LONDON, ONTARIO – In this first full week after Labour Day, I’m grappling with a sudden sense of loss as – for the first time in my entire life – I am not having to torture myself with the question, “Should I try to get out to the Western Fair this year?” Thanks to the Wuhan batflu pandemic, the Fair is sitting out 2020. I really do ask that question each year even though, I’m a little ashamed to admit, I haven’t answered it in the affirmative so far this century. I’m never happy to stay away but with no young kids tugging at my elbow to burn up a hundred and fifty dollars on violent rides and dodgy food like elephant ears and corndogs, and with the winnowing out of so many of the traditional rural attractions that had increasingly beguiled me as an adult, the thrill and charm of the Western Fair has largely evaporated for me.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Those of us susceptible to come-ons from book and record clubs always remember with a pang of nostalgia and lower back pain, the greatest, heaviest and bulkiest membership offer the Book-of-the-Month Club ever made. As luck would have it, I wasn’t in that afternoon in the fall of 1978 when the postal delivery truck tried to drop by all eleven volumes of Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization – 10,000 history-packed pages covering six millennia from Our Oriental Heritage to The Age of Napoleon. So a little card was left in the mailbox instructing me to pick up this great literary motherlode myself at the old central post office in the main floor of the Dominion Building on Richmond Street at Queens.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Our eldest grandchild who turns fifteen next week sent me on an unexpected tumble down a time tunnel this summer by landing his first real job as a dishwasher at a Salt Spring Island cidery which also operates a rather swish dining room. Yes, indeed; been there and done that; and at just about the same age. It can sometimes be challenging to look at young kids growing up in this digitally atomized culture of ours – where everybody spends at least half their waking hours staring into glowing screens – and find contact points that make you sigh with remembrance of a bygone, pre-pixilated age. But making one’s introduction to the working life by lugging around tubs of dirty plates and feeding them into the steam-belching maw of a Hobart dishwashing machine . . . that seems to be a touchstone that abides from one generation to another and another.
LONDON, ONTARIO – In his sublime but too-little known study from 1983, A Portrait of Charles Lamb (1775–1834), British biographer, professor and literary critic, Lord David Cecil, paid homage to the magically congenial essayist who wrote under the pen name of 'Elia'. Cecil was an old man by the time he rendered his tribute to a beloved writer who'd given him a lifetime of pleasure. And though his book is quite short, Cecil knows just which tales to tell, which passages to quote, so as to make Lamb's appeal comprehensible, and even contagious, nearly two centuries after his death. Charles Lamb’s outwardly uneventful life of fifty-nine years straddled the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Though they only co-existed for nine years, the figure Lamb is most commonly bracketed with in the imagination of the reading public is the great Samuel Johnson.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Not that she was around to blow out all those candles (having slipped off this mortal coil six and a half years ago) but earlier this month Phyllis Dorothy James (1920-2014) turned one hundred. I was alerted to this anniversary – which I too would like to salute – when the great Mark Steyn paid tribute to her last week in a wittily entitled essay, A Baroness on Barrenness, which primarily discussed P.D. James’ least typical (which is to say her only non-detective) novel, 1993’s The Children of Men.
LONDON, ONTARIO – This week we bring you a new work of short fiction . . . OFF THE HOOK.
SCOTT CAME HOME from the tobacco fields on an almost empty Greyhound. An older bus, thank God, which allowed him the inestimable pleasure of opening up his window and letting the churned-up early autumn air buffet his face. Sixty miles an hour he was moving in this rattling tin rocket but what pleased him most was not a sense of movement or progress so much as blessed calm and respite. He was glad to be moving away from the place he’d been and relieved – maybe even a little proud – that he’d seen a self-imposed term of demanding physical labour through to an honourable end.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Hermaneutics has officially gone fishing this week and instead of the usual up-to-the-minute commentary which so distinguishes this blog, we present your host’s interview with Canada’s bravest academic, Janice Fiamengo. Though originally published in the September 24, 2015 edition of The London Yodeller, there is very little in this conversation that has lost its relevance over the last five years.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Canada is now enduring the reign of our third dubiously qualified, fiscally incontinent, female Governor-General in a row. Perhaps these appointments are consolation prizes to make up for our heartless ingratitude when the Canadian electorate turfed out our only female Prime Minister ten minutes after she was appointed to that job. If you’re keeping tabs on our recent run of affirmative-action GGs, we’ve had two ex-CBC talking heads and now we have an astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency from 2000 to 2007, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette. Ms. Payette has been making page-two headlines this month for her allegedly abusive treatment of her staff and I was interested to read this note from a commenter at the Small Dead Animals website in response to an article they posted there about the scandal.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Back in the summer of 2015, I was editing The London Yodeller, then in its prime, and had the opportunity – and the space – to properly discharge a debt of gratitude to the Canadian author who had influenced me more than any other. It had been a half decade since Richard B. Wright had published anything at that point and I sensed things were winding down and wanted to pay tribute before it was too late. Here is that five year old feature.
LONDON, ONTARIO – It is the first law of the freelance jungle that whenever somebody seems to be offering you any kind of work, you must immediately say, “Yes!” – just to keep negotiations open – and worry about how you’ll actually deliver on the project later. So that was the protocol I adhered to when I was invited up to the executive offices of the Grand Theatre in the winter of 1991/92 where artistic director Martha Henry asked me, “Have you ever thought of writing a children’s play?”
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THE AQUINAS LECTURE
G.K. CHESTERTON AND THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
ALL LIFE IS A GIFT :
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADITION :