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.

Monday, October 27, 2014


Chris and I went to a performance by young people of Mozart's Requiem yesterday, to commemorate the centennial of the First World War's beginning. It was well conducted and well sung, with much energy and in a spirit of dedication. All the performers wore black with red poppies. I have my own, very personal memories of Mozart's Requiem––our family joined in a sing-along performance of it at the Royal Albert Hall in London once; my son and daughter used to sing the Lacrymosa movement in their high school concerts; and in the summer of 1984 the work was sung in its entirety at the Johanneskirche in Crailsheim, Germany, as a musical memorial to my father who had brought English and German youth choirs together.

Since Wednesday, a sad day for Ottawa, when a sentry was shot dead while on duty at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier beneath the National War Memorial and was then carried away to his own grave in a ceremonial convoy, deaths and memorials have been on everybody's mind. So much information and opinion has been published about this already, and about the other young man who was shot dead––the killer––and about the possible causes and implications of the attack, that I don't intend to add to it just now. Incidents like this stir up our thoughts and feelings, and we each react in our own, characteristic ways. I'm in the silent observer category. I saw crowds of people laying flowers near the Unknown Soldier's tomb today or just coming to stand there. Two sentries stood guard. It didn't feel like a dangerous place to be.

In contrast, this weekend, Chris and I were involved in the creation of a very quiet, low-key memorial to a man called Grant Campbell who used to be a familiar face at the Flying Club until in 2013 he suddenly didn't turn up any more. It turns out that Grant had died of cancer. Few of us had realised this, and neither had Chris nor I known that Grant had been a cartoonist-animator of some repute. On Saturday, Grant's sister and her husband came to the airport to supervise the planting of a sapling in his memory, a "fall fiesta" maple, in about the same spot where he used to sit talking to his good friend Tony after mowing the grass around the parked aeroplanes and the picnic tables. One day, when it's grown, the tree will provide some welcome shade there. At the moment it has no leaves, but a few of us stood around it all the same and some people helped to shovel in the symbolic heap of soil that the professional tree gardeners had left beside it. When the rain came down more heavily we huddled under the gazebo and the Chief Flying Instructor said a few words in memory of Grant and read us the pilots' poem High Flight by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. that's usually read out on such occasions.

Group of friends at the airport tree-planting ceremony
(photo by Brenda Reid)

Monday, October 20, 2014

"Courage, mon ami, le diable est mort!"

On Facebook, my brother-in-law challenged me to post three positive thoughts per day for a week. For the record, here they are.

Day 1
#1 This is not difficult. I'm grateful that I'm not mentally or physically unwell; otherwise it would be harder.
#2 When I mentioned this challenge to Chris he just pointed to the book of Schubert Lieder on our piano and didn't need to say a word.
#3 I have a whole lot of tasty leftovers in the fridge after the long weekend so shan't have to spend much time on cooking or grocery shopping during the next couple of days.

Day 2:
Clouds over Lake Ontario, photo by George Hobbs.
#1. I love swimming, especially when I can have the whole pool to myself for a while, as happened yesterday.
#2. Growing mint means that I can start the day with a refreshing drink that's easy to make, contains no caffeine and requires no shopping. I just pour hot water over a few mint leaves.
#3. "J'aime les nuages ... les nuages qui passent ... là-bas ... là-bas ... les merveilleuses nuages!" (Baudelaire)

Day 3:
#1. CWLH had his next work assignment in Germany approved, which means we'll both be able to cross the ocean again before the year's out.
#2. "How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world." (Shakespeare)
#3. My grandsons are learning to swim.

Day 4:
#1. Today is a free day for me, with no commitments on the calendar. This is a very restorative thought.
#2. It is so important to be considerate to children, because the memory of a happy childhood will comfort people in their old age. This applies to my mum who had an extremely happy childhood, full of laughter and fun. She remembers it in great detail and cherishes her parents (who died in the 1940s) as if they were still alive.
#3. The leaves on my kitchen windowsill speak for themselves ...

* My mother in Wales, photo by Carol Hinde
Day 5:
#1. A couple of my Ottawa friends visited my mother in Wales* yesterday evening––so kind of them!
#2. The cancellation of the Flying Club's cleanup day means that I can go to the Ikebana exhibition at the Japanese Embassy and perhaps see Mayumi there, so I don't mind the wet day.
#3. My Good Companions, and poetry, and music, and the open air. Those are what counteracts the vicissitudes, always. I'm not sure my grammar is correct, but you know what I mean.

Day 6:
#1. Only one more day of having to think positive, then I can get back to normal!
#2. Seriously though, how could I have omitted HUMOUR from my list of sustaining things? Bookmark this page in case you ever you need a tonic:
#3. We're so lucky to live in Ottawa. With all its faults and challenging climate, it must still be one of the best places to live in the world, a thought that strikes us every time we return from a trip away.

Day 7:
#1. If all my muscles ache this morning after swimming last night, it must mean I am developing stronger muscles.
#2. George will be reunited with his family in Beijing today.
#3. "Let me light my light, says the star, and never debate if it will dispel the dark!" (Rabindranath Tagore). This is the slogan for Child Haven, an unassuming, but very effective organisation based in Ontario that rescues destitute children in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and China (Tibet), to give them an affectionate, happy home and a promising future. I cheer up every time I hear or read about this. Salim Uddin, the owner of Ottawa's Shafali restaurants, is a founder member, his ancestral home in Bangladesh being one of the child havens.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Japanese Sogetsu inspired by Canadian art

Close-up of Mayumi's work of art
I went to an Ikebana show in the Information and Culture Centre at the Japanese Embassy and showed some pictures of it on my Facebook page, but as Facebook is all rather transitory, I'll record it here as well. I was very impressed. The arrangements (sculpture with plant materials) had a unifying theme: they were all inspired by Canadian art. Apparently the Ikebana specialists had been given a limited number of works of art (paintings / sculptures) to choose from and each of their creations was a tribute to one of those artworks.

Mayumi's work, front view
Mayumi Shepherd, a local Ikebana teacher from Tokyo, whom I know, sent me a personal invitation to the show. She was one of the exhibitors, her creation inspired by an abstract painting by Jack Shadbolt, entitled "Winter Theme": "As for my arrangement, it's made with 100 pieces of New Zealand Flax," she told me. "First, I make strings from flax when they are fresh and then I knit them together by hand (without needles) and repeat to make a piece like that. It took 6 months to create this large piece."

In the entrance hall was a different piece, very reminiscent of Mary Pratt's Red Currant Jelly.

The Ikebana arrangement (detail)

The painting by Mary Pratt
Here's another pairing that worked extraordinarily well:

Yumiko and her response to Riopelle
Yumiko Tsunakawa's creation, recalled an abstract sculpture by Riopelle ––Yumiko told me that she saw the picture of the sculpture and immediately know what she was going to do, but her search for the right materials took a long time. The metalic, tube like shapes on the left are made of a special kind of builders' paper.

Rather than list all the creations that impressed me, I'll just mention one more, a reworking of a painting by Alex Colville that I'd seen in Toronto earlier this month.

Infantry near Nijmegen, Holland (1946) by Alex Colville

Nancy Sharp's interpretation of Colville's painting
I was in this relatively small exhibition for a long time. Mayumi also tells me that at an forthcoming Sogetsu exhibition in Tokyo, there are going to be 700 creations on display. Imagine how much time I'd feel like spending there!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

What Ms. May had to say

Earlier this month Carol and I attended a CFUW meeting at which we heard Elizabeth May speak. She was introduced to her audience as "the smartest woman in Canada." She is an MP, the leader of the Green Party. I was expecting to learn something about the Green Party that evening, but she hardly mentioned it except by implication. The theme of her talk was Canadian democracy. At one point, with an allusion to Monty Python, she called it "a dead parrot."

"My vision comes from paying attention through six decades of living," she told us. We should all do likewise––pay attention, get engaged, get busy. We have a diminished democracy in Canada now, with political parties and their leaders exerting unhealthy amounts of power, so an informed and active citizenry is essential.

Ms. May comes from a family of left wing activists and she grew up on Cape Breton. She describes herself as a single mum who has no undergraduate degree, although she does have a degree in law. She's a grandmother and a vegetarian who has just published her eighth book, Who We Are, the book being part autobiography and part economic theory. It was the content of the book she wanted to talk about.

She told us who we were. The Canadians' good press was undeserved, she said, and in any case, we no longer have that good reputation. Our state now resembles an "elected dictatorship," with most MPs voting as they're told to vote and the PMO (Prime Minister's Office) being "a cancerous growth that needs to be excised." In her opinion, the PMO's budget, now at $10 million, should be slashed to $2 million at most. Her concern is that the electorate has allowed our democratic system to become "presidentialised." She fears that the only check on the abuse of power is self-restraint and reminded us that Mr. Harper the Prime Minister was not actually elected into that role.

20 years ago, she claims, we used to get better quality news. Now what we are allowed to know is far less useful and objective information is harder to obtain. Legislative committees have become politicised and political parties have charitable status, which makes it easy for them to spend, for example (in the case of the conservatives), $10 million in TV adverts. Nor does she like the way parliamentarians behave in the Houses of Parliament. She spoke of "contempt of Parliament on a daily basis" and called Question Period "bad high school theatre"––she says it's actually against the rules to heckle but no one takes any notice of the rules. The politicians also rehearse their answers to the questions, so the whole process is very artificial. She's obviously disgusted by it and pointed out that Flora MacDonald, whom she greatly admires, believes that "they haven't had a good Speaker [in the House of Commons] since 1972."

It's regrettable, thinks Ms. May, that the opposition parties were unwilling to work together in 2006, when the Conservatives began to lead their minority government. As a rule, minority governments have been healthier for democracy, in her opinion.

Anyway, the apathetic or despairing among us must get over the idea that by not voting we are somehow punishing the powers that be. More of the electorate didn't vote, last time round, than voted Conservative. If only they had bothered. But our first-past-the-post voting system in Canada is unfair and antiquated. It needs to be changed.

This was all preaching to the converted, it seemed, because when she finished speaking she got a standing ovation.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

China in the '70s

Last night I went to a CCFS lecture on China––"Before and After the 1978 Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee"––which was not as tedious as it sounds. The lecturer was Professor Charles Burton of Brock University, a specialist in Chinese history. In 1978 he was a student studying ancient Chinese thought in Shanghai but also taking in the mood and manners of his fellow students, mainly older than he. They were the first class to graduate from Fudan University (in 1981) after the Cultural Revolution had come to an end.

We heard a few of Mao's sayings, e.g. Let the past serve the present and Let foreign things serve China. Dr. Burton's comrades in those days had little or no experience of foreign things and he told how they hung his cheese (sent from his family) on a pole out of the window because it smelled so suspect. The students had all been in the Red Guard at one time or another and were supposed to report on the foreigner's behaviour. They knew he listened to American jazz on his headphones but they protected him, claiming that he was listening to China Radio news instead.

"I loved those guys!"

Children learned about the British and the Japanese incursions into China, so humiliating to the Chinese national pride. The lecture seemed to imply that the Chinese are still suffering from this "defeat at the hands of barbarians," even now. The point / theory of the social revolution led by Mao was that it would make China dominant again. It was largely a peasant revolt, at first. Landlords would be done away with, and not only landlords but also rats, birds, flies, prostitutes, petty criminals and so on. There were campaigns of wilful destruction against all of these groups. The attacks on birds, though, led to an unfortunate proliferation of insects.

After 1949 the Stalinist model of a planned economy took shape. Steel was the main thing, the product that would transform China. Every household was registered, so that the government would know whom they were controlling and where everyone was. Farmers (the impoverished class) were prevented from entering the cities, therefore there were few slums. University graduates were deliberately sent away to the borders of China to develop these regions and traditionalist thinkers were insulted and demonised (called "cow spirits" and such). Food and cotton were rationed and of course intellectual types were permitted less than the workers. Not until 1979 were the academic youth of Shanghai allowed to return to the city for its May Festival, after 13 years in exile. Their banners made a big impression on the young Charles Burton. "Give me back my youth!" one said.

In the 70s, Volume V of Mao's thoughts appeared including his list of the Nine Stinking Categories of people to be hated:

Rich peasants
Counter revolutionaries
Bad elements
Enemy agents

At 5:30am every day, a "sunrise song" was played over the loudspeakers at the university––The East is red! First it was played on xylophones, then by an orchestra, and the third time around by the full orchestra and mass choirs, by which time the campus was thoroughly awake. This would be followed by compulsory physical exercises. One day, that usual music was suddenly replaced by the broadcast of a tango, and The East is red! was never heard again.

Seek the Truth from Facts read the next slogan (i.e. facts, not Marxist ideology); this was the period when the Gang of Four was tried and condemned. Mao's wife claimed not to be so rich as she was accused of being, but simply living on Mao's royalties, so to speak. When Dr. Burton arrived in Shanghai two portraits hung in the classrooms, those of Chairman Mao and Chairman Hua Guofeng.

The lecturer commented that his contemporaries in China had so little control over their jobs, their homes, what they could buy, that this led to a psychology of passivity and a dispirited outlook. Nowadays, they are nearly all civil servants living and working in Beijing, and rich.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The return flight

Looking along the Toronto islands' shore
Coming home from Toronto was interesting, through a changeable cloudscape. Not such an interesting experience as the following day would have been, mind, since on that day there were waterspouts over Lake Ontario. Although the air temperatures had fallen rapidly, as we'd noticed, the lake water was taking longer to cool. A weak "trough" through which we passed on Sunday afternoon caused further instability: gusty winds and a tendency for the air to rotate. We did well to avoid those waterspouts.

Leaving Toronto towards a mix of cloud
On the Sunday morning of our departure, which we spent exploring some of the Toronto islands park, the weather looked fair, with fluffy cumulus and a strong breeze. In the afternoon the breeze was still strong, favouring us with a tailwind of 30 knots at altitude. Chris took us to 5000ft and in the larger clouds north of the lake the air temperature was hovering around 0º which meant that we had to keep a look out for ice on the wing strut, which would imply ice on the leading edge of the wings as well, before long. I thought I detected some; Chris claimed the drops were still liquid, but there was definitely a white frosting on both tyres.

Even so, I wasn't as nervous about the clouds as I had been on our flight from Marathon to North Bay in the summer. We're now in October. Among the clouds en route isolated TCUs were predicted, but only towering to 12,000ft at most, which is a lot less than 40,000ft. Chris teased me about the prospect of being tossed out in the high altitudes. The surrounding air wasn't bumpy at all, despite the wind, and on the ground ahead (we were flying along through or under the cloud bases) we could see sunny patches, which boded well. Over the lake shore to the east were sunlit, lower clouds, another promising sign.

Entering cloud-bases, with brighter weather ahead

Layers of cloud on the northern shore of Lake Ontario
Chris had predicted that we'd emerge into clearer conditions somewhere around Peterborough. We were somewhat east of there, over the "Land o' Lakes" when the skies began to clear, and the ground at our destination seemed to be sunlit, too. Where the clouds were denser and at their greyest, rain showers were visible and so were rainbows. The VFR visibility was superb. The winds at CYRO were light and variable.

Light and shade around Ottawa

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

In Toronto

We made the most of our weekend in the city. After a good deal of searching I had found us a hotel room at a relatively good price: all the downtown accommodation in Toronto is expensive, but we wanted to be close to where George was staying. So George trundled our suitcase and Chris carried the flight-bag some 3km from YTZ airport, past the CN Tower, etc., to the Hilton on Richmond West where we were allocated a room on the 17th floor with an impressive view and comfy fittings. On two afternoons in succession I took the opportunity to have a recuperative siesta on the huge bed. One of the ways of getting up there was to take a "Scenic Elevator" on the side of the building which offered some more bird's eye views of the cityscape. The lobby was full of Baudelairean luxe, calme et volupté, with giant orchids.

Our meals in the city were less extravagant: we twice ate at a Tim Horton's and otherwise at Asian restaurants (Pakistani, Indian, Vietnamese), at The Loose Moose pub and at Dunn's Famous Deli on King Street West.

George with city sculpture

Toronto is full of interesting art and architecture, sculpture very much in evidence. Last weekend we were lucky to have our stay coincide with the Nuit Blanche exhibits on the Saturday night, especially as most of them were near our hotel. It meant that the city was buzzing with people, enjoying the freedom of the traffic free streets, and there were surprises and talking points on every block. The atmosphere was very festive, with children and young people swelling the crowds. We kept Chris and Rob, George's colleague, in sight by virtue of their hats, Chris in his Tilley hat, Rob wearing a stripy one. Every so often we came across a repetitive installation called The Screaming Booth, a box with a door painted yellow on the outside and black on the inside. Individuals could go inside it for a minute or so and scream at will. George and Rob thought it would be a helpful thing to have at their workplace. Another fascinating work of art was the plastic bubble in which you could sit and be isolated, a comment on urban life, most likely.

Nuit Blanche about to begin on Queen Street West


"Walk among Worlds"

Toronto has good and bad qualities. It always seems to be ruined by roadworks and other noisy, dirty and disruptive construction projects, this past year more so than ever, although the only major improvement that will never take place would be to get rid of the Gardiner Expressway that's been running between the railway and the waterfront since the 1960s and severing the citizens from their lake. However, the city does have plenty of interesting art and architecture. As usual when in Toronto, we paid a visit to the University bookshop and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), this time to take George to see the Alex Colville retrospective and take the weight off our feet in the curvaceous and calming Galleria Italia, where they serve drinks. You find it by asking one of the art gallery attendants and then pushing through some heavy doors––directions to the cafeteria are not clearly marked.

Much of Colville's art has a "menacing" feel to it, but not all: his paintings of his wife, who must have been his refuge, were tenderly done, even if he didn't always reveal her face to us. Likewise the images of his dogs. In general we couldn't quite decide if his paintings are realistic or not. In aiming to be super-realistic he seemed to transcend realism. Chris thought that his paintings of things happening at speed seemed to have the subjects suspended in time and space, not moving.

The other thing that's worth paying attention to in Toronto is its multicultural aspect. Walking through Chinatown, you might almost be in Beijing, particularly as regards the smells and the sounds made by the people speaking. Outside the food shops the labels on the produce are rarely translated into English. It's assumed you wouldn't shop there unless you could read the hanzi (汉字). Chinatown extends beyond the AGO along Dundas Street (登打士西街) and the parallel streets, spilling into Spadina Avenue round the corner (士巴丹拿道) where I took this picture of Chris and George:

We made the most of Toronto's proximity to Lake Ontario too, Chris giving George and Rob an aerial tour on Saturday morning, and on Sunday morning we took one of the ferries to the islands and back, the return fare only $7. This area too is a remarkably different world from the rest of the city.

Rob in the front seat of PTN, photo by George

View of YTZ and the city, from their flight

George exploring the south shore of the Toronto islands

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Bananas at dawn!

Wheels up at sunrise
Having thought of the title, I had better write the blogpost to go with it.

We went to see our son George who was visiting Canada at this year's International Astronautical Congress in Toronto, helping his colleague Robert Hollow promote the PULSE@Parkes project to Canadian high school teachers and other interested parties (they have already introduced this Australian scheme to schools in Japan and the UK). Rob has been the co-ordinator of the project since its inception in 2007 and George is the chief scientist involved in it. During the week George also gave a talk about pulsars at the University of Toronto.

The idea was to save time by flying to Toronto in PTN rather than taking the car––it's more fun to fly in any case––but because of a dubious weather forecast for the day when we needed to travel (October 3rd) we realised we'd have to set off in good time. We woke up in the dark, grabbed a banana each for sustenance, and reached the airport just as it was getting light. We were the only people there, but we have a key for the gate, and the 'plane was ready, fuelled and oiled. Chris filed his flight plan on line and opened it in the air. We were wheels up at sunrise, heading out over the river.

Toronto, on a hazy morning
Which was all very well, but the commercial flights were taking off too, from YOW, meaning that we had to be diverted to the north (almost as far as Wakefield) while those large planes cleared the airspace. After 25 minutes of frustration we were finally allowed to cross the border from Quebec to Ontario again and head in the right direction, into wind unfortunately. The whole flight to Toronto therefore took us longer than anticipated, about 2.6 hours, finishing with a "visual approach" to the island airport over the lake, landing on runway 08. When we taxied up to the Porter FBO on Toronto Island airport though, all was forgiven, because there was George to meet us and help us with the luggage. He'd been following our progress on FlightAware.