Sweet Chariot

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Sweet Chariot

Many things are changing around me and I am changing too, and not just my shirts, pants, and socks. Alas, my other changes are irreversible. They’re part of my old age and as I age, I get no younger.

My beloved is listening to the usual garbage on TV. I am forced to listen to the advert that comes across with a 15 per cent volume increase: “Your brain changes as you get older.” It must be so, it says so on a TV advertisement. No fake news there. Alas, I know it’s all too true. My thoughts are slowing down and my memory is failing. Last week I forgot Tommy Douglas’s name. Yesterday, I woke up at 2:00 am and Tommy Douglas’s name was on the tip of my tongue. I kept repeating it, but I no longer knew why I wanted to remember it. Yet it loomed out of the night mist, like an Anglo-Saxon warrior at Badbury Rings or a long-vanished Roman legionnaire on the foggy banks of the River Severn.

I guess it’s ‘oh shit’ time: little things are going wrong, nothing major yet, but tiny little things, here and there. I can no longer distinguish black from blue when writing with my four-colour ballpoint pen. The morning star is clear when viewed through one eye, but it’s a shiny constellation, lop-sided, a bit like the Pleiades, when viewed through the other.

I remember my grandfather sitting in the kitchenette in Cardiff. He would cover his left eye with his hand and announce “Out of my right eye I can see …” Then he would change the viewpoint and “Out of my left eye …” I thought he was such a boring, repetitive old man, but now I am doing the same thing myself: “Out of my right eye …”

My life is gradually slowing down and my death is slowly catching me up. One day, I don’t know when, it will overtake me and then who knows what will happen.  I most certainly don’t. And now, as I drive down the Trans Canada Highway, I look in the rear-view mirror closing first one eye and then the other … “with my right eye I can see …”

I can see in the road dust, a long way behind me, a group of motor-cyclists riding in formation. They are travelling at great speed and, as they get closer, I can see they are wearing white biking leathers. I see the sun flashing off the accoutrements they carry with them and realize that they are bearing trumpets, trombones, flutes, clarinets, piccolos, with an occasional harp slung across a biker’s shoulders.

Mounted on their white Harley-Davidsons, they are chewing up the highway with a snarl and a roar. They are rapidly gaining on me. But the turn off to the Mazerolle Settlement is less than two kilometres away and, for some unknown quirk of the reason for my unreason, I don’t want them to catch me.  I step on the gas and maintain my distance. Two kilometres pass really quickly at this speed and I pull off the highway, into the little side-road that leads to the Mazerolle and Hanwell. Curious about who and what they are, I sit there waiting, watching, left eye / right eye.

I look at their musical instruments and hear strange, sweet music as they roar on by. It’s a band of angels. Luckily, although they’re swinging low, they aren’t coming after me, so that means they’re not coming to carry me home. Not just yet.

Friends

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Friends

This is the time of year to think about family and friends. We all need friends, especially friends who bring flowers, who stop awhile and talk, who bring comfort to us when we doubt ourselves, and help forethought, and insight when we are troubled and need knowledge. And flowers are best. Here are some from Gwen and Victor. The picture was taken the evening of their arrival. They sat on the table and spread their color over our wedding anniversary, our Christmas dinner, and now, with any luck, will last into the new year, bridging, as good friendship does, the gap between the old and the new.

Plants

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The plants in this photo were given to Clare and I by Barry and Susan in 2010, the day I was made a Professor Emeritus. It’s hard to believe that happened over eight years ago. The memories of that day have faded. The certificate has gathered dust and sits somewhere in a frame, hidden from sight, at the bottom of some cupboard or other. But the flowers of friendship planted that day by our two friends have last and lasted. I showed these plants to David, their son, when he visited the other day. Eight and a half years … some bonds and friendships are never forgotten. Others wither and are taken by the frost of loss and the ice storms of neglect.

Flowers

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Those same flowers, snapped 8 days later in the morning sunshine. Carpe diem: gather ye rosebuds, and baby carnations, while ye may. And celebrate the joys of the season: plants, flowers and so many friends, too many to be mentioned here, and I apologize to all I haven’t mentioned by name, you are never forgotten, even though your names don’t appear in this tiny snippet from the indoor winter garden where you are always welcome and friendship still blossoms and blooms.

 

 

 

Ice

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Ice, so many meanings: sliding on ice, as cold as ice, icing the puck, walking on thin ice, skating on thin ice, ice-blue eyes, an icy stare … ice is also nice, as in icing on the cake, ice lollipops, ice in the drinks, holding it on ice …

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Stalagmites and stalactites, like ants in the pants, the -mites go up and the -tites come down. Ice giants, ice demons,  silent ice, groaning ice, ice floes, the river iced up, the head pond so many different shades of grey and blue and white, fading in places into black, and these look like black-and-white photos, but they aren’t, there’s always a tinge of color, even when you least expect it.

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Silent ice, singing ice, groaning ice, and the steady drip-drip of melting ice and what a show, sunshine stealthy on ic, stepping across it on tip-toe, and the ice as radiant as a stained glass window … and oh, there was so much more I wrote and still want to write. Too late now. It was incredible! I added a third photo to my original post early this morning, and, when I updated the post, the whole blog post was deleted and I uploaded a blank page. How tragic. Never mind: the ice will have to speak for itself in its own silence, in its own creaking and groaning, in its spectacular ice palace of glimmer and glow.

 

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Nativity

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Nativity

We keep this beautiful, hand-carved nativity scene on the sideboard all year round. It is tiny, approximately 2″ x 2″ and came from Central Europe, possibly Hungary, where a friend was travelling in the mid-seventies. He brought it back for us as a gift and we revisit it every Christmas, moving it into a more central place of honor and beauty by the Advent calendars and the Christmas scenes.

It will soon be time to remove most of these Christmas adornments. Some will stay up longer though and this is one of the pieces that will remain in sight to delight us all year round.

 

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This is another piece that will stay with us. It shows our photo of Tigger being visited by Kiki the Cat and several little puppies. Tigger gazes at them from his Royal Portrait, making them all feel welcome and protected as he endows them with the seasonal spirits that will extend well into the New Year.

Advent Calendars

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Advent Calendars

We have multiple Advent Calendars. Some are online, others are religious, and yet others, like the one pictured above, are forest scenes with Santa, courtesy of my daughter and Playmobile. We particularly like this one. Each day, from December 1 to December 24, we get a different set of pieces to add to the background. Then, on December 25, Santa arrives ad we keep him around, usually until the New Year, sometimes until Reyes, the Spanish and Mexican Christmas, on January 6.

Every morning, Clare opens the large Playmobile Box and adds the day’s pieces to the scene. Bit by bit, the scene grows until everyone is present in the same forest glade they have inhabited for many years now. Every year, I search for new animals, and they live in the scene next door, cats and dogs and kittens and puppies, all watched over by a framed photo (2001) of my favorite dog: Tigger.

No, the spirit of Christmas doesn’t reside in a cardboard box and its plastic figurines. Rather it resides in happy memories (horas non numero nisi serenas / I count only the happy hours) and in the new memories, usually very happy, that we create each year. Clare is a sun-watcher. Each day, she calls out the minutes as the days lengthen, post-mid-winter, and the earth tilts slowly back into spring, then summer. We also watch the sun shadow creeping up the wall (pre-Christmas) and then slowly back down again, post-Christmas, into the New Year, Reyes, and my birthday.

Christmas visitors in our plastic Christmas forest scene are joined by real visitors in the world outside. Deer walk up to the bird feeders by night and squirrels (red and grey), chipmunks, and a variety of birds feed there by day. By night we also get raccoons and the occasional fox. By day, our neighbors’ thin, predatory cats tinkle their Christmas bells, and patrol the garden in search of their Christmas dinners. Every year, we watch the splendor of birds at the feeder and hope that the cats go hungry for now, to be filled later in the safety of their own feline dishes safe indoors.

Washington Bear

 

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Washington Bear

Washington Bear crosses the Potomac in a boat filled with Christmas oranges. Well, that’s what it looks like. Though of course they may be tangerines, or clementines, or mandarin oranges. It doesn’t really matter, because Christmas is now over, the Potomac is crossed, and world and wold have returned to whatever normality is currently available.

Brave Washington Bear. He was the first to pose for my pre-Christmas present: a new small Canon Camera. Hand-size, it fits in a pocket but takes the sharpest of pictures. It’s a Wifi camera, so they say, but we spent the largest part of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day trying to set up the Wifi connection, without success. When we checked trouble-shooting online, we found about 400 links complaining of the difficulty of linking Windows 10 with the Wifi Canon cameras. Oh dear: all fingers, thumbs, and steamed up glasses, with miniscule codes thumbed onto Lilliputian screens. How frustrating and, as we grow older and sight and touch grow frailer, and brain power for new things lessens, and new things encroach more and more and faster and faster onto our sensibilities … how triply and quadruply and really bigly, big league frustrating. As we slow down the world and the increase in daily innovations speed up. It is only now, that I begin to understand the frustrations of my grand-mother: “Thread the needle for me, Roger, for I cannot see too well and my hand is shaking.” Little did I know then that I too would be making the same and similar pleas when my turn came around, as it is coming.

The optometrist scheduled three eye operations. all minor, for me in October. I have had one already, the removal of a cyst, and now have two more to go: cataracts in both eyes. It will be good to see clearly again. Perhaps I will be able, once more, to thread my own sewing needles. I like sewing. I find it very relaxing. I have a wire needle threader (from Spain), an automatic needle threader (from my time quilting in Moncton), and I have my own sense of direction, corrupted now both by vision and shakiness. I guess that, like Washington Bear, I will be crossing my own Potomac soon, not to mention my Rubicon.

Not that it matters. Not that much matters in the enormous scheme of this world that rolls onwards and onwards, perhaps to its own inevitable end. Others have become extinct before us. We too are faced, once more, with our own extinction. Washington Bears, one and all and all for one, we must stand together in the prows of our boats laden with oranges and step forward, bravely, into whatever awaits us. Fortune favors the brave or so they say. But don’t be too happy about it, for they also say that “those whom the gods would destroy, they first make happy.” So bravery, yes, but with a little pinch of doubt and a peck of cynicism, please. Enjoy the old year. Welcome in the new. But don’t be too happy, not just yet. Let’s see what’s ahead of us first.

 

Boxing Day

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23 December: my mother and I travel to my mother’s mother’s house, leaving my father to follow, if he wants to. No instructions as to where we’ve gone, or how, or when. But he’ll know and follow eventually, like the good dog he is, when the Pavlovian Parties are droolingly over.

24 December: Christmas Eve. Everyone is very secretive, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, and the ‘boy’ is sent from the room while the grown-ups discuss whatever secrets grown-ups discuss when the little one is not present. I never ask questions any more. Why should I? Little boys should be seen and not heard is the only answer I ever get.

25 December:  Christmas is here. Late last night, my grandfather, on hands and knees, shoved a box under the double-bed in the front room where my grandmother sleeps using his walking stick like a billiard cue. I could see him clearly from my bed on the floor on the far side of the room, beyond my grandmother’s sleeping place. I had a feeling it would be him. It’s been a long time since I believed in Santa Claus, let alone the spirit of Christmas. The Christmas spirits, yes, I believe in them. My grandmother keeps them locked up in a little bottle beside her bed labelled Hennessy Cognac. I have sampled the Christmas Spirits. They are nice. I believe in them. My grandmother has already risen. I’ll get up soon. I guess my father will be downstairs and the Christmas Spirits will be here in plenty. My guess is they have already begun. Joy to the world, peace at Christmas, and a truce and a laying down of arms throughout the joyous day. Perhaps I’ll get a soccer ball and we’ll play soccer in the no-man’s-land that lies between the barbed-wire tongues that simulate the trenches.

26 December: Boxing Day. By the time I get up, the gloves are off and the sparring has already begun. I hear voices, walk into the kitchen, and a hush falls on the room. Knife-edge glances slash the thick atmosphere. It’s Boxing Day. On my left, in the blue corner, my mother, smoking what is probably her tenth cigarette of the day. A thin haze of grey smoke escapes from bruised lips. Whether they are beaten or bitten, I will never know. On my right, in the red corner, my father. White-faced, hungover yet again, truly into the spirits of Christmas. He is breathing heavily, like a Boxer Dog in mid-summer heat, snoring and snorting at the leash. In the middle, my grandfather. He is keeping the combatants apart, creating his breathing space so the true Spirit of Christmas can disentangle itself from the Christmas Spirits and bring peace to earth again for at least sixty seconds between each round. I look around the heaving, threshing silence of the room. My father breaks that silence, pointing at me: “It’s all your fault!” he says, his red-dimmed eyes blazing with a sudden and renewed anger. He starts to rise, but my grandfather steps between my father and me. “Go and see granny. She’s in the kitchenette, by the stove,” he says. “Go now.” I run a gauntlet of staring eyes and go to my gran. As I shut the door behind me, voices rise higher in the room I have just left. Boxing Day, indeed. The gloves are off. The battle has begun again.