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.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

An experimental week

In order to see whether or not he can cope with retirement, my husband Chris, who'll be 67 by the end of this year, has begun a new, experimental régime, whereby he takes five working days off work every four weeks (75% of his previous hours––the new contract took some time to arrange, because other employees wanting a reduction usually ask to work for 80% of the time). This week is the first try, and so far I think it has gone well. It seems a much better idea than for him suddenly to give up his job altogether.

Having returned from Kingston on Monday, we went hiking round Wakefield yesterday, and today spent a couple of hours cycling up and down the Rideau River bike trail, about 23km, discovering a new bridge for cyclists across the Rideau River. Our walk through Wakefield among the wild flowers, butterflies and bees was, as always, extremely relaxing, so much so that I actually fell asleep in a chair at the mill beside the stream during the afternoon. Next time we go we'll park at the Mill, because we noticed that they have a free plug-in there for electric cars. On the way back to the car this time we saw two girls sitting in a barn loft dangling their feet over the edge, perhaps the same ones who'd brought a pet ferret for a dip in the river earlier. Life moves at a slower pace, in Wakefield. Another discovery there was a new extension to the Wakefield trail.

Tomorrow, till the afternoon of Canada Day, a couple of old friends are coming to visit us, with whom we've kept in touch since we first met them in Apeldoorn in 1978. Elaine speaks English with a Dutch accent but was originally from Canada; Piet is altogether Dutch.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Summer outing in a Cessna 172

Monday afternoon, 27th June

We are home again from Kingston. PTN made an untoward noise of protest on start-up, which means we'll probably have to replace her starter soon, but there was no problem with our take-off on Runway 19. At 1200ft asl we were already in cloud, first flying above the dazzling white clouds at 5000ft, then in and out, then more in than out (too bouncy for my liking), then over the top again as we reached the Ottawa Valley, finally doing a "vectored LPV approach" towards Gatineau. Chris said he'd never practised one of those before and that it was interesting to be doing it for the first time "in real IMC," not breaking out of cloud until we'd dropped to about 1200ft, during a long final on the "suspended / unsuspended" RNAV approach to Runway 27, when we cancelled our IFR flight plan, able to change our destination to Rockcliffe because the morning mist had been broken up by the sun into scattered cumulus. We had been warned of windshear on the descent and Chris told me to stop fussing because we were up here now and had to land the [insert emphatic adjective] aeroplane somehow, we didn't have any choice. In the event the expected turbulence wasn't too noticeable and we landed safely at Rockcliffe in a crosswind from the south that suddenly disappeared as we passed the aviation museum, so the plane bounced a little along the runway. Lots of anecdotal material here for future groundschool classes! 

 The rest of this post was written yesterday.


Sunday evening, 26th June

We had a plan to go away today, to spend a night or two on the Isle aux Grues in the St. Lawrence river, northeast of Quebec. When I rang the hotel on the island I found they had no vacancies, and I was reminded that it was the St-Jean-Baptiste weekend, when Quebeckers traditionally take a holiday. I also noticed that the weather forecast for Quebec wasn't good. Onto Plan B therefore, a flight in the other direction. We have never been to Owen Sound which looks like a nice place to stay and has an airport, so I booked a room at the Great Western hotel on the waterfront.

Weather systems in North America, 2016-06-26
This morning we looked at the aviation weather pages and Chris declared that he was not willing to fly towards a huge frontal system stretching from Hudson Bay to the mid-western States, generating a line of heavy thunderstorms, associated with a low level jet stream with 60 knot winds. The thunderstorms were forecast to reach Owen Sound at about the same time as we would: not good! So I cancelled the hotel booking and we flew to Kingston instead. (This is the second time we have been thwarted by rough weather from visiting Owen Sound. We shall try again before long.)

The Wolfe Island ferry
All the same, we had a very pleasant day today, a calm flight, a pause by the lake near the airport where a mother duck was watching her ducklings bounce through the little waves breaking on the shore, a fish and chip lunch followed by a visit to a 2nd hand bookshop, then a ride on the free ferry to Wolfe Island where we sauntered around before sailing back to town again an hour later.

The island is named after General Wolfe who is adulated in this part of the world (the historic plaque on Main Street describing him as a paragon of virtue), though not in Quebec. There's a General Wolfe Hotel, too. At first glance the island has a rather lazy, old fashioned atmosphere, as if we'd floated back to the 1960s, with hippy types living in one of the run-down roadside cottages. We bought drinks at a roadside shack with plastic tables on a shady lawn and I found a local art show at the information centre. I was interested to discover that you can rent bikes on the island and spend the day touring around it that way. It's an appealing suggestion. Not today though, too hot. It was too hot to move at times; the breeze as we crossed the water on the jam-packed ferry was a great relief.

Abandoned marina on Wolfe Island

Local art exhibition at the Wolfe Island Information Centre

View from our hotel room: Kingston's market square
Once back in Kingston we checked in at the Sheraton Four Points and lay on our comfy bed, where we both immediately fell asleep.

It had cooled down by the evening so we walked along the paths by the water as far as the yacht club and back; for supper we found a flowery outdoor patio at an Asian restaurant on Ontario Street. I ate an excellent Cambodian wonton soup followed by a blackcurrent ice at the gelato place opposite. We did some more sitting and gazing in the park where young couples were energetically practising swing dance in the park pavilion near Queen's University and saw the sunset and the many wind turbines turning on Wolfe Island, a light coming on at the axis of each one as night approached.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Chip and Fred

The week has not been altogether depressing. On Wednesday I attended another of those Doors Open For Music concerts at the Southminster Church, as mentioned in my penultimate blogpost, and it was as satisfying as I'd anticipated. Frédérick (Fred) Lacroix was the pianist and Charles (Chip) Hamann was the oboe player who announced each item as the concert progressed.

At one point he asked rhetorically, "Is there anything Fred can't do?" and a female member of the audience piped up, "He can't have a baby!" (Laughter.)

The first piece, Lacroix' own Sonatine pour hautbois et piano, was a world première, its structure inspired by Baroque music, apparently, incorporating inversions of the thematic material and canons, of a sort, in the first and last movements. It began with a yearning and swirling "middle eastern" theme: "the oboe is a moody instrument," said Chip, who has been principal oboist in the NACO since 1993. His friend Fred often works with him at the University of Ottawa and composed this work for him. Its second movement is "as jazzy as possible, but not too fast," a conversation between the two instruments, and the third movement (lentement) is contemplative. In contrast, the final movement  is "vigorous" (vif), with a changing metre. Apparently the accompaniment quotes from a favourite Mozart sonata at one point, but I didn't spot this.

The next item on the programme was also Canadian, by a female composer I had not heard of, an anglophile called Jean Coulthard who died in 2000 aged 92. This too made a wistful start, "gently flowing", but it livened up towards an impressively virtuoso ending. Chip confessed that the performers were "still figuring out the notes and things" for this one, but they seemed to me to have mastered it: false modesty!

The two of them are preparing for a Chamberfest concert later this summer, with much the same programme.

There followed a lament for the victims of AIDS written by Marjan Mozetich, called Calla Lilies, which the performers thought appropriate as a tribute to the people who'd died in the Orlando shooting.

"Neither in the major nor the minor, like the British weather", the next piece was a Sonata in C (Op. 100) by the English composer Edmund Rubbra, written in 1958. For the middle movement of three, the Elegy, Chip said something about "one-ness in an era of fragmentation"––yes, we need a strong dose of that––and the final Presto had a beautifully rippling accompaniment.

The last item was Ravel's famous Sonatine, originally for piano but transcribed for oboe with a piano accompaniment in this case by an oboist, David Walter, of the Paris Opera orchestra. Chip Hamann called it "astonishingly concise and beautiful." I find it gorgeous; I confess to having a great weakness for Ravel's music.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Anger and tears from across the Pond

These are some of the reactions I have seen on Facebook this morning, from my British friends (and their friends), to the result of the EU referendum:

