Friday, November 28, 2014

Exit the Baroness James

The Baroness James of Holland Park, OBE, FRSA, FRSL, better known as P.D. James, has indeed departed this world, having reached the mid-nineties mark, as did P.G. Wodehouse, and like Plum Wodehouse, writing to the end.

She had a gift for titles--"Cover Her Face" ( her first novel, in 1962), "An Unsuitable Job for a Woman" (1972, introducing her female sleuth, Cordelia Gray), and, among many others, "Shroud for a Nightingale" (1971, drawing on her long experience within the British hospital system).

"Shroud," to this reader, remains the most intense and memorable of her novels, and one of the two P.D. James books that seem essential. The other is "Talking About Detective Fiction," a collection of essays produced in support of the Bodleian Library, in which she discusses mystery writing from Dickens and Collins to Hammett and Chandler, but shows her greatest affection for other writers of her gender--Marjorie Allingham, Ngaio Marsh.

Her most familiar creation is the poet-police officer Adam Dalgliesh, later seen in several television adaptations. We still prefer the novels, in which Dalgliesh looks the way we imagine him to look.

Ever moving forward, very late in her career P.D. James wrote "Death Comes to Pemberley," a mystery which is also a follow-up to "Pride and Prejudice." Would Jane Austen have been amused? No one can say--but certainly Miss Austen and the Baroness will have a lot to talk about at their Heavenly tea time.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Turkeys Head North

"This is Ralph Dooley, reporting for PD News on the arrival in Canada of hundreds of American turkeys the day before Thanksgiving is celebrated in the United States. With me I have Orville Turkey, one of the leaders of this mass migration. Orville?"

"Thanks, Ralph. We prefer to think of it as a move for freedom, rather than a migration. We have come to Canada to escape the oppressive and unjust ways of our former country. If we'd wanted to migrate, like to a warmer place, we would have gone to Mexico."

"But you chose Canada."

"We did, Ralph. And that's because Canada has always been a welcoming place for Americans dissatisfied with U.S. policies. Think of the many Vietnam War protesters who moved here. And there's one more factor of Canadian life especially attractive to us."

"And that is?"

"We knew we would feel at home here, because we had been told that many of your political leaders are turkeys."

"Thank you, Orville Turkey. This is Ralph Dooley for PD News."

"You wouldn't have any corn kernels on you, would you, Ralph?"

Saturday, November 22, 2014

St. Cecilia and the Jazz Organ

November 22 is the feast day of St. Cecilia, patron of music, often depicted seated at an organ--the instrument she is believed to have invented almost 2,000 years ago, and played so beautifully an angel fell in love with her. As Dryden wrote:

"At length divine Cecilia came,
Inventress of the vocal frame."

While there are and have been any number of concert and church organists, we are thinking of jazz organists--Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, Wild Bill Davidson, Richard "Groove" Holmes. Hands up, all who remember Richard "Groove" Holmes.

But our favorite, still, is Thomas "Fats" Waller, memorably captured at the keyboard of an HMV Compton pipe organ in London in 1939. Fats learned to play the organ at the church where his father was the pastor--Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church.

Later, he taught another young musician, a kid from Red Bank, New Jersey, to play St. Cecilia's creation. And, on a very few recordings, we can hear the kid from Red Bank--Count Basie--at the organ. We think St. Cecilia is loving it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Playoff Pep Talk

Final instructions to a CFL team by its coach: "Go on out there, guys, and save my job!"

                                                                                                       --Slap Maxwell, PD Sports.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Getting Out at the G-20

A bootleg tape from the G-20 Summit in Brisbane reveals this exchange:

Harper: "Get out of Ukraine."

Putin: "Get out of my hair."

Harper: "What hair?"

Putin: "Get out of the Tar Sands."

Harper: "What Tar Sands?"

Putin: "Get out of that Maple Leafs jersey."

Harper: "Get out of--no, get into something. Put on a shirt, for gosh sakes. Madame Xi isn't impressed."

Putin: "Get out of my way so I can pour this gallon of Stolichnaya into the punch."

Harper: "Get out of town, before it's too late, my love. Cole Porter."

Putin: "Did you ever have the feeling that you wanted to go, but still had the feeling that you wanted to stay? Jimmy Durante."

Obama: "Get out the hooks."


Izvestia, November 16: The friendly exchange between Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada and President Vladimir Putin of Russia has been misunderstood. Mr. Harper did not say "Get out of Ukraine" to Mr. Putin. The Russian leader was at that time performing a medley of Duke Ellington tunes on the balalaika, and Mr, Harper, eager to hear "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing," said, in a most comradely manner, "Vlad, enough with the theme--get out of A-Train." We trust this clarification has put an end to the discussion.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Face to Face, Nose to Nose

Prime Minister Stephen Harper brought new meaning to the phrase "face-to-face diplomacy" on his trip this week to the Antipodes. Arriving in Auckland, Mr. Harper exchanged the traditional nose rubbing greeting with a Maori leader.

The Maori nose greeter later complained that he thought Mr. Harper had "an unfair advantage" in their meeting. Mr. Harper, meanwhile, realizing the photograph had been reprinted internationally, mused, "Gee, I hope this doesn't upset Laureen. Or John Baird."

Conservative supporters in Canada, however, are enthusiastic, hoping Mr. Harper will enter the Great Proboscis Challenge, the Bob Hope Invitational, and go on to win the Durante Cup.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Remedial Civics

In the recent US midterm elections, only 37 percent of eligible voters chose to exercise their franchise. Lot of flabby franchises down there.

And the Canadian record, at least in municipal elections, is worse. It has been estimated that the November 15 elections for mayors, councillors, trustees, et al. will bring a mere 30 percent of voters to the polls.

It's hard to think of any other situation involving a choice among ten people that would have seven shrugging their shoulders and saying, "Who cares?" Imagine there are ten people at lunchtime wondering whether to order pizza or Chinese takeout. Would seven say, "Whatever," and consume anything the other three ordered?

Or think of ten people trying to decide what to do for the evening's entertainment, the new Angelina Jolie movie or bowling. Or ten people sitting around a television set, asking should they watch Nova or Two-and-a-Half Men. Are seven going to express a lack of interest?

Some commentators have suggested voting should be mandatory, as it is in Australia. Or maybe 70 percent of the electorate needs a course in remedial civics.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

You Must Movember This...

The calendar may say November, but all men able to grow facial hair (and those nervously unable) know that it is Movember--the month when all males beyond the age of twelve are expected to sprout moustaches to support research in aid of men's health issues. And no, guys, that does not include balding.

CFL players may find moustaches more in keeping with their brawny machismo than the pink spats they wore last month to support progress in the defeat of women's cancers, but only a handful of players, led by Eskimo quarterback Mike Reilly, are ahead of the game (that is, the moustache game) with a bushy upper lip already in place.

The question for many men is: what style of 'stache is right for me? Choices range from the pencil line, lounge lizard look perfected by Zachary Scott in "Mildred Pierce" to the wildly untended, shrub-run-amok look of Wilford Brimley and former US UN Ambassador John Bolton.

And for those who have been spending mornings anxiously peering at their upper lips hoping for hirsute action, there is a solution: pick up a jar of stage makeup and paint one on, a la Groucho Marx.

You must Movember this--a 'stache is still a 'stache.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Raymond, Carver

When Raymond saw the pumpkin at the farmer's market, he had to have it.

"I'll take this one," he said.

"Pretty unusual pumpkin, ain't it?" said the farmer. "Should be easy to carve; looks like the grin is already there."

It wasn't an easy pumpkin to carve. Raymond found strong resistance to his knife. But when he was finished, he had, he thought, a work of Jack O'Lantern art. "I am," he told himself, "the Michelangelo of pumpkin carvers."

The pumpkin was the centrepiece of Raymond's Hallowe'en party. One guest said, "Man, that pumpkin has real personality." Later, one of the women said, "Ray, am I imagining it, or is the pumpkin's grin changing? It started out happy, but now the mouth is turning down. It's starting to look angry."

"Probably melting from the candle," said Raymond. "Let me get you another drink."

The next morning, a little hungover, Raymond was cleaning up, emptying glasses and ashtrays, getting ready to drop the pumpkin in the trash, when he heard a voice: "Wait a minute--you don't want to do that."

Raymond looked around. Was one of his guests still there, stretched out on a couch? Or under a couch? "Hey," he said, "who's that?"

"It's me, Raymond." The voice, he realized was as close as the pumpkin he was holding. He looked down and saw the Jack O'Lantern's twisted grin. "That's right," it said. "It's me, Raymond. Why don't you set me back on the table, and we can talk."

Raymond thought, "I have really got to cut back on those late night vodka stingers. I almost believed the pumpkin was talking to me." But he did set the pumpkin on the table and turned to make coffee.

"Hey, don't turn your back on me," the voice said. "We've got things to discuss, Raymond. Huh--Raymond. Raymond, carver. Pretty funny."

Raymond felt himself shivering, put the coffee back and poured himself some brandy.

"I guess you've carved a lot of pumpkins, haven't you, Raymond? How do you think it would feel if someone sliced off the top of your head, scooped out your skull, and cut funny designs on your face? Would you feel good about that?"

Raymond, clutching another glass of brandy, slid down on a chair and thought, "Okay, I've heard of people hallucinating. Stay calm. I'll just finish this drink, throw the pumpkin in the garbage, and go back to bed."

"What was that you said, Raymond? Didn't know you were talking out loud, did you? And throw me in the garbage? Oh, I don't think so."

Raymond was suddenly aware of tendrils growing from the pumpkin's sides, almost like arms. Arms that were now reaching for yesterday's carving knife.

"Drink some more brandy, Raymond," said the voice, "and just relax."