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, February 26, 2017

At the DocFest

Wakefield, 33km north of Ottawa, an easy drive, worked its magic on us again, when we drove there today to take a walk round the village with Elva and Laurie. We kept to the streets this time, passing the Vorlage ski centre and the school. Chris had been in an angry mood when we reached the parking lot outside the Wakefield community centre; the cable from the one electric car charging station wouldn't reach the car, because of the snowbanks in the way (this has occurred before). He went inside the building to complain and discovered that the man in charge there was a friend of his whom he hadn't met for a while, so that defused the situation.

The river looked as wide and serene as ever, with its snowy surface, but the ice is thin this year and will soon break up. In the warmer season the Wakefield people are going to construct a new boardwalk parallel to the main street, right beside the river: an excellent idea.

Chamberlin's Lookout was closed today so we couldn't have our usual sit down there; we sat down at Le Hibou instead for hot drinks and a piece of lemon tart and carrot cake. Then while Chris talked to Rink* in the lobby of the community centre again, Laurie, Elva and I went into the auditorium there to watch the last film of this year's DocFestDark Horse, about a Welsh community that pulled together to breed and train an extraordinary racehorse named Dream Alliance, and it had a gripping story line. The film was a subtle commentary on British society too, poignant and cleverly put together. Everyone watching broke into applause at the end.

This entertainment seemed to resonate well with the people of Wakefield, enjoying glasses of wine or beer with Welsh Bara Brith and other goodies, afterwards, maybe because they too are (obviously!) a tight-knit community.

I wouldn't mind living there.

* Rink's wife Leanne (whom we also briefly met today) was the subject of an article published in the Ottawa Citizen in 2009, an article that makes for compulsive reading. We got to know the couple around that time and visited them in their house beside a lake near Wakefield where they still live. I have also read the heart-rending book Leanne wrote, about her and Rink's experiences with Médecins Sans Frontières: A Cruel Paradise

Thursday, February 23, 2017

An upgraded life?

Today I saw (not for the first time) an advert saying: UPGRADE YOUR LIFE! --- a clever slogan that actually means: please buy one of our houses. The advertiser is a buildng company.

Thinking about this, I decided that buying a posher house would not necessarily make for better living; in fact it might be better to replace a larger-than-necessary house with a smaller living space where things would have to be simplified. I'm following a North American trend by writing this, and I'm probably writing hypocritically too, especially since I spent a lot of this week planning a redecoration of our living room and ordering new light fittings.

Friends of ours are about to sell their house, getting rid of most of its contents in the process, in order to move into a rented apartment of much smaller dimensions: the phenomenon familiar to my generation. Downsizing is never referred to as downgrading. Put the word "declutter" into a Google search box and 10,900,000 links come up!

Anyway, my contemptuous attitude towards a Life Upgrade was reinforced by the cashier who served me in our local supermarket this evening, a gentleman of south Asian extraction who wouldn't allow me to apologise for being rather slow and clumsy at the checkout. He told me quite vehemently that people are in too much of a hurry; the members of his family, for example, were always dashing somewhere or other in their cars and never took the time to look at nature. We should all slow down and be calmer. I told him I agreed, absolutely.

Slowing down, on my walk home with the shopping, I dawdled in order to look at the marvellous sunset reflected both in the melted ice on the surface of the Rideau River and in the puddles I stepped around on the pavement.

Diversity among my German speaking friends

This morning my deutschsprachige Konversationsgruppe was at Luci's house ---Luci is Brazilan --- talking about the places where we originated or grew up. It was my idea to use our home towns as a topic of conversation; I lead the group. Last week I started the ball rolling by describing Scarborough in Yorkshire, Sue spoke about Ottawa as it used to be in the 1950s, Füsun talked about Izmir in Turkey and Ariane described Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso! This week we heard from Danielle about old Aylmer (close to Ottawa on the Quebec side of the river); Christiane described Vianden in Luxembourg near the little village where she grew up, and Judith spoke very proudly about her hometown, Vienna. Next week we're going to have Abla talking about Alexandria in Egypt, Vija talking about Riga perhaps (though because her parents were wartime refugees she considers herself more Canadian than Latvian), Ursula is going to say something about Winterthur near Zürich and Luci is going to describe Rio. And so on ...! We still haven't heard from the Lebanese / Dutch / Chinese / German ladies, either. There are over 25 of us, but the normal number of people joining in each week is between 12 and 15. 