  • I know that [Facebook] is probably going to be a wall of text today from everyone weighing in their two cents and I've tried to stay out of all of that until now, but I am so, SO gutted that the older generation have chosen to limit MY generation's future all because of your xenophobic, Little England mentality. A victory for paranoia, xenophobia, right-wing populism. Nigel [Farage] "has his country back" and it's in tatters.
  • The turkeys have been convinced that they're not turkeys. And that Christmas meant free unicorns for every turkey.
  • Sadly, I fear it actually means they will be well stuffed, roasted, and served with extra pigs in blankets.
  • My anger was spent at the appalling misinformation and ideological blinkeredness by rich politicians with no understanding or empathy with the people this decision will effect most. Now I'm in tears.
  • Im still in the anger phase of my grieving process.
  • I’m so angry. A generation given everything: free education, golden pensions, social mobility, have voted to strip my generation’s future.
  • Very sad. Words fail me.
  • Well, the British electorate voted in the party they deserved, but this....! Will any EU country have me? More importantly will they realise, for example, the falling pound, is their fault or will they find someone else to blame?
  • I'm still a European ... just with my freedom and choices severely limited.
  • I was seriously considering spending a year teaching somewhere in Europe next year. Guess I'll have to scrap that idea.
  • Britain ... oh dear, you idiots! Travel to mainland Europe is about to get a lot more expensive ... no more EU enforced affordable mobile coverage, no more European wide medical treatment (EHIC gone, leading to inflated travel insurance), and poor exchange rates. One of the more trivial consequences, but an illustration of the everyday impact this likely leave vote will have.
  • Devastated. Baffled. Mainly Ashamed.
  • Cameron's legacy will be forcing an EU referendum which has divided the nation and resulted in our exit from the EU, of which only a small majority of the electorate desire, followed by a new PM put in place without the mandate of the electorate.
  • I'm going to say that the root cause is bonding with other human beings by blaming the people who are not in the room for everything.
  • There's one sentence that springs to mind, "Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” A very sad day for the likes of me, for all who dream borders and nation-states would be a thing of history, an error of the past ...
  • What have we done? Allowing the general public their say? We are not the experts. It's ridiculous! It shouldn't have come to this!
  • The only glimmer of hope is that most young people voted to stay in. Now we all need to engage more in politics and confront all lies and bigotry where we see it. Even in our own families. We cannot afford the rise of the right.
  • Right, so now we're in the odd position that MPs have to make a decision that the majority of them don't want. If the EU offers a deal saying "we'll continue our relationship exactly as before except that you won't have a say any more" would they accept it?
  • I was with a group of pensioners yesterday (all male except for me) and they were overwhelming Leavers. I think there's a nostalgia for pre-Thatcherism, without remembering the bad things ...
  • Youth voted 75% to Stay. I am ashamed for my cohort who wanted out.
  • If you voted leave, you have swallowed the lies of the fascist manipulating right wing racist press.
  • Too horrified to post anything useful.

I added a post myself:
"This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land, 
Dear for her reputation through the world ... .
...England, that was wont to conquer others, 
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself."


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Quite a queer concert, with serious overtones

The doors of Southminster Church in Ottawa have been "Open for Music" every Wednesday lunch hour for the past few weeks, and I have attended most of the concerts in the series. Tomorrow's recital looks very promising, featuring the world première of Frédéric Lacroix' Sonatine pour hautbois et piano, to be performed by the composer and Charles Hamann, first oboist in the NACO. Mr. Lacroix teaches piano and composition at the University of Ottawa and is respected as a fine musician hereabouts. They're also going to perform pieces by Rubbra, Ravel and others.

Last week (June 15th) I sat on the front row for a very different sort of performance by Tone Cluster, Ottawa's "choir for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people and their allies," as it says on their website. They are also known as Quite A Queer Choir. Our friend Gianluca is its VP and Concert Co-ordinator. This concert was dedicated to the victims at the gay nightclub in Orlando where three days previously a man had gone berserk and killed 49 people, injuring 53 others. In any case the audience knew that this was to be a concert with a message, entitled Issues of Note. Every item was performed with a particular social issue in mind and every item was sung with passion, our grief at the recent news giving the concert an extra dimension.

Even before the choir started singing they were interesting to look at, dressed in black with bright red accents, scarlet shirts or neck wear, scarlet hair decorations, or, in the case of one of the baritones, with a pony tail, short skirt, high heels and a scarlet cummerbund.

The first piece was the heart-tapping, thigh-slapping, finger clicking White Winter Hymnal, followed by the spirited Alhamdoulillah, a song of welcome to Syrian refugees. Then came Words (on an anti-bullying theme) and the traditional spiritual, Bright Morning Stars Are Rising, incorporating a solo by Gianluca, which they dedicated to the victims of AIDS / HIV. Keeping their audience in an emotional state, they continued with an arrangement of a disturbing song, I Don't Like Mondays, about a shooting by a schoolgirl, and the catchy I Dreamed of Rain which I have heard them sing before.
... I dreamed of freedom and the moon rose,
And peace spread over the land ...
Tone Cluster performing 'Hernando's Hideaway'
The transgender baritone sang a solo during the choir's rendition of Loch Lomond (another catchy enough tune to stay in one's head for days), recalling the partings due to war, and then they sang the Tibetan Om Mani Padme Hum, a celebration of "cultural diversity ... as important as biodiversity!", which started with a very deep bass drone, effectively done. We also heard a piece in French, Je te retrouve, and "something completely different", Hernando's Hideaway, with plenty of movement from the choir, swaying their arms and waltzing. The sister of a choir member had written Come Sit With Me, which according to the introduction dealt with equal marriage, followed, to my surprise, by a Renaissance madrigal about a dying swan, Il bianco e dolce cigno. I wonder if they have ever tried Gibbons' madrigal, The Silver Swan, along similar lines.

They are a versatile choir indeed. The last two items were Eric Idle's Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life (famously sung in Monty Python's Life of Brian) –– they had fun with that one –– and Gently Walk On The Earth, composed for Tone Cluster and premièred at MosaiK.

I came away very affected by this experience; it took the whole of my bike ride back to Sandy Hill (where I bought a coffee) to calm down.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

This week

After my all-day boat trip on Opinicon Lake and Sand Lake (see my previous post), the rest of the week wasn't exactly humdrum, either.

On Monday evening Nancy (Jingnan Xue), my latest Mandarin teacher, came to introduce Erika and me to some Chinese words for flowers and stayed a while for tea afterwards, which we drank from my little Chinese cuplets. We learned about the importance of peonies, chrysanthemums (júhuā 菊花) and osmanthus (guìhuā 桂花) in Chinese culture, where people say that the shadows on the face of the moon are osmanthus bushes. The "Four Gentlemen" (sì jūnzǐ 四君子) of China are the chrysanthemum, plum blossom, orchid, and bamboo. Lotus flowers on their straight stems represent people of strong will and integrity. A rose (méiguī) represents a temperamental lady, whereas a waterlily would stand for a fragile, southern beauty. The Chinese word for narcissus (shuǐxiān) means water fairy. I learned that it is bad manners to bring a potted plant as a gift to someone in hospital because the implication would be that they'd be staying there for a long time, although potted plants as a New Year's gift are far more acceptable.

On Tuesday I attended a Garden Party –– the 4th annual recurrence of UWHAW's Voices for Afghan Women –– a posh event for 120 people, where I was busy taking photos and taking notes on the speeches. I'll write a separate post about this.

On Wednesday I cycled along the banks of the canal on a warm and sunny day to witness a remarkable midday concert given by Tone Cluster, aka Quite A Queer Choir. That too deserves a separate blogpost. 

Thursday was the day of the lunch party for my German friends at Dagmar's cottage by the Gatineau River where we gave leaving gifts to two diplomat friends who by the end of the summer will be living in Hamburg (Ulli) and Almaty, Kazakhstan (Uschi); we lingered beside the river sitting in Dagmar's colourful Muskoka chairs and admiring the sparkle of mica in the rocks in her steeply sloping garden. 
Annika on a Steinway grand

Then in the evening I accompanied Chris on a Steinway piano at the local "Steinway Piano Gallery" during another concert, this one organised by his singing teacher, Christine. Chris sang Schubert's Der Wegweiser and Heidenröslein and the other male student, Brendan, sang Elton John's Rocket Man and Let Her Go by someone called Rosenberg. What a contrast. Everyone performed with serious commitment anyhow, and the children had made progress since this time last year. A young woman called Anna who was an ex-student of the studio performed pop duets (by Glen Hansard and The Tenors) with Brendan and with Christine. The "recital" was followed by fruit and cookies.


Yesterday morning, Friday I took part in an AGM presenting two reports and joining in the sometimes rather heated discussions. We had our usual friends to supper at our house yesterday evening as well, which was mostly soothing, although we did have a discussion about the relative merits of Elton John and Schubert which stirred me up, rather (Chris too). L'esprit de l'escalier ... in retrospect, what I should have said is that it's like asking how the Laurentian hills compare with the Himalayas. To illustrate their points, Laurie and Don played us recordings of Candle in the Wind by Elton John and songs from Lloyd Webber musicals on their smart phones and Chris countered with the Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, after which there wasn't a lot more to say, really.

Today, Saturday, I went swimming before lunch. Afterwards Chris flew me from Rockcliffe to the other side of the city, to Carp, where we met a very recently arrived, Canadian government sponsored, Syrian refugee couple, for the sake of taking them and their interpreters for a ride in the 'plane. We were introduced to everybody by Chris' friend and colleague, Patrick. The little girl, Chahed, was three years old (she sat with her mother in the 'plane) and Achmad, her brother, was one-and-a-half. None of the family has come to grips with English, yet, but Chahed could say "Bye bye" when we left, and her brother was grabbing the airport's petunias and trying to say "Flower."

Monday, June 13, 2016

A chilly day on the water

Ready to depart with all aboard, at Chaffey's Lock
My friend Carol took me on a special excursion; her husband couldn't participate that day (12th June), so she had asked me to be his substitute. We rode on a pontoon boat from Chaffey's Lock to Jones Falls and back, along the Rideau Canal route, crossing Opinicon Lake and Sand Lake and navigating some of the inlets and channels between their islands. There were eight people on board, including Captain Ted, whose boat it was.

Our starting point was close to the Opinicon Lodge on the banks of Opinicon Lake, where Carol and I had stayed once, its lawns sloping down to the lake's edge. Once we reached open water in the open boat, Carol's blanket shared across our knees was a blessing on this cold day, unusual for mid-June. I was wearing four layers including a wind-proof jacket with the hood up, gloves and scarf, as well as the blanket, but still felt frozen to the bone! So did everyone else on board. However, the advantage of setting out in the chilly weather was that we had the locks to ourselves, so no delays during our waiting time.

The first hour of our ride was around Opinicon Lake, seeing the cottages on the rocky shores and marvelling at how they'd been built there. We also saw plenty of birds: ospreys, bald eagles, herons and loons.

From Davis Locks, where scouts were camping in tents and paddling their canoes, and where we met the lock keeper, we sailed on to Sand Lake. It was a particularly windy crossing, the spray coming over the side of the boat at one point and soaking Louise who was sitting in an unlucky spot. Ted was driving us full throttle through the choppy waves and past the tiny islands mid-lake, which I found exciting ... not that our boat was exactly built for speed.

At the Jones Falls locks, the Hotel Kenney, where we were to be served a hot lunch ––indoors! –– was a welcome sight. The waterway drops some 80ft, here. Hotel Kenney has a dock on Whitefish Lake and as you sit in the dining room you can see the boats coming and going as well as the outflow from the four locks pouring waterfall-like down the series of gates. As we sat there I had a bowl of "spicy" (very spicy) corn chowder followed by a tilapia filet in an excellent sauce with salad, then a slice of the hotel's homemade lemon pie. It would be fun to stay here some time. The lounge has a log fire and glassed in porch overlooking the water, with comfy chairs and plenty of books to read.

The stone arch dam at Jones Falls, completed in 1831, was the highest dam in North America at that time and the 3rd largest in the world. John Redpath was contracted 1827 to build both the locks and the dam. Originally, rapids fell 60ft down to Whitefish Lake through a gorge 350 ft long. Stones used to build the dam, excavated 9km away at Elgin, and hauled by oxen along a purpose built track from the quarry, were placed vertically instead of horizontally. As pressure was exerted upstream the stone blocks were pushed together (and still are). Sluiceways were constructed to divert the water as the dam wall became 6m and again 12 m high. A permanent waste channel excavated when dam raised to its full height and sluiceways were added to generate hydro electricity in 1947. They are no longer used nowadays, and they leak.

After lunch, and after climbing up the lock steps and down the adjacent rocks, we relaunched the pontoon boat, moored briefly to look at this dam, then re-boarded the boat, and overtook some kayakers setting off towards Sand Lake along one of the channels between the islands. Sand Lake, when we reached it, was still blowy and choppy, little waves breaking on the surface. We whizzed along again before slowing down for the channel approaching Davis Lock, where the same lock keeper, and now his big dog, greeted us again.

The sun nearly came out in the afternoon, but thought better of it, so we were still cold when we returned to our starting point and hurried to our cars to warm up. Carol drove us back along the same roads we'd travelled in the morning, through Smiths Falls, home, an 85 minute drive.

This outing had been sold as a fundraiser for two good causes: Kick in for Kids, an initiative of the Rideau District High School, and the CFUW-Ottawa's Scholarship Trust Fund.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

German conversations, October to June

Pouring coffee for two of my German speaking
friends, on a Thursday morning
Each summer the German speaking Konversationsgruppe I belong to (and which I organise) takes a few weeks' break till we resume our regular Thursday morning meetings in October. When we reach this year's Sommerpause, we'll have met as many as 30 times during the academic year, not bad going; the group's members take turns to be our hostess. It was my turn last week, and I had one of the German ladies bring her parents, Peter and Bettina from Potsdam, to join us. Because our topic of the day was Schubert––it's my job to choose the topic for discussion every time, and what we read together––I sang and played a couple of Schubert-Lieder to the people who came along. Today, at Lolan's place, we read a short story by the Austrian writer Ilse Aichinger, who incidentally is of my mother's generation and still alive, born in 1921. Because her mother was Jewish, Ilse had to be hidden during the war while her twin sister managed to find refuge in England. I learn something interesting like this every week!

Here's a juxtaposition of some of the other topics covered since last October, a few of these in my absence:

Snails, Dyskalkulie, Die Geschichte von Malta, Die Geschichte der Mode, Heinzelmännchen, Bertha Benz, Vorbilder für Jungs, Mailand, Weihnachtsmärkte, Schnee-Eulen, Elefanten, Huskies in der Arktis, Der Karneval in Köln, Luxemburg, Nouruz, Ikebana, österreichisches Deutsch, Hannah Arendt, Maibäume, Tulpen

i.e. snails, an dysfunction known as dyscalculia, the history of Malta and of fashion, Rheinland pixies, Bertha Benz, rôle-models for boys, Milan, Christmas markets, snowy owls, elephants, the Cologne carneval, huskies in the Arctic, Luxembourg, Nouruz, ikebana, the peculiarities of Austrian German, Hannah Arendt, maypoles and tulips.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Lunch hour jazz

I had a legitimate free ride on the Ottawa busses for the first time today; I've been over 65 for a month now, and seniors can ride for free on Wednesdays. I took myself to a lunchtime jazz concert in the Doors Open for Music at Southminster series. The last concert I attended in that series was music by Byrd and Tallis and other Renaissance composers, but they like to vary their musical offerings at Southminster, and jazz has been on the programme before: around a Duke Ellington theme. Most of the audience is in my age group.

Renée Yoxon, with a man's haircut, bright lipstick and a rich contralto voice, was the main performer today, remaining seated for some of it, which I hadn't expected to see. She was accompanied by Mark Ferguson, who'd been the pianist at the other jazz concert too, and John Geggie on the double bass, mostly plucking its strings, but in Midnight Sun he used the bow as well. All the numbers were settings of lyrics by Johnny Mercer, he who wrote Moon River. She sang that one too, to complex accompanying rhythms. The penultimate song was Trav'lin' Light in a blues style (I think; I'm out of my depth describing this sort of music) for which she pulled some painful grimaces and hit some higher than normal notes, and for which the pianist abandoned his piano and unexpectedly used the trombone as his instrument. The last of the ten items on the programme was a rendition of There's Only You composed by the singer and pianist themselves.