LONDON, ONTARIO – During a late summer visit with an old friend last September, we nursed our drinks in the moonlight on his back porch as we discussed a whole raft of newly-crafted social and political conventions that have somehow won wide purchase and which, taken in their totality, leave us feeling like alienated and vaguely criminal geezers from another planet. Though our subject matter was disconcerting, we luxuriated in the rare pleasure of being able to operate our vocal cords in a free-wheeling atmosphere where obligatory boxes of obeisance did not have to be ticked before we could proceed; where taking offense, throwing a snit or crying like a baby would not be regarded as compelling counter arguments. What were some of these preposterous new conventions which we neither accept nor uphold?
LONDON, ONTARIO – Having stretched myself quite fruitfully with my reading of The Divine Comedy on the occasion of Dante’s 750th birthday, I more recently decided it was time to finally immerse myself in the writings of St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) and read the two works for which he is best known, Confessions and The City of God. If you require a significant milestone to jog your historical reading, then by all means take advantage of this 1665th anniversary of his birth to acquaint yourself with this incomparably influential ‘Doctor of the Church’. After sacred scripture and documents produced by various ecumenical councils, no authority is cited so frequently in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as St. Augustine.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Some forty-five years ago I impulsively picked up a book on a remainder table at the East London branch of Robert’s Holmes Book Shop for the princely sum of 99 cents. I’d never heard of its author before (or since) and its utterly bewildering title, Inglorious Wordsworths, was the product of some cross-referential convolution that soared clear over top of my then 20 year-old head.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Watching the Canadian film Whale Music at the old New Yorker Cinema many moons ago, I had one of those sobering moments of crystallization when I suddenly recognized the depth of contempt our society harbours for Christians who won’t shut up about their faith. Adapted from Paul Quarrington’s comic novel and featuring a killer soundtrack by The Rheostatics, Whale Music was loosely inspired by the creative, psychological and marital travails of The Beach Boys’ resident genius, Brian Wilson.
LONDON, ONTARIO – When Elvis Presley died in 1977 at the age of 42, sitting on a Graceland toilet in dyspeptic agony after ingesting one too many deep-fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, his imitators all of a sudden went from occasional, freakish novelty acts to entertainment mainstays. With the great original prototype dead and buried, pretending to be Elvis (if you did it well enough) could be the making of a fairly lucrative performing career. It would, however, be a career that came with a soul-threatening, Faustian catch.
“I sometimes pant a little in my efforts to keep up – and as for ‘next week’, ‘next year’ – they are in God’s pocket as Gran used to say.”
– Nella Last, in the diary she kept for Mass Observation, 14 July, 1943
LONDON, ONTARIO – I’ve always had a special place in my heart for stories and accounts of how the British people coped during the German bombing raids of World War II. What attracts me to such narratives is the wild and yet oddly reassuring disparity that exists – not just between the diabolical inhumanity of what was being hurled their way and the no-nonsense manner in which these would-be victims resisted their annihilation and got on with their lives as best they could – but between the accounts that are given of that time by those who governed and by those who were governed.
LONDON, ONTARIO – It was primarily through the machinations of Sir John Carling (1823 – 1911) that shrewd London politician, brew master and businessman, that London was chosen as the site for a new provincial lunatic asylum. Carling held seats in both the Provincial Assembly (as the minister of public works) and in the Federal House of Commons until such dual representation was disallowed in 1872. With this kind of double clout, Carling was able to effect the transfer in 1870 of a makeshift asylum in a converted barrack at Fort Malden in Essex County to the new London Asylum for the Insane which was built on a 300 acre parcel of land three miles east of the old city – a parcel of land which Carling owned and sold to the province at a tidy profit.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Spending three hours scrounging for 60's arcana during my St. Patrick’s Day visit to yet another record show in the basement of Centennial Hall, has brought to mind that time in my life when pop music was the art form that mattered more to me than any other. Though it seems unfathomable in retrospect, 55 years ago this month, the Dave Clark Five were considered neck-and-neck with The Beatles as the most important band in the world. The DC5 had an enormous impact on my 11 year-old psyche when I first saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show; arguably a bigger impact than The Beatles who had made their North American debut on the same show just a few weeks before. In Britain the DC5 (hailing from the Tottenham area of London) had been the first act to supplant those mop-topped Liverpudlians at the top of the national charts and so, naturally enough, were regarded as their rivals. The timing of their appearance on Sullivan’s American variety show ensured that the exact same thing happened on this side of the pond.
LONDON, ONTARIO – In May of 1994 I enjoyed one of the more unlikely flukes in my so-called journalism career when a last-minute, all-expenses-paid junket fell into my lap to report on a human rights conference halfway around the world in Taiwan. Indeed, if you were to ram a particularly long knitting needle straight through a globe at London, Ontario, its pointy tip might well emerge in the suburbs of Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei. The trip involved passing over the international dateline, and according to my flight itinerary, the journey out was going to take two days and the return trek no time at all. It so happened that I flew back on what turned out to be a most magically elastic 42nd birthday; wishing myself many happy returns of the day in my Taipei hotel while packing up a suitcase full of souvenirs and making it home in time to blow out the candles on a fudge-frosted cake and enjoy a celebratory spin of one of my gifts; Pink Floyd’s last stab at greatness, the just-released Division Bell.
LONDON, ONTARIO – It was on a train ride home from Niagara Falls in the early autumn of 1977 that Kirtley and I mysteriously managed to become engaged. We have never been able to recall which one of us started to incline our conversation in the direction of matrimony. In addition to feeling depressed, ripped off and grossed out by the tacky excesses of Canada’s metropolis of bad taste, had we somehow been subliminally bewitched by our flying visit to the Honeymoon Capital of the World? So it would seem.
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THE AQUINAS LECTURE
G.K. CHESTERTON AND THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
ALL LIFE IS A GIFT :
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADITION :