manoussi. I think that a man like that and a political party like that deserve some respect and encouragement.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I'm a macrumors newbie!

Chris encouraged me to register on an Apple Mac users' forum this morning to tell the world how I managed to solve a word processing problem through sheer, unaided, technical brilliance (aka trial and error). All because I'd wanted to reread a letter I'd written in December '98 using WordPerfect, which wouldn't "open" in my current word processor, NeoOffice. The answer, by the way, is to choose Insert -> File, and Bob's your uncle (or in my case, your dad). I wanted to find out for how many years I'd been responsible for the musical distractions at our CFUW's annual Diplomatic Hospitality Christmas Parties. The answer, as revealed by my successful research this morning, is far too many, ten years. Anyhow, the "mac community" posted my contribution to the discussion forum under the moniker "macrumors newbie," which amused me, and in case I forget it, I shall make a note here to remind myself that in case I ever feel like joining these discussions again, my user name is adhobbs (some of the others have far wittier user names, but I can't be bothered) and my password is the name of a favourite poet of mine.

I hate this current obsession with security and am afraid it will get worse before it gets better. It's a bit of a paradox that in today's world we seem prepared to reveal intimate details about ourselves as never before, in Blogs like this, on Facebook and the like, and yet we suffer from paranoia lest anyone get an inkling of what might be revealed from our multifarious "accounts". This inconsistency seems to say something about our modern values and priorities. Oh well, I suppose I ought to have a System so that there aren't so many different usernames / IDs / account numbers and passwords to remember. It got worse when banks and such started insisting on passwords of at least 8 characters long, that contained both upper case and lower case characters and numbers. What a pain.

Another pain is having to make up my mind how to vote in the Canadian General Election tomorrow. In order to help me choose my party of allegiance, Chris has just read me extracts from the manifestos of the four main political parties (as published in one of papers yesterday), without revealing which party advocates which, and got me to choose my preferences regarding their environmental policies, health care policies, support for the Arts (an all-encompassing term if ever there was one, although many people seem to equate "Arts" with "TV")... and so on. The results of my personal ballot show me to be the archetypal floating voter, which doesn't surprise me in the least: on a per policy basis, had I the choice, I'd give one vote to the Conservatives, four votes to the Liberals, four to the NDP and four to the Greens. In other words, all the exercise taught me was that I shouldn't be voting for the Conservatives tomorrow, which I wasn't intending to do in any case.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

People in all directions

My daughter's at an optical radiometry conference in Daejeon, Korea, my grandson and son-in-law staying behind in London; my son's in New South Wales and my sister's in Old South Wales, near my mother. My friend Elva's co-ordinating international standards at meetings in Stockholm and my niece Rhiannon is on a very strict Vipassana meditation course in Hereford, England. As I stood at Rockcliffe airport watching the sun set this evening it seemed that my thoughts were going in all directions towards these various people, like the contrails lit from below the horizon.

Here in Ontario we had a real treat, flying to Westport, at Laurie's suggestion, over miles of brilliantly coloured Ontario trees and blue lakes under a blue sky. Three other planes landed with us on the grass and another (Bill's yellow Cessna, a "180 on floats") taxied over the lake to join the outing so that nine of us could squeeze round the table to lunch together by the Mill Pond.

(Added on October 12th) Today being Thanksgiving Sunday, the Gatineau Park, through which we hiked for a couple of hours with Laurie this afternoon, is full of families enjoying themselves in the fresh air, dabbling in the streams and swishing through the fallen leaves. Simple pleasures; it's good to see people forgetting the world wide economic crisis and such worries while the sun shines. We're looking forward to a Thanksgiving Supper with David and Elizabeth for which I'm contributing some cranberry sauce I've just made from local cranberries bought at the market and (inspired by my sister-in-law, Debbie, who specialises in such things) a table top flower-and-leaf arrangement crammed into a small pumpkin.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Autumn farewell

My mother flew away home this evening, taking with her the memory of what she saw of Canada in autumn, such as this tree on the shore of Lac Meech yesterday morning. The colour will soon be gone, too, but while the trees have been lit up like this we've feasted our eyes on them in the Arboretum and round Dows Lake, in the grounds of Rideau Hall, in and around Chelsea, and in the Beechwood cemetery, where a fallen leaf was floating in the pond.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Tents in the park

We went to see The Encampment after supper this evening, rows of old-fashioned tents erected in Major's Hill Park and illuminated from within at nightfall, this artistic installation imitating a camp set up around an archeological dig. Only in this case we (the public) are invited to dig for insights about the plight or triumphs of (Canadian) people with mental impairments and their collective history. There are seventy tents: the number stands for a significant score in Intelligence Quotient tests—if you score lower than that you are considered to be mentally "challenged" and if young, you are then channelled into special education; in the old days, you went into a special Home where children were quite often ill-treated, it seems.

Inside each tent is a "work of art": a creative collection of objects or some momento put there by a person with an intellectual disability or in some cases by someone who cares for him or her; the history of the individual concerned is written on a sheet of paper that's pinned to the door of each tent, a flashlight attached on a string so that you can read it in the dark.

The six of us who saw it together came away subdued and disturbed. Designed to force us imagine the lives of these people, if only for a few moments, The Encampment certainly didn't fail in its purpose.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Here are four photos I took today, in the Ottawa Arboretum, the Experimental Garden, the Byward Market and (through the window of our guest bedroom, at my mother's instigation) of our neighbour's tree.

Zubin, Pinchas and Johannes

Supporters of the NACO's nationwide education initiatives may sometimes attend the rehearsals of concerts taking place at the National Arts Centre, so yesterday morning I managed to get my mother and me into the two-hour rehearsal of Brahms' Violin Concerto and 2nd Symphony conducted by Zubin Mehta, a Parsi from Mumbai, although I expect he also thinks of himself as Viennese, having studied there (under Hans Swarowsky) with Claudio Abbado and Daniel Barenboim. He is obviously a good friend of Pinchas Zukerman, yesterday's soloist in the concerto, who is also the NACO's usual conductor.

The rehearsal was as good as a concert if not better. We had an unobstructed view of the orchestra from where we sat and observing the interactions of the conductor and instrumentalists (Pinchas Zukerman's glamorous wife among them), the orchestra less inhibited and more relaxed than in performance conditions, we also had a good view of their personalities, Yosuke Kawasaki for example, the new concertmaster from Japan, playing in dramatic style, rising from his seat at every surging passage in the music. We heard both works all the way through—none of the listeners could help applauding at the end as each one finished with a mighty flourish, con spirito.

It occurs to me that I'm to lazy to attempt a description of the music we heard and that the modern cult of personality in the music world might simply stem from the fact that journalists, always in a rush, find it so much easier to concentrate on the performers, to the detriment of the music that's performed. The music itself and the way it affects a listener is very difficult to put across in words.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Toadstool for warty bliggens

i met a toad
the other day by the name
of warty bliggens
he was sitting under
a toadstool
feeling contented
he explained that when the cosmos
was created
that toadstool was especially
planned for his personal
shelter from sun and rain

That was an extract from warty bliggens, the toad, sent to me by my friend Tanya after she'd told me, during our German morning, about the unpunctuated poems written by Archy, the cockroach in the 1920s. He seemed lighter-hearted than Gregor Samsa, the insect-man in Kafka's Metamorphosis, I said.

A couple of days ago my mother and I found the impressive and deadly (?) toadstool pictured above in a conservation area by the Rideau River and Kars "airpark". During Monday's drive to Kars and back we stopped for coffee and bruschetta by the river at Kelly's Landing and for tea and crêpes at Brown Bag Sue's in Manotick.