LONDON, ONTARIO – In Noel Coward's Private Lives, divorced lovers Elyot and Amanda, have unknowingly booked themselves into adjoining honeymoon suites at the same French hotel, and meet each other when they're driven out onto their respective balconies to get away from tiffs with their latest spouses. To make matters worse, the hotel orchestra in the plaza below insists on playing and replaying the popular tune which Elyot and Amanda had once appropriated as "our song". When the tune is going around for the third consecutive time, they glance at each other in awkward embarrassment and laugh. "Nasty insistent little tune," says Elyot, to which Amanda opines: "Extraordinary how potent cheap music is."
LONDON, ONTARIO - For a daughter, three grandkids, one brother and sister-in-law and a passel of friends who are coping with the inundation in British Columbia, here’s a 1987 feature that I’ve hauled out of the archives, commemorating the golden anniversary of the great London flood of 1937.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Though I received it for my birthday way back in May, I’ve dawdled a good few months in taking up The Unquiet Englishman: A Life of Graham Greene (W.W. Norton, 2021) by University of Toronto English prof (and no relation, as they say) Richard Greene. And I now am delighted to report that Richard Greene does the best job I’ve yet seen of frankly and sympathetically exploring not just the life and career but the maddening fissure of constitutional disloyalty that ran right down the centre of Graham Greene’s personality and made his life such a trial for himself and virtually everyone who tried to love him.
LONDON, ONTARIO - Amidst the global insanity of these last nineteen months when panic about a man-made virus has enabled authorities in once-free nations to impose unprecedented levels of coercion, censorship and intimidation on citizens who have no reason to trust their leaders’ motives . . . it can be distressingly easy to set aside one’s deepest convictions for the sake of a little peace and quiet. Even a thoroughly obnoxious contrarian such as myself has mornings when I come to and sigh at the existential burden of being constituted in this way.
LONDON, ONTARIO - A good number of my favourite photographs in the world are pictures of our kids. This one here was snapped at about 5:30 p.m. on October 31st, 1986. On the left is our five year-old firstborn, kitted out in a meticulous, homemade recreation of the emblematic outfit worn by Rainbow Brite who (you may be excused for not remembering) was that year’s hottest cartoon craze for young girls. Preceding the snapping of this picture, my wife had overseen a week’s worth of fittings, tweakings and adjustments so as to get every detail correct. This doubtless explains the somewhat more pensive expression on our subject’s face. Yes, she knows it’s a magnificent costume but all those previews have somewhat worn away the mind-blowing revelation of it all.
LONDON, ONTARIO – London lost her unofficial and utterly ubiquitous town crier earlier this month at the age of 66. Though he was not a man I ever came to know well and (other than a love of London lore and the operas of Gilbert & Sullivan) shared few interests with, Bill Paul did me a good few favours over the nearly fifty years of our acquaintance; favours which I did a singularly crappy job of acknowledging, let alone repaying.
I think we both thought at first that we were going to get along better than we did. That I was three years older needn’t have been an obstacle to friendship, even when we first met in our twenties; never mind later in our lives when such a tiny gap doesn’t signify at all. But somehow I always did feel significantly older than him. Though I liked him and admired his energy and drive – and though I hardly thought of myself as Sammy Sober-sides and have had certain dour souls counselling me all my life to ‘grow up’ or ‘get serious’ – an awful lot of what he got up to didn’t appeal to me very much and, when you got right down to it, struck me as kind of frivolous.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Overcoming her customary aversion to anything resembling a high school reunion, my wife dared to accompany me back to South Collegiate four years ago for a special screening of ninety minutes’ worth of 16 mm films and clips that were produced half a century ago by students in the very first high school film course in the country. That 1970-’71 class was the only one that Kirtley and I ever took together. That it was her second year studying film and my first – I didn’t bother with a second – does not signify that she is the senior partner in our union. It only indicates that she didn’t share my affinity for cramming entire years of adolescence down the garburator by flunking grade nine, quitting grade ten at a different school and then re-enrolling at South with a slightly improved attitude which then conked out for good halfway through grade twelve. So, no piece of parchment from South Secondary School is tacked on my study wall. Nor hers, for that matter; but at least she has one, somewhere.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Let’s start off by acknowledging that some of the most tiresome people in the world are those who insist on being wildly ‘original’ in everything they do. A subspecies of these ‘one-of-a-kind’ bores that is proliferating on the interwebs just now is a dour herd of adolescents (some of whom appear to be in their 30s and 40s) who post gormless videos in which they earnestly explain how they are defining their sexual identity this week and then list their preferred pronouns for you to memorize. I admit my complicity in driving up the viewership numbers for these grebes because I not only find their clueless self-absorption oddly mesmerizing; I also feel this wonderful burst of gratitude that my own youth was never troubled for a second with this kind of paralyzingly ponderous bullshit.
LONDON, ONTARIO – When the Reverend Maurice Boyd (1932–2009) died in New York City at the age of 77, it scarcely caused a ripple here in London where twenty years before he had occupied our most prominent pulpit; serving as the senior minister at Metropolitan United Church from 1975 to 1988. The inspired oratory of this very dynamic preacher had built up that downtown congregation to the largest of its kind in the entire country. I thought it was particularly shabby when Boyd’s successor at the (by then) seriously depleted Met, Robert Ripley, didn’t see fit to even mention his illustrious forbear’s passing in his inane Free Press column that ran every Saturday. “Ah, perhaps that explains it,” I thought a few years later when Ripley threw over his ministry and his faith and came out as an atheist.
LONDON, ONTARIO – At a time when people are straining to discern shapes and patterns amidst a blizzard of contending reality narratives that are blowing in from every direction at once, parroting vague platitudes like “We’re following the science,” “Listen to the experts,” “Diversity is our strength,” or “We’re going to build back better” might buy you a temporary sense of reassurance but it cannot last. After a few hours of perhaps desperately needed sleep, anyone capable of thought is going to wake up in the grip of a whole new set of questions, like, “Who is it that determines which ‘science’ we’re going to ‘follow’?” “Do any of these ‘experts’ have our best interests at heart?” “What is the purpose which the supposed ‘strength’ of ‘diversity’ is going to drive?” And “How can politicians who’ve never built a thing in their lives tell us how to ‘build back better’ something as infinitely complex as a functioning society?”
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 :