Saturday, 29 December 2012

Jingle all the way

Well, Christmas has come and while not yet gone (there are twelve days after all), the pot-lucks my waistline and I have been enjoying have drawn to a close for now. The last one was on Boxing Day with Greg’s family; they are all quiet adults and fortunately, as you will appreciate later in this ramble, I can tell them apart. Not only that but we enjoyed our wine, without anyone one accidentally dropping a bottle on the kitchen floor as happened in a previous year, even before we had imbibed.

However, blame it on the darkness of the season, but other things have been going a bit haywire around here. Accidents have abounded.
I may have mentioned our neighbour who is so closely in touch with nature that, in warmer weather, he walks au naturel  in his garden — like Adam in Eden and not nearly as pretty a sight, I venture to say, though I haven't seen Adam. Anyhow, his love of the feral extends to feeding the multitudes of stray cats and kittens in our neighbourhood.

Cute but doomed

He recently had the misfortune of being scratched by one of his protégés the second time he sprayed it with an antiseptic — in a vain attempt to cure its ear mites. His subsequent plea for better cat by-laws was written up in the paper just before Christmas and dismissed as impossible to enforce by the local authorities who noted that “people” should stop feeding the cats.

A couple of days later he himself contributed to cat control when, sad to say, he accidentally backed over the only cat I had named (it used to visit us at suppertime when we ate out on the deck). Our somewhat clueless ‘answer to Adam’ said wee Bollifer had been sleeping under his car and didn’t get out of the way in time. Nature red in tooth and pick-up truck, I guess.

On a happier note, the Hort’s Christmas potluck dinner was both well-attended and deliciously provisioned. However, the woman who guards the tea and coffee bailiwick at all our meetings had set everyone into tizzy earlier in the day when she fell over her own threshold and broke both arms.  She joined the ranks of the other fallen, including a choir member who slipped on grass and fractured her knee.  All these calamities and it was not even snowy yet (well, not on the night I began to write this!)

Greg, a volunteer hanging basket waterer, proved handy on two other accounts. He is a dab hand at making vast amounts of coffee to the correct strength and at “offering the blessing” before meals. He mentioned both the staggering amount of food and the incapacitated members in a prayer which was both heartfelt (he was hungry) and empathetic (he fell on ice two years ago and broke his shoulder).

And this is just the dessert table
Alas, our Prince Philip (you may remember him from our Diamond Jubilee celebrations in September) had suffered a stroke the day before and was recovering in hospital (but happily has since returned home).  Nevertheless at the time, his wife the erstwhile Queen was understandably distraught.

I am not by nature a very touchy-feely sort of person. It does not come naturally, and I have to think very carefully about what to say to those who have suffered a misfortune. I usually try to rehearse using myself as the recipient of my words. If I like them, then, chances are, others will. 

With this in mind, I approached our Queen Elizabeth after the meal to offer a few words of support, as I hadn’t had a chance to do this when she’d arrived.  I was a bit disconcerted when my words were not received as I expected.  In fact, I was subjected to a rather quizzical stare. Then she began to laugh.  Thanks goodness she has a sense of humour: I had fallen victim to another weakness of mine. I am absolutely unable to tell people from around here apart. I try hard and fail, fail, fail.  

Our Princess Margaret and Queen Elizabeth sisters

The woman I was being so solicitous towards was the sister of the afflicted woman, and worse, she has been widowed for many years.  Not only that but I have confused her with her sister before. Mortified, I tried to disappear into nearest door jamb.  

I must say that after those rather dubious beginnings, Christmas itself turned out just fine. We had our own Christmas dinner at home in Parkhill the weekend before with one of our sons. I remembered to thaw and serve the shrimp ring. Aside from agreeing that next year I will follow his suggestion and have carrots, not turnips, the vegetables were a success.

mmmm ... shrimps

We were well lashed with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and mince pie by the time we set out for my mother’s retirement home in Toronto. We had to miss the Christmas dinner at Christie Gardens because they hold it at lunch and we couldn’t get there in time and still have Greg’s Christmas Day service. Mother scooted down for it, but at supper we enjoyed salmon. It took two days before turkey reappeared on the menu, this time as a sandwich.

The Toronto families came over on Boxing Day. When our five-year-old grandson opened his Star Wars Lego, he exclaimed in wonder, “Oh my goodness!” However, his reaction to his Star Wars calendar was, “I’ve got one of those” as he dropped it on the floor (I had been prepared for this by one of my Friends on Facebook who had it happen to her with a six-year-old nephew).

My two-year-old granddaughter was entranced with a giraffe puppet because “it has a mouth,” and the 10-month-old ignored her new toys and blissfully teethed on an old Tele-tubby from great-granny’s play basket.

Greg and I gave the adult children large jingle bells — Christmas decorations for the tree or so we thought, completely forgetting what it is like to have very small children. Truly, we did forget; this was an accident.  Immediately, the three little ones in the midst of a crescendo of Christmas bags, gifts, tissue paper, ribbons and cards, fell upon them and shook them to their heart’s content while we all joined in singing Jingle Bells.  No doubt, they will have many hours of fun doing this again later at their own homes.

In the meantime, home once more, I will write thank-you notes.  Greg will fire up the snowblower and add its roar to the charm of the season. It won’t be jingle bells, but the driveway will be passable. 

And the snow is blowing on our front lawn not the neighbours'

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Aging faster than I think

Here is an exchange of e-mails from earlier today between me and my old friend John:

> Subject: Many happy returns
> Date: Thu, 13 Dec 2012 13:51:06 -0500

> I thought you might be interested to know that on my Skype wall there appeared a notice that you, Lorna Harris, were born on 12/12/1912
> This would have made you 100 years old yesterday. I would have pegged you as younger but maybe it is the years of living in Parkhill that have aged you faster than one would suspect.
> Best wishes for another 100.
> J
On 2012-12-13, at 2:49 PM, lorna harris  wrote:
After the totally bizarre day I have been having, I'm not surprised to hear that I have aged!!

First was choir concert at the nursing home here in town - to make a long story short it reminded me of that IODE meeting in high school where we couldn't stop laughing after we had, among other things, marched the flag into a closet.

So this morning at the home, between someone sliding unexpectedly to the floor in a spell of some sort, some residents arriving late in wheelchairs and walkers and then getting tangled up, a visitor bringing her dog which also got tangled up, the choir director helping to untangle, other residents pedalling out in their wheelchairs for no particular reason, a sleepy guy snoring, a song we weren't planning on singing being announced (by Greg!), the recreation director thanking us before we had finished, and being requested to sing Silent Night after we had just sung it ... I just couldn't stop laughing.
I was wearing the only Santa hat, so I guess that was in keeping with jollity. As I said to the choir director afterwards, this was one concert where I didn't have to think about remembering to smile. Also, five people were sick or had fallen and weren't able to be in the choir so I had to sing the soprano part - much of it new to me. However, I did hit high D and E thereby proving that even though I am an alto I can try harder and be a soprano; the others were just ever so slightly under the pitch.

Then we had a really suboptimal turkey dinner en masse at one of the seven restaurants in town. If you ever come to Parkhill and we feel hungry, we won't eat there. They had tea which tasted of coffee, there was not enough silverware (I initially had to share my knife)  and the waiter retracted his offer of salad, as they didn’t have any. I won't bore you with the rest.

Shortly after we got home I got a call from someone who obviously knew me but whom I couldn't place at all. I was too embarrassed to admit to this. She was wondering if I'd like to go out for coffee. I put it off until next Friday so I could star 69 her number, then Google map her location and try to figure out who on earth she was so I would recognize her. I think I now know. She is a very nice alto, who lives on what looks like a completely desolate stretch of the Kerwood Rd. If I lived there, I'd be desperate to go to Tim Horton's too, though I am still not exactly sure why with me.

Again, thanks for the b-day greetings and hope you day is making more sense than mine is!!


Lorna (I think)

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Sometimes liturgical innovations can go up in flames

This posting is a bit out-of-date because I wanted to include a photo, which I  didn’t get a chance to take until a day or so ago. So here  is my account of what happened at church last week:

I came to last week's service at St. James feeling more exuberant than usual. Maybe because the previous night's snow added a bit of excitement to the air or maybe because, according to the old calendar this was Stir-Up Sunday, but the day seemed special.
I got to church early: not a good thing since being early makes me bored and being bored usually gets me into trouble. After I swept the snow off the church steps and put the broom away, I felt invigorated. Instead of  settling into prayer in the back pew, I cast my eyes on a candle holder, which for several months had been sitting on the window sill of the West (actually north) Window. Eastern orthodox in flavour, having multiple crosses and three candle holders, it had unaccountably never been lit, despite having been donated by a parishioner presumably for that purpose.  
The back of the church could use a bit of cheering up.  And finally,  before Greg retired at the end of December and the opportunity was lost, I had the opportunity and the means to do something about it.  So, as it turned out, we had a service with the unusual addition of “smells and bells,"  incense and bell ringing being associated with a much higher version of Anglicanism than is usually found here in rural Ontario.
Anyhow, there were already three tea candles in the glass holders.  I had to find something to light them with. Greg got me the  official box of matches  (kept in a  plastic margarine container in the credence table by the altar). The candles were hard to light, but I persevered until the smell of wax pervaded the church (that’s the "smells" part).

Bell, books and candles

As the liturgy unfolded, I eyed  them from time to time. When we got to the Creed, the flames in two of the candle holders were about three inches high. By the Prayers of the People, an alto in the choir was making subtle eyebrow raisings in my direction. By the Passing of the Peace, they seemed like a small bonfire. Taking advantage of being up and about, I looked at them closely; the wicks were nowhere to be seen, and the wax was totally engulfed.
A parishioner in the  pew second to the back thought they should be put out. She was worried lest the heat  break the stained glass window. During a hymn, a warden and I had discussed whether the glass  candle holders might also be at risk of shattering.

So we tried to blow the candles out — no luck . We just blew the flames apart. She thought snuffing them with the phone book of Christian businesses would do the trick, but I didn’t thinking using anything paper was a good idea at that point.
The wax showed no sign of running out; the conflagration was really beginning to worry me. Aside from not wanting, on its own merits, to burn down the church, I did not want my main claim to fame as a clergy wife to be responsible for doing so.  I looked around and saw a small brass school bell further along the window sill — a great candle snuffer were it not for the clapper.
Very carefully I placed it over the flames both to snuff them properly and to prevent the bell from sounding.  Greg was saying the prayer of consecration as I was doing this and behold — or alas — depending on how high on the Anglican scale you find yourself, a little bit of chiming occurred. This would be the "bells" part — for anyone who has persevered this far and needs waking up. The flames were no more, but the bell handle was warm to the touch when removed after communion.
All's well that ended well, but I’ll resume my practice of arriving in the nick of time. I’m also going to get some of those battery-operated candles, as I really was well and truly taken aback by the persistence of the flames!



Sunday, 25 November 2012

Decorations appear for Advent

I like Advent because I like anticipation. I particularly like the anticipation that leads up to Christmas. As it gets darker and darker in December, indoors at our house it gets more and more lit up. I suppose one’s outer life may be similarly dark, but a spark glows inwardly and gets brighter as December 25th approaches. New baby, new life, great baking, gorgeous music, fire in the fireplace: even if some things linger to make me blue, this Christmas is for the most part a red and green season for me.
Last year, I didn’t have much opportunity to prepare for Christmas, but this year is different, so I am taking advantage of Advent celebrations. Last week when the weather was warmer I did a couple of swags for the garage door and an urn display with greens left over from the Hort. Soc. downtown Christmas beautification.  They look surprisingly OK.
Then yesterday,  I got a huge kick out of starting the indoor decorations.
For the first time I put a garland on the railing beside the stairs. The bow was crushed under stuff in the Christmas trunk . I almost threw it away, but when I looked at it closely, I saw there was really nothing wrong with it that a few minutes of fluffing wouldn't cure. There is a parable in that something about our all needing fluffing from time to time.
What I like is that I can add to the display from now all the way to Epiphany when the light has begun to return to our darkened world at least from an astronomical point of view.  I am not a decorator; I just enjoy gettng the Christmas things out because, truth be told, I like playing with them.
This is my favourite Christmas bear. He is so staunchly laden  - with even bells on and his own teddy:
I have finally found a place for the Christmas Santa cat. He is a bit too big for Whoville, and ominously, no one - especially the little snowman - notices his lurking joviality:
I am going to decorate the Advent wreath with greenery next week . This is one week too early. I dislike the colours an Advent candles are supposed to have. Pink and purple, the proper colours,  don't go with our taupe and orangey living room, so green and white it is; no red, though, for that would be too blatantly cheery:
Love that Christmas ball decorated by yours truly with instructions from a fellow member of the Hort. Soc. Even someone with as little artistic ability as I possess can be creative with a few sparkles and some acrylic paint:
A Monet moment:

The mirror image and the actual picture are so detailed they are chaotic. In the decoraton, the Great Sheep approaches while the Angel of Knowledge is blissfully unaware. What will happen next?
Father Christmas to the rescue? A "ding dong merrily on high" angel is there too and a beautifully svelte and lissome Madonna. Not sure about the significance of the serendipitious windmill cookie jar - maybe a hint of the Wheel of Fortune:
Just my most favourite Christmas angel. "Bring a torch, Jeanette Isabella!" I'll supply her with a candle later on.
Here is the Christmas creche. Jesus is nowhere to be seen because he hasn't been born yet. Mary and Joseph are on their way. The angel of the Lord lurks in the undergrowth waiting for when the time is right to tell the shepherds to hightail it to Bethlehem:

And finally, there is Joseph in a previous conversation with the angel who tells him he should man up and take Mary to be his wife, which he does, thereby endearing himself to me forever. Mary is by herself looking pensive. What will become of her. The ox and the sheep are waiting for the drama to start.

Friday, 23 November 2012

All’s well that ends well

"Things will turn out all right in the end, and if they aren’t all right, it isn’t the end"
(Sonny in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) 

Well, the lost has been found. One of Greg’s parishioners, a farmer from north of town, has his coat back. He did not lose it at church, however. It happened at a Legion event. He went to put on his coat, and it had disappeared from the rack. What is worse, his car keys were in the pocket.

I remember something similar happening at a large downtown church in a certain city near here. A thief stole not only money from the choir room but also the keys to a car, belonging to a soprano and a bass, which was found — wrecked — days later.

A happier ending awaited our congregant, but he did have to wait.  As I understand it, about a month later, a resident of the seniors’ apartments here in town was heading to a doctor’s appointment in Strath. The day being chilly, he put on his coat only to find unfamiliar car keys in the pocket.

There was a War Amps tag on the key chain, but before he had a chance to return them that way, he dropped into Tim Horton’ s to have coffee with yet another parishioner. At least I think he is a parishioner;  like the dad in that Norman Rockwell painting pictured below, he stays at home, while his wife attends on both their behalfs. 

Sunday Morning by Norman Rockwell
A large print of this hung in our family living room when I was growing up. Reflecting on it now, its purchase was clearly passive aggressive. And ineffectual.
Naturally the chat turned to the unexpected find in the unfamiliar coat. Well, problem solved. (Erstwhile) parishioner #2 made a call home to his wife who called the wife of parishioner #1 who had scarcely hung up the phone when the inadvertent absconder was on the doorstep with both the coat and the keys. Relief all round,  especially as the farming couple had been delaying replacing the car keys owing to the expense involved.

Rural people look out for one another in other ways as well.

I drove  to Strath, also for a doctor’s appointment, which turned out to be rather bizarre and truncated, but that’s another story.  Anyhow, I decided to patronize our local drugstore for my prescription thereby eschewing a perfectly good Shoppers Drug Mart right beside the medical clinic. After a stop at the bank,  I  was heading home along the 15-mile ribbon of highway known locally as Centre Rd, a gently rolling and curving two-lane route with not too much traffic (at least by Highway 401 standards).

I was enjoying the drive, when two things happened. I noticed I was going well over the speed limit, and a car approaching from the opposite direction flashed its lights at me. I knew I did not have my brights on since it was 3:00 in the afternoon. However, another light came on when I realized this as the time-honoured warning about speed traps. I slowed. Just in time too, because there was the OPP cruiser lurking by a copse of trees.   Although I thought he was probably interested in just looking south, I did flash my lights at the next car coming from the north just in case. It is nice to be neighbourly.

By the time I got to Parkhill, the fuel gauge was bouncing in the red zone so I pulled in to the gas station.  I don’t pump gas very often. After a couple of tries, I had  positioned the car close enough to the diesel dispenser and got out. There was a trick to opening the gas flap which I successfully employed, but I couldn’t get the gas cap off. Frustration. 

However, a young chap was providing complimentary windshield washing (really — this wasn’t a squeegee kid).   He managed to unscrew it for me.  That was nice. Then I was faced with the pump operation. I chose $20 as my price of choice and put the nozzle into the tank. Nothing happened.  Apparently you need to follow the directions on the pump about lifting a handle. Thank goodness, I discovered this before I had to ask again. Neighbourliness is all very well but not when one’s incompetence might be food for talk at Tim’s or the restaurant at the Esso Station.

Prescription in hand, I went to the local drugstore as planned. Alas, although their computer said they had the medication, it was nowhere to be found on the shelves. However, the pharmacist generously offered to phone the Shoppers Drug Mart in Grand Bend.  (Given a choice, I just did not want to face driving to Strathroy all over again.) He had the presence of mind to make sure their computer and shelves were in agreement, so off I went to the Bend.

More successfully than expected, as it turned out: not only did I get signed up for the Ontario Drug Benefit Program by another awfully young person, but they had on special what is really my  favourite prescription— Lindt dark chocolate (Intense Orange and Intense Mint).

Purchases made, I was soon sedately driving down the highway home — only four hours after I had left for my 10-minute appointment.  

But it had all turned out well!






Friday, 2 November 2012

Pursuing the elusive mammogram

Sometimes you just have to wonder. I need my annual, but now, due to my procrastination, biennial mammogram. I have been getting them at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, but having retired and left the city two years ago, I felt it was time I had the test done locally.

To get this underway, my family doctor at the local clinic gave me a slip of paper with the number I was to call at the Ontario Breast Screening Program. I called them this morning and was immediately asked if I had the purple form. No, mine was white. This was puzzling apparently, so I read what was on it; I inferred that it lined up pretty well with what would have been on the purple form. However, had I ever had cancer? Well yes, 12 years ago and it had resulted in a right mastectomy. So we would only be doing a mammogram on the left? Yup, seems so. But I said out loud, yes, that’s correct. However, it turns out they are interested only in women who have NOT ever had breast cancer.

Hmmm. I suggested I could phone the Princess Margaret Hospital where I have received my past mammograms. Did they know if I could self-refer? No, they didn’t. Should I ask my doctor for the purple form?  Oh no, no, don’t do that! Okay, then I won’t. What form should I ask for? It seems a prescription form was the thing.

Well, thinking out loud, I suggested maybe I’d phone the Princess Margaret myself and my family doctor’s office as well if need be. That sounded good to her. We agreed this all seemed a bit silly since one would assume a breast screening program should screen people like me. We rang off cordially.

I like the Princess Margaret. The people there are efficient and pleasant; at the appointment, the wait is not too long; and most importantly, all my records are there. I hate upending routines and making changes. So I looked up the P.M. on-line and found the “contact us” button. Thought I would be clever and put “mammogram booking” into the search engine. Nothing came up. No one had ever thought anyone would try to book a mammogram at one of Canada’s leading cancer hospitals, I guess. This set me back on my heels.

Also, I remembered the last time I tried to connect with the mammogram department there at the urging of my Toronto family doctor and with a requisition form. Somehow, I got sent to medical records instead, a detour which caused a lot of confusion on my part and the person in patient records since neither of us realized what the other was doing at least not right away. Once we did, it was smooth sailing to the correct department and an appointment.

But now two years further on, I decided to revert to Plan B — call my current doctor’s nurse at the clinic closer to home. Pleasant conversation. I alluded to the incorrect white form and the need for the prescription form. Did we have fax machine? No, sadly, we did not. I didn’t mention the one we can use at the bank because it is raining and sleeting, and I must admit I didn’t want to go all the way over there in the ghastly weather.

She suggested she’d fax the requisition to the imaging unit at the hospital instead and instructed me to call there in half an hour or so. I waited until after lunch and called. The fax had arrived. I asked if I could come in the same day as the day I am to receive a shot of cortisone in my hip. Yes, I could!

So it’s all set up.

I like my local hospital and my doctor’s nurse who it turns out is related to one of the men on the team of waterers my husband is on who water the hanging baskets here on Main St. (but, I hasten to add, she didn’t know this when I called her).

On-line follies

Before the Globe and Mail on-line went “unlimited” thereby (oxy)moronically limiting me to only 10 articles per whenever, I could read without thinking twice (and btw give the ads the same attention I pay them in the print format). No, I am not going to subscribe at least not when I still have the Huffington Post and the CBC at my fingertips.
But now I must exercise discretion and judgment so as not to waste my 10 newsy opportunities. So it’s tough choice: should I read about housing sales, Supreme court decisions, Hurricane Sandy and the American election or fritter away my time on the lonely elephant learning Korean or the dog poaching salmon? Sigh  ...

Friday, 26 October 2012

Why, despite everything, I like being in Toronto

Every year I read the horoscope for my birthday in the Globe and Mail. This year the offering for the 17th of October suggested I must become very flexible around new ideas and, what is more, that my world is going to turn upside down in the coming year. Oh joy.
I read that prediction while I was in Toronto looking after my mother, who had been hospitalized with pneumonia. This unexpected event did change my plans, but I can’t say my world was turning cartwheels. However, I did experience several opportunities, during those 10 or 11 days, to roll with some figurative punches.
I am not a person who enjoys public displays, but sometimes one can’t avoid them. Even bad hospital food is better than none (and to give credit where credit is due, after the first ghastly offering in emerge, the other meals were not too bad even though the yellow beans were always underdone, according to Mum).  Anyway, when Mum was moved (the sixth of eight moves in the fortnight she spent in hospital) to a new floor just at lunchtime, I made sure her lunch would not be forgotten. It was successfully transferred to the new floor.

