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.
LONDON, ONTARIO – The alert Hermaneutics reader will have detected that an occasional tendency to reflect in these posts on my chequered career as a high school student has spiked in a rather alarming way over the last few months. Let me explain what’s behind this “slight disturbance in my mind” as Roy Wood termed it in one of The Move’s finest hits. All of my academic reveries of late are owing to my participation once again with the committee which organizes periodic reunions for London South Collegiate Institute’s 1971 graduating class.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Incredulity laced with pity would best describe my reaction to the news earlier this month that Bill and Melinda Gates – respectively aged 65 and 56 – have decided to divorce. You've come this far together, you poor lugs. Why would you pack it in now? What with Bill being the second or third wealthiest human being on the planet, they knew that it wouldn’t be possible to quietly terminate this marriage and so the no-longer-affiliated entities - now identifying themselves as "Melinda Gates and Bill Gates" - issued a bland joint announcement to the world press which they hoped might keep the baying jackals of gossip and innuendo at bay:
A MID-LIFE MARITAL DIALOGUE
(It is the darkest hollow of a Sunday morning in October of 1999 when a slightly squiffy man in his late forties returns home from a thoroughly dispiriting high school reunion. Trying not to disturb his wife or their kids, Richard hangs up his coat and removes his shoes in the front hall, then heads through to the washroom for his nightly ablutions. Longing to see the end of this day and succumb to the oblivion of sleep, Richard pads into the bedroom, shedding his outer layers in a heap as he peels down to boxers and a t-shirt, and slips into bed next to his wife. Once he’s comfortably positioned and perfectly still, Emma turns on her bedside lamp and sits up.)
LONDON, ONTARIO – I was a little late twigging to the fact that I have been living all my life on richly storied and sacred ground. Like any child born into an even halfway decent home, I was suffused with that sense of enchantment that emanates from a loving mother and father (and, in my case, three usually goodhearted older brothers) and spills over into your first apprehensions of the larger world beyond the domestic realm. But by about the age of twelve, I started to feel that there were other kinds of nourishment and belonging that were inaccessible to me or any other denizen of the so-called ‘New World’ because our cultural roots just didn’t go deep enough. Canada just didn't have enough history.
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 :