Birthday

 

IMG_0187.JPG

What a gift for my birthday: sunshine and light among water, glass, and flowers. It’s hard to believe sometimes that light and angle make such a difference. Who would believe, for example, that these are the same flowers taken from a different angle in a later light?

IMG_0185.JPG

What is it about birthdays? They are the same length as any other day, 24 hours. And yet, like milestones along the roadside, they mark our passage down the long journey of life. Miles, kilometers: my father could never make up his mind. When driving from Wales to Spain, he loved the miles, because they were fewer in number, yet he also loved the kilometers because, although there were more of them, they passed by more quickly.

Long journeys those: crossing the channel by ferry, then down the various routes nationales from the channel down to the Spanish border where we entered into Franco’s Spain, a very different world. Tricornios, the Guardia Civil, checking everything and everybody. We soon learned to carry an extra packet of cigarettes, some chocolate bars, something small that could be handed over or ‘confiscated’.

So what is it about birthdays, those milestones that mark our ways and our days? And where am I now on my life’s journey? Two years older than my mother, when she passed. Two years younger than my father. I look over my shoulder and see behind me the shadow of a bearded man, with a scythe, walking after me. He stoops at Lords cricket ground and, at six thirty, on the dot, he removes the bails from the stumps to signal the end of the day’s play.

Shadows are lengthening. I check my watch. The days are closing in. The umpires pass the stones they carry from hand to hand. One more over of seam, two or three more overs of spin? I adjust my stance at the crease, back away from the wicket and, like Sir Donald Bradman, I ask the umpire to give me a new guard …

IMG_0178.JPG

… I take it, scratch my marks in the crease, and look around me … shadows and the fielders are closing in.

Academic Circles

IMG_0026

Academic Circles

A response to my friend who responded to an academic committee’s negative response with a response of his own only to receive from the committee another negative response to which he wants my advice on responding aka “the reason of the unreason with which my reason is afflicted so weakens my reason that with reason I murmur at your unreason.”

  1. Academic committees are keepers of the gates of universal knowledge. Knowledge is defined as (a) that which the committee will allow to pass those gates and (b) that which passes from the prof’s notes to the student’s notes without going through anyone’s head.
  2. If nature abhors a vacuum, academia abhors creativity.
  3. Creativity in academia is that which creatively follows the rules of academia while adhering to them with the utmost strictness.
  4. Academia teaches young people to think outside the box by creating creatively bigger boxes inside which they can think.
  5. Academia has solved the ancient problem of squaring the circle by thinking in circles and creating bigger, better boxes.
  6. Academia places its adherents, known as professors, in square boxes that are often called offices. In a zoo, they would be called cages and we know what they are called in prisons.
  7. Academia promotes its most successful adherents moving them into bigger boxes. Bottom level adherents are herded together in one small box, usually windowless. Top adherents are sometimes allowed an individual box sometimes with a window out of which they can see the world passing them by, if they have time to look out.
  8. Academia resolves everything by means of committees.
  9. Academia believes strongly in Freedom of Speech, with responsibility. That’s why Academia draws up committees to which their adherents are deemed to be responsible.
  10. Academia believes strongly in Academic Freedom, with accountability. That’s why Academia draws up committees to which its adherents are accountable.
  11. Academia believes in Creativity. Creativity is defined as (a) the ability to obey the rulings of committees while sticking to the letter of the law promulgated by those committees and (b) as the ability to creatively build, according to committee design and regulations, bigger and better boxes.
  12.  Academia does not understand, permit, or encourage mirth, and humor is banned.

Welcome to the Ivory Office Block (once upon a time called the Ivory Tower). Above are the twelve most important Laws of Academia. Disobey them at your peril. For more guidance on The Perils of Academia follow this link Thinking Outside the Box.

Dickhead of the Year

IMG_0169.JPG

Dickheads of the World: Unite

So the nominations for official Dickhead of the Year are now open. You are all invited to nominate your favorite Dickhead and, if you choose, to write a brief encomium on the D-H of your choice. Brief: about 50 words should suffice.

I was going to leave this post until April the First, April Fool’ Day, aka Jour des Poissons d’avril in bilingual New Brunswick. I may reserve my own nomination for my cat, Princess Squiffy, who again vomited on my favorite chair. Luckily, I was not in it at the time.

It will be interesting to see whom you nominate and why. I have a couple of other nominations, but I’ll save them for a day or two. Perhaps the dog who urinated on my snow man and caused its base to melt, hence toppling it over. Then there’s the raccoon which ate all the birdseed in the feeder so the deer couldn’t have any. Or maybe the deer who ate all the birdseed in the feeder and didn’t leave any for the birds. Then there’s the midnight deer-dancing group who left their dance steps in the snow all over my lawn. And there’s the snowman who didn’t believe in global warming … nor spring warming … alas, he’s nowhere to be seen nowadays.

Other candidates include the pigeons who decorated the head of the famous man in the square (with guano). And the man who remembered everything, except his own name, address, and telephone number. The lady who lost her car in a snowdrift gets an honorable mention, as does the American tourist who was so addicted to the accuracy of his GPS that he drove right down the slipway into the sea at Tenby, South Wales, and still didn’t think the GPS had any problems when he did exactly the same thing down the lifeboat ramp on the Mumbles Pier (Swansea, South Wales).

A word too in retrospect for all those drivers, especially in the UK, who suffer from Real Red Road Rage, the strongest kind. And a double word (you clown!) for the driver who, while suffering from Real Red Road Rage, stopped his car, got out, and tried to start a boxing match with the then world welter-weight champion who just happened o be driving the car that gave the man the RRRR.

“It wasn’t a very long fight, Howard.”

Sometimes

IMG_0021.JPG

 

Sometimes an image comes to us, out of nowhere, and we struggle to put it into words. Or else it comes as words, and we strive to put it into color and shape. And what if it is the scent of grass, or of apples, or of fresh cut hay? Mushrooms frying are so symbolic. I think of Frodo in Lord of the Rings. Nobody can recreate for me the smell of fresh laverbread, barra lawr, Welsh caviar, according to Richard Burton. And don’t talk about the Penclawdd cockle women, ever-present with the laverbread in the Swansea market I knew as a child.

Names float through my mind: the butcher, the baker, the candle-stick maker, the man who wanted me to become a professional boxer, the man who wanted me to article with him to become an accountant, the day I wanted to leave school to article to be a lawyer. Were they just dreams? Or were they colored balloons, floated into the atmosphere, with multiple strings attached? And what does it matter now, forty, fifty, sixty years later, when life has been lived, and all those pasts have been condensed into a single tune, that recalls what I was then, what I am now, what I did, and all of it music played on a squeeze-box accordeon by a man who knew everything about me, past and present, and made his knowledge of my life his PhD thesis, dry, dusty, and so academic and biased, and yet his gateway to eternity’s Hall of Fame.

The little lady who lives above us looks on. Does she judge us or just take all that knowledge in and retain a rigid silence? Who knows? Who’ll ever know? And what about us? Are we just corporal ships sailing through a sea of silence surrounded by who knows what reefs and perils? And deep down, does it really matter, any of it? And anyway, who cares?

Today I met a former colleague. She scowled at me and lisped my name. I gave her a two-fingered flick of acknowledgement and turned away without speaking. What did I matter to her or her to me? Did the ice she used to store in her knickers actually melt when she saw me? Did she know me for who and what I am? Do I, did I, give a damn? How many fingers do you see, I wondered? Five? Three? One? And what does that one finger mean, standing out like a lighthouse on a lonely headland above a dangerous reef?

My Madonna of Grief, wrapped in her shawl of uncertainty, drifts through a cloud of unknowing and doesn’t give a damn, one way or another. My Lady of the Discalced Carmelites plods on through rain and snow, feet soaked or frozen, love and warmth in her heart, her foundations ever before her, her soul ghosting above the stupendous stupidities of this stultifying life.

Oh to fly with the angels, to float above the fog and fury of our daily lives, to rise and grasp the meaning of stars, planets, constellations, to hear the eternal music that binds the universe, to become one with the music of the spheres and their song of songs.

 

Chairman Tigger

IMG_0122.JPG

Chairman Tigger and the Cult of Personality

My 110 lb dog, Tigger, decided he wished to become a cult figure. So he placed this photo of himself in a prominent position by the Nativity this year and was happy to see a gathering of puppies and other dogs coming to welcome him and admire his good looks.

I’m not yet sure if Tigger has determined to run in the 2020 elections. With 20/20 foresight, I would be able to predict the results if he did and with 20/20 hind(leg) sight, I’ll be able, in 2021, to analyse whatever has happened by that stage. Was it Caligula who turned his horse into a god to be worshiped? Tigger was reading about him the other day in Suetonius’s Twelve Caesars. He told me “Surely if a horse can be a god, albeit a Roman god, I, who am as big as a small pony, can be a member of something, an MLA, perhaps, or an MP, maybe even a Representative, or even a Senator.”

“Tigger,” I replied. “You are certainly big enough to be a Senator. If only you could skate, and shoot the puck, and find a uniform to fit, I am sure the Ottawa Senators would be proud to have you as a mascot.” “If I am to be a hockey dog, I want to be a Maple Leaf, lik eddy the Entertainer,” he growled. That should tell you something about his state of mind.

Anyway, he is determined to get out there and run, which he does most days anyway. But he doesn’t have enough money for a deposit, let alone a genuine campaign, and he wants to stand as an independent. He doesn’t want to be tied down with a party line, if you see what I mean. He wants to be off the leash, so to speak. So, I suggested Crowd Funding and he quite liked the idea of that. So, backde by plastic Lego worshipers and followers, Crowd Funded with Monopoly Money, and a determination to create a first of some kind or another, Tigger the Democratic Dog, will soon be heading for either the Senate Kennels or the Parliamentary Kennels. He just hasn’t decided which as yet. I guess with 2020 foresight, I should be able to tell.

By the way, if he actually makes it to the Doggy Dreamland of Representative Status, he’s going to sponsor a bill for a Two-Way Rainbow Bridge. Apparently, he wants to come back again. And we want him back too.

Nativity

IMG_0073.JPG

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.

 

IMG_0214 (2).JPG

 

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

IMG_0068.JPG

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.