However, just as it was being delivered, a porter arrived and announced it was time for a CT scan. Fearing lunch would disappear if we left it in the new room, I took it with us on the gurney. I steadied the hot food on the flannelette sheets to warm up Mum’s cold legs and in my other hand I carried a carton of frozen dessert.
Soon we were nine floors down, outside the Imaging Unit, waiting for the previous patient to finish.  So in the very public hallway, I served up what I nostalgically call “yuck slosh” the name my daughter gave to good old hamburger casserole and prefaced by the words “not eating that.” Mum, however, did eat it; after, she continued on to what had once been lime sherbet, but was now garish green foam. And not one of the many passersby gave us a second glance.
The next day at Toronto-Western, it was wait for the eye doctor all morning in a room decorated with only a cross -section of the glaucoma-afflicted eye, and then after lunch, undertake a surprise visit to the x-ray department. While there, a gurney, occupied by a comatose individual and accompanied by two policemen, arrived and was parked against the wall near Mum. It was busy in x-ray that afternoon. The men in blue (well, black, actually) looked out of place amongst the gurneys; no one else was fully clothed or standing (except for me) or carrying a gun.  
Noticing her age, the x-ray tech had asked for her secret for a long life, and she said, “Oatmeal porridge every morning.”  When one of the policemen heard she was almost 94, he said she reminded him of his grandmother who was about to turn 95. Then the two of them chatted about the merits of hot porridge with milk and brown sugar which he enjoyed for breakfast too.
Then the talk turned to haircuts. Mum’s shortish hair had been pushed up to the top of her head and looked like a Mohawk do. The policeman said his hair was a lot like hers and took off his hat to reveal a very short cut with a bit of a fringe on top. Mum looked at it, didn’t miss a beat and said, “Well you certainly got your money’s worth.”

I decided to stop spending a fortune on cab fares and to take the TTC to the hospital. I hesitated before asking for my senior’s fare on the 18th of October, as I did not have my birth certificate with me as proof. However without a moment’s hesitation, the attendant in the booth gave me my five senior’s tickets for $8.75. Emboldened, I asked what if I had to use them where there was no attendant, and he said I’d have to use regular tokens. This seems so typical of the poor old TTC.

I was slightly put out by that and by the fact that he did not ask me for ID. How times change yet stay the same. I recall being asked for ID in drinking establishments long after I turned 21 and being miffed by that too.
Travelling by subway is cheap but crowded. I eschew stairs now that I am a senior, and since the elevator at the Bathurst station was closer than the escalator, I opted to take it. So did a choleric elderly individual in a red Roots bomber jacket and red running shoes. Muttering loudly to himself, he punched the up-button furiously while a small older (than me? maybe not) woman, dressed in black from head to toe, joined us. I glanced at her and raised my eyebrows slightly, and she gently reached over and patted my arm.

An older man approached, hesitated, then apparently decided valour was more important than discretion, since two members of the weaker sex had stayed put (for I have an annoying conviction that even those with mental difficulties ought to be polite and share space), and he got on too. We three huddled at the rear of the car, while Mr. Hot Head ranted incoherently in the front. Too late, I realized he had a cane. I suggested not making too much in the way of eye contact, and he must have overheard me because he raised the volume, though not his cane. I began to re-think some of my stupider convictions.

The elevator door closed with majestic slowness, and we rose like a vertical Anglican procession to the next floor. Mr. Hot Head scurried out to take his place (unchallenged) at the head of the line for the Bathurst streetcar. Then the woman, again wordlessly, gave me another comforting pat on the arm and we parted with a smile. And that is why I enjoy being in Toronto.
After a few days, I had to leave Mum to go home for a while. At Union Station, I was listening to the Agnus Dei from Bach’s B-minor Mass, as I sat in pre-boarding for the train to St. Mary’s. There was an overlay of voices other than the alto: “Last call for Train 66”;  “Do you want the elevator”; I depended entirely on the kindness of strangers to carry this TV here”; I’m going to wait until I have my two days off to do that”; “The train for Ottawa is now boarding at 5:45, not 5:30.”

