LONDON, ONTARIO – One of the unanticipated delights of my dotage has been the emergence over the last decade of a sort of electronic chain letter that is in constant circulation among me and my three older brothers. When we’re each doing our bit to flesh out some particularly gripping conundrum from the very dawn of our consciousness, the correspondence can see multiple updates in a day. Then the fraternal forum can cool into a kind of dormancy when a two or three-week silence is broken by nothing more than a hoary round of jokes about our feefers. But even such apparently retrograde fare can turn out to have unexpected pertinence. For instance, an early exchange among the elder quadrants which I found pretty mystifying, compared how many times each night they were hauling themselves out of bed to whiz. Little did I suspect that with a few more years and the simultaneous expansion and lightening of sleep, that actually becomes a thing.
LONDON, ONTARIO – The world’s very first autobiography (as we understand that term today) also happens to be the great granddaddy of all Christian conversion narratives. Though it was first produced a mere 1,624 years ago (and is only one of an estimated 113 books that he wrote in his lifetime) such is the inquisitive, generous and downright playful cast of St. Augustine’s mind, that his Confessions remains more uncannily readable and relatable than a considerable portion of the religiously themed books that are published today.
As a mid-life convert myself – thirty-two years old at the time of my plunge but intermittently fascinated by the prospect since the very dawning of self-awareness – I have always been interested to see how others managed to grope their way along the path to Christian belief. And in service to that abiding curiosity, I have probably read at least a hundred conversion narratives both before and since coming into the Church.
LONDON, ONTARIO - One of the sweetest aspects of childhood is how common it is that your best friend is that chap of similar age who just happens to live on your block and is the first person you bump into on that day around your third birthday when you get it into your head that you’d like to ditch Mom for a couple of hours and go exploring in the outer world. For me that friend was Beezer and on weekdays for the next two years from September to June when my older brothers were all at school (and I didn’t have to accompany Mom on some errand that usually involved bus rides downtown) he became my constant companion.
LONDON, ONTARIO - Now here’s a little tribute to a writer I’ve adored for most of my life and am reasonably confident that nobody else on the planet will be commemorating this week. For one, he’s dead and has been so for twelve years. Out of sight and out of mind. And at this point in his obscurity I don't sense that anybody’s inclined just yet to start considering whether he’s got the makings of a classic. The man had a peerlessly unpretentious style, a devastating sense of the absurd and a seemingly instinctive genius for imparting delight - none of them qualities, methinks, that carry much weight in the too self-conscious literary marketplace today. And there are a couple other aspects that would seem to work against the odds of anyone making large or serious claims for Keith Waterhouse today.
LONDON, ONTARIO - This is a dedication to London historian, Orlo Miller, which I composed for my 1989 collection of essays, Towards a Forest City Mythology.
“Because of Orlo Miller’s books of London history, I carry around a ghost map in my head; a sort of transparent grid which I can lay over the city as I move through it and see what’s no longer there. I see where a drunken nineteenth century mayor drove his buggy down a sidewalk and I see Dr. Neill Cream dragging his first murder victim to the back shed behind his shop. I see the east end typhus and cholera dumps where hundreds of new Irish immigrants took their first and last sightings of London and I’m present at the Donnelly trials where six murderers brazened their way through to a verdict of ‘not guilty’. I’ve attended regimental balls at Eldon House and helped pass buckets of water that didn’t do very much to contain the great fire of 1845. No other writer has evoked these visions and experiences with half his clarity and power, nor his abiding sense of justice.
LONDON, ONTARIO – With statues being toppled from coast to coast because 154 years ago our national founders didn’t espouse the exact same ‘values’ as historically ignorant urban hipsters . . . with way too many Canadians still hiding under their beds, remotely depositing their lockdown cheques as they wait for the development of a vaccine that will eliminate the possibility of human suffering in all of its forms . . . and with every political office in the land seemingly occupied by shallow ciphers who believe that public speaking’s only function is the expression of apologies and racial guilt . . . it’s looking like this Thursday’s Canada Day celebrations are going to be an even more depressing washout than usual.
LONDON, ONTARIO – One of the unlikelier candidates for sainthood which the ages have offered up, the American writer, pacifist and activist Dorothy Day (1897–1980) shacked up with a series of men in her twenties, had a baby aborted, rebounded into a rather cynical marriage that didn’t even last a year, bore a child out of wedlock, was once a card-carrying Communist, spent an unfortunate amount of time in jail for acts of civil disobedience, and was the subject of a 500 page FBI file.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Yesterday our lone London-residing child somehow got it into her head (and successfully implanted the idea into ours as well) that it was Father’s Day and came over bearing tins of Guinness and a saucy new red wine called Off The Press to join us in a splendid repast featuring the favourite foodstuff of right-thinking fathers everywhere, fish & chips. Realizing that we’d jumped the gun we joked that we should endeavour to set things right by reconvening on the true Father’s Day this Sunday with the second favourite foodstuff of RTFE – Chinese takeaway. If that reprise should happen to come off, fine and well. But really, my cup of paternal homage already overfloweth. I think we all recognize that Father’s Day is a sort of poor cousin or add-on jubilee that wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t for Mother’s Day; rather like Boxing Day is to Christmas.
LONDON, ONTARIO - I expect there was a fair bit of sighing in homes all across the Forest City last week as the news filtered through that Jane Bigelow (1928–2021) had just died one week shy of her 93rd birthday. The first woman mayor in the history of London – and only the second to head up a major Canadian city (following Ottawa’s Charlotte Whitton) – Jane Bigelow’s improbable reign lasted from 1972–78.
Considering how completely she cut against the mayoral grain of preceding decades (adjectives like ‘beige,’ ‘innocuous’ and ‘Oh, I must’ve dozed off,’ spring to mind) it’s rather amazing that she lasted that long or got in at all. I look back on that time now, trying to remember how it all came to pass and recalling some of my own favourite highlights of the Bigelow regime, and can’t help arching an appreciative eyebrow at London's surprising capacity to opt for something so completely different.
This week we bring you a new essay which was commissioned by the London-based online journal of visual art, Centred. You can visit them here: Like Father, Like Son | Featured Artist | Art Reviews for London and Southwestern Ontario, Canada (centred.ca)
LONDON, ONTARIO – Shortly before Christmas of 2016, the Westland Gallery in Wortley Village set up a table at the opening night of a group exhibition where I could discreetly flog copies of my just published book, Three Artists: Kurelek, Chambers & Curnoe. In the milling crowd of patrons and viewers that night, I would see artist Kevin Bice and his wife Daphne from time to time but they never came near my table. The Bices are close neighbours of mine in London West and Kevin is a great mixer and natural born leader with a real gift for activating all kinds of communal enterprise. He’d drawn me into 2008’s The River Project where I wrote up the nineteen artists’ profiles for that travelling exhibition’s catalogue and he also got me to join him in a successful campaign to persuade City Hall to impose certain measures to help conserve the architectural integrity of our neighbourhood.
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 :