Shakespeare By The Bow

HAMLET 1

It’s Shakespeare by the Bow time again here in Calgary, and this year the chosen play is Hamlet. Produced by Theatre Calgary, it’s an opportunity for talented newly graduated drama students to gain professional experience, performing in a glorious setting.

According to Shakespeare Online, Shakespeare invented over 1,700 words that we commonly use today, including: addiction, amazement, bandit, blanket, cater, elbow, gossip, label, luggage, moonbeam, pedant, secure, swagger, zany.  (Zany?!?  Who knew?  I always assumed that was a 1960s word!!)

It’s a long time since I’ve seen Hamlet, so I was surprised by the number of phrases I recognised that we use in our everyday language. The following is just a tiny sample:

In my mind’s eye.
I shall not look upon his like again.
All is not well.
The air bites.
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
The time is out of joint.
This is the very ecstasy of love.
Brevity is the soul of wit.
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
The play’s the thing.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
Get thee to a nunnery.
Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.
The lady doth protest too much.
I must be cruel, only to be kind.
There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.
The rest is silence.
Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angles sing thee to they rest.

When it’s well done, Shakespeare remains alive, vital and very – very – relevant. And it can be fun too.  Check out the various interpretations of one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines – To be, or not to be, that is the question… – performed by the RSC during celebrations for Shakespeare’s 400th birthday.

 

The Peace of Wild Things

It’s been a hellish few months for the world.  It feels like every day there’s an even worse story on the news. At times it’s all too easy to be overwhelmed by feelings of grief and despair over current world events.

Growing up in Glasgow, I can remember my mother’s concerns when the world experienced its frequent periods of madness  – especially when they occurred during the summer months – as they reminded her of that summer of 1939 when things spiralled out of control.

I have to admit that over the past few weeks I’ve started to fear that we’re barrelling towards something we can’t stop. So when I’m feeling overwhelmed with bad news, I read this poem – The Peace of Wild Things – by American poet and novelist Wendell Berry.

It helps me.  I hope it helps you too.

The Peace of Wild Things – Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives
with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.  For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

lighthouse

 

Meditation on Writing

Every morning, after I’ve been for my walk, I sit with a cup of tea and read my meditation for that day from a book I bought over 20 years ago – 365 Daily Meditations by Deng Ming-Dao .  The one I read today seems very apt for those of us who love the process of writing, so I’d like to share it with you.

WRITER

She withdrew into herself,
First writing just for one,
Then touching thousands.
She incarnated ghosts, hurt and joy
Into paper-and-ink stories of wonder.

One author said, “I can get rid of anything by writing about it,” meaning that the process of exernalizaton could liberate the pain in his soul. That realization produced a delicious dichotomy: to free himself, or to hold on to both joys and tortures by remaining silent about them.

Writers write because they must: They need to express something from deep within themselves. They hear voices that others do not. They listen urgently, and they must communicate what they hear.

The Mirror Moment – James Scott Bell

My first introduction to the importance of the midpoint of a story was in a workshop given by Michael HaugeHe described it as The Point of No Return, both in the external plot and the internal development of the character.  Internally, it’s the moment when the character realises he’s closer – fractionally – to the person s/he will be at the end of the story than s/he was at the beginning. Externally, it’s the moment when the story has to go forward in a particular direction. There’s no going back.

For example, in the movie Dante’s Peak, the midpoint combines both these moments in a very clever scene. In the external plot, we’re told that the sign the volcano will definitely blow is when sulphur gets into the water system. In the internal plot, since his girlfriend was killed several years ago, the Pierce Brosnan character has been unable – or unwilling – to become involved in another relationship. At the exact midpoint of the movie, Pierce Brosnan returns from a date with the Linda Hamilton character. It’s his first date since his girlfriend died, showing that he’s finally willing to take a second chance on love. They’re about to share a kiss when her young son comes downstairs and asks for a glass of water. When they turn on the tap, the water is tainted by sulphur.  We now know the volcano must blow.

Open Pride and Prejudice about half-way through and you’ll find the scene where Darcy proposes to Elizabeth in the most pompous fashion. Of course she turns him down and tells him exactly why she’s rejecting him, particularly for his treatment of Mr. Wickham. The next day, having taken her comments to heart, Darcy returns and gives Elizabeth a letter, acknowledging his pride and putting her right on Wickham.  Reflecting on the letter and her own prejudice in the next chapter, she admits, ‘Till this moment, I never knew myself.’  (In fact, when I opened my copy of P&P from my university days, I discovered I had underlined those lines and written – moral climax of book.)

James Scott Bell calls this Midpoint in the internal story The Mirror Moment. The moment (not a scene) when: The character is forced to look at himself. As if in a mirror, only it’s a reflection of who he is at that moment in time. Who am I? What have I become? What do I have to do to regain my humanity? Sometimes, it’s the character looking at the odds. How can I possibly win? It looks like I’m going to die—physically or spiritually. Now what am I supposed to do?

Sometimes, James Scott Bell says, it can be a moment when he actually looks in a mirror and sees – really sees – himself.

This mirror moment can also been illustrated in movies – sometimes literally. I’ve just been watching a great 3 part series on movie music called Sound of Cinema: The Music That Made The Movies.  In it, composer David Arnold talks about the challenge of writing the music for the reboot of the James Bond movies starring Daniel Craig. He describes the first in the series, Casino Royale, as an ‘origin’ tale of how Bond becomes the spy we know and love.  Because of that, he decided he couldn’t use the famous John Barry theme in full until the final scene, but would use snippets throughout to show Bond’s development into the character we have come to know.

And one of these scenes was when Bond, in his first tailored tux, looks at himself in the mirror. I mentioned this to some of my writing friends and wondered if there was any chance the scene happened in the middle of the film. My friend, screenwriter Carol Mulholland, pulled the script off the internet. Taking into consideration scenes that were never shown, the mirror scene happens… at the midpoint of the script.

So, there you have it.  In a book or in a movie, the mirror moment can, literally, be the moment when the character sees himself as who he is – or is becoming – in a mirror.

 

Mary Edith Huggins

My mum was born 100 years ago,  March 15th, 1916, in Dudley Drive, Glasgow, the eldest daughter of Percy Huggins and Harriet Davenport.

Mum left school when she was 14 and went to work as a shop assistant.  She also loved playing tennis, and it was at a ‘tennis dance’ that she met my dad.

They were married on August 15th, 1938 and moved down to Coventry where my dad had a job in Britain’s burgeoning motor industry.

But it wasn’t long until she returned to Scotland. Sensing war was on the horizon, my dad had joined the army reserves in November 1938 and was called up at the beginning of September 1939. Alone in Coventry with no family nearby, my dad drove my very – very – pregnant mother up to Glasgow, where she gave birth to my brother a few weeks later on September 16th.  Apparently it was touch and go for a while, the doctor not sure if he could save both my mother and my brother… but he did.

And then my mum became one of the quiet, unsung heroines of the war; one of the millions of women who didn’t earn any medals, who was never feted in the mess, but who just ‘got on with it’, coping alone for four years when her husband was overseas, queueing up to buy her weekly rations, carrying pails of cold water up three flights of stairs to wash her baby’s dirty nappies, waiting alone by my brother’s bedside as he fought meningitis, then as now a killer disease, in the days before antibiotics.

I still miss mum a lot. Having suffered rheumatic fever twice, her heartbeat might have been wildly erratic (irregularly irregular might have been the medical description!) but she was strong and courageous with just a touch of whimsy in how she viewed life.  I remember dancing with her around the kitchen, her waking me up to look at the moon, standing beside me one dark stormy winter’s morning watching my brother cycle off to work and telling me that the rain running down the windows was heaven’s tears because he had to go out to work in such weather.  I remember getting up at seven in the morning to drive down to Dumbarton Road to buy rolls fresh out of the baker’s oven for breakfast before going to school.

I remember, too, taking mum on a holiday to Hawaii, watching her lie back on the sand as she enjoyed the sun. Remember her courage when, in her eighties, on a very turbulent flight from Glasgow to London, she helped the people seated next to her by handing out sick bags and making sure they were okay.

But one memory sticks out really clearly which to me, exemplified her willingness to have a go at life.  My mum was one of those people who had a talent for looking after people and for making her surroundings really lovely. Whether it was the way she served the food on a plate or adjusted a piece of furniture, she had one of those eyes (my sister has it too) of making something/anything look really good.  Widowed in her early 60s, she took in a lodger for a while, but when they left she decided she would get herself a job – her first real job since she’d been married.  Dressed up in her ocelot fur coat and knocking ten years off her 76 years, she interviewed for a job as a housekeeper/driver in London.  A few weeks later found her driving around London in her employer’s jag on roads even I would be scared to drive on.  But she took it all in her stride.  That generation of women, the quiet unsung heroines of the war, they had gumption.

I miss you mum. Every day. You’re never far from my thoughts.  On this special day I will, as I do every on anniversary of your birthday, light a candle for you and thank you for being my mum.

Spring

 

I’m in the process of moving house. Unpacking one of my boxes today, I came upon a journal I kept waaay back when I was 20 years of age. Inside was a poem called ‘Spring’. Given today’s glorious Calgary weather and the excitement of a new home, it seemed fitting to share it with you here.

