Author Archives: Janet

Speaking of time

Heather  Kurt

Actors Kurt Shantz and Heather Archibald pretending to live in 1905 and liking it in the Linden House production of Jack Straw by Somerset Maugham, currently on stage (Oct. 30, Nov. 1 and 2) at the Elmwood Theatre. [Photo: Tom Davis]

The thing about theatre is that you can pick the century you want to live in. And, frankly, the 21st is not my favourite. With Jack Straw – the play that Linden House is currently staging – we have moved back to the first decade of the 20th century, and I like it there. Among other things, there are no telephones to speak of.

And by the way, speaking of time, it is 1:47 a.m. at the moment, and Juno the Dog is not speaking to me. Well, if my head weren’t more or less attached to the rest of me, I wouldn’t be speaking to me either. It’s the middle of the night and not an appropriate time to be struggling with technology, but here am I, stuck with a brand new iPhone and writing an indignant blog instead of sleeping.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a mad impulse to join the rest of you in the 21st century. It was a mistake, and I freely admit it. My particular method of travelling forward through time was to acquire an iPhone. My sister said I would love it, and then she left for Istanbul, the rat, so I can’t tell her what I think of that particularly bright idea. Of course, she did not force me to take the gadget upstairs to my bedside table last night when I retired. Unfortunately, the phone has an alarm that has been accidentally set to explode into a deeply unpleasant jingle-jangle tune at 1.30 in the morning, That is my situation. I don’t know how to turn it off.

Who set the alarm, I have no idea. I would accuse Juno, but she lacks opposing thumbs and would rather eat a telephone than program it. It must have been me then, when sleepwalking, or was it that mysterious force that causes single earrings, keys and vital documents to evaporate the moment you turn your back? You know the phenomenon. You leave the keys or that amusing letter from Revenue Canada on the sideboard, and when you come back to get it five minutes later, it’s gone! This is what I believe the scientists call the “chaos theory.” My life is a living example.

Moving on: after a short interval of frantic fiddling, I have decided to distance myself from the problem. The phone is currently sitting outside on the back step where it can disturb only the slumbering squirrels, but I am thinking about dropping it in a bucket of water.

Oh, but the things I have learned in the last little while! These newfangled phones are the electronic equivalent of a Swiss Army knife, and now I know how the flashlight works. And then, there’s “Airplane mode.” Actually, I was afraid to touch that button in case the whole bedroom took off. Oh, and there’s a “Do Not Disturb” feature that remains a mystery to me, because if there is one thing this phone is doing, it is disturbing me. And Juno. She has just stalked off muttering and gone to sleep in the guest bedroom. And what does the command “Snooze” mean anyway? I thought “snooze” was a form of sleep.  Apparently not. Either that, or snooze means something else in computereze, because my telephone is damn well not snoozing. It is singing its bright good morning song at depressingly frequent intervals.

I am going mad. It’s my own fault for discarding the immemorial custom of reading myself to sleep with a book. I thought that I would play Scrabble on the iPhone instead. Now playing Scrabble with a computer is the road to ruin — intellectually and emotionally — because, frankly, the machine cheats. It makes up words. For instance, did you know that “homa” is a word? Do you believe it? How about “kulfi,” “sus” or “pooja,” for all of which the machine racked up a cool 162 points, while I stuck to such common and garden variety words as “pert,” “jive” and “fate” for a measly 64. You see my problem. There is no room for honour when you are dealing with a machine.

The telephone is still jangling. This is depressing. It reminds me of the time, a couple of years ago, when I woke to the gentle bleep of a smoke alarm battery begging to be renewed. Juno was worried and asked me if there was something she should go and bite. I said “certainly not” and got up to visit all the smoke alarms forced on me by an oppressive government. They are a big part of the reason I have given up cooking. There is nothing more irritating than having a loud siren announce that dinner is ready. Anyway, none of them seemed to be bleeping on that long ago night. I pressed my ear to the thermostat: no sound there. I wanted to give up and go back to bed but every time I started upstairs, another faint bleep called me back. I was getting frantic, and Juno was losing faith. I could see it in her bleary eye.

Finally, I decided it must be the burglar alarm, forever unused because who needs a burglar alarm when you have a 111-pound mastiff on your side? I tell a lie, I did put the alarm on once but forgot to tell the cleaning lady, so the police came and billed me for their trouble.  I did manage to find a new housekeeper eventually, but I take no chances now.

Long story short, I had long been eager to murder that alarm, so I went and got my box of tools and attacked the casing with a screw driver. When the plastic covering fell away, however, I found no batteries, but rather a series of coloured wires coming out of the wall, exactly the kind that saboteurs attach to explosives in movies. You know: the hero has to choose which wire to cut; but if he cuts the wrong colour he will go up with a bang; so he spends a long, fraught moment with the pliers poised and sweat beading his brow before cutting the wire with a sudden, bold movement; and he DOES NOT BLOW UP. Never. My situation exactly. I stood there with scissors poised, contemplating the set-up with fear and loathing, “Bleep!” With only a momentary pause for prayer, I cut boldly through the wires, all of them. No sirens sounded. No explosion occurred. Of course, after I removed the rest of the fixture there was an unfortunate hole in the wall which ultimately involved me in repainting my whole house: but that’s another story.

The point is, just as I was putting my tools away, enjoying the silence and secure in having dealt with the problem in a bold and decisive way, I was suddenly shocked to the core.


I went back to bed and put the pillow over my head. A visitor who dropped by later that day hoping for a glass of wine was handed the problem instead. The culprit turned out to be the smoke alarm I had forgotten about in crawl space, and that alarm did need a new battery. You begin to see why this is not my favourite century? One of my friends has suggested it isn’t the century that is to blame, and that I might be happier living in a sheltered workshop.

A singing telephone is not the only issue that Juno and I are dealing with tonight. There is also the issue of scent — and specifically how Juno would like to smell and the sickenly sweet, fruity odour that is actually pervading my bedroom. On our walk yesterday, the beast beloved discovered a record number of dead animals and rolled in them sequentially. As is so often the case with Juno, she thought she was doing the right thing and was astonished when her action led to outright assault. We had an unpleasant 20 minutes together after our walk, me struggling with a garden hose in one hand and a large and insulted dog in the other. In the end, both of us were soaking and covered with Wild Berry and Oatmeal Dog Shampoo. All I can say about this soap is that it smells better than dead squirrel. Juno disagrees.

Bathing Juno can be a disappointing experience for the house proud. You see, as soon as I release her, she retires immediately behind her bush – it is large and thorny, so I can follow her only with difficulty – and there she does a little remedial work on her appearance. This involves an installment of digging in the hole she began about four years ago and has been expanding ever since, and then she rolls in the damp earth until the Wild Berry and Oatmeal is significantly modified. I let her be. Though the muddy dog that emerges eventually with a complacent glint in her eye is not exactly what you long to see leaping up on your bed, at least she doesn’t smell of rotting flesh.

Oh dear. There goes the telephone alarm on the back step. I have to go and find a bucket.

PS Just three more performances of Jack Straw. Order online at or call 613-842-4913.


A rehearsal from hell!

Barbara Merriam (stage manager) and Monica Browness (costume designer) with Juno the Canine Convict.

Juno the Dog believes that I am trying to poison her, and she is telling everyone who will listen. I’m innocent, of course, but I admit the evidence is against me. Here is the story of how I came to lose my dog’s trust and, incidentally, ruin a perfectly good rehearsal.

Juno has had an operation on her inner foreleg. I won’t go into the details, except to say that the insurance company has despaired of ever making money out of us. Too bad for them. After having to re-mortgage my house twice to finance my old dog Jake in his sunset years, I was wiser the second time round: I swallowed hard and agreed to pay a whopping monthly fee for what started out as 80 percent coverage for just about everything that fate could throw at us. Then young Juno started to generate record medical bills, with such unexpected catastrophes as the time she swallowed a rope whole. That was memorable. Anyway, the bastards thereafter demoted us to 50 percent coverage (see the small print), premiums to remain whopping. I hate insurance with a deep, visceral passion, but can I live without it? In the immortal words of Dirty Harry: “Do I feel lucky?”

Back to the theme of poison. Could it be my cooking? I long ago gave up cooking for human beings, friends, neighbours, family. The best they can get chez me these days is Thai takeout or a big salad. However, such is my devotion to Juno that I actually turn on the stove for her, and I cook her real food – lots of meat mixed with dried and powdered vegetables and herbs. It doesn’t appeal to me, but she has always assured me that it’s good. For four years now, she has been the only living creature on God’s earth who really seemed to like my cooking. Now I’ve ruined it all. I should never have tried putting the antibiotics in Juno’s food.

I did wonder briefly if it was shame and not suspicion that had taken her appetite. You see, my Juno is usually a snappy dresser. She has, for instance, a rather fetching pink collar designed to assure the world that she is party girl at heart and not quite as dangerous as she looks. Another collar, one that she prefers in winter, has little hearts on it and an embroidered motto: “I love snow!” So you see, she is a dog with a certain amount of taste, and the fact that we have been sharing a wardrobe lately has been hard on her. After surgery, the vet suggested a T-shirt to stop the incision from rubbing and, as Juno didn’t own one at the time, I rooted out a favourite item of my own. I thought it looked nice, with a bold motif of blue and white stripes, but Juno’s view was that she looked like a canine convict.

“Things could always be worse,” I told Juno, and sure enough, they were. The T-shirt did not succeed in protecting the incision: on the 10th day, almost ready to have her stitches removed, Juno ripped the wound open. The vet frowned and threw the book at us. We were sentenced to 15 days in the dreaded “cone.” And that is how Juno came to wreck a recent rehearsal of Jack Straw by Somerset Maugham.

Juno doesn’t like the cone, to put it mildly. For those of you who don’t hang around with vets and still enjoy a bank balance, the word “cone” may not convey the same dread as it does to Juno and me. Let me enlighten you. This well known torture device is a clear plastic cone that fits over the animal’s neck and forms a protective cylinder around the head. It does prevent the animal from licking or chewing at a wound, but that is absolutely its only virtue. You only have to see a dog trying to navigate between chairs and tables with a cylinder of clear plastic banging into everything as it goes to know that the cone is no fun.

Right from the beginning, Juno took a dim view of this device. I put it on her with some difficulty, because Juno is big and can be determined. I won, but neither of us was happy about it. Her heart was beating like a jack-hammer and she was hyperventilating; and I was frankly close to tears. First it was poison, followed by an enormous fashion mistake and now outright torture! Now, I am nothing if not weak. I felt so sorry for the creature, I took off the cone and resolved to keep a 24-hour watch on Juno so that she couldn’t lick the incision. You probably have already seen the fatal flaw in this plan, but it took me a while to get there.

To begin with, I cancelled a lot of engagements in order to mount guard, but there were some obligations – such as rehearsals – that I couldn’t miss. So I asked for help. Monica – our talented costume designer – really shouldn’t be let out alone. Having no instinct at all for self-preservation, she kindly agreed to look after Juno at a rehearsal, to hold her leash and make sure she didn’t worry at her leg while we were working on Act II. And so, having laid the groundwork of what (briefly) seemed to me a strong plan, I set out for rehearsal with Juno by my side.

It was one of those nights. A play being what it is – a story with a beginning, middle and end – the end often tends to lag a bit in terms of preparation. So while we all knew our lines for Act I, were confident in the blocking and capable of stumbling through the first part of the play with some degree of confidence, the same could not be said for the play’s tail end. The blocking was still fluid there; and while we had put down our books, we were still uncertain of the lines. Everything was slow and hesitant, and it felt terrible.

Oh, let me digress: learning lines is sheer murder for most of us over the age of 40. You have to cram them into the cranium to begin with, and this is a painful process that neither gin nor general anesthetic can relieve: you have to go through the horror sober and fully awake. Having done that, you are condemned simply to repeating the lines, day after day, till they are firmly imprinted. If you’re lucky, you have a partner or friend who is willing to hear lines and share the excruciating boredom. I should mention that Juno has consistently refused to indulge me.

The problem is, no matter how hard you work at home, when you stand up at a rehearsal for the first time without that comforting book in hand, the lines seem just to evaporate. That’s why we have a prompter. This year, we actually have three sharing the job. None of them has prompted before, so I gave them a little lecture on what to expect. Actors are different, I intoned, in how they ask for a prompt. Some say: “Line, please.” Others, less polite but more efficient, simply say: “Line.” Then there is the less economic but still useful, “What is it?” What I forgot to mention to our neophyte prompters is that a significant sub-species of actor will glare at the ceiling for a long, pregnant moment and then say “Fuck!” Never mind, prompters generally get the idea.

Anyway, that is where we were with Act II last Tuesday – uncertain and hesitant, stumbling through the blocking, reaching for words. Until the blocking (the choreography of a play) gels and the lines are firmly imprinted, a rehearsal can be very unpleasant – especially for someone like me who, in the excitement of early rehearsals tends to scribble illegibly in my script, abbreviating idiosyncratically and periodically mixing up “left” and “right.” In reviewing the script at home, therefore, I am left scratching my head over such notations as, “St a/c righ Wak L, rnd tru.” Now, what this actually means is: “Sit in the armchair on the right, then walk RIGHT (not left, as indicated by the “L”) around the chair. And your guess is as good as mine as to how “tru” came to mean chair.

You see the problem? Add to that a certain level of physical discomfort. In many ways, we are lucky at Linden House. We get to rehearse free of charge in the splendid penthouse of the Rockcliffe Retirement Residence, a big room with huge windows on all sides looking down over the Rideau River. Here, we get to enjoy sunsets and comfortable armchairs and even a piano, for those who are so inclined. What we do not have are windows that open wide. And, as in most large buildings, the management here turns on the heat at the beginning of September, no matter what the temperature outside. Naturally, they want to make their fragile residents comfortable. Efforts to persuade them that refrigerating the elderly will make them last longer have proved futile. And so we suffer for art.

There we were last Tuesday – sweating, running over each other’s lines, wondering where the lines that had poured out so fluently at home had gone, wondering desperately where to move and when. I have to add, hoping to give nothing away about the upcoming play, that I do quite a lot of shouting. (I am coming now to the crux of my story now.) I was shouting, you see, and Juno did not take it lying down.

Juno was the sweetest little thing when she first arrived in my life. She was ten weeks old, a furry black mix of Labrador and English mastiff, and she weighed just ten pounds. This has changed over time. She now weighs close to 110 pounds and, in growing up, she has identified a purpose in life: and that is to protect me from myself and others. Thus, when she heard me calling out, she knew that her moment had come: she rose to her feet and began to bark and whine, to lunge and pull on the leash. And when Juno pulls on her leash, the person on the other end of it knows they have been pulled. Monica and Juno abruptly joined us on stage.

This was not a happy moment for me. As Juno continued to participate in the rehearsal, I could see in the director’s eye exactly how happy he was with Juno (and me). Now, despite all indications to the contrary, I am a sensible woman, and I know that in these crises it is important to resist your first impulse – which is almost always towards suicide. Unfortunately, I had the means to suicide at hand. There is a large balcony adjoining our rehearsal space. Actor John Hardie had taken one look at it and said that a retirement residence in Britain would never have allowed it. “Why not?” I asked. “Because the residents would all leap over the railing and kill themselves,” he said. It gives one a poor impression of the level of good cheer among elderly Brits.

Anyway, as Juno continued to warn the whole world that she was on duty and not to mess with me, it occurred to me that maybe those British pensioners had had a point. For good or ill, I resisted the impulse. Actually, I am pretty sure now that it was the right decision, because the next rehearsal went really well. That’s life. That’s certainly theatre.


As for dogs, I know when I am beaten. I stood down from my 24-hour guard, and Juno is wearing the cone now – an improved model that doesn’t scare her quite as much as the original one. It actually looks like a stiff blue cape, and it makes Juno resemble a giant blue flower. So we have solved two problems at a blow: medical and fashion-related. As for Problem # 3, I have been forcing antibiotics down her throat in a spoonful of peanut butter rather than as part of a meal and, though she doesn’t like it, she has stopped accusing me of trying to poison the food supply. Also, I have found a new food for Juno that she doesn’t associate with poison, and she allows as how she might, in time, forgive me for attempted murder. She has just come in from enjoying her breakfast and is lying peaceably at my feet.

Rehearsals, well…they continue. We know our lines now and are settling into the blocking and beginning to run the scenes, and suddenly it is all great fun. If you have staggered through this far, dear reader, in the continuing annals of Juno the Dog and her human pal, you may want to buy a ticket or two for Jack Straw, an early play by Somerset Maugham. It’s the only way you’ll get to find out what I was shouting about at that rehearsal. Get your tickets online at or at Books on Beechwood (35 Beechwood). For information, call 613-842-4913.

Unfortunately, Juno the Dog will not be appearing this year. The director says she has absolutely no talent.





“Who’s in charge here anyway?”

Juno on landing

Juno the Dog is refusing to come in from the garden because she suspects – rightly – that I want to put medicine on her swollen nose. (She was recently on the losing end of an encounter with a very large horsefly.) Really, Juno should join the Christian Scientists, as she regards medical intervention as against the law of God. We have these periodic disputes; she usually wins.

It’s my fate. I have never had a dog that didn’t see itself as the main decision-maker in my household. Of course, I’ve only had two dogs, which is a small sample, admittedly. But they have been LARGE dogs, both of them, so I think I’m safe to declare an emerging trend.

I know this particular drivel is not what you’re expecting. It’s mid-August (already), usually a time when I report to the breathless public just how the annual family vacation-cum-torture test turned out. For those of you who are new to this maundering, my family – we usually live at relatively safe distances from one another – every year undertakes a mad, week-long retreat to Star Island on the Rideau. Here, up to five dogs and some 15 closely related human beings meet for an annual week-long bonding session on a rather cramped little island. Many of my family are younger than the age of reason and others, though elderly, are unlikely to achieve it: this adds a certain spice to our vacation. From this outpost of civilization over the years I have thrilled you (or not) with tales of near drownings, plumbing catastrophes, and my sad attempts to lure someone, anyone, into listening to lines for the upcoming play at Linden House.

Now I have a problem. Absolutely nothing happened this year. It was a peaceful, friendly and relatively safe week in a rustic environment. It didn’t even rain. Oh, sorry. I tell a lie. There was one outstanding moment, and what was a catastrophe for my nephew was a shining moment for me: I achieved a score of 472 in a Scrabble game, thus scotching – or at least denting a little – the persistent rumour that I am not very bright!

Oh, we did have one donnybrook, and it was all my fault. In packing up at the end of the week, some relation was foolish enough to move my suitcase, on top of which I had piled, ready to hand, a few especially precious items, such as Juno’s leash (“without with, nothing,” as the ancient Romans used to say when attempting, like me, to encourage 112 pounds of over-stimulated dog to sit still in the bottom of the boat). Now the suitcase was gone. Some evil agent had moved it without authorization, and now the leash was lost somewhere among the piles of bedding and unused food and deluxe scrabble games. I loudly expressed an opinion that anyone who “moved my stuff” was born to be hanged. I don’t know about yours, but my relatives are never slow in rising to an insult. They dropped the gloves and waded in, loudly proclaiming innocence and making some rather hurtful comments, I thought.

It got rapidly ugly, except that early in the war I located my purse and happened to check inside (just in case). Oops. Blush. There was the leash, just where I had put it. Oh, I hate that, don’t you? I briefly thought of hiding the leash in my sister’s handbag and claiming to have found it there, but not for nothing am I a sidesman at St. Bartholomew’s Church. I turned myself in, ate a modest amount of crow, and peace returned to the island.

And that’s about all that happened – one horsefly bite and one minor skirmish. Hardly worth reporting.  In fact, I had to come home to get some excitement. And this time it was Juno’s fault, but it began with the Linden House play. The learning of lines has stalled on the issue of accent. In Somerset Maugham’s romantic comedy, Jack Straw – tickets on sale soon – I get to play a vulgar, loud-mouthed bitch. (I have some relatives who claim it won’t be much of a stretch.) But there are certain challenges. “Oi ‘ave to saound laike a Lunnoner,” you see, which slows me down considerable. I am also hindered by the fact that every time I come to some word like “sure,” I suddenly turn Irish (reference my last play). It’s disconcerting.

Returning to Ottawa, therefore, I decided to take expert advice and was on my way last Friday to see a master of accents by the name of Charlotte Stewart. I was ready to go, script in hand and taxi at the door, when suddenly all hell broke loose. You see, Juno the Dog wanted to come. She REALLY wanted to come.

I was taken by surprise. When Juno was a puppy and had no sense, she once upon a time slipped past me as I opened the front door, and then she gambolled madly up and down the busy street where I live. The game she conceives at such moments is called, “You can’t catch me!” The trick to winning this game (if you are on the human end of the equation) is to look disinterested and walk the other way. Not easy, when traffic is roaring along, and all you want to do is scream with horror and rush out and seize the offending beast. But that feat, you see, depends on your ability to run faster than a young athletic dog: and I don’t. However, I did manage to lure Juno to me quite quickly on that long-ago occasion, because her brain was still quite small. I fooled her by crouching down, holding out an imaginary treat and thus effecting a speedy arrest.

The trouble is, I forgive and forget, but Juno doesn’t. Juno is a four-year-old now, her brain has expanded, and she has taken charge. And apparently she remembers that imaginary treat with some rancor. So it was nothing doing.

There are moments – not all that many, really – when Juno allows me to believe that I control the agenda. For example, when I leave the house these days she usually gives me a cold glance from her cushion by the fireplace and that is about it. Not this time. This time, she made a mad dash for the door and – collarless – slipped by me and went dashing across the road. I threw my purse and notebook to the ground and launched a squealing pursuit.

This is frustration writ large. When we go for an off-leash walk and I call “come,” Juno is at my side in a flash, and I reward the behaviour appropriately. Yesterday, she was having none of it. There was a message clearly written on her black and furry face. “You can’t catch me!” she said, looking positively furtive as she scuttled away, always just out of reach. “You are NOT going to put me back in the house and leave me!”

The next 10 minutes don’t bear thinking about, as she scurried around in circles, crossing from one side of the street to the other and spurning my pleas to “Come, Juno, come!” I ran towards her (she ran in the other direction, only faster). I stopped traffic with one hand and pretended I had a treat in the other. (This worked four years ago, but no longer). I ran away, calling joyously, ”Let’s go for a walk, Juno!” (she’d heard that one before). I flung open the taxi door and cried in a loud, cheerful voice, “Come on, Juno, let’s go in the car!” (The taxi driver said, “Not in my car, she isn’t!”) But still Juno wasn’t fooled. She continued her criminal scurry from one side of the street to the other.

By this time, we had attracted quite a crowd – men leaned out of car windows and offered advice. An Asian man, clearly scared of dogs, looked as though he were going to climb a tree. A hair-dresser from the nearby salon rushed out and attempted a flanking movement. Juno was having none of it.

Clearly, new strategies were needed. I rushed into the house and grabbed her collar and lead, dashed out, crossed the street and sat down with what I hoped was casual nonchalance on a tree stump. “You win,” I said. “You are in control. I surrender.” Juno – who, I think had been a little disconcerted by my brief absence – trotted up and meekly put her head on my lap. I put the collar around her neck, laid my forehead on hers, and there was a cheer from the assembled crowd.

That was yesterday, and we are recovering with the help of aspirin, fluids and bed rest. In fact, Juno has just got out of bed – she is not an early riser – and strolled in to ask about breakfast, so I’d better get busy. Then she’s taking me for a walk.

By the way, if you are interested in hearing more about this year’s production by Linden House – it’s a romantic comedy set in 1905 and made splendid with Downtonesque costumes and set – check out the website at or give me a call at 613-842-4913. Tickets for the fall show (October 24-November 2) go on sale in September.



Post-theatric stress syndrome

I have not been sleeping well since the play ended. I blame Juno the Dog. She has no social conscience and very little idea of boundaries. I woke up this morning with my feet dangling over the side of the bed and the rest of me occupying about six inches of dog-free territory on the extreme frontier of the mattress. I guess I should have persevered three years ago, when I tried to introduce a very small Juno to the idea of territory: hers being a big cushion on the floor; mine the bed. But it didn’t seem important at the time. She weighed about ten pounds and occupied roughly the space of a large bag of sugar. Now, she is ten times that size and, as I said, has no social conscience.

There are other boundaries that she ignores. I have just removed a half-chewed bone from under my pillow, with Juno the Dog anxiously supervising. Apparently, she thought this an ideal place to bury her bone and, after some argument, we agreed to disagree. There were also two half-eaten books to be removed from the sheets. Juno is still working on literacy, it seems. She tells me that the love letters of Lloyd George were especially tasty. Personally, I think she’s too young for that kind of reading.

Lloyd George Knew My Father, the seventh annual play of Linden House, has just closed, and I am having trouble settling down. Indeed, the tension is dissipating like a very slow leak – drip, drip, drip. I had a dream a couple of nights ago. I was standing in the darkened wings of some mysterious theatre where a play was in progress. I knew I was supposed to enter, but I couldn’t remember the cue. Actually, I couldn’t hear the voices; they were just a distant hum, so knowing the cue would not have helped that much. I started running around asking for a script, to no avail. I woke up in a panic then and, after lying awake for a while, started reciting lines from the recent play to get back to sleep again. Reciting lines from a play that has finished – that can’t be normal!  

Another source of stress is the accounting. We have a producer this year who isn’t me: isn’t that nice? Actually, it’s a bit embarrassing, because I remained in control of the bank account. When Ann Davis started trying to reconcile expenses and revenues for this year’s show against the statements, she seemed a little startled. In fact, she has just told me, quite kindly under the circumstances, that I am “a master, an absolute master at financial confusion.” Oh dear.  That’s not a compliment, is it? She went on to say, with a somewhat grim smile: “Never mind. It will be different next year.” She added that she feels sorry for my accountant, whose annual torment it is to sort out the accounts for my business. (When I relayed this comment to my accountant, she laughed.)

The good news is that we have a tiny profit this year, which makes a nice change; the bad news is that the producer refuses to hand it over.  While willing to reimburse me for my own expenditures – and she would like a little paperwork to support those expenditures: oh dear again – she is going to guard our winnings tooth and claw in an account clearly labelled “Linden House.” As opposed to “Janet Uren.” There goes my plan to go whale-watching in Baja this winter.

Ann is right in taking a hard line. “You can spend what belongs to Janet,” she says firmly, apparently believing I have a right to whatever level of confusion I want in my private life. “But what belongs to Linden House is going right back into the theatre. Seriously, Janet, this will allow us to plan a little for next year.” I don’t think her plan includes me acting as Chief Financial Officer. I can bear it.

An actor once told me the following, when I was cringing over some onstage error: “If nothing ever went wrong, what would we have to laugh at?” Seen in that light, this year’s dress rehearsal was a side-splitter. You see, the set-builders hadn’t quite got to the bottom of the list by October 21, so there were no lights backstage. At one point, we had six actors crammed into a quite small space and all changing their clothes in the dark. That is how Maud came to turn up on stage shortly afterwards with her dress on back to front. I had my own problems.  Between scenes one and two, I had roughly 60 seconds to exchange my blouse and cardigan for a new sweater set. Picture me, if you have the strength, in the pitch black, kneeling on the floor, half naked and groping around for a top that I had just accidentally dropped. At that very moment, one of the crew – they had sorrows of their own – stepped on my outstretched hand with a clinking and clattering of a laden tray somewhere above my head. I leave you to imagine my joy.  This is the unvarnished truth about a show that many later described as “polished.” It makes you believe in God.

I guess I owe this year’s audience an apology for not warning them that I was going to sing. I know there were pained looks at rehearsal as I rummaged squeakily around in my head and attempted to locate the tune for “Onward Christian Soldiers.” In the end, with a bit of coaching from our pianist, Jenny Ross – “Anybody can learn to sing,” she lied – and the sheet music in front of me to give some guidance about whether to go up or down, I sort of managed. I am a bit worried, however. Someone just sent me a review that identified the song I trilled so bravely as “When the Saints go marching in”!? Maybe I got it wrong after all. Director Robin Bowditch says we are NOT doing a musical next year.

I did have one other musical moment, this one quite spontaneous. During the last performance, the workings for the telephone failed. Standing in the wings, I saw the stage manager frantically wiggling the switch on the thingamajigger and then frenziedly starting to check the wire. From on stage – where an appalled silence reigned – I saw the Vicar (George Stonyk) heading for the wings with a fierce, “who-the-hell-has-messed-up” expression on his face. What to do? I threw back my head and rang! “Rrrrring! Rrrrring!” The play chugged into gear once more and continued on its merry way. It was my debut as a telephone.  

Seriously, as any actor knows, the thing that is keeping me awake nights isn’t Juno the Dog; it is bereavement. I have lost Sheila Boothroyd, and for the last few months, she has been my delight. She was such a brat, stirring up the family with threats of suicide, and all because of almost unbearable boredom. She cut it pretty close in the end; and, of course, what saved her at the last moment was love. It was too sweet.

A lot of people came up to me after the show and said they thought that Sheila had actually died. All I can say is, had that been true, it would have been very cold of me to advertise the play as comedy. Others said they had tears in their eyes during the final few moments. So did I. As for Sheila’s husband, William, well – she did rather put him through the marital wringer.  But it wasn’t a dead loss. Didn’t he look fine in scarlet and gold, with sword at his side and the bearskin cap? “Il faut soufrir pour être beau.” That’s what Sheila and I think, anyway.

We had a survey this year, with over 100 patrons leaving us encouraging little notes, like “well acted,” or “could hear every word.” My personal favourite is this one, however, from someone who obviously thought that William should have seen a divorce lawyer: “Forget Sheila. A hunk like you can get somebody better!”

Now that IS cold. Next time, I might insist on sharing the glory. I shall wear the bearskin cap myself and see what kind of notes I get.  

Grace under pressure (or not)

Janet and Juno at Star Island, 2013

Juno the Dog and I have just returned from the annual family endurance test on Star Island and, after several nights in a clean, bug-free environment with hot and cold running water, I am ready to face the threat of continuing existence. Juno is snoring.

Actually as endurance tests go, it was pretty smooth sailing this year. Smooth, that is, if you overlook the vision of my nephew-in-law Ian standing on his bed in the middle of the night and vigorously defending himself from bats with a tennis racquet. I wasn’t in the room, to my infinite regret, but I am told that he was quite a sight. There were ten bats to begin with, but only nine bats made it back to base. My family will be returning to Star Island next year, but the bats will probably decide to rent other accommodation.

You know the old saw about “grace under pressure.” Well, Ian has it (as well as a formidable backhand). We’re not sure about the bats, but the only thing that pressure produces in me is language unbecoming to a gentleman. The strange case of the blocked toilet springs to mind. Now, there’s a topic you probably don’t want to touch with a ten-foot plunger and – though this year went well – toilets did rather dominate the summer holidays last year, and the memory is raw. I was too shattered to tell you about it at the time, but time heals all. Read on, if you have the strength.

Have you ever reflected that, inadequate as it is in many ways, the 21st century is utterly redeemed by its plumbing? We have the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age and – wait for it – the Age of Flush Toilets. Fascinated as I am by history, two things make me grateful for the timing that landed me here, not there. These are public executions – and, frankly, even “private” executions strike me with something of a dull thud – and plumbing.

Star Island is a case in point. The island is actually a large lump of rock in the Big Rideau, which means that sewage disposal is something you don’t want to think about, any more than I want to describe it. Suffice it to say that my father was right: “Get an education,” he intoned, and he might well have added “or you may find yourself pumping sewage out of holding tanks on the Big Rideau.”

I pass lightly over the details. The important thing to note – and, sadly, not everyone has noted it – is that there is a protocol to using a toilet on Star Island. It is based on the idea of moderation. Unless you have been incredibly lucky, you have probably heard the disgusting old ditty: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” That’s the regime in a nutshell. To educate newcomers to the island, the wall of the bathroom bears several large, hand-stencilled signs featuring some good advice and a bit of really unfortunate grammar:


Only when necessary

And then, in pen to one side, the depressing ancillary message appears: “Put paper in the pail.”

These then are the ugly facts, and we adults – who have seen life in the raw and know that it is not a bed of roses – obey the law and think of other, higher things while we’re doing it. However, to navigate your way through the poor grammar and the handwriting on these signs requires a sophistication that your average four- to five-year-old does not possess.

Let us draw a veil over the sordid scene. The important thing to know is that with an increasing number of youngsters in the family – children who have abandoned diapers without adopting full literacy – there was a record number of plumbing problems last year.

Not to worry. We have an unwritten law in our family that my sister Claire does all the unpleasant and difficult things requiring character and intelligence, while the rest of us retire to the hammock with a stiff drink. It’s a sad day, I can tell you, when emergency strikes, and I find myself the ranking adult, officer in charge of being calm in a crisis. You see, I am the youngest child in my family. My sisters were brought up to take care of me, not the other way round. When I have a problem, I appeal to them – tearfully or in a rage, as the case may be – and they fix it. That is the way things are in my family. That is the universe that God ordained, and I don’t think we should mess with an arrangement that clearly works.

There have been moments, however, when Claire and Meg go AWOL, and I am forced to solve a problem on my own. These crises may range from figuring out how to assemble and install a ceiling fan all the way to dealing with a phone call from the hospital at 3 a.m. in the morning. Let me expound.

My nephew Steven lived with me during one long, LONG year when he was 19 going on 12. Summer rolled round, and he went out to celebrate on July 1. Some celebration. Having been foolish enough to express disapproval of a young man who happened to be holding a lead pipe in his hand, Steven ended up with a concussed head en route to the hospital. Years have passed, and I still remember my horror when the phone rang, I pressed a groggy ear to the instrument, and realized that we were in trouble, Steven and I. My sisters were both out of town. My nephew was in emergency, and I was the only one around to go and “deal with things”. I pulled myself together, called a cab and rallied round the recumbent body, which was undergoing a bit of sewing at the time. Steven was anesthetized by a high level of alcohol in the veins, an advantage I lacked. As I recall, the doctor told me to put my head between my knees.
Oh well, we all survived. It wasn’t as though I actually had to wield the needle myself. In fact, it was a useful incident. In childhood, a favourite book of mine was called Cherry Ames, Probationer, and my ambition was to become either a nurse or a horse trainer. Or was it a horse? I forget, though I did love running around the neighbourhood with a dog leash in my mouth, neighing: a very strange child).  

Back to the matter of sisters. This sibling hierarchy explains why, many years later, when the Star Island toilet overflowed the first time, it didn’t worry me much. I just mentioned to Claire that she’d better get cracking. The second time I saw Claire going for the mop, I averted my eyes and went for a stroll. The third time was different. Claire had left the island, and I was the ranking adult. Yikes.

I was out on the verandah reading. In fact, I was lost somewhere in 9th-century Britain – that summer’s current reading was historical fiction – when I became aware of running feet. The screen door slammed, and Juno and I realized with certain misgivings that seven-year-old Peter was among us. “Auntie Janet!” he said, with an inappropriate note of joy in his voice. “The toilet’s blocked!”

“F—k!” I said, summing up the situation in a word. Peter’s eyes widened with a mixture of delight and horror. “Auntie Janet,” he exclaimed. “You said….”

“Never mind what I said,” I cried, springing to my feet. “Who put paper down the toilet?”

I arrived at the scene of the crime in time to see five-year-old Maddy heading for the hills. A sensible child who will live to see another day. I took a deep breath and stiffened the sinews as I prepared to take calm, intelligent control of the situation. All of a sudden, there came a great crash and a cry of dismay from the kitchen. A second theatre of war!

I bolted in to find six-year-old Charlotte, frozen to the ground, eyes wide with horror. She had just dropped an entire quart of chocolate milk on the floor. It seemed to me that a theme was developing – brown stuff flowing through every room.

“Out!” I shouted. “Everyone out. Everyone go home!” (You see, there are two cottages on Star Island, and we rent both: roughly speaking, there is one house for me, and one for everyone else, or at least that is the ideal to which I aspire.)

Children are not stupid. They fled, all except Juno the Dog, who was trotting excitedly through the milk. I yelled at her too. She responded by fleeing the jurisdiction and, thundering milky-pawed into the living room, she leapt excitedly up on the couch. I pursued, seized her by the collar and threw her bodily out the screen door in the kitchen. I had completely forgotten that, while the kitchen door pushes out (thereby preventing an outer dog from becoming inner), the living room door pushes in (allowing the outer dog to be inner with a simple thrust of the nose). The exiled Juno, thrown out the “out” door, streaked along the verandah to the “in” door and was back in a minute, anxiously volunteering to help.

I tied a vociferously complaining Juno to the banister, squared my shoulders and sought out the mop and bucket and a bottle of disinfectant. You’re probably impressed – I know I was – at this demonstration of savoir faire. It’s amazing how much I had absorbed while pretending not to look at Claire being competent in every crisis. I draw a veil (my second veil in a single report) over the next hour or so, except to say that what doesn’t kill us makes us strong. Next morning, I sought out young Peter.

“Peter,” I said. “Yesterday, when the toilet blocked, I used inappropriate language. I apologize.”

Peter giggled. “Yes, you did. You said….”

“Never mind what I said!” (God, I hate apologizing to children.) I gave up and headed back to the 9th century, where my hero was facing all kinds of catastrophes with invading Danes – very moody people indeed, holding very large, sharp weapons. But in a seven-book series, there is not one toilet, functioning or otherwise. Maybe the 9th century knew a thing or two.

The end of the Star Island saga does not mean a return to real life in any meaningful way. It means coming back to Ottawa and getting ready for the annual Linden House Theatre play (October 22 to November 2). And this year, we have a humdinger – Lloyd George Knew My Father by William Douglas-Home. It is a hilarious tale about suicide. No, really. This is a very funny play, I promise. The only sad thing is that I shall be playing an 80-year-old. I had hoped that another 20 years or so would pass before I could make that believable. I blame Star Island. It has aged me.

If you want to order tickets, you know what to do – visit the website (, Books on Beechwood (35 Beechwood Avenue) or call 813-842-4913.


Where the ego goes to die

I swear – every time I start to feel modestly proud of myself, I start to look nervously over my shoulder, because I know that life is about to narrow its eyes and take action. It’s fail-proof. Whenever there is a little modest improvement in internal stock prices for Janet Uren Inc., I can count on a sudden market adjustment. Just watch. Janet starts to glow with pride, and life whips out the old shillelagh. Whomp!
Take, for example, the Linden House Theatre poster for October 2012. We have a magical designer, young Karenna Boychuk, and she does great work. So it’s a beauty. Nevertheless, when I first saw it I was a little appalled at the sheer predominance (and youthful beauty) of my physiognomy. It looked to me like ego on the way to whomping. I shivered and, as said, looked over my shoulder.
I was right to worry. Members of the Linden House production team, when they beheld the poster, said with wonder. “Is that really you? It’s very flattering, isn’t it?” I winced, but really the blow to the amour proprewas a gentle one. The ego picked itself up and dusted itself off with an air of relief. You could almost hear it singing, “Is that all there is?”
Apparently not. What your friends can’t accomplish, your family can. After all, they have had practice. My sister, striding on to the scene shortly afterward and finding my ego bloodied but unbowed, didn’t hesitate to finish it off. She stared at the poster. “Is that you?” she asked. “What did they do, photo-shop you?”
That did it. What remained of my ego lay motionless, flat on the ground, with life apparently extinct. It was a good thing in the event, because if there had been any lingering flutter of a pulse in the corpse, my first attempt at a costume for this year’s play might have stung.
The initial design idea for costumes was an ambitious one – we wanted to re-create Downton Abbey in Rockcliffe Park. I scoured the Internet and found a dressmaker in Los Angeles who was willing to make an Edwardian suit, made to measure for my somewhat unfortunate figure, out of striped blue-and-white cotton.
Honestly, I am a cockeyed optimist. In studying the online image of this outfit, I had an impossible vision of myself, looking tall, thin and stately, because that was the rough outline of the woman modelling it on the website. Tragically, I am not tall and slender. Quite the opposite. Indeed, unless fashions in feminine beauty change radically and soon, I have no real future in the modelling industry. “Small” and “round” are the kindest words that can be applied with any accuracy to my corpus.
Momentarily blind to these facts, I flung caution to the wind. The suit was duly ordered, manufactured and posted north, where I waited in a state of quivering anticipation. (My life would really be quite sad, if it were not so ridiculous!)
The package arrived in due course and, as fate would have it, I was not allowed to face facts in decent privacy. A friend from the dog park dropped in just as the mail was delivered and witnessed the first unveiling of the Edwardian skirt and jacket. The blue-and-white material, I noted with some dismay, was coarser than I had expected, and the suit was heavy and thick with folds and layers. Fran the Friend shared my foreboding. “It looks like mattress ticking,” she said doubtfully.
I should, of course, have waited till she left to try on the suit and then only with the lights off and the mirrors covered. But I lack native caution. I simply couldn’t wait to try it on. Fortunately, my ego had died earlier in the week, because Fran looked at me with real horror. “You look like a mattress tied in the middle,” she said.
I laughed. You see, my sister brought me up to appreciate – well, not exactly “appreciate” – but at least to survive a certain amount of frank talk. So I laughed. I learned afterwards that Fran went home and wept with embarrassment, and she later turned up with a little present, just in case we needed to reconstruct our friendship. The truth is, I was grateful. Sometimes when you see a friend sailing into sartorial danger, you have a moral obligation to speak or, if words fail, to save your friend in whatever way strikes you as convenient – sitting on her head till the fit passes, perhaps, or calling 911. Whatever it takes.  
Anyway, Fran’s comment worked. I packed the costume away, and Linden House addressed itself creating a completely new look for the play. I think you will like it. In doing so, we moved the action along the historical timeline from the beginning of the 1920s to the end of the decade, and we haven’t looked back.
Today we have a dress rehearsal – lots of tension in the air – and tomorrow it’s trial by audience in the first of several benefit performances. I am happy to say that the play has really come together. Yesterday, I was watching two of the performers blossom into their roles. I was so impressed, I actually forgot my cue to enter, and everyone clapped at the end of the scene. I never recall that happening before in rehearsal. A very special moment and one that augers well for the show.
So I cautiously recommend that you reserve tickets and join us this week or next for a performance of You Never Can Tell by G. Bernard Shaw (October 23-November 3). Tickets are available online at, at Books on Beechwood (35 Beechwood) or by calling 613-842-4913.
At Linden House, we believe in hospitality, so join us on Saturday and Sunday, October 27 and 28 for a glass of wine after the show. I really look forward to seeing you. As for me, don’t be afraid. Though I am not tall and thin, I am dressed to resemble a human being rather than a mattress. Cheers!

Face to face with a raging bore!

It’s no secret. The trick to good conversation is to let everybody have a turn and pretend to listen when you aren’t talking. This is the rule I have (mostly) lived by – until recently, that is, when a friend – I think she’s still a friend – joined me for dinner.

It began as an ordinary evening, with just your ordinary old dinner conversation. Pleasant, you know? Everybody getting a turn. A little politics here, a little book club there. Then things changed. Suddenly I heard myself in the middle of explaining the War of the Roses! The War of the Roses, for goodness sake! Nobody understands the War of the Roses, much less talks about it. It is history’s single most incomprehensible mess.

It was like being trapped in a nightmare. I heard myself going on and on, just like Juno with her squeaky toy, and I couldn’t stop. Squeak, squeak, squeak. Like that poor little girl in the red dancing shoes, I was in the grip of compulsion. I saw the eyes of my dinner companion glaze over, but still I couldn’t stop. I am not entirely bereft of social conscience. I did pause a few times in full flight, when I feared she was wilting, to ask anxiously if she was really interested. But she kept saying, “Yes, of course. I’m fascinated!” What can you do with a woman like that? Made of iron. Anyway, on I dashed. And on. And on. I tell you, I was possessed. If I had tried this in Salem, they would have burned me at the stake.

Do you know about the War of the Roses? No? Well, I think the defining quality was bad temper. It was the family fight to end all family fights, and it lasted for most of a century – and so, my friend would say, did dinner. Believe me, I covered that century like wallpaper. I was all over it. I started with Richard II and did not stop till I arrived panting at the feet of Henry VII.

I tell a lie. When I got to Henry VII – who in my view was a Bad Man – my dinner companion made a mistake. Up to this point, you might say she was an innocent victim. Like someone getting hit by a train through no fault of her own. The sort of thing that could happen to anyone. But then she said: “How is the present Queen related to Richard III?” After that, her fate was sealed. There was nothing anyone could do to save her, and it was all her own fault. You must never, never throw liquid fuel on a raging bore.

The War of the Roses occupied a single century – a long century, I admit, jam-packed with action and crowded with human beings demonstrating why dogs are superior in almost every way. But still, just one little century. Hardly worth the trouble, really, for a dedicated bore. The challenge of connecting the Windsors to the Plantagenets, however, now that is a challenge to inspire. It opened up another five centuries for exposition and gave me new scope for boring at Olympic levels.

A few hours later, the poor woman – her head was bloodied but unbowed – made another mistake, and this one was fatal. I think I was beginning to slow down, because she actually got a word in edgewise. Of course, you and I know what she should have done. She should have seized her chance and said: “Will you excuse me for a moment? I’ll be right back.” Then headed for the door at brisk trot. Instead, the mad fool asked a second question. “How did the Royal family come to be German?” After that, she was doomed.

As I recall, I backed right up to James V of Scotland in order to get a really good run at my subject, then bounded forward, tongue flapping with excitement. I wanted to make sure she had all the facts, so I touched lightly on the Reformation, Mary Queen of Scots, the English Civil War, the Bloodless Revolution of 1688 and Elizabeth of Bohemia before landing triumphantly on George I, one-time Elector of Hanover. My companion asked for the bill.

I am a social failure, and I know it. You would think I had learned my lesson. But no, here I am blogging away again and arriving, shamelessly, at the tenth paragraph without ever having got to the point. Actually, I’m wondering what the point is? It may, of course, be Juno the Dog. Those of you who are still conscious will be happy to know that Juno is sitting up and taking nourishment now despite the fact that, on May 22, she was operated on to remove a rope from her stomach. A rope! Proof positive that no good act goes unpunished: I had bought a basket of dog toys (including this rope) at a charity auction. When the rope disappeared shortly afterwards, I didn’t panic. I thought that Juno had buried it. She has been helping me with landscaping lately, and her particular project is my tiny lawn where she has buried a variety of bones, toys and – I assumed – a rope. The garden looks a little like Belgium 1917 but not as lively.

What I like to think of as my mind has been elsewhere lately, but I finally noticed that Juno was unwell. It was the middle of the night and, as I recall, she was standing on my bed vomiting at the time. That got my attention. Over the next few days – such is the life of a dog-owner – I noticed that, whereas lots of stuff was coming out the front end, the back door had gone out of commission.

To cut a long story short, we went to see the vet, and many x-rays later found ourselves in Alta Visa Animal Hospital – where bank accounts go to die – and Juno was committed for surgery. I insisted on saying goodbye before leaving her in the surgery; it was a mistake. She was chained up in what looked like a tiled cell. I patted her and said comforting words, but her English is not on the level that takes in messages such as: “It serves you right, you little brat!” All I could hear as I went down the hall was Juno the Stoic screaming with woe. I felt like six cents worth of candy.

When it was all over, Juno and I were reunited, and the vet asked me if I wanted to take the rope – which had been discovered lodged in the valve between the stomach and the gut – home with me as a souvenir. I stared at her in cold astonishment. I mean to say, where do these vets get their ideas? Furthermore, if that is the kind of souvenir that interests you, dear reader, all I can say is that you’re reading the wrong blog! 

Anyway, Juno now has a scar running right down the middle of her belly. It looks like a zipper, and I am hopeful that the next time she eats something indigestible, they can just run it open and have a look, no muss, no fuss. The other result of this medical catastrophe is that Juno and I now live in a rope-free zone. If you need a rope in a hurry, do not come here. We cannot help you.

I asked Juno if she wanted to add anything to the story, tell her side of it, you know. She stopped snoring for a moment. (You know the old saying, don’t you? “Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep all alone!”) Anyway, she stopped snoring for long enough to say that the whole subject made her sick, then went back to sleep. Nice life. Are you still there? I have other news. Linden House has chosen a play for the October show. It is You Never Can Tell by George Bernard Shaw. This is the story of a romantic dentist who falls in love with the original Ice Maiden. It is an early play of Shaw’s before he got really wordy. Critics call it his “funniest and sunniest” work. The subject is the struggle between advanced woman and old-fashioned man. Guess who wins? I get to play another old woman. Sigh.

Still with me? Keep going, we’re nearly there. Linden House has gone mad with ambition this year, and we are actually doing two shows. On Saturday, September 8 – on one night only – George Stonyk and I will be presenting Dear Liar, a two-person dramatic reading of a truly brilliant cascade of love letters exchanged by Shaw and the actress, Mrs. Patrick Campbell. And after the show, you are invited to join us for wine and cheese and chat in The Atrium at Elmwood Theatre.

George Bernard Shaw was a drama critic and social reformer in London in the 1890s when he first saw Mrs. Patrick Campbell on the stage and fell deeply, tempestuously and verbosely in love. She was later the inspiration for many of his most famous theatrical characters – such as Cleopatra and Eliza Doolittle. Both Shaw and Campbell were married when they met, and Shaw lived out his love affair with the actress mainly through a series of dancing, trumpeting, madcap letters, which Stella answered with a combination of playful charm, exasperation and fury.

The letters are now part of the Shaw legacy. An aging, cash-strapped Stella Campbell published them (much to Shaw’s dismay), but she kept the originals with her till the day of her death in a rooming house in southern France at the dawn of the Second World War. The letters were rescued and brought back to England, where they remain today as a memorial to one of the great love affairs of the English stage.

As a collection, the letters are rollicking good fun. “Come to tea at 4 o’clock,” Stella would command, “and make me laugh.” The letters speak of more than laughter, however, when Shaw writes of witnessing the cremation of his oddly extraordinary mother. And again, when the widowed Stella resolves to remarry, and Shaw rages at her. “Your pen makes you drunk,” she protests wearily. “When you were quite a little boy somebody ought to have said “hush” just once.” But, of course, Shaw has the last word. “Don’t let’s quarrel until we are dead,” he pleads.

The letters – the first of which dates to 1899 – form the basis of a play, Dear Liar, by American actor and playwright Jerome Kilty (1922-2007), first presented on Broadway in 1960 and about to be resurrected as a dramatic reading by George and moi.

Well, that’s about it. Are you still there? Still conscious? If so, you may be interested (or not) to know that there are only 132 tickets on sale for Dear Liar, and only one performance. Given that there will be thousands clamouring to get in, order now to avoid disappointment. Also, if you feel like ordering tickets for both shows at the same time – Dear Liar at $20 and You Never Can Tell at $25 – we will offer you a MINISCULE discount at $40 for the two! If you write, complaining that the blog was just too damned short, who knows, you may get a free ticket!

Oh, by the way: I went out to lunch yesterday and mentioned the War of the Roses to another friend. Just testing the water, to see what would happen. I asked my companion what she would do if somebody tried to tell her at length about this major historical screw-up. “I would change the subject,” she said firmly. And did so.

Scenting trouble

Juno the Dog says she’ll be glad when this damned play is over. You see, Juno and I share a crate at night. I used to think of it as “my bedroom,” but Juno has rather imposed her personality on our shared quarters. Now, she has the nerve to complain about me as a roommate. I may even have to find my own crate.

The thing is, with rehearsals for The Communication Cord about to culminate in a performance, I have become increasingly restless. Most nights, I wake between 2 and 3 o’clock and, rather than just lying there cursing the dark, I do lines. Out loud. With feeling. Unfortunately, one of those lines goes like this: “Stand still, you brute you, or I’ll hop the stick off you!” Juno takes this personally and, refusing to accept an apology, retires muttering to a safe distance.

Oh well, we don’t have long to go. Tonight is the Preview – gulp! – and tomorrow (Wednesday, March 28 at 8 pm exactly), we open to the world, or at least that part of the world that lives in Ottawa and likes theatre and especially Irish wit.

Lines have not been the only challenge – you know, choosing which to include in to any particular run and in which order. Last night, for example, one of my fellow actors broke it to me that a beautiful phrase – “tethered there like a brute beast” – has recently disappeared from my repertoire. Too bad, because it is actually a cue for him to respond.

Another actor told me with a smile last night and a strange glitter in her eye that, if I ever again left the box of matches on the stool where she is supposed to sit, she would “bloody kill me.” So you see, tensions are running high.

Back to Juno. She just came in from the garden, and there is mud on her shiny black nose. I can’t bring myself to go and look, but I fear – I FEAR – it’s another hole! I used to have a tiny perfect garden, with a little heart-shaped plot of green grass. Then Juno arrived. Today, the landscape resembles Belgium 1917.

Learning lines and gardening are just two of the issues on which Juno and I part company. Another involves rolling in dead animals. I don’t. She does. Observing her delight when she comes across a dead fish or mammal, I imagine that it is something like dabbing a little Eau de Dead Groundhog behind the ears. Frankly, I prefer Eau de Joy.

It’s not that I haven’t given dead animals a go. Only last fall I was out in the forest with Juno when she found something nice and smelly to roll in on a steep forest slope. I plunged down the hill, shrieking wildly and seized her by the collar. Unfortunately, Juno resisted arrest. At the time, she represented some 80 pounds of pure kinetic energy and, though I outweigh her, she has always had the stronger will.

Juno toppled me backwards into a large hole where something had died not too recently. Perhaps she meant it kindly, wanting to share her interests with me, but it was not a good moment. Though nothing was broken, no blood was spilled, I was unhappy. Upside down with my feet in the air, rolling around and moaning, I had a splendid opportunity to experience life from the point of view of a dog. So it is no mere prejudice when I say I don’t like Eau de Dead Groundhog. I have tried it, and it doesn’t work for me.

I hope it won’t turn you against Juno when I say that she also likes to eat dead things. Really dead things. Walking home last week, we found a rotten squirrel carcase in the gutter, and I had to intervene. It would not have been my first choice, prising open a very determined canine jaw and scraping out rotten bits of used squirrel. I also didn’t like disappointing Juno when she had patently found something nice to eat. However, the alternative was waiting till the middle of the night when Juno – disgusted by my nightly recitations – has been known to vomit in my bed. So I faced the crisis firmly and did the right thing.

The other thing about Juno is the difficulty of getting her to bathe. All last summer, I pursued her with the hose when things got too intense. But now it is March, and the hose is still rolled up in the shed. As for stepping into the bathtub like a civilized being, Juno doesn’t see why she should.

So this is where the iron enters to the soul. Now that I have been spending long days rehearsing The Communication Cord, Juno is spending more time on her own. She doesn’t mind. She has a nice bed to lie on, and her life is evenly divided between the park, where she rolls passionately in dead animals, and snoozing in the comfort of her crate – otherwise known as my bedroom. Unfortunately, it’s my bed that she has made her own.

Fair is fair, and I guess the honours are about even. I disturb her sleep with loud cries. She disturbs my waking hours with the ripe scent of Eau de Dead Groundhog.

In the meantime, I am very happy about this play. Not to put too fine a point on it, it is a hoot. So do come and see it. The Communication Cord by Brian Friel, produced by SevenThirty Productions, opens Wednesday, March 28 at 8 pm at the Gladstone (910 Gladstone Avenue), and it runs till April 14. Visit the website at or call 613-233-4523 for tickets.

While shivering in my shoes

My niece, Maggie – the only wise woman in the family – says that every day we should do something that scares us, the theory being that what doesn’t kill us makes us strong. Well, I think that is a bit excessive, actually, but then, my idea of “scary” may be a bit over the top. Not every day, therefore, but two or three times a year, I am willing and even eager to shiver in my shoes. A case in point – the play that I am currently rehearsing in, called The Communication Cord, which opens at The Gladstone in late March.

I think I used to have a higher tolerance for fear. In my extreme youth, I hitchhiked, heading for India with a university friend. It was a kind of spontaneous decision, and I sent my parents a postcard from Istanbul urging them not to worry about their 17-year-old daughter. Yeah, right. It was the most fantastic adventure, but I do remember in the middle of one night on a bus somewhere in the heart of Turkey, feeling far from home and thinking scared thoughts as we trundled through the darkness.

I survived that adventure and came home with some new and interesting information on how the world works (including why it is unwise to hitchhike in a mini-skirt). I finished school, settled down to work and found that editing copy did not provide an adequate amount of terror – irate authors notwithstanding – so I took up whitewater canoeing as a hobby. Now there’s a sport that regularly has you questioning your sanity. I ask you to believe me when I say that, from the first year I canoed, I do not retain a single memory from “inside” a rapid. I was so terrified that I simply blanked out. (Actually, that’s not true: I do remember hearing one of my partners screaming out from the stern: “Oh fuck!” Please excuse the language, but I am reporting history here.) As you can imagine, there was a line-up of people just begging to partner with me.

