There’s nothing like a cold, damp, blustery day to make you long for a cozy, warm shelter.
At Sand, on the Applecross peninsula, there is a huge rock with large overhang on the lee side. On a blowy February morning, it offers protection from the winds that drive across the Inner Sound of this North Western shore.
But it is hard to imagine this place as your “des rez,” as real estate people call it –– your desirable residence.
Yet habitation on the site has been dated to over 7500 years ago, when a collection of about 50 people lived here. The nomads would have had fish and shellfish in abundance, as well as birds and bird eggs, wild boar and deer. Archaeologists have found a dump of shells (a midden), tools made from antlers, and “pot boilers” –– large stones that were heated in a fired and dropped into a pot to cook food.
I’m relieved to know they had something warm to eat on days like today.
I walk down to the water’s edge. At low tide, rivulets of salt water stream back to the sea across a huge expanse of red sand. At the sea’s edge I can just make out something in the water. I watch and shapes form. There are heads bobbing off shore! More and more pop just above the waves and I realize it is a “bob” of seals, about 50 of them. Clearly they have found their own version of a “des rez,” filled with an ample supply of fish.
For my part, I’m relived to know that for us twenty-first century Homo Sapiens there is a cozy warm shelter further up the road. We tuck into the Applecross Inn for a local pint and some of the best Scottish Salmon I’ve ever had.
Travel is the domain of the imagination, and when you arrive it is as though your imagination has taken concrete shape around you.
We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time T.S. Eliot
The miracle of travel is something I don’t want to take as commonplace ever again. It is miraculous. In a relatively short amount of time I have journeyed to another world, a world both foreign and familiar.
Because of the impossibility of travel during the pandemic, it feels as though I have slipped into a place that only existed in my imagination for the past three years. Travel is the domain of the imagination, and when you arrive it is as though your imagination has taken concrete shape around you. I’ve read enough quantum theory this year to know that this is probably true, but this is the first time it feels true.
What I’ve found in this new world, whether it has sprung from my imagination or not, is that we have been on parallel paths for these past three years. We share commonalities of our experiences in a way that we’ve never done before. Different sides of the planet, with different political forces, yet we’ve been experiencing the same trauma. It’s made me feel closer than ever with family and friends as we share our experiences, our losses, our scars, our small victories. Our histories, which previously had been different, are now the same.
No doubt it is a unique moment. This will pass. But I don’t want to ever take for granted the good fortune that has allowed me to be here, experiencing the rawness of the pandemic experience. The shared humanity on the streets is the legacy of our survival.
And so we celebrate. We arrived in time for a double birthday party for Bryan and me, shared with Robbie Burns. A Burns night complete with Haggis, neeps and tatties, (turnips and potatoes), and Cranachan (an amazing dessert of toasted oats, whipping cream, raspberries and a glug of whisky). We don’t party as if there is no tomorrow, but because there was yesterday.
I feel as though the needle on the record skipped. I am birthday years older. But I’ve picked up the needle and placed it down again carefully, ready to start again.
“…I remember the lads laid in rows, just as if they’d gone to sleep there, and the sun flashing on them bits of tin on their backs all down the lines. The machine guns just laid them out. Some were hanging on the wire, hanging like rags. Machine guns bullets were knocking them round as if it was washing on the line.” Private Frank Lindsay, 16 years old, Pals Battalion, Barnsley
There are some pertinent facts to keep in mind for this cursory view of the first day of The Battle of the Somme. I’m not going to go into the intricacies of the battle. I can only speak from a personal perspective about what I saw, 101 years later, on a landscape that still shows the scars of the war. But a bit of background information might help.
The battle began at 7:30 a.m on July 1, 1916.
13 divisions were deployed under British command. They came from Britain, Ireland, Newfoundland, Bermuda and the colonies of Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, India and Australia. For the most part the men were new recruits, young men who joined up together and took basic training for six months.
The French had asked for British assistance to pull German troops from Verdun. There were 11 divisions under French command, but they, too, operated under British command in the Somme.
There were 6 German divisions, a professional army of young men who had trained for a minimum of two years.
The front was 45 kilometers long
The chain of command was like a game of ‘broken telephone’ going horribly awry. A hierarchical structure of twelve layers of information connected the toffs in the War Command office to the working class Privates in the trenches. Each layer had its own vested interest. The Privates had no choice but to the information they were given.
In 2 hours approximately 72,000 men (from both sides) were killed, wounded or went missing.
France is a vast country of rolling farmland. Europe’s garden. It is still farmed by local farmers and families in much the same way it has always been farmed. Cattle graze, tractors harrow, and in the gentle rolls of land it is easy to let the 21st century drift away.
Nowhere is this more true than in the Somme. The area of the Somme is a thriving farming community, but it is also a community that guards the memories of hundreds of thousands of people. The farms are planted around well-tended cemeteries and memorials, sites that are in the middle of the farmed fields.
The cemeteries and memorials are tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who hire local people to maintain them. There are, every day, hundreds of people who come from all over the world to visit and to find graves of family members who they’ve only heard about in stories.
It was in the Luke Copse Cemetery that I began to feel the enormity of our pilgrimage.
We walked up a tractor path, past fields of sunflowers to a small “battlefield” graveyard, where bodies were placed in pairs a trench, the trench that they had just left minutes before. Dave showed us where two brothers, Lance Corporal Frank Gunstone (25 years old) and Private William Gunstone (24 years old), were buried side by side.
Further along the path we came to the Light Railway Cemetery. Part of battle planning involved building a railway so that wounded men could be carried back to hospitals in Rouen. Trenches and craters from bombardment still mark the site of the battle.
We visited the grave of Private Alfred Goodlad who wrote in his last letter home, “The French are a good nation worth fighting for.” I think about today’s troops, dying in foreign countries far from home. I think about the generosity of Private Goodlad’s family, who decided to put this statement on his tombstone.
Across the tractor path, cornfields frame the Queens Cemetery in former no man’s land.
Many of the Accrington Pals are buried here. Pals battalions came from all over Britain, young men who went to school together, or maybe were volunteer firefighters, or on the same football team. Friends who signed up together to fight together, and for the most part, die together. The 700 Accrington Pals were a battalion from the town of Accrington in East Lancashire. They were tasked with taking the town of Serre. Within half an hour, 585 of them were casualties (385 dead, 200 wounded). Serre was left in German hands.
“… it was slaughter. Men fell like ninepins. There was rifle fire, machine-gun fire, it was terrible.” Stanley Brewsher, Accrington Pals
A few kilometers down the road, British sappers had spent months digging carefully under German encampments to lay mines set to explode at the appointed hour and initiate the battle.
Remarkably, there is footage of the explosion at the Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt, just west of the town of Beaumont-Hamel, the first of five land mines were exploded (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8YfJmwY5Uo) It is remarkable to see the size of the explosion, the earth shooting high into the sky.
There is also footage by the official cinematographer, Geoffrey Malins of the young soldiers of the first battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers waiting in the “Sunken Lane” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Sb7urnjEaE) across from the mine site, ready to attack and liberate Beaumont as soon as the mine was exploded.
For reasons beyond my ability to grasp, let alone explain, the mine at Hawthorn Ridge was exploded 10 minutes early on July, at 7:20 a.m., not at 7:30 as scheduled. The explosion effectively warned the Germans that the attack was about to begin. The German troops moved quickly forward into their trenches before the attack officially started at 7:30. They were therefore very ready when the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers from the Sunken Lane came out into the open. The young men whose faces you see in the film clip were easily picked off.
We walk from the Sunken Lane to the top of the Hawthorn Redoubt to look into the crater left by the mine.
Overgrown, it is no more than a hideout for teenagers now. I go down to the bottom and stare up, remembering the young German men who lost their lives suddenly, unexpectedly, as the bomb went off underneath them.
We drive a short distance down the road to Newfoundland Park. Although Newfoundland was not a part of Canada in 1916, it is hard not to feel compassionately patriotic at the sight of a Canadian flag and a huge caribou memorial.
This site has been maintained so that the original trenches are still in evidence, markers to another horror of this war. 801 young men from Newfoundland were pushed forward as part of a second wave of attack after the Hawthorn Ridge explosion. They couldn’t go through the trenches, because they were blocked with the dead and wounded. They had to move across open fields, with little artillery support. They tried to push through the barbed wire of No Man’s Land, wire they had thought destroyed.
In 30 minutes it was over. Only 68 men of the Newfoundland Regiment survived uninjured. Newfoundland lost a generation of young men. To this day, they are mourned and remembered in Newfoundland on July 1st.
And on and on. Each cemetery tells the story of a regiment, each gravestone tells the story of a man.
Day one of our tour of the Somme is over. We head back to Chavasse Farm and wine that reminds us to enjoy life. Over dinner we sing snatches of songs about peace.
“September 17: A novel” has just been published by Red Deer Press. It’s my first novel, and I’ve had been doing launches and readings in Toronto, Kingston and Ottawa.
The book is based on true events. I came across the story when I was at an exhibit called The Children’s War in the Imperial War Museum in London, during the fall of 2011. In the exhibit, I saw a photo from 1940 of a group of young boys, about 10 years old, with huge grins on their faces. They were wearing oversized sailor’s hats and waving from the deck of a ship.
I think the caption might have read “Children Back from the Dead.” It went on to explain that the boys had been in a lifeboat for 8 days, after their evacuation ship, the SS City of Benares, was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the middle of the Atlantic. I looked again at their faces, at their smiles. I was hooked. I started to read everything I could about these boys and the terrible fate of the SS City of Benares.
I spent many happy hours in the archives of the Imperial War Museum, where there are audiotapes of some of these boys and other survivors. As I listened to their accounts, and as I learned more about the 100 children who were aboard the City of Benares, I knew I needed to tell their story. More than that, I wanted to get as close to them as I could so that I could tell the story from their point of view.
In March of 2012, Tim and I stayed in Salcombe, Devon. We found a perfect cottage by the sea and spent a blissful month writing, walking and immersing ourselves in town life. The photo at the top of this blog site shows the view from my writing desk. It was at that desk that I began the first draft of the book. If you look at the picture closely, you’ll see the book on the desk is “Miracles on the Water” a great resource book about the City of Benares by Tom Nagorski.
As I wrote I realized I wanted to try to capture the story from the children’s perspective. I thought that might be easier to bear, because they didn’t know how horrifying their situation was. For the longest time, the boys thought it was the best adventure in the world. Sitting in the lifeboat one of them asked: “Which would you rather be? Bombed in London or torpedoed in the Atlantic?”
Writing the book is a tangible result of Stepping off the Treadmill. The bookhappened because I had stepped out of my regular life. I was somewhere else, open to new ideas, new people, new possibilities. It happened because I had the time to be curious, to do research and to fall in love with a group of children.
Now, I am able to share the story. I have been reading segments of the book aloud, and every reading reconnects me with the children. I’m reminded of their bravery, their humour, and their strength. But of course I can’t help but be aware of the enormity of the tragedy, and the loss of so many young lives.
An amazing coincidence happened when I went to Kingston with the book. John Lazarus, one of Canada’s foremost playwrights, came to the launch. He was excited that I had written a book about this almost forgotten piece of history. His uncle, who he is named after, was the deputy radio officer on the City of Benares. His uncle John went down with the ship as he tried to radio for help for the children.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of September 17 goes to the charity Save the Children. Save the Children is the world’s leading independent organization for children, delivering programs and improving children’s lives in approximately 120 countries. Save the Children ensures that the health, education and rights of children are protected worldwide. For more information visit www.savethechildren.ca
As part of my Professional Theatre Training Program grant (made possible through Theatre Ontario’s PTTP, funded by the Ontario Arts Council) I have had the pleasure of watching the rehearsals for “The Old Man and the River”, Theatre Direct’s new play for young children age 3+. Created by Artistic Director Lynda Hill, in collaboration with longtime associate artist Thomas Morgan Jones, the story follows three days in the life of a grumpy and lonely old man who lives on a hill near a river. Every day he walks to the river to fish and every day he comes back empty handed. But one strange day, a magical creature bursts out of the river and attempts to befriend the terrified old man.
I’ve been involved in a lot of rehearsal processes over my life, but never one solely devoted to puppets. It is precise and imaginative work, where each moment must be carefully choreographed to ensure that every movement and gesture is guided and supported. It is magnified world – a simple step tells us a whole story. Adjust the angle of the step, and you tell a different story.
Puppeteers Mike Petersen, Eric Woolfe, Seanna Kennedy and Kira Hall create the table top play, manipulating a series of puppets and performing without words. Thoughts and feelings are communicated through gesture, inflection and sound. Nicky Phillips has created music to underscore and support the action and the emotional journey. The visual world has been created by designer Kelly Wolf and production manager Kaitlin Hickey. The Old Man’s spartan house sits on a rocky outcrop, the trees in the forest grove are animate and opinionated, and the river is alive with magical surprises. Even the sun and the moon take an active and personal interest in the Old Man’s story.
Watching rehearsal, I am aware of the constant interaction between the puppeteers. They must breathe and move as an ensemble, at all times aware of each other’s position, focus and attention. Mike talks about listening to each other, by which he means that they must be close enough to anticipate each shift. “Complicité”, says Lynda.
I watch in fascination as the puppeteers integrate the Old Man’s physical character into their bodies and then translate it into the inanimate puppet. Except the puppet never seems inanimate. He’s always alive. I become convinced I can see the Old Man breathing. I believe his face changes from a constant scowl to a full, joyous laugh.
Because there is no script, creating this is similar to devising a dance piece. For the first week I struggled with trying to notate the action. But the moment I looked away to write, someone shifted position to control a different limb, or the intention shifted to an animate leaf. When Stage Manager Elizabeth McDermott cames on board, I poured over her cryptic symbols and shorthand notation for blocking notes. Being a stage manager is a hard enough job – being SM for puppets seems a herculean task.
Tracy Thompson, an early years educator with the TDSB said this about the show:
“What a delightful show! I was so impressed with the elegance, sophistication and gentle humour of this piece. I was watching the audience very carefully and seeing how they responded to the emotional and magical world that was created by your ensemble. The music, design, creativity and commitment of the performers captivated them from beginning to end.
Difference, fear of unknown, habits, loneliness, trust, our relationship with our environment and each other and the power of friendship are all beautifully woven.”
Nancy Brown, a retired professor from the Early Childhood department at Seneca College, saw the piece as exemplifying a developmentally perfect piece for young children.
“It was stunning. The pace, the use of repetition and the introduction of symbolic representation is exactly what we want for three and four year olds. You are encouraging them to develop a fluency in non-verbal communication.”
Entertaining, artistically precise and pedagogically sound. A perfect TYA piece. And a piece that can be enjoyed by any age. A group of students from Humber College’s acting program watched a rehearsal last week. Twenty-somethings, they completely entered the world of the Old Man. They laughed at his crankiness, gasped at moments of magic and hugged each other as the man found friendship. The Old Man and the River reminds us of the importance of play, at every stage of life.
I have often wondered if we moved to the country because of Christmas.
The first winter that we lived in Brooke Valley, we went out into the woods with our three small children and cut down a very scraggly, Charlie Brown-ish tree. The snow came down in lazy, fat flakes as we brought our treasure into the house. We hung soggy mittens by the fire and cupped our hands around steaming mugs of hot chocolate. We were living in the middle of a Christmas card.
Since then, we’ve had as many green Christmases as white, some treacherous with ice, some grey and sodden. Our Christmas trees have always been naturally wild and wispy (“Your tree has great negative space,” said our most optimistic friend). Over the years, Lewis grew to be our primary tree finder and cutter. He took to enhancing nature by drilling holes in the trunk and inserting extra branches to fill out the shape. But whatever the shortcomings of the tree, the house has been filled with Christmas spirit – the smell of good food, the warmth of a fire, and days of laughter.
Last year was our first non-Canadian Christmas. We discovered new foods and new traditions in La Spezia, Italy. Sitting on a sun-drenched patio, drinking Prosecco while munching on delicious Italian cheeses and breads made up for the lack of snow, tree and fireplace. Funny, we didn’t miss any of the usual trappings.
But back home in Canada for Christmas this year, Tim & I dug out ornaments and fell into familiar patterns. Everything seemed all the more special for having been tucked away for 2 years. I carefully unwrapped the special, gold-rimmed Christmas glasses, purchased by my parents in New York over 50 years ago. Tim unrolled the felt advent calendar to find a few additional mouse holes along the edge. (The story of our mouse-chewed advent calendar is one he wrote as “The Mouse in the Manger”, many years ago. Sentiment keeps me from repairing the felt.)
Lewis set off to find a tree. We have 76 acres, and there are a lot to chose from, but finding something that works, a tree that is full and thick, is always a challenge. Determined to bring in something impressive, he felled a 35-foot spruce using only a dull cross cut saw. He cut off the top 10 feet and hefted it home the day before our first big snowfall.
When the plate-sized flakes began to fall, we were surprisingly excited.
The first snow of the year was heavy and wet – perfect packing snow. Perfect snow lady material.
Over the next few days, the temperature dropped. As it did, the snow quality changed. There were smaller, lighter flakes, not good for packing at all. But we were assured of a white Christmas.
The unpredictability of the weather at this time of year can easily destroy festive plans, but luck was with us. Timing was perfect as family and friends arrived in various stages. But the snow accumulation grew and grew until eventually it was impassable. The day after Boxing Day, we abandoned all thoughts of driving and hunkered down to await the eventual arrival of snowplows.
There is a blissful and deep quiet that comes with a large snowfall.
And so we have once again celebrated the season in a Christmas card world. We’ve walked the snowy roads under moonlight and sighted Jupiter, shining brightly. We’ve filled the house with lights and familiar ornaments, and flamed the plum pudding. We’ve watched deer and ravens enjoying bits of composted leftovers. We’ve reveled in memories of Christmases gone by, and toasted absent friends. And we’ve boosted and fortified ourselves to be able to face the long cold winter ahead. As Dickens instructs, we’ll “keep Christmas in our hearts throughout the year”.
I’ve been spending the last week at the Ottawa City Hall, decorating for The Mayor’s Christmas Party. The Mayor’s Christmas Party is a huge annual event attracting 5000 – 6000 Ottawans to meet Santa, have their faces painted, nibble chocolate treats from Mrs. Claus, make crafts, skate on the rink, roast marshmellows and quaff endless cups of hot chocolate. It’s a big event and my friend Sarah Waghorn of Pukeko Design has the contract to design it.
I know Sarah from Ottawa theatre circles. Designing the Mayor’s Christmas Party is like doing a theatre show except that it’s a huge set filled with audience, workers, performers and thousands of details. We are working to a tight, inflexible deadline and everything has to follow an exact plan. Sarah has hired a team of us, mostly from the theatre community, to decorate and perform elfish duties on the day. Lewis Wynne-Jones has joined us so we really are a family team, a dedicated bunch who take pride in our work. We are under the domain of the Office of Protocol and happy to be their minions for the next seven days.
Who says the city doesn’t support the arts?
We met on the first day in a low section of the stone basement in City Hall. There was a long hallway containing at least 50 boxes of new ornaments for us to sort through. I squatted on the floor so as not to spend the day bent over, wearing a Pukeko apron and bright green gardening gloves. I was soon covered in sparkles from the coloured balls. We became a team immediately recognizable by our sparkly faces, sparkles that were embedded in our skin for the whole of the next week.
Our work hallway led to a tree storage room. A whole room filled with artificial Christmas trees. There was also a secure room accessible only by swipe key filled with all of the kinds of things needed for special events – shelves of Maple syrup (protocol gifts), vases, cake platters, tables cloths, signs, Halloween ornaments, Kahlua (?) and cranberry juice. There were boxes of miniature flags, one box for every country in the world it seems, except for China for which there were 8 boxes. It is in this secure room that we unpacked the special ornaments and exquisite fake cakes for the “set” of Mrs. Claus’ bakery.
We’re a great team and for the first while we swapped theatre gossip and family Christmas stories. We spent two days listening to carols before we gave up trying to connect our tasks to Christmas cheer. By day 3, we were spending hours in silence and small decisions (what colour next?), as we perfected each tree. Over the course of 4 days, we carried, fluffed and decorated 30 trees of varying sizes. My arms became shredded by plastic pine needles as I wove strands of lights and looped 200 coloured balls onto each tree.
After trees, we spent days affixing garland on bannisters, wrapping over 300 boxes for presents, changing the hangers on 50 large ornaments (gold cord is all wrong), changing the orientation of 200 ornaments (they don’t work hanging vertically, they should be horizontal), re-wiring garlands, setting out all of the trees and finding places to plug them in. It was backbreaking and leg exhausting as we crisscrossed the building and work on concrete floors.
I found myself in a contemplative mood and headed out on a lunch break, to clear my mind in the crisp December air. Beside City Hall is the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights, a monument that I have seen for years but never really looked at. Designed by Montreal artist Melvin Charney, the sculpture incorporates the first sentence of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights – Tous les êtres humains naissent libres et egaux en dignité et en droits.” The words “Equality”, “Dignity” and “Rights” are repeated in English and French across the top of the monument. These words are then repeated on individual plaques in the 73 languages of Canada’s First Nations.
The Canadian Tribute to Human Rights was inspired by the Polish worker’s solidarity strikes in the 1980’s and is dedicated to the struggle for fundamental human rights and freedoms. Algonquin elder William Commanda ceremonially introduced it in 1990, followed by an official unveiling by the Dalai Lama. Since then, the monument has been the focal point for a wide range of demonstrations drawing awareness to human rights issues.
The monument sits on Algonquin land, as does City Hall. Before returning to work, I took a moment to walk through the simple and unadorned archway, grateful to have the freedom to do so, grateful to be working with a dedicated, sparkly team on a common, happy, goal.
I started this blog as a way to record, observe and remember our travels. When Tim & I returned to Canada, I assumed that our travels and adventures were over. There were no journeys and I had nothing to write about. Yes, I was that depressed.
We’ve been back for 6 months now and some of the lessons from the trip are only just sinking in. What I am beginning to understand is that adventures are all in how you look at them. Every day holds something new. I may not be travelling, but I am still on a journey.
I read an article the other day about the number of life forms in 1 cubic foot of earth, and it made me remember that life is infinite in all directions (to quote Freeman Dyson). My geographic scope may be small, but against the microcosm of my day the adventures are still writ large.
But most importantly, we have not stepped back on the treadmill. Tim and I are balancing on a wire without a net. Our lives are irregular, surprising, unsettling, disconcerting, challenging, risky and often exciting. So I think that writing about “Stepping off the Treadmill” is still valid. At the risk of becoming a self-absorbed-navel-gazing blogger, I have decided to continue to write as I did when we were on the road. If it gets too ghastly, you’ll just have to un-follow.
But I hope you’ll travel with me for a while. There’ll be some great recipes, travelogues and photos of slightly less exotic locales. Perhaps we’ll all appreciate our own backyards a bit better.
“…if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!”
Writing a final chapter to my Stepping Off the Treadmill blog has been hard. It is taking time to acclimatize to being back, and I suspect that we will be assimilating the experiences of the last 9 ½ months for a very long time.
What I can say is that it has been wonderful to come back to such an outpouring of love from family and friends. It has been especially important, because my father died 5 days after we landed back in Canada. I was lucky to have been able to see him and talk to him before he died, and to be with my mother at this difficult time. Our homecoming has been bittersweet, and all in all, very discombobulated. So we have been grateful to come back to our welcoming community of friends and family.
Our house, when we finally arrived home, seemed big and quiet. While away, we were always living with other people. We couldn’t help feeling that our house was a bit empty. Even our cat, when she came home, seemed quieter than usual.
Of course there has been a lot of business to attend to. We waded through 9 ½ months of mail. We did our taxes. We made appointments with dentists. We raged at our internet service providers. But we haven’t really unpacked. Every now and then we open up some of the boxes that we packed up 10 months ago, but we are surprisingly uninterested in whatever they contain. I guess we are still travelling light.
People ask if it is wonderful to be home. I can say that we seem to have chosen exactly the right moment – we left a London that had been rainy and cold for weeks and arrived to a sunny Ontario heat wave. We’re enjoying meals on our back deck and finding opportunities for lots of therapeutic gardening. We had a dinner party within days of being home, and loved re-discovering our own pots and pans. We’ve been to a vernissage at our local gallery in Perth, the Riverguild, where we saw a wonderful exhibit of new watercolours by our friend Franc van Oort. And we went to an opening of a play at the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa where we schmoozed with the cream of the Ottawa theatre community. Tim is heavily into a second draft of a new book, and I am chomping at the bit to get back to my writing as well.
But I am at my happiest when I can talk about where we have been, who we have met, and what we have done since August 1, 2011. Every time we tell a story from the trip, it becomes more real. Tim and I look at each other and say, “this actually happened.”
I know that our future will contain more adventures. But for now, we have stories to tell, narratives to create, and meaning to discover. To those of you who have shared directly in the adventure – thank you for making it so extraordinary. You have, each of you, changed our lives and made them fundamentally better. To those who have been armchair travellers – thank you for coming along. You too, by being observers and commentators, are part of the experience.
“My personal conviction is that we are not changed by our experiences as common wisdom has it. What changes us are the stories we tell about our experiences. Until we have re-formed our lives into story-structured words we cannot find and contemplate the meaning of our lived experiences. Till then they remain in the realm of beastly knowledge. Only by turning the raw material of life into story – by putting it into a pattern of words we call narrative – can beastly knowledge be creatively transformed and given meaning. It is storying that changes us, not events.” –Aidan Chambers
Saying goodbye to London means saying goodbye to our favourite dance company, Tempered Body Dance Theatre. We were able to go to one last “Cha-Cha-Cha”, an evening of scratch performances by three companies, including Tempered Body, at Chisenhale Dance Studio. We got to see more of Tempered Body’s new piece “Stand-By”, an exploration of physical and emotional dependency.
“As active or non-active feminists of the 21st Century we are taught to be independent. Dependence on other people is accepted as weak and lacking courage. Same too with dependence on substances. Are we really saying these two categories of dependence are similarly devastating? When is independence destructive?” Maddy Wynne-Jones on “Stand-By”
The show premiers in June, after we’ve gone. It has been a privilege to watch these dancers at work, a thrill to watch Maddy creating this piece.
Saying goodbye to London means saying goodbye to the West End, so we decided to splurge on a couple of shows. Trying to decide which shows to go to has been hard. As Sondheim fanatics, Sweeney Todd with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton was an obvious choice – I had seen the original production on Broadway and this was every bit as wonderful. Michael Ball was a sympathetic and socially conscious Sweeney. Imelda Staunton was funny, sexy and brilliant.
Globe to Globe, part of the Shakespeare World Festival, was also something we wanted to see. 40 plays from 40 countries. We could only see one – the Palestinian production of Richard 2. Funny, angry, provocative. We met up with fellow Ottawan Jessica Ruano after the show, stopping for a drink to talk about art, politics and how to produce theatre that matters. It was hard to walk away from the other 39 shows…
The musical hit of the West End is Matilda, winner of 7 Olivier Awards. It is riotously outrageous, with the wickedly funny Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull. I am in the business of working with children on stage, and I know what they are capable of. But I was floored by these young performers. A fabulous show, and an amazing adaptation of the book by Roald Dahl. Jaw dropping design. Rude, irreverent. What’s not to love about a show that has the biggest belch that ever existed?
We also went to listen to the brilliant playwright Michael Frayn who has two shows on in London: “Noises Off”, the toast of the town, which we saw (Celia Imrie as Dotty!) and could hardly breathe for laughing; and “Here”, which we didn’t get to see, much to our regret. He is also launching a new book, Skios, a blend of farce, satire and romance. Is there anyone who has such a variety of approaches in their work?
We made a dash out this week to see the amazing Bauhaus show at the Barbican. The Bauhaus school was a 14-year exploration of the arts that that changed the way we see things. When it was closed down by the Nazis, proponents of the movement fled to other countries and their design ideas spread throughout the world. I had been very affected by Bauhaus design and philosophy in my youth and it was incredibly inspiring to see the work assembled and thoughtfully chronicled.
But the hardest thing right now is having to say good bye to family. It means tears and laughter, and last suppers. This week, Maddy made an amazing dinner for Peta, Bryan, Jo and Amanda. It was her “thank you” to them for putting us up (putting up with us). She created a meal of 4 courses, each dedicated to a country that we had stayed in for at least a week.
Starters (Spain) we had: Spanish Chorizo sausage sautéed with butter beans and shrimp on a bed of lettuce.
Mains (England): Individual Beef Wellingtons, garlic mash, roasted squash, green beans with almonds, mushrooms sauce and gravy sauce.
Dessert (France): Prune Clafoutis with custard.
Afters (Italy): Italian dessert wine (brought from our time in La Spezia) with cardamom biscotti.
It was an amazing feast, a fabulous and noisy night with family. It is impossible to think that we will be leaving, heartbreaking to try and say goodbye.