Friday, May 26, 2006

Bereft of life, [it] rests in peace

All good things must come to an end. Some sooner than later, it appears. I am sorry to report that my MP3 player, which Himself gave me last Christmas, has gone to that place where consumer electronics are eternally blessed. The creature was always a bit temperamental, it must be said, so I’m not entirely surprised that it’s finally decided to ignore any and all attempts to recharge its battery.

(For the record, we have tried: (i) charging it at three different computers for up to 24 hours at a time; (ii) pressing the recessed “reset” button with pins, paper clips and other small pointy things; (iii) begging, pleading and cursing – in that order; (iv) ignoring it so it gets lonely and starts to play nicely; (v) sneaking up on it and pressing the play button at unexpected moments in the hopes of surprising it into working; and, finally, (vi) shaking it violently and (vii) whacking it – gently! – a couple of times on the table. No luck. To quote from a famous British comedy skit which shall remain nameless, “Bereft of life, he rests in peace. If he weren’t nailed to a perch he’d be pushing up the daisies.”)

Of course, the problem might simply be that I can’t figure out how to make it work. This failure is not entirely my fault, since the instructions are … creative … to say the least. Take this brief extract from the instruction manual, for example: “’Low Battery’ is displayed after remaining quantity of the battery icon increasingly reduces and the battery must be charged. Charging starts while the USB & Charging figure flickers on the LCD screen if connecting the USB terminal of the PC after connecting the USB cable to the earphone terminal of the product. Bumping figure is displayed on the LCD screen if charging is completed.”

Hmmm. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to that last “if.”

Unfortunately, now that my MP3 player is “ex,” my morning workouts are now enlivened by the appalling techno-pop and drill-sergeant-meets-Katie-Couric voice from the High-Low aerobics class next to the weight room. I should perhaps mention that I am NOT a morning person.

So, to avoid further damage to my sensitive soul – or to Evil Bouncy Aerobics Lady in the next room – I need a new MP3 player … soon! As you can imagine, I’m not too keen to repeat my current experience, so I’d like to get your advice. What brand of player do you own (if own one you do)? How long have you had it? Are you happy with it? Are there things you don’t like about it? What are its best features? Its worst? How long does it play before the battery runs down? What would YOU look for if you were buying a new MP3 player?

I’m all ears … since I don’t have anything to plug into them any longer!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Just call me "Bumblebee"

Bzzzzzzz .....

This will be, perforce, a short post (Gawd, I love using archaic words!) to let everyone know that I probably won't have much time to write for a little while. Work has heated up significantly over the past few days, and I am, in a word, swamped. I will keep reading - and commenting on - as many of your blogs as I can, and will be back to posting before you can say "floccinaucinihilipilification!" (Yes it's a real word. Look it up!)

Bzzzzzz ..... Bzzzzzzz ......

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Back when I was in school I wondered (less often than I should have, no doubt) whether there was, in fact, any point at all to the assignments we were given. During those times, it seemed like we were all – teachers, students, parents – caught up in this huge machine that required nothing of us except that we produce: students produced assignments, teachers produced marks and lectures, and parents produced anxiety (and snacks, of course). The objective of all this effort was simply activity itself – keeping the wheels moving – and any residual skill or knowledge was an inadvertent by-product (for instance, did you know the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is the only hummingbird species that migrates as far north as Ontario?). Ultimately, the products themselves didn’t matter except insofar as they were evidence that we were, in fact, “working.” Well, except for the snacks. Snacks always matter!

I still get that feeling sometimes, despite the fact that I generally like my job as a public servant and sincerely believe the work I’m doing will ultimately benefit Canada and Canadians. Just like when I was in school, I know in the grand scheme of things there’s a point to these activities that fill my days – but I can’t always make the connection between the big picture and all the piddly day-to-day stuff. Why am I reviewing this workplan when I know it will be trashed within two weeks at the outside? Why am I providing feedback that no-one has time to read, much less incorporate? Why am I summarising this 130-page report? Why am I spending two hours at this meeting? Why do I spend time filing my e-mails? (ok – that’s actually satisfying … I know, I’m weird!)

It feels funny to look back on my day knowing a good chunk of it was spent not really getting anywhere, but simply making the wheels go round. And sometimes it scares me how good I am at keeping things turning and how little time I really spend making the connection to where we’re supposed to be going. The truth is much of the time I love the process as much as the product; and yet, I strongly suspect that this is not necessarily – or at least, not always – a good thing. (Unlike snacks, of course!).

I’m honestly not sure where I’m heading with this post … like most things, I began without a good sense of where I wanted to get to … I suppose I’m just wondering if other people experience this same sense of disorientation and disjunction – or is it just the product of my own slightly off-kilter mind?

Additional Note - I'll be out of computer range for the next couple of days. Don't worry, I should be back by Monday!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Our lines are open

O.k., so it may take a while but eventually I clue in. Apparently, I turned on the "comment moderation" feature when I was playing around with my settings a couple of weeks ago, and THAT's why there haven't been any comments on my last few posts.

Thanks to Snooze and Susan as Herself for taking the time to let me know something was wrong, and reassure me that you still like me. Good thing too ... I was beginning to feel like that poor little lamp from the Ikea commercial!

A few of my favourite things

In honour of its 100th anniversary, the Ottawa Public Library is running a contest to determine “Ottawa’s 100 favourite books.” Anyone with an Ottawa library card can add books to the “eligibility list” and gets three votes. For the record, the current top five books are:
1. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
2. Anne of Green Gables (Lucy Maude Montgomery)
3. Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)
4. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
5. The Outsider, a.k.a. The Stranger (Albert Camus)
(I’ve read three of them, own one but haven’t read it, and never heard of the other before today. Not a difficult puzzle, but I’ll let you work out which is which anyway.)

I haven’t participated in the contest yet – though I intend to do so – partly because I’ve been more than a little busy lately but also because I simply can’t decide how to vote.

First of all, choosing three-and-only-three favourite books is a virtually impossible task for any book lover. I’m sure most of you know exactly what I mean, so nuff-said about that.

Second, how do you define “favourite?” Is it the best-written books you’ve ever read? The books that you’ve found the most moving? The books that have changed the way you think about – or engage with – the world … or yourself? The books that have had the most impact on the world at large? The most beautiful books? The most appealing books? The books you’ve had the most fun reading? The books you’ve found the most useful? The books you rely on to get you through hard times? The books that give you the most pleasure?

For each of these interpretations, I’d come up with a different list – and so, most likely, would you. So, in the absence of further information, I’ve decided that “favourite” means “the books you go back to year after year because you want to experience them again.” These are the books that – for whatever reason – comfort and entertain, that satisfy, that resonate. They are the books we love to pieces (literally, at times), and the ones we feel the need to re-read once or twice a year “just because.” They are our beloved friends, and we are protective of them.

[Aside] Sometimes, I even decide whether someone is worth getting to know based on their opinion of a treasured book or author. After all, how could I be truly compatible with someone who just doesn’t “get” Jane Austen. Or, conversely, someone who adores Ernest Hemmingway. I could respect and admire such a person (just as I respect and admire Hemmingway’s skill) – and we could even become quite friendly – but I doubt we would ever be “kindred spirits,” to borrow a phrase from one of Ottawa’s top five favourite books. (Of course, I’m perfectly prepared to revise this opinion should evidence suggest otherwise ….) [Back on track]

So … what, then, are my top three favourite books of all time? I still can’t decide, but this one would definitely make my top 100, anyhow:

The Milly-Molly-Mandy Stories (Joyce Lankester Brisley)

Some of my earliest, and fondest, memories of reading are attached to a skinny boxed set of the four Milly-Molly-Mandy books – originally published in the late 1920s / early 1930s. The box and books, for those who are interested in this kind of thing, were kelly green, with coloured line drawings of Milly-Molly-Mandy in her pink and white striped dress and red lettering.

I was entranced – there’s really no other word to describe it – by these short stories describing the activities of a little English girl with a great big name. Milly-Molly-Mandy lived with Grandpa and Grandma and Father and Mother and Uncle and Aunty in the little white house in The Village (no … NOT the same one as in The Prisoner). Her most frequent companions wre Billy Blunt, Little Friend Susan and Toby the Dog.

Now, I must admit Milly-Molly-Mandy didn’t lead a very exciting life – some of the story titles are “Milly-Molly-Mandy Goes Errands,” “Milly-Molly-Mandy Sees a Film” “Milly-Molly-Mandy Has Her Photo Taken” and so on. So, why did these books appeal to me so much that I can still remember the plot of almost every story?

I think the first reason is that she looked quite a lot like me … or I looked like her, one of the two. In Joyce Lankester Brisley’s drawings, I could literally see myself doing all the things Milly-Molly-Mandy did.

Second, the end-pages of each book had a map of The Village, so I had a proper mental picture of where every story took place. That just made the stories more “real” to me, somehow, than books that didn’t have a map. It was as though Milly-Molly-Mandy, her family, her friends and the little village were actually out there somewhere.

Third, her life was just far-enough removed from my own world to seem … well … both foreign and cozily familiar at the same time. I was always learning something new and mysterious from these stories (such as, what is a “mustard and cress” sandwich, or how to make a tea-cosy). And I remember demanding my mother make me “potato lids” for supper after reading about Milly-Molly-Mandy and Little Friend Susan eating them by the fire in “Milly-Molly-Mandy Enjoys a Visit.” [FYI - To make a “potato lid” simply cut the top off a well-baked potato, scoop out the middle, mash with plenty of salt, pepper and butter, return to the potato, put the “lid” back on and serve. I still eat them now and again. Yummm!]

Fourth, she didn’t scare me. I really LIKED Milly-Molly-Mandy. I could imagine myself playing with her – going blackberrying or learning to make paper dolls or going on a picnic. I loved the fact she worked so hard to win first prize at the village party because she desperately wanted to take home the stuffed white rabbit with one lopsided eye. When it turns out that the rabbit is really the “booby prize” and the real first prize is a beautiful blonde doll with curly hair and eyes that open and close she is stunned. (Teacher graciously agrees to let the two winners exchange their prizes, so Milly-Molly-Mandy gets her rabbit after all.)

And finally, most of the stories had a gentle humour that still appeals to me today. In “Milly-Molly-Mandy Gets a Surprise,” she becomes quite cross when the family begins decorating the attic “so the apples have somewhere cheerful to stay over the winter.” Of course the attic is being turned into a room for Milly-Molly-Mandy herself. Or when she imagines her “Great Aunt” as being some kind of giant because she’s … well … not just a regular Aunty.

…. You know, I haven’t read these stories since I was a kid, and they still make me smile. Maybe when I go home tonight I’ll start digging through the boxes of kids books in the basement. It feels like its time to look up an old friend.