It was a bit like that wonderful Simon and Garfunkel tune where Silent Night is in the back ground — only less grave. The wonderful music was a surreal juxtaposition to the bustle of the station, especially when the next cut on my random play list was the 20-minute Lamentations of Jeremiah. I am beginning to like travelling with my computer the Zen state of waiting is entirely different from that provided by a book.


Then a minor embarrassment — or too much of a Zen thing.  Once I was on the train, I plugged in the electric cord for the Wi-Fi, got my mouse attached, then decided to listen to my music, so I got out my ear phones and put them on. Soon I was hearing Dream a Little dream of me, but it seemed rather distant.

I noticed the passengers in the seats in front of me were suddenly restless and shifting in their seats. Even I could sense irritation in the air. Then I realized I had neglected to plug the ear phones into the computer. No wonder the music sounded so far way. Ouch.

After what seemed like an eternity, I found the right port and plugged in the ear phones. All was right with the world again. I listened to Philip Glass, Healey Willan and 50s faves, and the woman in front of me contentedly resumed reading Scoop.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Dispatch #14: Parkhill whoops it up

Well, it’s officially fall here in beautiful North Middesex. The temperatures are lot cooler now, and the leaves are beginning to turn. The ladies in the choir have resumed wearing their formal choir gowns after a sartorial recess during the summer.
The temperature has also cooled around the advisability of having a crosswalk on Main Street: this innovation is no more. The signs have been taken away and the lines painted over. The problem now is that a handful of drivers have gotten used to the cross walk and stop for pedestrians; however, others usually coming at top speed from the opposite direction at the same time have never had any intention of stopping and still don’t. So it is wise to be even more careful than before when if someone sailed through the crosswalk narrowly missing a pedestrian, they would just holler out their open window, “Oh sorry.” Now they just barrel along with the windows closed.
Cars are now just a blur.
Ah well. The fall fair was held on the weekend. I helped out at the Hort. Soc. display. Cost me $5 to get into the fairgrounds  and, when I complained, a reprimand from one of the ladies I was replacing for not being more enthusiastic about supporting the town. I did have a good time handing out candies to children while their mothers signed raffle tickets for a draw on a chrysanthemum. Just about every one of the kiddies said please and thank you without being prompted, whereupon I offered them another candy. I found out later, at the St. James beef dinner, that the mum was won by the mother-in-law of the daughter of one of my fellow directors and back yard neighbour. Good to have that loose end tied up.

After my hour was up, I toured the petting zoo on my way back to the car. I eyed a llama (we were roughly the same height it might have been an alpaca) and patted a sheep. Sheep have extraordinarily thick coats. Never having experienced a sheep except from a distance, I thought their fleece would be like cat fur with a perm, but no, it was more like a bouncy rug.

Sadly, I missed the baby contest; it will be a week or so before I find out in the paper who had the most dimples and rolls, not to mention who was the baldest, happiest or youngest. There were 10 classes in all and you could enter your baby in up to three of them.

The fair ambassador was crowned the night before. We have gotten away from queen of the fair in light of a push to a more unisex modernity, although there is still a fair prince and princess chosen from amongst the younger crowd. Some fairs still crown a queen of the furrow, but thank goodness we don’t. We don’t dance around maypoles either, but there is a demolition derby and lawn mower races (riding, not push) for those who like destruction and noise. 

Speaking of royalty, we had a bang-up kickoff to the fall season of the Hort. Soc. when we
commemorated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. This event quickly took on a life of its own. We decided to invite the attendees to dress up. Many of the ladies, normally attired for gardening, donned skirts, hats and white gloves.  As someone noted, we “cleaned up good.”

Indeed we did!

This is our usual look.


We're ready for our guests to arrive.

My gloves and those of one or two others (see gloved hand in photo above ) dated from public school graduation or high school proms.

My Ryerson grad dress  -  and gloves: 1960
and in 2012


Greg was asked to dedicate the carving of the Royal Oak tree trunk, which commemorates the wedding of William and Diana and Rapunzel letting down her hair. He also alluded to the Diamond Jubilee and Queen Elizabeth rosebushes we’ve added to the garden around the gazebo. They are a bit buried under mulch at the moment but will blossom again next spring I’m sure. I was rather perplexed as to whom the dedication was being made; Greg kind of fluffed over that bit.

Attendees also answered the Queen Quiz and heard an amusing talk by Paul Knowles about English gardens and gardeners. Then we enjoyed tea served from china cups and saucers the organizers brought from home, along with a slice of the half chocolate/half white slab cake decorated with the Queen’s Canadian Standard and purchased from Sobey’s in Grand Bend.
Yum yum - almost to nice to slice

The piece de resistance for the occasion, however, was the guest appearance of none other than Her Majesty and Prince Philip, aka Eric and Eileen Scott. Eileen wore a bright yellow dress, white gloves and carried a black handbag on her arm; her summery hat was decorated with rose blossoms. I would be remiss if I did not mention that Eric wore tails and a bowler hat and walked several steps behind his wife.

Our royal couple cut the cake.

They were perfect choice as they resembled the Royal Couple in so many other ways. It was noted that like the Queen and Prince Philip, they were also celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary this fall and had four children (three girls and a boy as opposed to three boys and a girl, but who cares). They sat in special chairs borrowed from the United Church; the Anglican rector was a bit sniffy for some reason about lending out ours (suggesting the bishop might object). 

The special chairs and their special occupants

However, lest we get too hoity toity, we will be brought back to earth at next month’s meeting when the topic will be “creating your own indoor worm composter.” We have to bring our own plastic container, but the worms will be provided.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Demolishing our city hall

I am not happy. Why not?  City council has just voted to have our century-old city hall building torn down. It will join the old high school, the old city hall and the old train station in old-building heaven, I guess.
City hall, previously the post office, is slated for demolition.
The powers-that-be want a one-storey combination service centre, city hall and library (costing over three million dollars) to be built on vacant land behind the existing building.
The butterfly garden is right behind city hall.
Apparently, renovating and adding to the structure is not an option, despite one architect’s report to that effect.  Well, goodness, an elevator alone could cost a prohibitive $150,000.  Also, the councillors feel Parkhill could use the area it now occupies for green space once the new building is constructed. That’s a lot of respect for grass, given the fields to the north and west of the proposed site, not to mention Coronation Park, barely a block away.
Coronation Park is well used - even by aliens.
Selling the building is not a possibility either, it seems.

Built in 1908, the structure originally housed the post office. It has been so carelessly  “renovated“ over the years that, unfortunately, aside from a spectacular oak staircase, little of its original interior remains. Many of its contents, including all the wooden wickets through which post office business was conducted were removed when the post office moved down the street to new premises, a squat one-store building where the previous city hall once stood.  

The new post office,the  bell from the previous city hall and the Carnegie library are down the street.

The latter housed a jail in the basement, council chambers on the first floor and a concert hall on the second. One of Greg’s parishioners remembers Christmas concerts held there in his youth. But all that remains of it now is the bell:
Oddly, a similar building in neighbouring Ailsa Craig was restored by its "Friends" and is now a popular concert hall. Our mayor, who hails from Ailsa Craig but must still be reeling from the shock of such restoration, was quoted as saying you can get “swamped with old buildings.”
According to another source, he feels the municipal government can manage only one “old building”:  the present Carnegie Library beside the new Post Office. By the way, this library is one of 111 libraries in Ontario , endowed by the Carnegie Foundation circa 1913, most of which still function as originally intended; however, about 15 have been destroyed by fire or were demolished in the “enlightened” 60s and 70s.
See this web-site for more information:
I love the steps leading up to the library with their short rise and longish run (there is a ramp around back at the parking lot).
Our library lacks an elevator and public washrooms, but apparently these and other renovations can’t be undertaken because the wide swath of land behind it is a right of way for the new Post Office.  Other municipalities have been able to find the answers to similar dilemmas, but apparently not ours.

Also puzzling is the wish of some councillors to incorporate elements of the façade of the soon-to-be-demolished city hall into the planned new structure. That implies a pretty meticulous and expensive demolition.   Also, their hope that the new structure will reflect the old buildings still standing across the street kind of begs the question and I think I am using that phrase correctly as to why they would go to all the trouble of destroying a building, albeit too vertical in nature, in order to erect its horizontal twin.
The old post office/ city hall building anchors the downtown streetscape,  and although not a masterpiece, nevertheless embodies our past.  It reflects Edwardian civic virtues (which in this neck of the woods were likely still very Victorian). Upright, unsparing, functional and stolid, it is a monument to what hard work, civic duty and sober Sunday worship could achieve and symbolizes an ethos which was, and to an extent still is, prosperous, solid, unyielding and,  sadly, also acquiescent.
Kind of like the roads around here, caging the flat land under a grid where it is woefully hard to get lost, we seem to be immobilized by a similar lack of vision. Taking the easiest path is great for driving, but not so great for preserving our heritage and its buildings for future inhabitants of Parkhill.

This photo was taken in May 2011.