LONDON, ONTARIO – In a tip of the hat to the Forest City Film Festival which is underway (October 17 – 24, 2020) like so much else in this dispiriting year in virtual format only, I’ve gone rooting through the tickle trunk in search of two articles I wrote about the late, great London filmmaker, Chris Doty (1966–2006).
LONDON, ONTARIO – We’ve been allowed back into our churches – at one third of their old capacity – for the last three and a half months. This is almost precisely the same amount of time as we were locked out of those churches when our civic leaders determined back in mid-March that the best way to cope with the Chinese Batflu pandemic was to persuade everybody but grocery store personnel and truck drivers to hide under their beds until we ‘flattened the curve’. For a Church which is largely defined and animated by the multiform idea of “presence” (Christ came for us and it is our obligation and privilege to turn out for Him) being forced to sit out the holiest season of Easter this spring was a desolating experience.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Chess is probably the only board game of sufficient pedigree and complexity to lend a kind of cachet to anyone who plays it well. “Oh, he’s a bright one,” people think for a few minutes when they perceive one’s mastery at a game whose appeal is so abstract that few are genuinely drawn to it. But then those same people pick up on the social obtuseness which chess masters so frequently exhibit and the lustre of that wizardry is lost on all but other similarly afflicted geeks.
LONDON, ONTARIO - To mark this 75th anniversary of the first publication of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, I have re-read my favourite 20th century Catholic novel for the third time and – just tonight – finished re-watching the magnificent, eleven-episode Granada TV adaptation of the book for at least the fourth time. When that mini-series originally aired on the PBS network in 1981, we had neither cable nor a colour TV but we did have a brand new baby – our very first – who very graciously consented to sleep through the 60 to 90 minutes of air time when we invaded my in-laws’ living room for eleven weeks in a row.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Life got in the way this week, so here’s a little talk I delivered to the Baconian Club of London almost exactly fourteen years ago:
A dream I had in my late twenties strongly suggested that my predilection for reading was getting out of hand. My wife and I are carefully navigating King Street just west of Clarence during a rush hour dusk when I see a beautifully illustrated book lying open right there in the middle of the road. Though I can scarcely make out the words in the falling light, I apprehend that the great secret to life I’ve urgently been tracking is contained in those pages. Paying no attention to the bumper to bumper congestion all around us, I drop to my knees to ferret it out and my wife pulls me up by yanking on the collar of my shirt. “Before you crack that little tome,” she reasonably suggests, “perhaps we’d better get off the road.”
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.
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THE AQUINAS LECTURE
G.K. CHESTERTON AND THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
ALL LIFE IS A GIFT :
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADITION :