Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Circles and Doctor Who

Headnote: His life? In the doctor’s own words: 
“The story of a daft old man who stole a magic box and ran away.”

Hello Reader,
Got memory?

Circles. My planet circles the sun and my life circles time. We meet people again, but we don’t always remember them.

In Canada, I abruptly left home after finishing grade 11. In mid-autumn, I wandered into a community centre and met someone I hadn’t seen since grade three. That’s a lot of circles past. Of course from childhood to adulthood our bodies had changed, but we still recognized each other—how cool to meet in a big city, miles away from our rural elementary school. She was selling hippie crafts, while her longhaired boy friend mutely glared at me.

I went away feeling that something significant had happened—but who could I tell? Who, on these mean streets of the naked city? Easy: I found a notebook, started a journal. 

Circles. It was Joni Mitchel who sang, back then, how we are all caught up in the circle game. “And the seasons, they go round and round…” Last month a lady new to my Free Fall Friday group, Suzanne, wrote of celebrating her wedding anniversary by hiking where she had hiked 30 years before. There were the same red rocks. Of course she remembered them: It had been a magical time.

And me, I had a magical time at university. There I was, in same world so many of my book heroes had known. Engineers in jungle outposts, or officers on boring route marches, would remind each other of science, quote poetry at each other, and refer to literature. “Do you remember your Milton, Captain?” (“Better so reign in hell than to serve in heaven”) I just loved it when my chaplain, on being asked to report during at a university meeting, quoted Bartleby Scrivener. 

Over 30 circles ago, when Suzanne was named Sue, and all of our campus acquaintances were single, I had known her. You may wonder: How could I still remember her, many circles later, when she appeared one morning at Free Fall Friday? Easy: From my journal. Not by re-reading it, but from having written in the first place. You see, back in the 19th century Abraham Lincoln had told his law partner, Herndon, that by writing and reading out loud, thereby engaging his senses: visual, auditory and physical, he could inscribe memories into his brain. As Abe put it, “like etching on a steel plate.”  Just so. As for me, it helps that university was a marvellous place where I walked in daily gratitude. Just like Sue walking past red rocks, when she was first married. (No, she doesn’t remember me, and yes, I have my precious degree)

Circles. The planet Earth revolves, we are all circling around time, and meanwhile, on the planet Gallifrey, the Time Lords have a system of writing that is not like wedges of cuneiform, but like circles. Coincidence? I think not. 

Eh? You’ve missed the references? Cuneiform was the writing of Mesopotamia, on clay tablets, before they imported Egyptian papyrus from the marshes of the Nile. Gallifrey is in my computer spell checker, as is that time machine called the Tardis, that blue telephone box owned by the mad man on the BBC’s Doctor Who. Unlike Gallifrey, the Tardis is also in my Oxford dictionary as a proper noun. As for “blue box,” that’s searchable on the Internet.  Cool, eh?

As we all circle through time you might well ask, “What is the meaning of life?” I don’t know, but I can say that Paul Graham, a web-essayist and computer-millionaire, says he spends his money on experiences rather than material possessions. Makes sense. I keep a journal to etch in my experiences. Call me a nerd, but I’d rather experience watching  Doctor Who on TV than own a widget. I’m so glad I experienced going to London… and going on a Doctor Who walking tour.

Two folks from Saskatchewan, who had been to the same prairie conventions as I, were on the tour. On a bridge over the Thames they had me use their camera while they held up a green Roughriders flag. Of course they held up their sonic screwdrivers, too.

A week later I went on a walking tour for Jack the Ripper. As three of us gathered for the tour—the other two were from Leeds and Birmingham—we talked; we discovered we were all “Whovians”: fans of “the doctor.” And when our guide showed up, a fun young blond with a little child at home, you can imagine our delight when she arrived wearing blue Tardis earrings! 

Of course I would have gone to the Who Shop anyways, but our Jack the Ripper guide said to be sure not to miss it, as there is a BBC props museum concealed in the back. For charity. You enter through the Tardis, with the inside walls filled with circles, of course, and you discover, of course, that “it’s bigger on the inside.” I’m happy to say I had my picture taken using a key to the Tardis, and then stepping through the door. The donated props included three Daleks, and the costume worn by Vincent Van Gogh. Later I picked up Van Gogh stuff in the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square. 

I regret to say that two items I had crossed the wide Atlantic to find were NOT, alas, in the Who Shop, (Nor at Forbidden Planet) but at least I could buy some T-shirts and CDs. My wall space at home is all filled up, so I didn’t buy a black and white portrait of a young Victorian lady over the caption, “Run, you clever boy, and remember me.” Of her line, if you know the scene, you could say: “It was beautiful, and it was sad.” 

As for T-shirts: Alas, a French T-shirt of the soufflĂ© girl in her red dress, “C’est fille impossible,” was one size too big for me. I deeply sympathize with how she courageously held off all those Daleks, for so long, all alone. If it were me, I would go mad.

And now, as I am circling through the void, what keeps me sane are the shows I watch, the people I see and the folks I touch through my blog.

Sean Crawford
Cherishing my experiences 

In Ian Brown’s (journalist, married, with children) recent memoir-diary of the year he was age sixty, he notes that he had somehow lost track of two decades, although he wasn’t quite sure which two. I can relate. 

As a partial remedy for “lost decades” I like the Simplicity Journal. It comes with a ribbon bookmark, and a pen loop, complete with pen. Each two page spread includes a quarter page with lines for writing: Something that touched my heart; Something Good; Something Funny; Lesson Learned; Challenges; and Thoughts for the day.

Music of Doctor Who
Fans of the doctor make Youtube clips of TV scenes with music. 

In a song, the purpose of a chorus is like having a TV news anchor: To have the comfort of returning to something known. When I’m shaving, I like to hear the following (linked) three videos, in succession. Maybe for you these repetitive songs, without any chorus, would seem awfully boring. But not to me, not when I am deeply moved by the episodes the songs are from.

* “Abigail’s Song” by Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins, live stage version. She played Abigail in a Christmas episode. It’s actually NOT the version I play, but for mine the fan video clips might reveal too much plot to you.

* “The Long Song” with still photos from the episode where religious people sing. Their song had been constantly sung for generations to keep a mighty god asleep… but in the end they sing to wake the god up! The sad, defiant words at the end were by the doctor, about his long, lonely life as the last of his kind. He often tries to have human companions with him so he doesn’t go mad… (also to make sure he doesn’t become emotionally closed off and dead to the universe) 

*In Latin, here’s the song the gentle Ood sing for the tenth doctor to honour and comfort him at the end of his story.

…bonus Youtube: If you don’t mind stills that reveal the episode, then here is the sympathetic song “Chances,” performed by Athlete, with lyrics, from the episode where they give some aide and comfort to the greatest painter who ever lived. Don’t worry, the episode doesn’t show Vincent’s untimely death, but commenters who have seen the episode say they cry.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Little Humour

Hello Reader,
Got Humour?

I thought today I would attempt a humour piece, because I need the practise.

… At work and leisure I try to do the Right Thing, like everybody in those books says to do. 

Well, one time I was a young man, with no job, just a poor kid from the farm, off in the big city. How to get work? Well, of course, all the self-help books say the Right Thing is obvious: Just have Enthusiasm and really Believe In Myself. Oh, and have a marketing gimmick.

What could I do for work? Being from the farm I knew how to shovel manure, and how to have a strong back, but that was about all. So naturally, I went off to that clunky office building at the zoo. Once there, I suppose I should have gone to “Human Resources.” Actually, back on the farm, we called it “Personnel.” But hey, the books said to believe in myself, so bypassing Personnel I went down a little hallway to see the “Admin-istrative Ass-istant,” what we farmers call the “secretary,” because she had a desk right outside the door of the president himself: El Prezidente. The big cheese.

The Admin Ass was older than my mother, looking like an frowning dried up crab apple. All pumped up with enthusiasm, I shouted, “I’m here for a job!” She seemed unimpressed at the news, looked at me over her glasses, and asked,
“Have you a degree in marine biology?
“In land biology?”
“In microbiology?”
“Then we can’t use you. No openings. Sorry.”
“Oh…” Then I summoned my enthusiasm: “Well, can-I-see-the-president?”

I could see his door, marked “President.” I was looking right at it, like a pointer hunting dog. The secretary noticed the direction of my gaze, and repeated, “No.” But I remembered the books said to be persistent, so I narrowed my eyes and leaned forward, just like the best pointer would. As I had hoped, the secretary noticed. Too bad she added, “I said ‘no.’” I was leaning still further, about to fall over, when the presidential door opened, and the Man himself walked out. 

I thought to myself, ‘Quick, what would Horatio Alger do?’ Obvious the lad would show his pluck by following Mr. Big down the hall… so I did, right at the man’s heels. It was a short dead end hall with a small door at the end. No time to use my marketing gimmick. Quick—What would Alger say?

“Sir, if you give me a chance, you will never regret it!… I-would-be-proud to-be-a-member of-the-zoo!” The great man never stopped walking—he seemed in a hurry—but said over his shoulder, “Can you do marine biology?
“Land biology?”
“Uh… umm…” I thought for a second. “No.”
“Then young man,” he said now at the end of the hall, reaching for the door handle, “I can’t help you.” I would have followed him through the door, but the room inside was only about the size of an outhouse, complete with toilet seat. I jammed my foot in the door!

“Sir,” I shouted desperately, “I have a strong back!”
He grimaced. “You’re hired! Now get-your-foot-out-of-the-door.”
When I went back down the hall and told the secretary my good news, I saw her show expression for the first time.

