Bloody heroes

Michael Munnik showing his bandaged arm after a platelets donation, next to a sign encouraging donations at Christmas timeOne of the reasons my wife and I were happy to emigrate to the UK nine-and-a-half years ago was to enter into a different way of living. We love Canada, but some things about it rub at us, and one of those is the car culture. Investment in public transit is lower than here, and roads proliferate like replicating aliens from a cheesy horror movie. Big, fat ones, too, that force people into large, noisy metal boxes and then devour them. The scale is just wrong. I remember driving down the West Coast after high school from Nanaimo all the way to Ashland, Oregon with a friend. Our return journey coincided with Seattle’s rush hour, and we were jammed on the I-5 when we noticed that the bus and carpool lane was open for vehicles with two more more occupants.

Two.

I need to separate that to emphasise it: that’s how low the bar was. So we two, at the back end of a camping and theatre jolly, sped our merry way, passing all these legitimate commuters in their one-apiece cars, driving out from work to their impossible personal footprints.

I was happy enough to sell my car when we moved over here, and for nine years, we haven’t needed it. Correction: for nine-and-a-half years, we haven’t needed one. Gotten on fine with buses and trains, of course bikes, and hiring a car wen we have a longer trip to take.

But when we visited old neighbours now moved to the north of Italy this summer, part of the deal was to buy their old people-mover and drive it back here. At that point, we’d either keep it or sell it. For the time being, we’ve kept it: it proved useful for getting visiting grannies around, and it did give me some spontaneity and flexibility when seeking a new guitar.

Something else it has done is allowed me to return to a very helpful practice that has actually been an important part of my life for a few years, now. Continue reading

What I’m reading this month – Feb 19

Cover of Penguin Modern Classic version of Lucky Jim by Kingsley AmisI used to think it funny, all the novels written about novelists. Life must be pretty fascinating, hey? But I believe it’s an admixture of the impulse to write what you know and the desire to have a character capable of making the observations and feeling the feelings you want and articulating them in ways you appreciate. At any rate, when I was younger and certain that I would myself be a novelist, these books were great. A double articulation, as the sociologists might say, representing a way of living that I recognised and also educating me and shaping me to cultivate that very way of living. Deep calls unto deep et cetera.

I’m in a different line of work, now, with a different set of aspirations. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn now – often by accident – to books about university lecturers. It’s a set of micro-politics I recognise, and it illustrates the inner reflections and motivations of people I might become or people I might have to work with to continue becoming what I want to become.

I caught a bit of his before Christmas with Angus Wilson’s Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, which was definitely about a set I knew, though it was also redolent of its time. I didn’t enjoy it much, mostly because I thought Wilson was so satirical as to remove any scrap of pity or interest we might have in literally any of the characters. In Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis writes about a similar world in a more or less similar time, and he is similarly detached and ironic about his own creations. But not to the same degree, and there are a few characters that he is clearly siding with. Even the protagonist – the eponymous Jim who, we are told, is lucky, though we see little evidence of it – is coming across as heroic. We meet him as a reprobate, something of a waster, but Amis suggests enough puzzles and deeper currents to draw us closer to him. As a result, he gains our sympathy in a way no one in Wilson’s world ever does. Continue reading

(Dis)United Kingdom

Daffodil by Dave Morris

Daffodil, (CC BY 2.0) Dave Morris, found on flickr.com

So Happy Saint David’s Day, or as they say here in Wales, Hapus Dydd Dewi Sant, though I’ve also seen a Gwyl in there, and I may have the order wrong. I’m mostly relying on Twitter for these things; my children, who are being educated in the English system but are of course learning Welsh as a subject, are not really better placed to correct me yet.

We’re figuring it out.

The move from Scotland, which as I’m fond of saying is distinct because of its institutions, to Wales, which is instead distinct due primarily to its language, is full of opportunities to learn. In fact, Wales has always been about learning for me: I remember doing a class project in Grade 3 about Wales, drawing the flag (ineptly), making a map full of mountains and castles, and drawing Sir Percival in his red-gold armour. In truth, I’m all about Wales.

Our first St David’s Day in Cardiff was grey, windy, and wet. Really, it felt like we hadn’t left Edinburgh at all. These things should unite us, but every St David’s Day, I can’t help but remember an object lesson of disunity.

In 2013, I was in Glasgow, doing field work for my PhD, and I had to get from one site to another rather quickly, so I took a taxi. We pull up outside Location #2 on a gloriously sunny March day (yes, in Glasgow), and I ask the driver for a receipt.

“What’s the day?” he says to himself as he fills it out. “First of March.”

“Yeah,” I say (in my Boy Scouty Canadian accent). “Happy St David’s Day!”

He snorts. “If you’re Welsh.”

Inside Out

School is back in session here in Wales, but not so for my kiddos. We moved down from Edinburgh over the summer, and although there have been many things to love, a frustration is the wait for open spaces for the elder two most-certainly-school-aged kids. In the meantime, they’ve been doing Home School with Headmistress Mummy and Class Gerbil Little Brother.

And as a, er, special treat, they got an assignment this morning from Guest Lecturer Doctor Daddy. Though I toil at my new office Monday to Friday, I was able to take the elders to the local arts centre Sunday afternoon to watch Disney’s Inside Out.

I’d heard just a little about the movie – we’re rather a little bit “those people” and don’t have a telly at home, and going out to movies… well, I mentioned the Class Gerbil Little Brother, right? Scotches that kind of thing except in the most exceptional of circumstances, or when we divide and conquer. As we did Sunday. But as you can see from the clip above, there’s a lot going on here that merits unpacking. I was really struck by the supremacy of Joy and the denial of Sadness, which you can see at 0:51. Just talking tonight after dinner, I realised that the treatment of Sadness is something I’ve just been working with on a blog post I wrote just a couple of weeks ago for a groovy group of UniEdinburgh postgrads.

So, in true now-I-have-my-PhD-and-everything-must-be-considered-more-deeply fashion, I didn’t just take the kids to the movie. I gave them an assignment. And here it is – names replaced with age designations cuz that’s how I roll. Also, watch for the Bonus Question, as there is a bit of a SPOILER. Continue reading