Anyway, things got better. The second year, I distinctly remember waking up in the middle of a rapid and actually having a thought. Who cares if it was only something along the lines of “Oh my God!”? (Which you may be interested to know, is an “involuntary response cry” – I’ll explain later). The point is, I was conscious, and that was an improvement.

I blame my mother. Every time I went out the door to go canoeing, laden with pack and paddle and looking tough, she would say anxiously. “Be careful now, dear. You know you’re not a natural athlete.” Jeez, mother! You’re supposed to be building up my confidence! Oh well, that was not her style.

I remember canoeing with Blaine once. (Now why, when I think of the most intense moments of fear in my life do I just naturally think of Blaine?) He always had a canoe full of floatation because he liked to canoe just under the surface of the boiling water. Personally, I prefer to be on top with my nose in the air, but that’s just me. I like oxygen. Anyway, I made the mistake of getting in the bow of Blaine’s canoe for a run down Rollway on the Petawawa. We were going strong when we got to the big ledge at the bottom, where my instinct was to eddy out and think things over. Blaine is cut from different cloth. He steered right for a steep chute and down we went. The bow of the canoe, containing a horrified me, plunged straight towards the bottom of the river. All I saw for a moment after that was bubbles and foam. Very interesting.

This is where the floatation comes in handy. The canoe plunged downward, and after moment resurfaced like a breaching whale, still containing me, I am pleased to report, though somewhat wetter than I had been. I believe I was still wearing long braids in those days, and I have an impression that the water was streaming off them as I emerged from the foam in my yellow raingear with my paddle frozen horizontally into what I very much hope was a brace.

Anyway, Blaine allowed as how we might stop shortly after that. We eddied out, and Judy came down to help me out of the canoe. I needed help because my knees were literally – no word of a lie – knocking together. When I looked down I could see my legs vibrating, and they weren’t doing as good a job holding up the superstructure as they usually do. Anyway, this is fear.

Blaine was at my side as well when I took up scuba diving. AM I NUTS? I’ll never forget the day that Blaine – a certified madman if ever I knew one – said not to be afraid of the deep black waters of the St. Lawrence in November because HE WOULD LOOK AFTER ME! I rolled about laughing for 20 minutes or so, then decided that scuba diving was one shiver too far. I had been the only woman in the pool classes who had to be rescued repeatedly by the life guard, even when we were working in the shallow end. Scuba diving was definitely not the sport for me.

So what am I doing to ensure that I have enough fear these days? I haven’t canoed much in the last few years and, as I say, I shelved scuba diving shortly after the launch of my career. So what am I doing now for adrenilin? I founded a theatre company, that’s what, and reached deep into my credit line to pay for it. As a source of fear, however, impending financial ruin is beginning to fade as the Linden House audience grows, and people tell us that they like what we’re doing. So what next?

Oh, I know! I’ll leave the safe little world – well, relatively safe – of amateur theatre (where after all, the audiences are getting what they pay for) and try a little professional work. Yikes! Maggie? Are you sure this is good for me? I have just finished the first full week of working five days, all day long, 10 to 6 daily, in the REAL theatre! I am excited, happy, challenged and – oh yes – SCARED! Once again, my knees are knocking together.

It’s Saturday morning now after a tough week, and this was supposed to be a day of rest. I was very tired on Friday night and planning to sleep in. Juno the Dog had other plans.

I woke up. The first thing I saw was a large, dark, furry face thrust into mine. Oh good, I thought. Juno. The second thing I saw was the clock, glowing red with the disappointing information that it was 6:23 in the morning. I didn’t see the third thing because a big, wet, shiny black nose was thrust into my face, and I retreated under the pillow.

Just before Juno’s rude intervention, I had been dreaming that I was writing an exam – with a pencil. You know, don’t you, that professional actors always use pencils to mark the blocking (movements) on their scripts? They do. So do amateurs, as a matter of fact. But I find pencils dispiriting. They make such a damned little, half-hearted mark on the page. I have a passionate temperament, and it follows that I am an ink person, purple or green by preference, just so long as the ink is squidgy and the mark is bold. To give you an idea of the extent of my madness, I do crossword puzzles with a pen and regularly abandon Sudokus because I can no longer read my inky notations. (This is a lie. I abandon them because I am “a bear of little brain,” and I run out of ideas.) Anyway, in the theatre, it is the ultimate triumph of optimism over experience to mark your script in ink. As the blocking evolves, so does my script. I add to the effect by regularly dropping the book in the bath. If there was a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Books, I would be on the Ten Most Wanted List.

So back to fear. The thing about being a volunteer, any kind of volunteer – a fireman, for instance – is that the public is obliged to make do with what it gets, which in the case of firemen is probably a pile of ashes where the ancestral mansion used to lie.

My parents had this experience when I was a little girl. They had a log cabin up near Wakefield, which they had the bad luck to heat at least partially with a big iron stove. Have you ever heard of creosote? Well, we had it big, choking the chimney with highly flammable stuff. When the chimney finally caught fire one winter’s day, an excited crowd of volunteers arrived from the village, bringing with them a siren, some axes and a certain joie de vivre. I don’t think they had had a fire recently, and they were inclined to see it as a “good thing.”

Oh, they were grand. They leaped on the roof and proceeded to cut a big hole in the living room ceiling. Unfortunately, the fire was raging not in the living room at all – the firemen could have entered there by the door – but in the chimney about a dozen feet away. “Ooops,” said the fire chief and blushed. I believe he then walked across the roof and poured some water down the chimney. Anyway, the house did not burn down on that occasion. It burned down later.

I tell you this because, as an actor, I have always been a volunteer among volunteers – you know, pitching in to lug tables around, delivering flyers door to door and so on. Now, someone is paying me to act. Gosh! (Another “involuntary response cry,” expressing awed amazement.)

The play is The Communication Cord, by Irish playwright, Brian Friel. It opens at The Gladstone on March 28. For three full weeks after that, I get to pretend that I am an Irishwoman who in youth shared her house with a cow though, in terms of livestock, she has now been reduced to three hens and, apparently, no damn dog. During her lifetime, Ireland has changed and, with the arrival of weekenders – “the bucks with the money” – on the beautiful coast of Donegal, Nora has an eye open to the main chance. She is a chatty, friendly, manipulative soul who spends much of her day at the window spying out the doings of the neighbourhood. Her cousin Jack refers to her as “a lying, hypocritical old bitch,” but personally I think she is sweet.

Actually, Nora Dan turns up in an earlier, more sober play by Friel called Translations, which established some of the themes about language and communication, deception and understanding that he returns to in The Communication Cord. The first play was set in 1831, however, and the second in modern times.

Clearly, I am aging fast. Last fall, I played a middle-aged aristocrat. By December, I had been reduced to an 84-year-old servant. Now, it seems, I am playing a jolly peasant who, if she is the same Nora Dan as in Translations, has just celebrated her 200th birthday. If things keep going this way, I shall probably be dead in the next play.

At least I have learned what questions not to ask. Last year, when I played the elderly servant, I made the mistake of asking the director what make-up I should have in order to look 84. He said breezily, “Oh, you’re fine the way the way you are.” I looked at him coldly.

A lot of Canadians have Irish ancestors. I myself had an Irish great-grandmother, fondly referred to in the family as “that old devil.” She came to Canada in a wooden sailing ship, set up shop in Montreal where she was bold enough to sell beer – atta girl! – and apparently devoted herself to making her relatives miserable. Oh well, nobody’s perfect.

I know Ireland a little too. My experiences of that beautiful land date back to 1971, when I actually went to Donegal – pronounced “DunnyGALL” – which is the homeland of Nora Dan in the play. Oh, it was “beau-ti-ful,” as Nora Dan would have said. It was fall, and the fuchsia hedges were in full bloom. I was visiting a marine archaeologist who lived on a clifftop overlooking the silver-pocked sea where he spent his days diving in search of relics of the Spanish Armada. Have you ever heard anything so romantic?

It wasn’t all joy, however. I remember being invited out to dinner in a rather decayed mansion next door and being served a giant tankard of Guinness as an aperitif. Seriously, the glass was about a foot high, which is precisely 20 percent of my height. I still feel queasy when I think about that shiny black expanse of drink with an inch of creamy foam on top. Oh well, what doesn’t kill us makes us strong, and after all, I am descended from a woman who sold beer. I survived.

Even more exciting than a full tankard of Guinness was a cycling trip I took in 1984, when a friend and I decided to spend our holidays mending punctures on backroads in Ireland. At that time in my life, absolutely my only practical skill was the patching of bicycle tubes. I am not sure I could do it now, but I was an artist in those days. We especially enjoyed this recreation in the pouring rain, between bouts of poring over the map in a state of increasing confusion.

Ireland is a strange country in some ways. First, speaking as a cyclist, the whole of Ireland appears to be uphill. Isn’t that odd? You struggle uphill for about an hour and then, boom! A moment of wind in your face, a rapid descent, and there you are again, at the bottom of another blessed hill. Even more bewilderingly, the signs at country crossroads always point in the wrong direction. We got lost about 20 minutes out of Rosslare Habour and stayed lost for two solid weeks.

We finally solved the problem. A fellow in a pub told us that he and his friends made a habit of turning the signs at crossroads, “Jes’ for a crack,” he said, which means “joke,” I believe, in the Irish vernacular. I looked at him coldly.

Eight hundred years of occupation have bred an odd sense of humour into the Irish character. After a week or so of cycling through pretty steep country, we became wary of closely spaced contour lines on the map. Warned of an approaching mountain and a little confused about how to avoid it, we stopped at a village shop to enquire. “Oh, just take the road there, to the left, and yez’ll be grand,” cried the jolly shopkeeper.

A little while later, pushing my bike up a long, nearly vertical slope, I began to wonder – if this was the “easy” road, what would that dense swirl in the contours have been like? I think I even said as much to my friend. Finally, backs breaking from the strain, we arrived at the top of the slope and stood there panting, looking down an equally steep slope on the other side of the summit. We were silent for a while, until at last my friend said: “You know what I think?” I did. I knew exactly. We had just pushed our bikes up the highest, steepest mountain in Ireland. As I recall, that was the last time we asked directions or treated road signs with any respect at all. And, if the shopkeeper had had the bad luck to turn up at that moment, I would have looked at him coldly. (By the way: this is your warning. For the next five weeks, I am pretending to be Irish, so don’t bother asking me for directions.)

Now, let’s get down to business. There are five very good reasons to see the upcoming production of The Communication Cord:

Reason number 1:The quality of direction. The Communication Cord is being directed by the Irish-born John P. Kelly. This is a talented and immensely experienced director, whom critic Alvina Ruprecht has described as one of the two most interesting English-language directors in Ottawa.

Reason number 2: The play itself. The Communication Cord is a very, very funny play, but it is also intelligent. Indeed, Brian Friel is considered the greatest living playwright in Ireland.

Reason number 3: The acting. The play is very well cast, and the characters are wonderful, to wit: a romantically challenged academic and his TWO girl friends (both of whom, for reasons that may be implicit in the number “two,” are annoyed at him). As well, there is an Irish barrister (a serial dater), an Irish politician (who spends a good part of the play trying to connect with his inner animal), a German billionaire (who is learning English from the wrong teachers) and a French charmer who goes for gold. And then Nora Dan, of course.

Reason number 4: You have an opportunity here to improve your word power through exposure to the Irish vernacular – “to cod,” for example, which is sure to come in handy on your next trip to Ireland. It means “to play a trick.” Armed with this knowledge and aware of its role in Irish tourism, you will read the road sign. You will turn the opposite way to the one indicated, and you will be saved.

Speaking of Irish vernacular, wait till you hear my accent. John Kelly allows as how it’s “very good, though not exactly Donegal.” I asked him, if not Donegal, where exactly it belonged in Ireland. “Well, nowhere,” he admitted. “It’s what we call ‘Oyrish.’” I then asked an Irish friend if my accent sounded all right. “Stage Irish!” she exclaimed. “I hate it.” “Oh dear,” says I. “You’d better not see this play.” But she says she’s coming because she loves me, and I applaud that instinct. Which brings me to…

Reason number 5: You love me too and want to make me happy??? If this resonates at all – and I am acutely aware that it may not – I would appreciate your rallying round. The fact is, I am anxious to recruit enough followers to pay my salary at least. Then, if on opening night I find myself looking through a hole in the living room ceiling instead of down the chimney, the producer and I will be able to console ourselves that at least I came cheap.

I look forward to seeing you in the audience and knowing from your laughter that you are enjoying this lovely play as much as I am.

The Communication Cord
The Gladstone, 910 Gladstone
March 28 to April 14 at 8 pm
Tickets: 613-233-4523 or, to order online:

PS I forgot! I was going to tell you about “response cries.” I haven’t got the time now, but come and see the play. It’s all explained.

Also, I realize I should be changing the photos that go with this post (“Naughty Lady Kitty” is now officially out of date) but I CAN’T REMEMBER HOW!!! Curses.

The war on pugs

Breaking news – with only ten days to go to the opening night of The Circle – I have cut my toe. It’s a miniscule cut, not worth mentioning really, but it is my toe, and I am fond of it, in a distant kind of way.

Yesterday, because the toe was stinging, I decided on medical intervention. In my house, that means getting down on my hands and knees and rifling blindly through a jam-packed cabinet – what my mother would have called a “glory hole” – where I keep a large supply of time-expired medicines. Having rejected various potions that came to hand – poison ivy soap, for instance, the latest miracle cure for colds, nail polish remover, painkillers, contact lens solution… Ah, there it was! I emerged at last, panting and triumphant, with a dusty brown bottle clutched in my hand. Alcohol! I unscrewed the top and upended the bottle over my toe. Unfortunately, the little brown bottle contained sticky, pink cough syrup. “Disappointed” is the word that best describes my feelings as I glumly swabbed the goop from foot, floor and shoe. I never did find the alcohol.

Once again, it is Juno the Dog’s fault (the cut). We were returning from Thanksgiving Dinner on Sunday night, when things went wrong. I admit, I wasn’t at my brightest and best. Those of you who attended the dinner will remember me as the silent, slumped figure, moodily cutting up turkey at the end of the table, speaking little and muttering madly to myself from time to time and maybe even sticking straws in my hair.

I was not myself. We had just had a rehearsal from hell. It isn’t that the play isn’t going well. It’s just that rehearsing takes a lot of energy. And with little more than a week until the Preview on October 20, we had made the fatal error of partying late and loud on Saturday night.

My intentions were good. I wanted the cast to bond. I wanted love and brotherhood to reign, so I suggested a potluck dinner after the Saturday rehearsal. It had been an intense rehearsal, but as far as I could see everyone sailed into the party in good heart. We ate, we drank, we talked. And then….

Then came Sunday and – guess what? – another rehearsal. Loud groans all round, with faces expressing a rich range of emotions, all the way from rage to nausea – though, come to think of it, I am not sure that nausea is an emotion. Or maybe it is. Anyway, I could see at a glance that I wasn’t alone in my suffering. Oh well, even the darkest rehearsal comes to an end, and – if you are lucky – you get to go home and quietly commune with the dog.

Not this time. It was Thanksgiving Sunday, and I had family waiting in the reeds ready to leap out and urge me to count my blessings. Actually, the horror had started even earlier, in the morning when I went to church, and the rector – taking his text from the lilies of the field that toil not, neither do they spin – exhorted us all not to worry. He added that worry would not add one cubit to my stature. (I suspected as much.) Still, a woman who produces a play is by definition a worried woman. What can I do?

Back to my toe. On Sunday night, I arrived home at about 9 and got out of the car with some difficulty. You see, Juno – though she has made some modest progress with “Come” and “Sit” and “Down” – passionately disapproves of “Stay.” She doesn’t see why she should. Life, liberty and the pursuit of pugs. That is her motto.

Yes, I said “pugs” – a particularly obnoxious life form, in Juno’s opinion. She and I part ways on the issue. I like dogs, all dogs, and until Sunday I would have said that Juno agreed. She is a sweet dog, and she loves, adores and worships canines of all sizes and shapes, from Bernese Jack, King of the Park, all the way down to tiny Noisette, who is the size of a small rabbit. Half of Noisette’s body fits neatly into Juno’s mouth, and we have never had even the smallest accident.

But Juno does not like the four pugs who live on our street. I can understand her point of view. The first time we met them, when we were still filled with the milk of human kindness with regard to pugs, we approached in a spirit of unwary cheer. Not so the pugs. The pugs roared with rage, and one of them jumped as high as he could and sank his teeth into Juno’s lip. Since then, neighbourly feelings have been pushed to the limit. The pugs parade past our front window twice daily, hurling insults as they go. Juno hasn’t talked about it much but, as the events of Sunday night demonstrate, she has been brooding.

As I said, decanting Juno from a car in an orderly way is challenging. She looks on a request to “Stay!” as tantamount to abandonment. The door opens, and 90 pounds of frantic dog scrambles across my lap en route to freedom and a better life. A struggle ensues, and Juno and I generally roll out of the car simultaneously, with me on the end of the straining leash and not necessarily on my feet. People standing at the bus stop have been known to laugh. As for my sister, she always says the same thing: “You really should train that dog, Janet.” I gnash my teeth.

On this particular night, as my niece piloted the car to a smooth stop in front of my house, I had the bad luck to be holding a bag full of empty glass containers as well as the end of the leash. Even worse: just as we exploded from the car, along came the man with four pugs. Juno bounded into action, roaring. The leash was jerked out of my hand, and I crashed to the pavement with glass bowls cascading in all directions, knees and hands painfully scraping the asphalt. “Oh joy!” I cried, or words to the effect.

The next few moments are lost in confusion. I seem to have lain motionless for quite a long time, listening to four pugs and one Mastiff-Labrador loudly expressing mutual disapproval. You’ll know just how hard the day had been when I tell you that lying down in the road actually felt like a relief. While my niece took appropriate action re dogs, I just stayed where I was and mulled things over.

Gravel embedded in hands and knees. It took me back to when I was three or four and my mother tried to murder me. I had a tricycle, you see, and we lived in a house with a steep driveway. Mother used to hold the back of the tricycle seat as I went down the hill; then she would release me on my own recognizance. We were living in the Land of Hope and Glory at the time, and I used to insist on wearing a party dress when I went out to play. I also insisted on wearing my holster and cap gun. Do you remember those? Perhaps mother felt there was trouble brewing with her youngest child, and she had better nip me in the bud, because on this particular day, she simply released the tricycle at the top of the drive, and I took flight. When they picked me up at the bottom of the hill, I had gravel in my knees, hands and even in my face. Mother always claimed it was an accident, and the less said of that the better. Suffice it to say: Sunday night took me back.

Happily, mine was the only blood shed that night. We separated the combatants, and Juno and I retreated into the house – with me limping and Juno cock-a-hoop at her recent victory in the war to take back our streets from pugs.

Meanwhile, rehearsals continue. Half the tickets have sold – a record at this time. If you would like to come and see what this suffering cast is doing to Somerset Maugham, call 613-842-4913 for reservations. Alternatively, drop by Books on Beechwood or buy online at

Now Juno and I are going for a walk. We just can’t resist trouble!