Christiane was also intending to send this morning's photos to Uschi, a German who left Ottawa last summer and now lives in the mountains of Kazakhstan!

Isn't all this extraordinary? And wonderful?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Thoughts, February 10th

We are just pulling out of Bristol Temple Meads on our way to London, first stop Bath Spa, where my niece Elen used to live on a houseboat. The railway runs next to the River Avon towpath.

It has been a good week for us. Yesterday I took a different train, to Taunton, county town of Somerset, mainly in order to visit my father’s grave. He was buried at St. James’ Cemetery, Staplegrove Road, almost exactly 33 years ago, on a wet and windy day. If he had still been alive today, he would have been 102 years old; today was his birthday. I felt surprisingly unemotional, seeing the gravestone with its inscription including a line from a hymn by John Donne --- I shall be made thy music --- after all, those words imply that the body lying in the ground is not really my father, any more. My mother told me earlier this week that what lives on after us is our thoughts, and it is therefore very important to express good thoughts. Another thing that heartened me in the graveyard was the loud voice of an invisible robin singing, hidden somewhere in a thick old yew tree. All I had remembered of the graveyard were the evergreen trees there.

I continued walking until I came to the town centre, across the watermeadows by French Weir, another area I couldn’t remember. At the sandstone castle is the Somerset Museum, free entry. I had some lunch in the museum's cafeteria and looked at the exhibits. A couple of the temporary exhibitions were excellent, one showing the entries for an international photography competition, portraits mostly, extraordinary faces (or faces made to appear extraordinary) from around the world, The other gallery I lingered in was where they were showing pictures (photo portraits again) of the working-class Somerset people whom Cecil Sharp had recorded singing traditional folksongs at the start of the 20th century, such as Blow away the morning dew, initiating a craze for such music, some of which developed into the quintessentially British art songs composed by Vaughan Williams, Holst, Benjamin Britten and so forth. I hadn’t realised that Sharp had also lived in Australia. Also in the Somerset Museum was an astonishingly well preserved Roman mosaic from this part of Britain, depicting the story of Dido and Aeneas, a buxomly realistic, naked Dido clinging to Aeneas (wearing a Grecian kilt) in the centre of it.

After a pleasant return to Bristol on the train bound for Edinburgh from Plymouth (which journey would take a whole day), Chris met me outside our hotel and took me for a ride on the Big Wheel that we had all to ourselves in the nearby Millenium Square. This gave us a bird’s eye view of most of the sights we’d previously seen at ground level.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Now in Bristol

At the Za Za Bazaar, for supper, a rather brash choose-what-you-like, all-you-can-eat place at the top of a former warehouse by one of the "basins" (old docks) in the mouth of the River Avon. The last time we were staying in Bristol (four years ago), a colleague of Chris' took us to the same restaurant, a few steps from the Marriott Royal hotel where we're staying / where the Safety-critical Systems Symposium is held. Chris has been in this hotel all day today.

We arrived yesterday and were able to check in early, spending the rest of the afternoon exploring the nearby districts on foot, in the rain; my small umbrella was useless, kept blowing inside out and poking passers by in the eye. Up the hill to the university, turning left onto Clifton Hill, till we came to the old graveyard and the hooped Birdcage Walk. You can see the Avon from the end of it, although the famous bridge is out of sight. I had a feeling we'd be able to get down to the riverfront from there, and I was right. We reached the foot of Brandon Hill and crossed over the road to the Capricorn Quay, getting a good view of the SS Great Britain permanently moored on the other bank. On past visits to Bristol, we've seen the inside of that wonderful ship, a major tourist attraction here. Thence back along the Hannover Quay to the Millenium Square, all modern developments. I had a nap in the hotel bedroom after that and then attended the Evensong service in Bristol Cathedral, where the cathedral choir sang the Smith responses, and a Howells service and anthem. It was the 65th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's accession to the throne, so we had the appropriate prayers read, and I liked the choice of Psalm (Psalm 30). Best of all, I got to sing too in the hymn: All People That On Earth Do Dwell (the "old hundredth"), with an adventurous organ accompaniment, confidently played. I was a little annoyed that an otherwise very polite young cleric threw me firmly out of the cathedral before the organist had finished playing his voluntary at the end of the service. We close at six, I was told. Supper at a fish and chip shop across the road (Catch 22) where melodramatic old film posters with an oceanic theme decorated the walls.

This sunny morning I was out before breakfast to walk to Bristol Temple Meads station for breakfast before catching the train to Cardiff and a connecting train to Llandaf to visit Mum once more. The walk takes me across the footbridges and Queen Square with its large trees, elegant 18th century buildings created from the proceeds of the slave trade, and its statue of King William III.

In the evening the most prominent parts of the wharfs are floodlit, including a stately three-master, looking very romantic by moonlight.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Back in time

This is one of those trips during which we visit places associated with our past lives. Yesterday afternoon we drove from Cardiff to Worcester, via Newport, where I used to teach, along roads we last followed in 1998, on the day we left our house in Wales to take permanent residence in Canada. We were on our way to see Chris' mother for the last time, that day, because she did not outlive the year.

Last night we found a hotel room in Worcester, which was the city where my parents met. From the road into Worcester you can see the Malvern Hills where Edward Elgar, was born, whose music my father loved. Eighteen summers ago, my sister and I took Mum for a walk to the summit of one of the Malvern hills on her 80th birthday.

This morning we walked to Worcester Cathedral (containing Elgar's memorial window and his memorial stone) and spent a while contemplating that beautiful place. I attended a series of concerts there in 1969, just before I left home for university, because my family had festival passes for the annual Three Choirs' Festival. For the first time, I heard Schubert's Winterreise performed live, that summer, in Worcester. The singer was John Shirley Quirk. There was a full choral / orchestral performance of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, too. When I became a university student later that year I made friends with a young man who came from Worcester. Chris looked up his name on LinkedIn yesterday evening (during our supper at a very nice French brasserie) and discovered that he still lives here, not that we followed it up.

This evening we are in a room at the motel where we came to stay a few nights when Chris' father's funeral took place. My daughter and I have been back here since, but Chris hadn't. This evening, at the King William IV pub in Fenstanton, we met Chris brother, sister-in-law. Rob and Sally from York were with us too. Rob was Chris' best friend in Godmanchester from the age of five onwards. This afternoon we went for a nostalgic walk around Godmanchester where Chris was born and grew up, to the actual house, down the lane where his infants school was, into St. Mary's church where he served at the altar, and across The Rec. where he and Rob played games by the often dangerous weir in the River Ouse. In great detail, we remembered the day when Chris first took me here to show me his home-surroundings: November 1st, 1970!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Another day in Cardiff

The Novotel website says that my "credentials are still valid", so that's good. I can therefore post another blogpost. I have just been swimming in the blue-lit hotel pool downstairs, 30 lengths. Chris ran on the treadmill in the adjoining room, but didn't like the mirror. It was horrible to watch his muscles going up and down, he said; why would anybody want to do that?

Today gave us plenty of exercise apart from our use of the Fitness Centre. We walked to breakfast in the city, then across the road for a lap of Bute Park by the river and flower beds, before walking through the university campus past the Department of Music which now houses all of my dad's old music books and musical scores. I hope someone is looking at them. We were to meet Mum with Faith, Mel and Rhiannon at the National Museum, where the entrance to all exhibitions is free of charge. I think this sets a marvellous example to all the world. Access to art and education ought to be free of charge, everywhere, IMHO. Mel dropped Mum, Faith and Rhiannon at the bottom of the front steps and went to park his car while she was climbing them. Once we were all together, we made a beeline for the special exhibition, special both for Faith (botanist) and me (student of all things Chinese): the display of Chinese Bird and Flower Paintings from the 16th century to the present day, and very delightful it was, too, with descriptions of the paintings and their execution and origins in the Chinese language itself, with English and Welsh subtitles.

There were real flowers in the grass outside the museum as well, snowdrops and crocuses.

We lunched not at the downstairs cafeteria (my suggestion, in Mel's opinion too much like a railway station) but at a nearby pub, the Pen and Wig on Park Grove, which has a painting of a judge's wig lying on a desk with a feather pen alongside on one of its walls and Latin sayings over the arches between the dining areas, viz.:
  • Neminem oportet legibus esse sapientiorem, which means No man should be wiser than (i.e. above) the law! A very apt saying as regards the present state of affairs in the USA. 
  • Abundans cautela non nocet, meaning Plenty of caution can do no harm. Also apt, if only people would only take notice of such advice.
The pub too is in the university area, so afterwards, when Mel had left to drive Faith and Mel home, Chris and I took Mum in her wheelchair into the students' union building, where all three of us were remarkable for our age, and found the university bookshop, Dillons ... containing a plethora of set texts for the English Literature courses but, to Chris' annoyance, not one single book about Maths. Books are obviously no substitute for the Internet, these days. Mum found it all quite an adventure, her eyesight not good enough to take in many details, but she was enjoying these explorations in our company and even her "claustrophobic" rides in the university lifts, so it seemed. We eventually found the right platform at Cathays station from which we could catch a train to Llandaff, next stop along the line. Big steps to take from platform to train and train to platform. Mind the gaps!

Out of the train at Llandaff, we walked with / pushed Mum to the centre of Whitchurch, about 2km away. She managed to walk a good deal of the way along Bishop's Road (she had been a Miss Bishop once), to be rewarded with a shared pot of tea and toasted teacake at the Co-op café, which used to be her favourite snack and snacking place before she moved into her care home. The last part of her outing was another walk and ride in the chair up Church Road to Heol Don, by which time it was raining, but no harm done.

If she remembered any of the above, Mum had plenty to talk about with the other old ladies at the supper table. Chris and I left her there and caught a train from Llandaff back to Cardiff Central, with a phone-call from Emma in London, en route. We continued walking from the back of the station towards the Porth Teigr area of Cardiff Bay, where we found an excellent supper at the Pizza Express on the waterfront, with red wine. Back towards the city along Schooner Way by the old docklands, now a posh, ever-growing residential area, and there was our hotel.

Say it loud, say it clear!

Chris and I travelled to Cardiff from London so that we could visit Mum in her care home at Whitchurch. On Monday, we left her to have supper there and sought supper for ourselves at the shopping district near St. David's Hall. It was such a good Indian (Mumbai) meal that we felt we needed some exercise afterwards, so, in spite of the damp evening, we set off for a walk towards the museum / university area. As we approached the western end of Queen Street, where the statue of Aneurin Bevan stands, we started to hear, accompanied by drum beats, what sounded like a high-spirited crowd of rugby fans, not an uncommon sound in Cardiff, but it wasn't that. It was the start of a public protest against President Trump's recent executive order banning Muslims from entering the USA.

As we got closer we began to read the placards, a large number of them proclaiming: REFUGEES WELCOME! Because this is a slogan dear to my heart, we responded with smiles and approving comments, and someone noticing this thrust a canvas into Chris' hands on which was painted the Union Jack and the words: BAN TRUMP NOW! --- a reference to the news that the US President is about to receive an invitation to Buckingham Palace from the Queen. We carried the painting into the crowd and so joined the demo.

It was one of many simultaneous demonstrations nationwide, people turning out on the chilly, damp January night in their hundreds and thousands.

Other slogans on display in Cardiff were these:

  • Unity in diversity!
  • Stand up!
  • Dewi'n grac iawn! (That means David ---i.e. The Welshman, St. David --- is very angry!
  • Refugees in, racism out!
  • Resist Trump!
  • Make love, not special relationships!
  • I've seen smarter cabinets in IKEA!
  • Philip, alert the corgies!
  • No Trump, no torture!
  • Love your neighbour as yourself.
  • Jesus said, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.
  • Rage, rage, against the dying of the light! (That's a quotation from a famous Welsh poem.)
  • I don't wear a wig!
The crowds were rhythmically chanting, "Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!" I also heard, "BOO, Trump, get out-a-the-way!"

I felt so wound up after this experience that I lost a good three hours of sleep on Monday night, first exhilerated by the defiance and idealism of all those young people in the crowd, and then, as the night wore on, dreadfully worried by what could happen next in a world where such demonstations are necessary.