March 2013

Speaking ill of the dead

Elisabeth Sladen: the autobiography

Elisabeth Sladen the autobiography cover plus link to amazon.ca

Mar 12, 2013, OTTAWA — Like many North American of a certain age, my introduction to Doctor Who was haphazard at best. The first episode I remember seeing was Robots of Death, in which Louise Jameson's Leela was the companion, not Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah Jane Smith.

Nevertheless, TV Ontario sooner or later broadcast at least a few of the Sarah Jane serials and the buttoned-down young journalist joined the half-naked savage as my favourites among the Doctor's companions.

So I was very much part of the target audience when Sarah Jane returned to Doctor Who in the (revived) series' second season episode, "School Reunion". That production managed to please both old fans and new, so much so that Sladen's return spawned a spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures, a children's program that often managed to be quite a bit better than its big brother.

The Sarah Jane Adventures featured Sladen as its alien-fighting principal, a woman in her seventh decade who was nevertheless forever running down corridors, hopping fences and facing down monsters, even as she played reluctant mentor and den mother to her teenage co-stars. Sarah Jane Smith was so credible as a paragon of courage and intelligence that one longed to believe those traits reflected the performer as much as they did her writers.

Fan of both Sarah Jane Smith's first and third incarnations (even Sladen quite rightly acknowledges the failure of her second, in the early 1980s), I am clearly also part of the target audience for Sladen's memoir. And so it was I impatiently waited for a Canadian release of Sladen's autobiography, completed just a few months before her surprising and terribly untimely death from cancer in 2011.

Sadly, the contents between the frankly dated and cheap-looking covers pretty accurately reflect the contents of the book itself.

Though the autobiography does not stoop to gossip or cheap score-settling, neither does it offer much insight into acting; into what it was like being a feminist icon of sorts; or into Sladen's life. Those hoping for more than some amusing anecdotes about working with Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker will find in this book some tasty snacks, but nothing remotely like a full meal.

My full review lives behind the cut.

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Ou sont les neiges d'antan?

red & white ambition image

For the Brits, the peak of Everest served to display the Union Jack. For the Yanks, only the surface of the moon herself would do for the Stars and Stripes. But for Johnny and Jenny Canuck, a seasonal 'mountain' of snow was more than enough to honour the Maple Leaf.
Photo by Geoffrey Dow, near exit 88 on the 417, March 10, 2013.

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January 2013

Divorced lesbian new Premier of Ontario!

Should we be cheering?


Kathleen Wynne (left) is congratulated by runner-up Sandra Pupatello on Saturday.

And something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

— Bob Dylan, "Ballad of a Thin Man"

Photo by The Phantom Photographer; image manipulation by Geoffrey Dow.

January 28, 2013, OTTAWA — Early Sunday morning on Facebook, I posted a knee-jerk response to the selection of Kathleen Wynne as the Liberal Party of Ontario's new leader — and thus, the province's new Premier. Wynne won on the third ballot, edging out Sandra Pupatello. The women had been the front-runners right from the start. (Entirely coincidentally, but most serendipitously, Wynne's victory came only two days before the 25th anniversary of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision declaring that women have a fundamental right to control their own bodies.)

I wrote:

Those of you who think that nothing changes, please take note. In some very important ways, the world *is* getting better and it's important we remember that. A divorced, gay, woman is now Premier of Ontario.

Woman. Gay. Divorced. 30 years ago (or less!) any *one* of those facts would have automatically disqualified her.

That's a sea change, ladies and gentleman. A fucking sea change.

There is more to it than that, of course, and finding myself living in a country in which six of its 14 First Ministers are women does not mean we have reached Utopia.

But it is significant.

So significant that it deserves not just an emphasized paragraph all of its own, but consideration at some length. The perfumes of change.

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On the dole, and other magnificent obsessions

(Canadian man really loves trains!)

January 22, 2013, OTTAWA — Some people think Man was put on this earth to pray, others to work, and still others, to tell one another stories.

I think, at least for some of us and for some of the time, our purpose is to play. And that's not such a bad thing.

This morning, allow me to present to you, a man who spent 40 years tape-recording radio programs, and one who has built a full-scale model VIA Rail car in his basement. (I'll leave it for you, the reader, to assign significance to the fact that both men claimed to have wonderfully understanding wives.)

The full story lies behind the link (of course).

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Catching up on 2012, Part I

Publication!

Reviewing Christopher Hitchens' Mortality

 

January 21, 2013, OTTAWA — P.T. Barnum is alleged to have said, "There's no such thing as bad press, so long as they spell your name right." But what is one supposed to do when the press is good, but the spelling is not?

Shoot the messenger, bite the hand ... and toot one's own horn, I guess. So damn the clichés and full speed ahead.

I suppose I would better have done all of the above when I first got my complimentary copies of the magazine in the mail back in December, but illness and the press of other business got in the way of proper self-promotion.

Those copies made for a sort of early Christmas present, but signed with an insult (presumably unintentional).

 

Or, as the old joke goes, I found good news and bad news in my mailbox.

Since I am one who prefers his misery lessened rather than his happiness punctured, that's how I'll tell the (brief) story.

The bad news was that Humanist Perspectives magazine thinks my first name is spelled GeoffEry, not GeoffrEy.


The good news is, its Winter 2012/2013 edition contains my review of Christopher Hitchens' post-humus meditation on living with the cancer that led to his death, Mortality.

(And, perhaps karmically, though the ultimate E and R are reversed in my byline and the table of contents, both my name and my website address (that's www.ed-rex.com folks!) are exactly right inn the two-line bio below the essay.)

I won't pretend it isn't gratifying to see some of my work in actual (paper) print again. 2009 was a while ago.

But, though the Winter issue of Humanist Perspectives is still the current issue and can still be found on better newsstands across Canada, I think it's time to share the work with the rest of the world.

The full text (very slightly modified from its magazine publication) lives behind this link.

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By my own, idiosyncratic, calendar . . .

(Happy New Year at last!)

January 18, 2013, OTTAWA — What a year it's been. Okay, 17 days, but it's almost *felt* like a year since, and more, since I last rode my bicycle, leaving it at the airport on the Friday before Christmas. The snow started coming down, joined by freezing rain, just as I started to head for home, so I circled back, parked the beast and took a bus.

Do you want to know what kind of year it's been (so far) for your humble narrator? Please click here for the good, the bad and the sickly.

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December 2012

Return to Middle Earth: The Hobbit


Detail from a painting by J.R.R. Tolkien

December 29, 2012, OTTAWA — Believe it or not, Peter Jackson's latest film is only indirectly responsible for my decision to re-read The Hobbit (again). The proximal cause was Tor.com's (no-doubt entirely commercial) decision to ask the redoubtable Kate Nepveu to lead a weekly, chapter-by-chapter "re-read" of the novel in conjunction with the release of the first (of three!) movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien's 300 page children's story.

My intention had been to follow along at Nepveu's chapter-a-week pace and, perhaps, to contribute to the ongoing conversation she was (and is!) sure to inspire, but Tolkien's deceptively simple prose and thematically complex fairy story swept me away (as it has a number of times before). I finished the book in a couple of days.

The short version is that The Hobbit remains a delightful adventure story and fairy tale, even if it is the work of a writer who has yet to reach the full extent of his creative powers.

That said, it also a very strange book, that strays very far indeed from a typical heroic path in favour of wandering the fields of moral complexity and (relatively) complex characterizations. The protagonists are far from perfect and even the villains show surprising signs of humanity.

A lovely book to read aloud to a child, there is every chance that you will have to read it twice, since you'll likely treat yourself to the whole thing before you sit down for Chapter Two with said youngster.

The long version lives inside. (As usual, there are spoilers.)

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How to defeat piracy and keep your readers happy

December 14, 2012, OTTAWA — I'm more than halfway through the new novel by the excellent story-teller Kristine Kathryn Rusch. As I fully-expected, Blowback is proving to be a hell of a page-turner — or rather, a hell of a screen-changer.

"Screen-changer"? Okay, I'm sure there's a better term out there. What I mean is, I bought Blowback as an electronic book, not paper book.

I pretty much fell in love with e-books from the moment I bought an reader just over a year ago, but it's been a problem getting books for it. Too often, new books are either not available in electronic versions in Canada or else they are available but encumbered by Digital Rights Management systems that don't play nice with my Linux-based operating system.

So it felt almost revolutionary to be able to simply buy, and then read Rusch's new novel without either stealing it or jumping through a myriad of electronic hoops in order to do so.

Defeating Piracy: Kristyne Kathryn Rusch is doing it right.

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Neil Young, Crazy Horse and Me (then, and now)


Neil Young and Crazy Horse in Ottawa, November 24, 2012. Screen-shot lifted from a video posted to YouTube by Tom Kelly.

December 10, 2012, OTTAWA — I did something I swore I'd never do again a couple of decades ago: saw a concert at a big venue.

The band was Neil Young and Crazy Horse, on whose film, Rust Never Sleeps, I walked out in outrage when I was a kid.

I've written about that memory here.

As for the concert (and what a concert!) itself, my review lives at Young and Crazy: The alchemy of defiance.

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November 2012

Helsinki, Moscow, Oslo ... eat your hearts out!

Ottawa is the world's real Winter Capital!

The weather tried to freeze him
    it tried its level best.
At a hundred degrees below zero,
    he buttoned up his vest.

— James Stevens, 'The Frozen Logger'

November 17, 2012, OTTAWA — With the official start to winter still more than a month away, the evening of Wednesday, November 14, 2012, felt unusually cold to Ottawa bicyclist, writer and all-round bon vivant Geoffrey Dow when he unlocked his bicycle outside the Ottawa International Airport.

His machine's saddle was dusted with frost, as if the atmosphere itself was freezing out of the sky.

Not to put too fine a point on it, he deemed it unusually cold for the middle of November.

Cycling towards home he soon saw why. He pulled to the side of the road to document the situation some 15 kilometres south of his home in downtown Ottawa.


Electronic sign seen on the evening of Wednesday, November 14, 2012, near the MacDonald-Cartier International Airport.

"Why yes," Mr. Dow agreed when asked if he felt cold. "Now that you mention it, it is a touch on the nippy side!"

Having snapped the photo, he zipped up his jacket and clambered back aboard his bicyle for the long ride home.

  — 30 —

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