To commemorate the 144th edition of London, Ontario's Western Fair, here’s an old short story of mine (at least 50% fiction) inspired by a childhood visit to the Fair circa 1960.
It was unusually cold that night at the Fair, more like Hallowe’en than early September, and I felt the excitement of any eight year-old who suddenly detects the approach of another season.
LONDON, ONTARIO – With the death on August 12th of Bishop John Michael Sherlock at the age of 93, I expect that I am not the only member of the sprawling Diocese of London, whose sense of bereavement has been mixed with bursts of jubilation at a race that was so very well run. I shall indeed miss his steadying presence in the day to day life of our local Church but it would seem ungrateful and even myopic to only express regret at a death which came at such a good age; or to wish for the prolongation of a life which the Bishop himself was willing and prepared to let go.
LONDON, ONTARIO – When I came into the Roman Catholic Church in 1984, my decision to convert was at least partially influenced by the testimony and example of people I admired who happened to be Catholic. Naturally enough, friends and associates held some sway, as well as public figures and artists of every stripe. But, incorrigibly bookish soul that I am, I was most particularly influenced by a mixed flock of congenial writers as temperamentally and politically diverse as John Henry Newman, Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, Ronald Knox, Flannery O’Connor and Dorothy Day.
LONDON, ONTARIO – In the end they couldn’t get a 50th anniversary edition of the Woodstock festival off the ground last weekend in upstate New York and perhaps that’s just as well. I was not relishing the prospect of watching that saucy young minx, Katy Perry, share a bill with however many surviving members of Country Joe and the Fish could still manage to cradle an instrument in their laps and croak out the never-more imminent proclamation, “Whoopee, we’re all gonna die”.
Distracted once again with the rigours of summer holidaying, here’s a five year-old piece from The London Yodeller about summer reading and outfitting the rising generation with an appreciation for the classics.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Can we all agree that at least until they achieve something resembling the age of reason, grandchildren can be a bit of a challenge to shop for? Early in my marriage I learned (frankly with great relief) that men – or at least this one – should never try to buy clothes for other human beings. I don’t seem to have an eye or a sense for the whole size and ‘will it fit?’ thing. And, even more fundamental than that not inconsiderable flaw, I am reliably informed (and reluctantly convinced) that I have perfectly appalling taste in matters sartorial anyway. Just because it’s the kind of garment I’d like to see people wear, doesn’t mean any sane person would willingly put it on except at gunpoint.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Though I read him a lot – and very avidly indeed – through the 1980s and ‘90s, it’s been a while since I’ve splashed about in that bracing fount of caustically humorous wisdom that goes by the name of Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956). Every thinking man’s favourite contrarian claimed that he always wrote for his own pleasure, to attain “that feeling of tension relieved and function achieved which a cow enjoys on giving milk.” And it shows. No matter how cantankerous or upsetting his dispatches from the front line of politics, religion or the arts might be – and whether you agree with him or not – the reader almost always feels an accompanying pleasure at seeing an insight or a contention so vividly and aptly expressed.
The grandkids are in town and to mark another summer’s apex, we dig into the tickle trunk for an essay from July of 1990 . . . .
LONDON, ONTARIO – What is this strange allegiance I feel for Lake Erie? It’s one of those instinctive and perhaps inexplicable preferences – like dogs or cats, red or white wine, mittens or gloves – that seems to reveal something deeply significant about any Londoner when he’s forced to choose between a beach on Erie or Huron as his personal favourite.
LONDON, ONTARIO – I have twice been persuaded, against my instincts, to join a political party; both times so I could have a vote in nominating a candidate I admired for the federal Conservatives in my riding of London North Centre. Both experiences turned out to be so wretchedly disheartening for everyone involved that I think I’ve finally learned my lesson and hereby take the pledge to never again take out another party membership.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Here’s an encounter I had about 35 years ago which I’ve called to mind so frequently over the years that I think I must regard it as emblematic; as one of my first encounters with an obnoxious tendency that has only proliferated since then. I was standing with a crowd of other human beings at a transfer point at Dundas and Richmond one afternoon, waiting for nearly all of the riders to disembark from a very full bus before we’d be able to file on.
LONDON, ONTARIO – I learned a valuable, lifetime lesson from an act of literary spoliation I unconsciously committed around the age of 18. Blown away by the magnificence of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, I immediately and successively raced through every novel of Mordecai Richler’s that I could lay my hands on and within a couple of months – surprise, surprise – I had utterly OD’d on the man. While I still objectively acknowledge Richler as one of Canada’s bravest and most wickedly funny writers, I was never able to take up any of the subsequent novels of his later maturity – I’m talking here about everything that followed St. Urbain’s Horeseman – without accompanying pangs of queasiness and ennui that were entirely owing to my past impetuosity as a reader and had nothing to do with Richler’s very considerable skills as a writer. The lesson I learned nearly half a century ago is that greedily burning your way through anyone’s entire oeuvre like a pack of cigarettes lit end to end, is no way to treat an author and will almost certainly put you off a good thing.
If you would like to contribute to the ongoing operations of Hermaneutics, there are now a few options available.
THE AQUINAS LECTURE
G.K. CHESTERTON AND THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
ALL LIFE IS A GIFT :
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADITION :