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, December 17, 2010

New in-laws

Our son George got married this week at the registry office in Sydney. It was a deliberately low key affair, nothing like the big wedding Chris and I attended here in Ottawa last summer. George and Sha had nine guests, a round of beer at the pub afterwards, followed by a Sezchuan supper. 
George's new parents-in-law are called 杜玉奎 (du yu kui) and 虞秀华 (yu xiu hua), names that we'll have to practise writing and saying before we meet them in Beijing next year!
Sha, with her parents, photo by George

I read an interesting point in the Wikipedia article about Mandarin Chinese:
The written language, called "classical Chinese" or "literary Chinese", is much more concise than spoken Chinese, the main reason being that a single written character is often just what one wants to communicate yet its single syllable would communicate an ambiguous meaning if spoken because of the huge number of homonyms. For instance, 翼 (yì, wing) is unambiguous in written Chinese but would be lost among its more than 75 homonyms in spoken Chinese.
That tallies with what I'm finding when I try to remember the vocabulary. I look up a word like hua, for example, and here is the sort of page I get when I search for its meaning. Not that I'm complaining; I love this sort of challenge, and I know some people who can help me.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Chris took me up in the aeroplane yesterday afternoon. The hills were a "soft grey" (as Elva puts it) with patches of white and brown among the evergreens; the lakes were white. The sky was grey too, but, to the northeast of us, as we followed the Gatineau River up to Wakefield, we could see a small patch of brightness.

"Let's fly into that patch of sunshine!"

"All right," said my pilot.

A few minutes later we were in the magic, the snowy slopes below us lit with slanting light. We could actually see the light beams coming through the clouds to the west. For a few moments, there had been blue sky above us:
...that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky
I thought of that poem, and of prisoners, and I realised what a privilege it is to see something beautiful ahead and be able to fly straight towards it. Having a 'plane doesn't come cheap though. I think perhaps I was even more appreciative of freedom, or closer to essentials, when I we had less money, when I wrote this...
Skaters, with slick and liquid limbs
And surfers, aslant a wave,
On the tip, shimmering,
Sky-divers, flung against cold air,
Have all attained a certain ecstasy;
And so have I,
Walking in sunlight
Down an ordinary street.
The street in my poem was Downside, Shoreham-by-Sea, in Sussex, in the 1980s. We lived at No. 35. Never look up your old address on Google Earth, by the way, if you want to keep your memories intact. I am horrified to discover that they've gone and erected a garage where my asparagus and gladioli used to grow against the fence, and the frog pond seems to have gone as well. It's still a nice garden, though, with plenty of trees for children to climb, and the conservatory / extension we had built at the back of the house is still standing.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Norwegian choir, etc.

This morning I watched the live broadcast from the BBC of the ceremony I mustn't mention in public in case it jeopardizes my VISA application next year (but you know what I mean). Very moving, as were the faces of the Norwegian children in the choir.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Hangzhou is no longer on our calendar for December, the reason being that Chris is urgently required to work on a different assignment instead. For more reasons than one, we are both disappointed, but at least we shan't now have to contend with Christmas-time crowds at the airports and can relax at home for the holidays. Chris didn't have time to brood over the change of plan because he was obliged to go out to teach at the flying club. To get over my own sense of disappointment, I took myself out on impulse to be entertained by a gentle and original French film at the Bytowne, La Tête en Friche. The actress in it was a lively 96 year old playing the character of a 95 year old and the other main character was acted by Gérard Dépardieu, so yes, it was well worth going out on a chilly evening to see. Here's the trailer.

This morning about twenty of us drove to Elvira's for a Christmas get-together where we sat around chatting in German (and in English to her pretty Australian grand-daughter from Melbourne who poured the coffee and handed out the Leckerbissen very graciously), then singing some German Christmas carols together. There was still some time to spare so someone asked me to read a story to the group. I chose a children's story from the Christmas file I'd brought along: Die Legende von Nikolaus und Jonas mit der Taube, by Willi Fährmann. A previous German member of the Konversationsgruppe, during the time when I was its convener, had left us with a collection of Mr Fährmann's stories. This one was about a miracle brought about by St. Nicolas in Myra.

After saying goodbye and fröhliche Weihnachten to our friends, Lolan and I drove back downtown talking about China (Lolan was born in Sìchuān—Szechuan—but has lived in Canada for the last forty years). I had her drop me off at the Rideau Centre so that I could do some shopping. Since we're still expecting to be in China (not perhaps, in this case, but definitely), for the sake of George's hūnlǐ, I went into Chapters and bought myself the Oxford Beginner's Chinese Dictionary so as to learn another 15,000 or so words by next May. It lists the Chinese characters in alphabetical order of their pinyin equivalent, so that I can actually look them up without too much difficulty, and includes notes about the words and examples of their use, a bit of grammar, an index of "radicals" (I haven't even begun to get to grips with those yet, can't even grasp what they are), "measure words", and the basic rules for writing Chinese characters—the order and direction of their strokes.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The other two parties

Room for a couple more trees?
Not so much snow on the ground during our tree hunt at Bob's, this year. Here's Laurie showing off Elva's choice of Christmas tree. Rather larger trees were felled for the other family homes, so as usual it cost some effort, squeezing them all into the back of Don's van. Meanwhile, the ladies of the party had time to collect branches and dried milkweed stalks for extra decorations. Sheer enjoyment, as my photos clearly show.

Francine, Tracey, Jill and Elva
After the activity came the shared food (home-made) and wine (also home-made). Laurie had baked two of his ciabatta loaves for us. We had Glögg from a punch bowl, chili beef, chicken soup and cheesecakes. All of it delicious, while little pine siskins, nuthatches and chickadees fed more delicately from the bird feeder outside and a log fire blazed virtually on the TV screen inside, amidst Tracey's Finnish Christmas decorations.
Robert's home-smoked salmon

In the late afternoon we headed reluctantly back to town, making a detour on the way home so as not to miss the end of the Rockcliffe Flying Club's Christmas party when Santa touches down to hand out a gifts from his sack (aka old tail cover) in the warmth of the clubhouse. Don's Christmas present (to himself) is too large to bring into the clubhouse; it has to stay in the hangar. On Saturday Terry flew the yellow RCAF Chipmunk (C-FEGO) home from London (Ont.) to Rockcliffe with Don as co-pilot and Don's daughter Kathryn, as pilot of the outbound 'plane, accomplished a six-hour cross country return flight in windy weather.

After the Birthday Party

We missed the most important party this weekend, had to attend it virtually, by Skype. Because of the time zones we arrived late, after most of the guests had left, but Alexander's other grandparents were still there; John took this picture of the birthday boy playing with the present we'd sent, with us looking on and saying hello from across the ocean.

Thanks, John.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Party season

In a few minutes we're off to the QNX Christmas Dinner-Dance to be held at the Canadian War Museum, I hope not amidst the exhibits, or I'll get depressed. That'll be our second party of the season.

 Yesterday I partied with diplomats and diplomat-spouses at "St. Bart's" Church, an event which included our singing in German and a demonstration by Gail, at the altar, of what to wear for the upcoming snow shoeing season, the snow-shoe events convener preaching from the pulpit about the wisdom of putting on warm, layered underwear. A nice juxtaposition for my blog, I thought. We were also entertained by Ulle and the lady from Kazakhstan singing a New Year song in Russian, which they'd both learned in the USSR as children, when not allowed to celebrate religious festivals. The church has an extraordinary stained glass window, by the way, which you can read about here.

People from five different continents are in these photos
Two more parties tomorrow with the usual suspects, the Flying Club gang. We're all driving out to Bourget to pick out Christmas trees from Bob's property in the morning and in the late afternoon some of us must be back in time for the Flying Club's Christmas social in the clubhouse.
With Fran, of Barbados

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The things we do!

As I write this, Chris is in Carleton University's Senior Common Room, talking to a historian about the Sassanians or Sassanids, as some call them, of ancient Persia. Chris was set up for this by means of a chance encounter at a dinner party at Vija's house, where the other guests were four academics and the conversation over supper so stimulating that none of us thought we'd ever get any sleep that night. We drove home in precarious conditions too, at a crawl because of freezing rain on the highway, passing two ambulances that had crashed into the central barrier. Actually Chris and I did eventually sleep like logs.

I ought not to be blogging; I ought to be working on my Christmas Letter which sums up everything we and the rest of the family have done this year. However small I make the font, I can't seem to make it fit onto two short pages.

Gilgamesh fighting Enkidu
The other things I should be getting on with are a short social history of the Rockcliffe Flying Club (notes for a journalist who wants to write about it in the next edition of Wings magazine; the RFC is 50 years old next year) and the epic story of Gilgamesh which I'm adapting and illustrating—now there's a challenge!—for a four-year-old to read. I've got to go out for a hair cut in half an hour, in the torrential rain, and spring clean the house in preparation for our departure for China, whenever that might happen to be).

Chris is taking a three-day break from work to recharge his batteries which is how he has time for his Sassanian lunch-chat. This weekend we have four Christmas Parties to go to. We were invited to a fifth but decided to turn it down.