Author Archives: Janet

Let’s all sing like the birdies sing

I knew we were in trouble this summer, when I picked up a newspaper and discovered that the experts – the ones who used to provide me with opinions – are no longer talking sense. No longer do these pundits “write,” “say,” “state,” “speak” or “opine.” Now they “tweet.” At least that’s what the Globe & Mail reports: such-and-such an expert on civil disobedience, intoned the noble rag, had weighed in on the subject of riots in England. “’The world is going to hell in a hand-basket,’ he tweeted.’” Or words to the effect.

My, the British are having an exciting time. So am I, and it isn’t only rehearsals for The Circle that are keeping my adrenalin high. Half an hour ago, Juno the Dog came racing in from the garden pursued by a huge black buzzing insect that instantly transferred its interest to me. Juno watched with interest from the top of the stairs, while I ran briskly three times around my own living room, whimpering with fear while the creature buzzed in hot pursuit. It disappeared, and I thought I was safe, when all of a sudden I heard a big BUZZZZZ in the folds of my blouse. The neighbours were shortly thereafter treated to the sight of me erupting from the back door, more or less unrobed and waving my blouse frantically in front of me. That was too much for the bee or whatever it was. It lit out for home, and I retreated inside, where nature cannot get me. You probably think I make these things up: I don’t. Gospel truth.

Not for nothing do they call it “nature, red in tooth and claw.” Have I mentioned that I nearly drowned this summer, thus putting the annual play in considerable doubt? Again, it was Juno the Dog’s fault. My family meets for a week every August on an island in the Big Rideau. I know: it’s a reckless thing to do, spend seven days on a 200-metre island with 13 close relatives. Still, that’s the kind of mad fools we are. One day, a number of us decided to relieve the tension by heading for the mainland for the afternoon. Imagine me, if you will, seated decorously in the bow of the boat, suitably dressed for an outing in civilized Westport. I was even wearing shoes.

Not for long. As we chugged out of the bay, a black triangular head was seen cleaving the waves in the distance behind, brown eyes glinting with desperate determination. Juno the Dog. We circled and headed back, with everyone loudly exhorting the dog, and me, and the driver. Juno caught up and tried to claw her way into the boat, forgetting to swim as she did so and sinking. The boat swung around, the object being to keep the propellors away from my puppy, and my sister – always helpful in an emergency – cried out: “She’s under the boat!” I rose to the occasion – or rather, I fell to it. Fully dressed, I plunged into the lake, taking a deep breath just as my head went under the water.

In fact, Juno wasn’t under the boat. At that very moment, she was on top of my head, all 87.3 pounds of her. This fact became unpleasantly apparent as I tried to surface in a maelstrom of black fur and plunging claws. I went down again, cleverly taking another deep breath of water as I sank. Time, I reflected, to come up with a new policy. To hell with Juno. I struggled to the surface and struck out for shore, somewhat hampered by the fact that I couldn’t breathe and with Juno following me anxiously and trying to claw her way up my back. I made it to the beach, and Juno joined me, uttering joyful whimpers to the effect that she was glad I had changed my mind about going into town. As soon as I could speak, I told her weakly that, in my opinion, she was a bad dog.

These real-life incidents are part of the reason why comedy speaks to me. When big black insects pursue you through your own living room, dogs try to drown you with love and the stuffed shirts start “tweeting” about earthquakes and riots and the rising price of dish soap, you know that something funny is going on. And by that, I mean “strange” and “odd” as well as “comic.”

It has occurred to me that, if I really want to have a good laugh, I should establish a Twitter account myself. Maybe it would help give Linden House profile in this world of woe. It makes sense, but I’m sorry: I can’t do it. I have already embroiled myself in enough social mayhem on Facebook. I may have mentioned that somehow I have ended up with four accounts there – two for me personally and two for Linden House. I don’t know how it happened, and I don’t mind admitting that it preys on what I like to think of as my mind.

Did you ever read the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam? It was written in 12th-century Persia but, astonishingly, there’s a juicy bit in there about Facebook:

The moving finger writes
And having writ, moves on.
Nor all thy piety and wit can cancel half a line
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.

That, as I would tell the poet, if he hadn’t fallen off the perch a thousand years ago, is exactly my situation in ref. the social media. My moving finger writ and four accounts sprang to life. As a result, I have somehow managed to become my own FRIEND. I suppose it could be worse. I could be my own WORST NIGHTMARE. (Just wait.)

Moving a thousand years forward, have you read Harry Potter? I love Harry Potter. In the last book, he and his sidekicks raided a vault in Gringott’s Bank where the enchanted treasure burned red hot and multiplied every time they touched anything. Now, doesn’t that ring a bell? Don’t you find, whenever you are standing in a swelling tide of scorching metal, you tend to flail about a bit and suddenly everything is worse? Well, that is precisely my experience of Facebook. Every time I touch it, I suddenly acquire a new account. (Come to think of it, I AM my own worst nightmare.)

I have tried to get out of this quandary with my dignity intact. Only last week, I took myself sternly in hand and addressed myself to the “delete this account” option. At the last moment, I got cold feet. The warnings that emitted from the machine were dire. In fact, it took me back to my early days on a computer, when I first saw that wonderful message appear on the screen: “You have committed a fatal error,” it said coldly. “Exit the program immediately.” Words to chill the blood.

I haven’t learned much about computers since then, but enough to know when I am beaten. Cluck, cluck. I chickened out. When it comes down to bedrock, I simply cannot face the prospect of losing all those friends – many of whom I have actually met. Go ahead, laugh. But now at least you know why I hesitate to plunge any deeper into the seething cauldron of social media.

Of course, on the plus side, not all my technological forays lead to disaster. As I told you, my brilliant nephew in Denver has finally got around to revamping the Linden House website. Now, when you go to www.lindenpro.ca, you can see the poster, get the times and dates of performances and even enjoy the odd typo and syntactical lapse. And that’s not all. Now you can also BUY TICKETS ONLINE! Through PayPal. Now isn’t that something? The Linden House Theatre Company has entered the 21st century, dragging me along by the hair! All this for a woman who has never, ever, not once in her life, uttered even the faintest little tweet and has no desire to so. You’ve come a long way, baby.

Before closing, let me remind you – in case you could ever forget – that Linden House is producing a play, The Circle by Somerset Maugham, and that it opens on October 20 and runs until October 29. I have just looked at my calendar and see with some horror that this is just over four weeks from now. (Loud scream!)

Just ignore me. The play is in fine shape. The costumes are entering the final phase of development, and they are FINE! We have a set with a Palladian theme emerging from the workshop even as we speak and, in a spirit of antique frivolity, we are painting it deep RED! We raided the IODE Laurentian Chapter Garage Sale last weekend are now the proud owners of: two gold picture frames, one giant bouquet of silk rhododendrons, one gold-framed mirror, one large vase, one glass decanter, one purple dress and one gold beaded purse. The actors are also hard at work. Some of them actually know their lines, and the annual nervous breakdown has taken place right on schedule and with no loss of life.

All that remains to make us happy is an audience. So think about buying tickets. You can purchase these at Books on Beechwood or, even better, online, thus confirming my company’s arrival in the 21st century. Or if, like me, you prefer to stay rooted in some other century, use the telephone: 613-842-4913. (I’d be especially glad to hear from you if know anything about Facebook.)

Come one, come all: the ticket office is officially open for business.

Short and sweet

This is going to be short, really short. (Oh, shut up. It is!) I don’t have time to get fancy, but there are a few things I need to say, and say fast.

First of all, as you know, I would much rather laugh than cry. If you share this perverse taste, give yourself a treat and go see The 39 Steps at The Gladstone. I saw it last night, and I’m still smiling. And that, considering the day I’ve had, is nothing short of miraculous. The play is on stage to September 24. Call 613 233 4523 or visit www.thegladstone.ca.

More news? I have a touching belief that any day now the phone is going to start ringing off the hook with people begging for tickets for the upcoming Linden House production of The Circle by Somerset Maugham (October 20-29). So today I sent the tickets out for printing. How am I possible?

And then there’s technology! You’ve all heard me whining about technology – those, at least, who like long blogs: the whining usually starts about paragraph four. Well, listen to this. The new and improved Linden House website – www.lindenpro.ca – is up and running, and my nephew is back in the will. Go see the site! Not only does it feature a very fine poster. It also has a page where you can buy tickets online! And just in case you don’t trust me as far as you can throw me, the transaction takes place by PayPal.

I am glad that something is going right, technologically speaking, because there are still some black holes in my communications life – to wit, four Facebook accounts. Don’t ask how this happened. All I can say is that I am the only person I know who is her own best friend. If anyone can tell me how to get rid of the superfluous three of these accounts without losing friends – many of whom I have actually met – you get a free ticket to The Circle and champagne all round.

Oh, and by the way, we are rehearsing as well, so I guess we are really going to go through with this thing. (You know the definition of a crisis: when you can’t say, ‘Let’s forget the whole thing.’)

That’s all folks. If you are disappointed at the brevity of this blog, please feel free to contact me and insist on more words. That will make a nice change. As for now, “‘Goodbye’ was all she wrote.”

Good news and bad

The bad news is that I am blogging again. I know you were hoping not to hear from me again for another month or two (if ever). The only comfort I can offer is that this will be a SHORT blog (well, shorter than usual).

Forgive me. I can’t help myself. This is a RED LETTER DAY, one on which I join the Information Age as a certifiable adult. I may have told you already that, though some of my best friends are computers, as a species I hate them. I especially HATE having to learn anything new.

Still, it’s a hard life and, every once in a while, I cannot avoid acquiring new knowledge. A case in point. During the last few weeks, I wanted badly to replace that very lame notice on the Linden House blog — the one associated with a missing slide show (look left) that used to read, “I will put something here when I figure out how to do it.” Now, in communication terms, I realize that that notice was beyond lame.

What to do? My normal weak-minded method of dealing with a technical challenge is to find someone more brainy than me, issue an invitation for drinks and, just as my unwary prey relaxes into the gin, pounce with “my little problem.” This usually works well.

Not this time. In the past two days, I have been in crisis. The usual suspects are either ignorant, incapable or out of the country. I took a tough decision. In sheer desperation, I opened up the “help” section of the website. Who would have thought it? There, in black and white, were instructions on how to mount a slideshow on a blog. In plain English, no less. Wow! I followed the step-by-step instructions in a state of gathering amazement.

Result? On this blog, you can now enjoy (or ignore, depending on how the prospect hits you) a slide show of my face featuring a variety of expressions and representing the character of Lady Kitty from The Circle, which Linden House will be presenting next October. I realize that ten images of my face in flickering sequence may be too much of a good thing, so I won’t leave the show on for too long. (That is if I can find “delete slideshow” on the help page.) Anyway, do try enjoy the technical triumph even if you can’t appreciate the face.

There’s more. In my technological travails during the past few days, I accidentally stuck a picture into the body of the text. So now I have two new tricks for the price of one. Will it never end?

Can you bear any more good news? Linden House now has a new website up and running (compliments of the Denver nephew). This is still developing and — please make a note — by September, it will offer online ticket sales through that trusty old “amazon.com” (the one that sells books online). Check it out at www.lindenpro.ca (just follow the link to the left) and rejoice with me.

PS I just tried to insert a picture of Juno the Dog and I find, that between boasting of new knowledge and taking action, I actually forgot how to do it. I HATE COMPUTERS.

LINDEN HOUSE THEATRE 2011 — THE CIRCLE by Somerset Maugham

History repeats itself!
October 20-22, 26-29 at 7:30 pm
Sunday Matinee, October 23, 2011 at 3 pm

“Naughty Lady Kitty” in youth abandoned husband and child to run away with her husband’s best friend. Now, she is back in town and causing trouble. Will her son’s young wife follow Kitty’s example and sacrifice home, safety and reputation to youthful passion? Or will she learn from the example of her elders that love suffers over time from the slings and arrows of social ostracism. A life of frivolity has turned Lady Kitty into a profoundly silly woman. Now can she save Elizabeth from the same fate?

The naked truth

I love my sister, truly. But she is hard on the wardrobe. Last Saturday, for instance, she and her two dogs dropped in unexpectedly. One of them is a hairy golden retriever who, though large, is loving and likes to sit in my lap, where he feels free to shed liberally. Last Saturday, I was wearing a black skirt. Oh well. He’s a nice old dog.

Chase is a good dog too, and black, so he is allowed to shed on me if he likes. But he has a different character flaw. He drools. Long, sticky strings of viscous slobber. I tried not to mind. After all, my skirt was already covered with fine golden hairs. Rise above it, I said to self. (Self’s reply was an inaudible mutter.)

My sister must have felt bad when she saw me with two 80-pound dogs more or less in my lap, because she leapt up to pour me a coffee. “Cream,” she asked politely. Unfortunately, just as I held out my cup, her attention was diverted, and the milky stream cascaded into my lap where it joined the dogs and put the finishing touches on my outfit. I fell off the chair laughing. Meg eventually departed with her canine friends, and I went to change my clothes.

Clothes. Now that I think of it, that’s the theme of the day. We at Linden House are progressing nicely with our production for this October. We have chosen a good play (The Circle by Somerset Maugham). We have also secured the rights, booked the theatre, had a preliminary production meeting, seen the first sketch of a set and purchased two antique tennis rackets for the princely sum of $7 (thank you, Marlene and the Glebe Garage Sale). We have read the actors and now – ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay! – we have a cast! They are a good cast, a handsome, lovable, talented cast, and we are set to go.

So what is it about costumes that is worrying me? Well, now that we have cast the play, the characters are no longer figments of the imagination. They are real now. They have shape and dimension. And if the costumes are going to work, they have to correspond more or less to those dimensions: and that means trial by measuring tape. I need measurements or at least dress and jacket sizes in order to start the Great Annual Costume Hunt.

To move things along, I sent off a note recently to the cast, asking for information – or rather, mass confession. It is probably no accident that the only one who has yet answered takes a size 2 dress. But no-one else replied. (If any members of the cast are reading this, they should take it personally and get busy with the tape measure. I am getting nervous.)

But wait. Maybe I am being too rigid. Maybe I lack daring and dash. Is it possible that we could dispense with costumes altogether? Remember the Emperor’s New Clothes. Given an audience sufficiently tolerant (or blind), maybe we could just pretend that we are dressed in dinner jackets and evening gowns when, in fact, we are prancing around naked.

Hmmmm. I think not (as Descartes said just before he vanished in a flash). It’s not that I am against nudity. I find it almost essential in the shower. But I remember seeing Diana Rigg in a play in London some decades ago, when the world was young, and she shocked the critics by walking naked across the stage. Now, Diana Rigg is a beautiful woman, but that did not stop the reviewers from pouncing on her, howling with laughter. She read the reviews, she says, and next day came slinking back to the theatre in a frenzy of mortification, hiding in doorways and hoping no-one would see her. If that was the fate of Diana Rigg, I wonder how the Ottawa critics would react to me, all of me and nothing but me? I shudder to think.

Back to costumes. I must try harder to get those measurements, and that means I have to persuade the cast to talk to me. To trust me. I understand their reticence. Speaking for myself, when someone asks me for my waist measurement, I blush and, if I can be persuaded to speak at all, it is only in a whisper. But that is not the way forward in theatre. In this business, we progress by inches, literally.

So I must appeal to the cast. Once again this year, we get to dress up à la 1930 – double-breasted dinner jackets and slinky evening gowns. We will also have tennis outfits. Lounge suits. Blazer and flannels, and I personally intend to wear a very odd hat. We are going to look so fine. But measurements are the sine qua non for all this splendour.

Cast shame to the winds, I will tell them. “Stiffen the sinews. Summon up the blood. Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage.” In other words, get out the measuring tape and send me word. You have nothing to fear but fear itself. And, of course, the prospect of imminent public nudity if those measurements are not forthcoming pdq.

LATE BREAKING NEWS
Just as I went to post this blog, a set of measurements arrived from another cast member. It appears then that all three female actors will have costumes in our production of The Circle. All the men will be naked. Interesting.

Screaming bloody murder!

If you have read any of these blogs, you will know that I am a shallow woman and that my life has been largely dedicated to the pursuit of life, liberty and FUN. You may also suspect that entertainment, chez me, includes a life-long addiction to mystery stories.

And now, a dream come true: I am actually playing an on-stage role in a mystery. The play is called Deliver Us From Evil, and it opens tonight (Tuesday, April 19 at 8 pm at the Ottawa Little Theatre, playing till May 7). This is not comedy, I admit, but it does have other charms: lots of pouring rain, blood and tolling church bells. The play is set in an English village vicarage. I play the role of a county nibnob with a long pedigree and no cash to speak of. In my spare time, “I produce” for the local theatre company. Talk about art imitating life!

Let me confess: this is not my first encounter with murder. Though I have no criminal record to speak of, I have devoured something in the order of 3 million mystery stories (at a conservative estimate) since first learning to read. You remember that first book, don’t you, at the dawn of time? “See Dick run. See Spot jump.” Gripping stuff. I think I was about mid-way through first grade when I first began to long for a little literary mayhem, just to move the plot along and maybe get rid of that prize twit, Dick.

But really, what exactly do we like about rape, murder and grievous bodily harm in literary form? Sometimes, I admit, I’ve overdone it. I took a mystery with me on holiday once, when I went to stay with an uncle and aunt in England. The first night, I read a little before going to sleep, put the book down on the bedside table, switched off the light and – next thing I knew – was face to face with a large, black figure looming up out of the dark. “Are you a murderer,” I recall asking in a quivering voice. “I’m sorry to say,” the monster replied in a deep, throaty snarl, as he advanced with hands upraised, “that I AM!”

The next thing I knew, I was sitting up in bed, wide awake, shaking with terror and screaming aloud. Just as I realized it had been a dream, I became aware of faint movement in the next room, the sound of a door opening and footsteps in the hall. My uncle – a shaken man – knocked hesitantly at the door to ask if I had a burglar in there and was there anything he could do to help?

Perhaps I should have given up murder then and there. But I didn’t. I went big time a few years later when I invested in a packaged mystery game and invited seven friends for a seven-course murder. Following the instructions in the package, I dressed as a high-class Chicago call girl from Prohibition Days. I wore a long, black satin slip, with rhinestones at my ears and throat and pink satin mules with ostrich feather trim on the feet. I looked wonderful, but that did not save me from ruin.

Unfortunately, in those days, I had not yet discovered the winning idea of “potluck,” and over the next three or four hours I served a seven-course dinner to seven raucous guests. I soon gave up even trying to stay abreast of the evolving plot. I don’t know whether you’ve ever played any of these mystery games, but you have to turn the page of your little booklet at intervals to discover more clues, which various characters are then obliged “to enter into evidence” (that is, work into the conversation).

The first problem was an ill-considered guest list. Oh, they were having fun all right, but they were very disobedient and insisted on making up their own story! We staggered along in increasing disarray, and I must confess that my mind (or the tattered remnants thereof) was more on timing the fish and whipping the cream than it was on murder and mayhem. Finally: it was time for dessert. I slung the last plate on the table and slipped into my seat with the welcome knowledge that now, at last, I could concentrate on plot and maybe whip the rebels into line. Too late. I turned the page and there, at the top in big black letters, was this unwelcome message: “YOU ARE THE MURDERER.”

Words cannot express my horror (but don’t worry, I’ll try!). First, I thought of my anxious mother, who had always urged me to go straight. Then, I reflected on the fact that – having paid literally no attention that night to the plot as it developed – I had no idea whom I had murdered or why! I was facing a pretty bleak few moments, I realized, during the denouement. There was always the insanity plea, of course, and that struck me as a pretty solid defence. I don’t quite remember how the evening ended, but “shambles” is probably an accurate description.

You’d think I would have given up murder after that, but no: here I am back in the saddle again – this time in a play. Oh well, at least this time I have a good grip on the plot, and I have memorized most of the lines so kindly provided by the playwright. It’s going to be fun – not LOL fun (and that means “Laugh Out Loud,” in case you are not operating at my level in the language of the social media: I do try to keep up), but entertainment nevertheless. My only regret is that, after all the practice I’ve had, I am not allowed to scream – not even once. I am, in this sense, a wasted resource.

If murder is your cup of tea, do come and see the play. I am aware, however, that we all find fun in different places. This thought occurred me recently, when I was standing glumly in the rain in a nearby park watching Juno the Dog play with her pals. I had forgotten a hat or umbrella, so there I was, hands in pockets, streaming with cold wet misery. Not exactly a picture of delight.

Meanwhile, Juno the Dog was mud-wrestling, a sport that she takes to entirely new levels of delight. I have to say, she was in a bit of a pickle at that particular moment. She was spread-eagled on the wet ground while Bentley – who, until a recent encounter with a surgeon, was a sex-mad Lab – licked her fundaments. Naala, a big blond female, had one of Juno’s back legs between her snarling teeth and was worrying it enthusiastically. Jack, the big white-faced Bernese giant, was on top of the pile and apparently trying to chew my puppy’s ear off. Meanwhile, Juno’s little face and bright eyes were peering out at me through the fur with what I interpreted as an appeal. I waded in with a stern word. All for naught. A minute later, Juno was up and chasing Jack (and Bentley was chasing her) and it had begun again.

The thing is, Juno is a party girl. She knows how to have fun. We have that in common, though personally I keep my distance from Bentley, and it is some time since I have mud-wrestled. But here’s the thing: if you would like to have some fun that does NOT involve mud, try to work Deliver Us From Evil into your schedule over the next three weeks. It is on stage now at the Ottawa Little Theatre. Call 613-233-8948 for tickets.

And oh my God! Tonight is opening night! Eeeeeeekkkk!!!!!!

On offending the gods

Last night, I went to see Antigone – by the way: a most elegant production by the Third Wall Theatre Company – and it made me think. (Did I hear someone laugh?). Well, it did. You see, it was all about what happens when you screw up massively and annoy the gods (or nature or the universe, or whatever it is that slams us to our knees with such depressing regularity). And let me tell you: Those gods, once they get their knickers in a twist, have no sense of the ridiculous. That’s why it’s called “tragedy.”

Destiny is the wellspring of Greek tragedy; it also dominates my relationship with technology. It’s pathetic. Just as I start to think I’ve made my peace with the 21st century, kowblooey! There I am, spinning along at a rate of knots, pouring out words, inserting images, sorting data, even contemplating the purchase of an mvd player – I think that’s what it’s called – when all of a sudden, the machine comes to a screaming halt and says: “No.”

I am irked, I admit it. “What do you mean, no?” I snarl. “You did it last week. What’s the matter with you, anyway, you rusted-out barrel of byte-sized bolts?”

I am told that some people, when they hit the electronic wall, waste no time in calling for technical support. Personally, I find that this leads to embarrassing conversations. For instance: “What do you mean, you didn’t keep a backup?!” Alternatively, there are impenetrable questions along the lines of: “When did you last defrag?” (When did I last what?!)

The ancient Greeks had it right. This is destiny we’re talking about, and it’s best to go quietly. When computers stop working, all you can do is cast your hands up to the heavens, acknowledge that fate has dealt you one in the chops and go buy some gin.

All this to explain why I have not yet updated the Linden House website to incorporate the hot news (see the previous blog) re our 2011 production of The Circle by Somerset Maugham.

I actually did the work. I went in to the website-builder and updated everything. This involved more thinking, I’m afraid, and that can’t be good for me. At one point, I think there was actually smoke coming out of my ears as I pushed technology to the outer edges. Never mind! I gleefully hit the “Save” button, happy to know that yet another job had been ticked off the endless and self-renewing “To Do” list.

“No way,” said the computer. “Forget it. Go away. Nya-nya-nya-nya!” and words to the effect.

This is a family blog. There is a young dog in the house, and I will not share the words that came from my lips. I gathered my forces and cautiously tried again. Same answer. “You have offended the gods,” intoned the machine. “Eat your heart out.”

This was an especially painful blow, given the character of the last couple of months, which I can only describe as grim. Some time around February 15, my favourite clients typically glance at the annual work plan and say something along the lines of, “Whoops.” That’s when – if I am lucky – the phone rings and a mother lode of emergency work results – all of it with a March 31 deadline. Now, this is a good thing in many ways, rather like the Christmas rush in the retail market. It helps me to finance a few bad habits (such as the annual play) and luxuries (laundry soap, for instance) and even the odd necessity (gin rises to mind).

Don’t get me wrong (are you listening, gods?). The only thing worse than having too much work is having too little. Still, I wonder what bright light first had the idea of inciting our government into a frenzy of year-end activity. Anyway, it’s over for another year. I thundered over the finish line in the middle of the night on Thursday, March 31. I pressed the “send” button and, as the sun rose, went for a long walk with Juno the Dog. Three days have passed since then, and life is beginning to filter back into the numbed extremities. I have actually smiled twice this morning.

Before I cheer up too definitively, do you mind if I snarl a bit about daylight savings? Last month, I was proceeding along, minding my own business, head down, working away steadily and in good heart, all things considered, when all of a sudden the government ripped an entire hour out of my life. Don’t get up at 6, screamed the powers that be. Get up at 5! IN THE DARK!

I ask you. Then the bastards have the nerve to ask for my vote. Not until they give me back my hour! Of course, it could have been worse. It could have been a whole day. My sister has just returned from the Orient, having crossed the dateline (twice) in going and returning. My understanding of that line is that the universe first gives you a whole day and then grabs it back. Isn’t that typical? The head spins. Literally.

Cautiously opening one eye to see if the spinning has stopped, I cast it forward to the future. There will be a morning, some time in October, I believe, when the government will grudgingly give me back my hour. Though unforgiving of the original injury, I will drink that hour to the dregs. I will luxuriate. I will roll myself up in it. I will soak in it. I will pour cream into its steaming depths and dawdle over it. I may even have a second cup as I wonder how to use that wonderful new expanse of unscheduled time.

In the meantime, I’ve got things to do. It’s Sunday, and I am running late. My beloved nephew is probably sitting beside the telephone in Denver, waiting for my call (ha-ha). Never mind. When he does make the mistake of answering the telephone, he’s mine! He has this little program by which he takes over remote control of my computer. I sit on my hands – literally, because the instinct to seize the mouse and make trouble is almost overwhelming. So I sit on my hands and watch wide-eyed, while a ghostly mouse in Colorado moves the cursor around in a slow and methodical way and, presto, it’s all fixed.

Andrew, my wonderful nephew, is mentioned in my will. Not – given my various bad habits (see above) – that there will be anything to inherit. But worst case scenario: he can have my computer. He, at least, knows how it works.

And now dear reader: Give me an hour or two, then check out the website – www.lindenpro.ca. If you see the date “October 20-29, 2011” mentioned anywhere, you’ll know that Andrew still loves his old aunt and that I managed to catch him when his resistance was low.

If not and if you know anything about computers, please call.

Hot News

I am a worried woman. You see, I have hot news to convey, but I don’t have time to write. So I composed this blog in my sleep. You think I’m joking? Unh-unh. All last night, I dreamed – hour after hour after hour – in “blog” format and, as I recall, the result was as tightly reasoned, witty and erudite a bit of nonsense as was ever committed to cyberspace.

The bad news is I can’t remember a word of it. The good news – I think it’s good – is that I appear to have arrived at last, body, soul and sub-conscious, in the 21st century. Yikes.

Okay, here’s the news: George Stonyk (director) and Janet Uren (resident idiot) have finally made up what they fondly regard as their “minds” and have chosen a play for Linden House’s fall production.

We do make a meal of it. I am aware that other companies produce two or six or eight shows a year, and do you hear them whining? No. They spit out the list in a confident and businesslike way. Linden House does one single, little show, and it takes us five months of anxious consultation and debate before we’re ready to pronounce.

This year, we have some excuse at least. We don’t like auditions. I told you that. My own experience – years of psychological scarring on the audition front – have made me unwilling to put other human beings through the wringer in front of my horrified eyes. So over the past few months, we auditioned the plays instead. Clever devils, eh? We invited a few actors to get together to read plays and to rate them anywhere from “stinker” to “stunner.”

Of course, I also discussed the question with Juno the Dog, who has attended all the readings. She said she didn’t care much for any of our selections, and thought that a play ought to have some wrestling in it – her favourite sport – if it was going to appeal to the under-exploited canine demographic. I was sorry I asked.

Human nature being what it is (inferior to canine, in my view), we have ignored her advice. Indeed, George and I have pretty much ignored everybody’s advice and chosen a play largely to please ourselves. Still, the process wasn’t wasted. Having lured some very fine actors out of hiding and won their hearts with tea and cookies, we have also ended up with the better part of a good cast already in place.

At least I think it’s in place. One young actor, when offered a role by email, wrote: “Sounds like fun. Dig.” That sounded vaguely positive to my elderly ears, but just to make sure, I wrote again. “Does that mean you’re in?” “I’m down like Chinatown,” came the reply. I think that’s “yes,” isn’t it? It’s a good thing that I now belong so firmly to the 21st century, because otherwise I might be confused.

Back to the news. I realize that in a world where earthquakes have recently shifted the earth on its axis and moved Japan three feet nearer to North America, a play is pretty small potatoes. Actually, my sister was in Japan on the big day, which caused a certain amount of stirring in the domestic chicken coop last week as we awaited word. Twenty-four hours passed and finally an email arrived with the following, blow-by-blow description: “We are safe. It was all very exciting. Claire.” Relief accompanied by dull thud.

Claire’s next letter – from China and equally explicit – added insult to injury, as she begged for news from home. Words failed me (almost), though I did manage to write that I thought it the height of gall for someone who had dismissed the most cataclysmic global event of our lives in two lines to ask us for news! Oh well, not everyone blethers as ferociously as me. I sent her four or five paragraphs largely detailing the local weather. That’ll larn ‘er.

Even locally, I’m a bit hesitant to label the Linden House announcement as “hot news,” given that a good part of the local shopping street burned down last week. Hundreds of firemen converged on main street New Edinburgh as the hardware shop went up in flames, taking the health food store and cleaners with it.

Oh well, we do what we can. It may not shift the world on its axis or leave the neighbourhood smoking, but in its modest way, the news is exciting. Linden House has finally decided on a play for October 2011. We will produce The Circle by Somerset Maugham. This play is described as a “Comedy in three acts,” but – like all the plays that we admire – it has an edge of darkness. During his lifetime, Maugham wrote dozens of plays, and this one – the story of marriage and infidelity and the conflict of joyless obligation and passionate hope – was widely regarded as his best. As one recent critic writes: “Maugham is often accused of being a heartless writer, but this superbly constructed, sharply observant play reveals unexpected warmth and tenderness.”

There you have it. Now I have a choice. To print this blog and put it under my pillow tonight to see if I can add some polish next time I go to sleep. Or just hit the “publish post” button and get it over with. Oh, the hell with it. Is this the 21st century or isn’t it? I, personally, am down like Chinatown.

“Click.”

Here we go again!

The bad news is that Juno the Dog has eaten my passport, and I am confined to the jurisdiction for the foreseeable. Under the circs, I felt that I might as well get back to blogging. Sorry.

By the way, Juno also ate the cover off one of my Christmas presents – a book called, rather inappropriately, The Intelligence of Dogs. I asked her whether it was any good, and she said simply that you can’t judge a book by its cover. She added that the whole subject made her sick.

Look on the bright side. Juno is now a Canadian, inside and out, and cannot under any circumstances be deported to the land of her birth (the United States). Even better news is that the puppy, in growing up, has moved on to passports and has not yet eaten my 2011 calendar. Which reminds me: in a little over six months, Linden House will be ready to start rehearsals, and we haven’t chosen a play yet. Time to get moving.

You may or may not have missed hearing from me. As I recall, I last spoke to you on the very eve of last October’s production of Blithe Spirit. I believe I was just heading off to opening night with fear and trembling in my little heart. And then – nothing! Silence.

You probably thought – with sadness or relief, depending on how these blogs have hit you – that I died of stage fright. WRONG! I have lived to blog again!

I apologize for dumping you like that. The truth is, during the run, I lost my ability to spell anything more complicated than my name, and I ran out of juice entirely some time during the cast party.Then I woke up next morning to find a pack of snarling clients snapping at my heels. Panic ensued, followed in short order by the annual horror of Christmas. It has been a breathless winter. In fact, only now, as the days lengthen, am I beginning to sit up and take nourishment.

Which brings me to the point. Linden House is looking forward to producing its fifth annual play in late October 2011. Before we begin the cycle, however – choosing the play, enticing the actors, buying the gin, and so on – I want to cast an eye back for a moment. Blithe Spirit was such a success! (All my best friends tell me so and, of course, I believe them.) What can we do to match it?

No, really. The audience liked our play last year, and no wonder. Noel Coward sparkles, and so did the cast! We were so fortunate in our actors – accomplished, hard-working, serious about comedy and very nice. There was the odd lurch, of course. That’s life.

A case in point. During the preview performance, Charles Condomine, sent offstage to look for salt and pepper so that the medium could cast a spell, couldn’t find them. (It turned out that someone had flung a newspaper down on the props table and covered them up.) He came back (rather defiantly and with a mad glint in his eye), brandishing a cream jug instead. Oh well, we “poured” instead of “sprinkling.” No wonder the spell didn’t work!

Then there were the inevitable flubbed lines. They’re always amusing. For instance, when I – as the medium, Madame Arcati – lifted a plate of sandwiches, demanding loudly, “What’s in these cucumber sandwiches?” My poor hostess was left to mutter confusedly, “Well cucumbers, actually.”

Still, speaking for myself, it was mad fun. I crashed monumentally to the stage a total of 18 times (including dress rehearsal) and remained unbroken, mentally and physically. I ate 32 increasingly stale cucumber sandwiches and choked only twice. Nightly, I danced across the stage – perhaps the correct word is “lumbered,” but I hope not. My hat fell off once, but my wig remained on my head for all eight performances. And every night the audience was still there after intermission. Now THAT, in this troubled world, is what I call happiness.

And we looked just BEAUTIFUL. All that snooping in the back of the closet and striding the Internet in search of sartorial flotsam and jetsam paid off. I particularly liked my evening dress with its pattern of peacocks and beaded fringe. As I danced myself into a coma (twice), I had the most delightfully drunken sensation of whirling and swirling. As for my companions, with their dinner jackets, beaded gowns, marcelled hair and martini glasses, they were elegance in action.

We had some drama, of course. When Edith the Maid fell ill shortly before opening, Daria Strachan came riding to our rescue from the Department of Justice where she masquerades as a lawyer during the day. Who says the government doesn’t serve the people? And she is so brave. First she accepted the role, and THEN we told her she had to sing in public. I must say, she took it on the chin. (I would have hanged myself.)

Anyway, enough of history. Let us look forward. The “artistic team” – ain’t we grand? – has met a couple times over the winter. Also, between walking the dog and throwing bits and pieces of raw prose to snarling clients, I have been reading plays. We haven’t yet made up what we like to think of as our minds. But we are close.

And then it all begins again. Reading actors, shopping for costumes, arguing about the set, feeding vital paperwork to the dog….

Stay with us, dear reader. There’s more to come.

Ready, aim, fur!

Well, here we are. Dress rehearsal tonight and the firing squad — otherwise, known as an audience — tomorrow. Gulp!

Do you remember those movies, where the hero looks solemnly out into the darkness of the desert or jungle? He may be a cavalry captain in the American West or a white hunter in Africa, but his words are always something along the lines of: “It’s quiet out there. Too quiet.”

Well, that’s the way I feel today. With just one day to go before opening night, things are going uncannily well. The universe is cooperating for a change, and it makes me nervous. All the hiccoughs have been small. Take the issue of Manon Dumas’ dress.

It was recently borne upon me that Ruth Condomine (played by Manon) couldn’t wear the same dress during breakfast on one day and again in the afternoon of a completely different day. Damn! Cursing my fate, I raced out to the consignment shops, only to find them woefully depleted. Of course, they were: I had picked them over myself. In the end, however, I did find a very good dress (sezs me), but Manon almost cried when she saw it.

Now, unlike me, Manon has character. Faced with a costume she loathes, she does not throw herself on the floor, bang her heels and scream with temper. No, she takes a deep breath, looks at me piteously and says with only a slight quaver in her voice: “Oh well. It will be all right. I don’t mind.”

Now, I know how to respect courage when I see it. My early acting career was blighted, I recall, by the requirement to wear a white leotard on stage which did nothing for my plump little figure. The iron entered the soul. Perhaps as a result, I would never willingly subject an actor to trial by audience looking like a large white sausage or anything even remotely so loathsome. (Not that Manon, who has very sleek lines, could look like a sausage under any circumstances, but you get the idea.)

So away I went, with despair in my heart, to burrow again in the back of my closet, where, I feared, the vein of gold had long since been depleted. And damn me, if I didn’t stumble almost immediately on hidden treasure. You see, last year, I bought a beautiful red silk kimono for my character to wear. It was wrong for the part, but it was an object of great beauty, and I liked owning it. I put it away in the closet, therefore, intending to wear it myself, but I never did. Though I would like to be the kind of person who lounges around the house in red silk, in real life I am more drawn to red tartan flannel. And so, the kimono has lived a quiet life for the past year, forgotten by me and unbesmirched by marmalade and coffee stains. And it is perfect, absolutely perfect, for Ruth Condomine in the breakfast scene.

I would have said that that was that, except that last night, David Holton — who plays Charles Condomine with great charm and is otherwise a very nice person — broke it to me that changing from natty blazer and flannels into full dinner dress during a 60-second scene change was a BIT too exciting. I resisted the temptation to bite him, and I am off again this morning in search of a smoking jacket. (If only I were the kind of person who made lists and then referred to them, I am reflecting bitterly, these things would not happen to me.)

Laura Hall, the third member of the Condomines’ domestic circle, has been much less trouble, on the whole. Her only concern has been to ensure that her costume doesn’t fall off. (It is a little large.) Thanks be to God, we have found a simple and rather elegant solution that doesn’t involve any more life-threatening and possibly heart-breaking expeditions to the back of the closet.

Anyway, the rehearsals — and the demand for new costumes — end tonight. We are all more or less dressed. We have practised endlessly, and we are ready to take possession of the stage at last. No more bridge club rehearsals. No more long drives in the rain and fighting with alien keys. No more startled bridge-players fingering their panic alarms as they stumble into scenes of apparent domestic affray.

I am happy to report that no bridge-players were injured during the preparation of our play. Bridge-players are tough nuts to crack, in any case. They have to be, because they operate in a universe, ostensibly civilized, where the jungle lurks beneath the surface. I know, because I used to play bridge before I saw the light and retired (to universal relief). My memories are painful: the time I bid seven-no-trump on a seven-point hand springs to mind. Unfortunately, I was partnering my mother in that game. She was a doughty character, dangerous to cross. I can still see her face as I put down my hand, and she realized that children are, indeed, God’s punishment for sex. When you have seven points in your hand, mother explained to me coldly, the only decent response is silence.

Back to the theatre, where I fled after being driven out of the bridge halls of the nation. This is a very good-looking production, I think. Especially since I, as Madame Arcati, have decided to axe the red turban. What had once seemed a Good Thing developed a worrying tendency to make dogs howl. Indeed, Juno the Dog helped me to face facts. She took one look at the turban, fled into the garden, dug a big hole and tried to hide in the bottom of it.

All right, all right. The turban is gone. I still have some reservations, however, about the hat I am wearing in Act II. The stage manager, Barbara Merriam, laughed in a very odd way when she saw it swimming into sight last night. I was shaken. Having once believed the hat to be beautiful, I now realize it is funny, “in its comic implication.” Oh well, time is short, and to hell with the reviews. I have decided not to show the hat to Juno the Dog.

What do dogs know about fashion, anyway? They have it easy, don’t they? No worrying over what hat or dress to wear. Take Jake, for example. Long ago, just after the earthquake — which is how I remember the arrival of Jake the Dog in my life — I had one of those unpleasant fact-facing moments with regard to my personal appearance. I would look better, the universe informed me, if I were covered with glossy black fur and walked on four feet.

I remember the moment precisely. It was springtime on the Sparks Street Mall, and hoi polloi was creeping white-faced out of civil service burrows to sniff the air and nibble the darling buds of May. Jake and I were pacing along, more or less majestically. He had me on a short leash and was stalking in that collected way that only ballerinas and athletes share with four-footed creation. As for me, I was gamely trotting along behind on my stout little legs.

On that spring morning, my association with Jake was new, and neither of us had yet realized what an odd couple we made. We passed a young man, sitting on the edge of a planter and eating a sandwich. He paused as we passed and said warmly: “Beautiful!”

“Me?” I said hopefully. “No,” he admitted, “the dog.”

Ever since that morning, I have harboured a suspicion that the human animal would look better if evolution had not deprived us of fur. That’s what I used to think, anyway. As of this week, I’m not so sure. I went to a party last Saturday where costumes were involved. An old friend, who had spent his formative years in the Arctic, chose to appear in an ancient cariboo parka and wolfskin trousers (than which few things are more startling)! His appearance was certainly odd: he looked like a large, hairy sphere. However, it was the smell that made a real impression — a pungent perfume combining ancient dead animal with a delicate overlay of mothball.

The good news for you, dear reader — if you are planning to attend the play — is that Bill does not have a part, and most of our actors smell rather nice. They also look nice and, my God, they are talented. Feel free to book at ticket. You don’t want to miss that hat.

PERFORMANCES

October 21-23, 27-30 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, October 24 at 3 pm

Call 613-842-4913 for tickets.