 

 

SPRING – by Diana Cranstoun

The dawn
Of the world
Is beginning

A time
To start afresh
To forget
The failure
And sadness
Of yesterday

A time
When life
Promises
Hope

The trees blossom
The flowers bloom
And the sun
Yawns its greeting
To the world.

Ross Ainslie

As an emigrant from Scotland, and with Burns Night almost upon us (January 25th), it can be all too easy to get caught up in twee images of Scotland and its music.  You know what I mean – pipers marching through the glens, kilts a-swinging, belting out Scotland the Brave.

And while there is definitely a place for all that, my visit back to Scotland for The Perthshire Amber Festival last October, really opened my eyes to the vibrant contemporary Folk Scene that currently exists in Scotland. Especially in the world of piping, where I was introduced to the music of Ross Ainslie.

What can I say apart from – What a musician! With his tattoos, long hair and ripped jeans, he is definitely not your traditional image of a piper.

Unfortunately, none on the photos I took at his concert turned out, but here’s a wonderful clip of him performing from Youtube. Check it out. The energy of the music is intoxicating and exciting.

But Ainslie can also play beautiful, mellow and traditional.  Below, you can hear him playing on my most favourite song, Caledonia.  (at 2mins 46secs and 4 mins 22secs.)

 

Swimming Cows

Visiting a museum in Dunkeld, Scotland, a few months ago, I came across the term ‘swimming cows’ for the first time.

Back in the day, droving cattle from the Highlands down to the markets in Crieff and Falkirk was huge business and the major source of income in the Highlands. From Crieff, the cattle were herded south to England, where their meat was in great demand.  At the peak of the industry, 100,000 cattle left the Highlands every year. The droving way of life only fell into decline with the arrival of the railroads in the mid-19th Century.

But what has this to do with ‘swimming cows’?  In the days before bridges were available – or their tolls affordable – the cattle had to be swum across rivers. If the lead cow could be persuaded into the water, the herd would follow. But occasionally, if his herd balked at crossing a particular river, the drover might hire a local ‘swimming cow’ to lead the cattle safely across. This ‘swimming cow’ would then be returned home to await being called on by another herd.

Even in this day and age, cattle are still swum across rivers or seas to fresh pastures. I came across this article about a farmer in Skye who swims his herd across the water to fresh pastures every year.  Now in his 80s, he used to swim alongside them, but now accompanies the herd in a row-boat.

And if you’re wondering what happened to the drovers when their industry collapsed, many travelled to America and became cowboys on the famous Cowboy Trails.

If you’re interested in learning more, please check out this documentary of a modern-day recreation of a drove from the Isle of Skye to Crieff.

Happy New Year!

It’s been a helluva year.  I’ve experienced incredible highs – the birth of a granddaughter and grandson – and bitter lows – the ultimate betrayal by the man I believed had been my soulmate for thirty-seven years.

But a New Year offers us all hope.  And for those of you who have also suffered pain and loss this year, here are some words of wisdom from one of my favourite movies, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

There is no past that we can bring back by longing for it.  Only a present that builds and creates itself as the past withdraws.

To all of you who are part of my life, whether family, friends, acquaintances, or through this blog, I wish you health, happiness and the love of family and friends in 2016.

And just in case you’re worried this blog is going to descend into more grief in 2016, don’t worry.  My first blog of the New Year will be about the history of swimming cows.  Yes, that’s right, swimming cows!

MOZART AND MAHLER IN THE MORNING

What a glorious morning!

There’s a lot I love about living in Downtown Calgary. This was the view that greeted me on my daily river walk this morning. Then, less than three hours later, I attended The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra’s open rehearsal of Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 in E Minor, and Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major K. 219.

Morning

I recently joined the Calgary Association for Lifelong Learners (CALL) and for the grand sum of $10, and from a prime seat, I was able to watch the full rehearsal for tonight’s performance. I’ve been to the CPO many times, but there was something very special about seeing the musicians in their jeans, t-shirts, hoodies and baseball hats, (rather than their usual funereal black) their mugs of Tim Horton’s coffee on the floor beside them, that brought a relaxed joy to the performance. Fascinating, too, to watch the musicians making notes on their sheet music throughout as the conductor tweaked things so that everything will be perfect for tonight.

I might have ‘studied’ music back in High School, but that was a long time ago. I’m not really familiar with Mahler’s music and certainly not this symphony.  Composed in 1904-05, the performance notes reveal that ‘in 1905, the oars that were rowing his (Mahler’s) boat across an Alpine lake suggested a rhythm and character for the opening theme of the first movement’.

James Ehnes was the guest violinist for the Mozart Concerto and what magic he wove. The video below isn’t from today’s performance but one I grabbed from Youtube.

As the song says, Oh, what a beautiful morning!