*** *** ***

Many weeks of happy employment went by, with me using my strong back. Have you seen those nice big rocks lining the path to the Safari restaurant? Those are mine. Pretty good, eh?

One day I was putting rocks along the path to the gorilla cage —I mean, “enclosure—” and I was kneeling and tamping a stone into place —that’s a zoo word, “tamping—” when I looked up, and standing over me was the president. He was holding out a square cream-coloured envelope. “Young man, I have something for you.” His envelope was the wrong size for holding money, but still, I just knew it was something special. He grimaced and said, “We have to have diversity on our board, so I’m inviting you and your partner to our board’s supper-meeting. Dress is formal.”

Wow! So after work I ran straight home to tell my dear wife. Ran down the sidewalk, that is, right along the river, as we lived in walking distance of the zoo. “Gosh!” I said, “isn’t this swell?” 

…Days later, on a fine summer evening, we walked down to the Safari room, she wearing her formal black dress, me wearing my Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. First person we saw, outside the dinning hall, was a stranger in a nice business suit, rather like mine. I whispered to the wife, “Everybody’s dressed up, like us.” But I was wrong. Turned out the man was a waiter. We entered the big dinning room, with the big long table, and—Oh my Lord! The ladies all had black dresses, like my wife, but the men—they all had tuxedos. Drat! Foo-ey! Blast! I’m always the last to know.

We found our name plates and took our seats. I kind of sank down into mine, feeling small, and let my wife do all the talking. The lady next to her was a microbiologist, the fellow across from us said he was a marine biologist. The man next to me was busy talking to his neighbour, but I think I overheard he was a land biologist. I just sank still further into my seat. If anybody asked, maybe I could say I was a geologist, with a specialty in tamping. 

During the supper I couldn’t remember to do any Right Things from all those self-help books on How To Socialize. I just sank down still further into my seat, and avoided eye contact. My wife was fine, I could hear her and the lady beside her: They were comparing their tattoos.

During the business part, the coffee was keeping me awake, …suddenly I didn’t need any coffee anymore. —Suddenly the president was looking right at me. “You’re from a local farm. Maybe the zoo should have an exhibit of the local ecology, eh? Stand up, and take a minute or two, to give us your thoughts on what we could include.” So I stood, said ‘gulp!’ and ‘erk!’ …and I tried to do the Right Thing. The rest of the evening was a blur. Things only came back into focus when at last my wife and I were walking home.

*** *** ***

…Now, of course, not just at work but in my leisure time too, I try to do things right. As leisure, my wife and I both attend a weekly toastmasters club to learn public speaking. In fact, this includes impromptu “one to two minute” speeches after being given a surprise topic. For this we always had an “evaluator:” a person supposed to give us, and the rest of the listening club, feedback on how we had just done with our “gestures,” our “vocal variety” and other things too. Was “supposed to.” And sometimes, a listener in the club would get as angry as a witch, (rhymes with b-itch) angry: “because the evaluator “merely” retold what the speaker just said!”

That evening, as we walked home, with my brain all blanked out, it was a no-brainer to ask my wife for her evaluation of my talk. I spoke up as soon as we were clear of the zoo. “Dear,” I said, “forget the vocal variety, forget the gestures. All I want to know is: What the heck did I say? Did I sound like an idiot?” 

She said I did fine, really fine. I relaxed. And then she cheered me up by asking me to do my special marketing thing: So I did—We walked home along the river with me singing to her, in my very special opera voice…

The end

Sean Crawford
At the zoo,
Which is indeed by the river,
Where I have a membership,
Which gives me free parking,
Winter, 2017

~No, I don’t sing opera. In fact, at work, if I’m around others, I would purposely sing like a kid. But then I was “outed.” Someone was hiding behind a tree to smoke. She heard me pushing someone’s wheelchair while singing like Bing Crosby, and then she told everyone I have “the voice of an angel.”

~Horatio Alger is like Pollyanna: If you read many self help books you soon learn those names. I haven’t read any novels about Alger yet, but I sure enjoyed Pollyanna. To me her story was just as good as Sarah Crew’s, and better than Ann’s. (of Green Gables) 

~Speaking of formal suppers, sometimes a medieval feast would include peacock as a delicacy. Last week when the zoo guys were moving the peacocks to their winter digs, once of them adventurously flew right over the wall of the lion’s enclosure. That day some lion ate better than I did.

~Here on the prairies we see gophers everywhere, such as along the town railroad tracks and underneath multi-lane pedestrian overpasses. Maybe that’s why there’s none on exhibit at the zoo. But at the London Zoo, they have something children like: Gopher tunnels you can crawl through! Complete with a few rainproof little domes where you can pop up and look around, just like a real gopher.