Tuesday, February 25, 2014

More About Purity and (Im)Morality

Some non-toxic cleanser I like to use since I am more afraid of chemicals than of dirt these days. But I am a Liberal. 

In the online Yale Course, Moralities of Everyday Life it is explained that in 'laboratory' conditions, people become meaner in their attitudes if they are first exposed to something they find disgusting, a smell or picture.  So the 'disgust' reflex can distort moral thinking. The lab also reveals that Liberals have a greater disgust tolerance than Conservatives.

So I guess it follows that if someone on a jury has bad breath or BO or stinky socks, the jury is more likely to convict. (I'm saying that, not the course.)

A few years ago I bought and read the social history book, Light, Soap and Water by Marianne Valverde, a Canadian criminologist.

It was interesting but it contained little I didn't already know.

After all, I had been researching the life of three women in 1910 Canada and so I knew all about 'the purity movement.'

Funny, Valverde says in her preface that many scholars took exception to her book, which shows the dark and dirty side of that era's feminist movement.

I mean, you just have to flip though the women's magazines of the 1910 era to see that something's up. Every second product is described as pure, including Ivory Soap, but also Crisco.

I've written a great deal about the topic on my blog here, pure water, pure air, pure homes (which means pure women as men cannot be expected to be pure.)

This little bit from Food and Cookery Magazine, says it all. I put it at the beginning of Threshold Girl.

"Give us a healthy home full of intellectual activity where the homely virtues prevail. Where complete honesty and frankness have free expression. Where the lungs expand with pure air, and the brain quivers with wholesome aspiration and sincere inquiry. Where souls bask in contentment and the sunshine of purity and peace.

This past month, however, I've expanded my understanding of the issue by taking an online course from Yale called Moralities of Everyday Life.
Apparently, morality can be divided into five categories: be fair, do no harm, respect authority, be loyal to your group and stay pure. These categories evolved as survival mechanisms, including the last, purity/divinity.

 Love Cosmetics in the early 70's made sex 'fresh' while playing on the double entendre and using phallic shaped containers. I wanted some so so bad!

Our Urge to Purge evolved from our need to eat what we could without getting poisoned, the Omnivore's Dilemma.

We are all grossed out by other people's effluvia. (Indeed, many of us gag at the thought of our significant others using our toothbrush when it really makes no sense, all considered.)

The prof in the course says the first four categories have served humanity well but the last has let us down: we use the excuse of purity to do really really bad things to other people.

Hence the 1910's purity movement where the Protestants tried to make everyone else become like them, so that immigrants, the darker, Catholic ones who lived crammed in ghettos were seen as 'dirty' and consequently less close to God.  These people really did believe the saying "Cleanliness is next to godliness."

It wasn't exactly ethnic cleansing, unless you considered the very popular ideas on eugenics.

(Food could be tainted in and around 1900, so the purity movement had its roots in something rational. In the Victorian era, lead was often used as filler in foods and since it tasted sweet people liked it. (I admit, I liked the smell of leaded gasoline fumes in the 1960's although I knew better than to inhale on purpose.)

My personal problem with the purity movement (apart from the periodic ethnic cleansing horror shows of history) is that it is totally one-sided when it comes to sex.

Christabel Pankhurst said it best in a book a long time ago:

"This book deals with what is commonly described as the Hidden Scourge, and is written with the intention that this scourge shall be hidden no longer, for if it were to remain hidden, then there would be no hope of abolishing it.

Men writers for the most part refuse to tell what the Hidden Scourge is, and so it becomes the duty of women to do it.

The Hidden Scourge is sexual disease,which takes two chief forms — syphilis and
gonorrhoea. These diseases are due to prostitution —they are due, that is to say, to sexual immorality. But they are not confined to those who are immoral. Being contagious, they are communicated to the innocent, and especially to wives. The infection of innocent wives in marriage is justly declared by a man doctor to be "The crowning infamy of our social life."

The sexual diseases are the great cause of physical, mental, and moral degeneracy, and of race suicide. As they are very widespread (from 75 to 80 per cent, of men becoming infected by gonorrhoea, and a considerable percentage, difficult to ascertain precisely, becoming infected with syphilis), the problem is one of appalling magnitude.

To discuss an evil, and then to run away from it without suggesting how it may be
cured, is not the way of Suffragettes, and in the following pages will be found a proposed cure for the great evil in question. That cure, briefly stated, is Votes for Women and Chastity for Men."

St Paul has been blamed for this, but some scholars believe he was an equal opportunity aesthete back in the time (wanting men and women to remain sexually untouched) and that his beliefs were distorted to conform more to the Greco-Roman way of managing a household.

Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Council of Women 1909-1912, President of the Montreal Suffrage Assocation 1913-1919.

The Montreal Council of Women was pivotal in getting out the 'spinster' vote and getting the (mostly English) Reform Ticket in at (mostly French) Montreal City Hall. It didn't last long. But before that Derick wrote this a self-congratulatory piece for the White Ribbon Magazine the WCTU's magazine saying:

Self-seeking and dishonor, which would have been scorned in private life, long characterized the Municipal Government of Montreal. The citizens appeared to be indifferent or helpless, allowing corrupt officials to display open disregard of the right principles. Occasionally, the social conscience stirred and led to efforts to secure civic reform. Associations and leagues to purify the administration of Municipal affairs sprang into being and died..

 Hmm. Purify the Administration.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Summer of '68

Yummy, yummy yummy I've got love in my tummy might be  one of the more stupid (and suggestive?) songs ever. It is from the summer of 1968.

That summer I was 13, in the full bloom of adolescence. So I am burdened with having that silly song emblazoned on my brain.

Yesterday night, using Google Earth, I visited the leafy burb I lived in that year.

Our old house looks the same, although the streets are now paved and I imagine the sewage is hooked up to the municipal system so the pipes in the downstairs bathroom don't back up.

Oh, and the huge field with cows and horses right behind is no more. This suburb has grown in leaps and bounds over the decades. The house is worth 60 times what it was worth back then.

When I look at the picture above, it's not the YUMMY song that comes to mind.

It's sweet green icing pouring down.

MacArthur Park. Possibly the worst song ever produced, or maybe I should say the worst-best song.

I listened to that song again on YouTube yesterday too.  Yep, it is awful. But I think they played it a 100 times a day on CFOX Radio in Montreal that summer on my tinny transistor radio.

So it is also imprinted on my brain - in a nice way.

 I spent most of that summer sitting outside in the garden.

It was a new experience for me, 'the country". We had moved to that house in November from the city.

For seven years before that I lived on a noisy street in Snowdon, beside the Decarie Expressway. While they were constructing the Expressway, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM all night long.

My family moved on an impulse - my brother and his soccer ball had a run-in with a neighbour and his flower box.

The neighour hit my brother and my father and mother decided to move right then and there.

 I think my grandmother encouraged them (and maybe even paid for the move). She was visiting from Malaya for Expo67. She despised the noisy Canadian children who played games all day out on the street. (See my story Looking for Mrs. Peel)

One incident - and a propitious? time - and the trajectory of my life was changed. How odd.

Anyway, MacArthur Park reminds me of my second favorite bit on the Simpson's, that is Homer singing MacArthur Park while 'on hold' on the telephone.

It's only second because I REALLY like the bit where Moe is visiting 'an adult' section of a movie rental store and Bart sees him come out with a tall pile of video cassettes and Moe says in his lecherous way "Brideshead is going to be revisited tonight."  Adult section in this case means 'intelligent' fare.

Hmm. Both those bits are dated, aren't they, due to technology.

Transistor Radios.. We still own one. We used it during power failures, but now we don't have to with Smart Phone technology.

Yesterday, I also looked up a website that showed the hits of the summer of 1968, to confirm what I already knew, that Yummy and MacArthur Park were hits at the time. Yes.

And no surprise, most of the other summer of 1968 songs (for better or for worse) still resonate deeply with me:  Lady Willpower, Angel of the Morning, Hurdy Gurdy Man, Light My Fire, even the instrumentals Classical Gas and Grazin' in the Grass.  Imprinted on my brain.  Hormones, I guess.

 Here's a little video I made about 1968.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Economic Action Plans in a Winner Take All Economy.

A young woman from Kentucky studying to be an electrical engineer. From Technical World 1914. The woman, a Miss Ingles, makes it clear she is NOT fighting for women's rights.

I had to laugh yesterday. Well, smirk.

An article got tweeted to me showcasing the 7 (yes always 7) characteristics of the successful entrepreneur.

These characteristics include: not following the crowd and thinking differently from everyone else.

That's why I smirked.

How many other articles lately have I read  that shout out this modern mantra; to have a good job a person has to be an entrepreneur.

This just doesn't add up, does it?

Everyone can't be different.

As a lay historian,  expert in the 1910 era (after researching my e-books Threshold Girl and Diary of a Confirmed Spinster ) this makes me smirk all the more.

Even back one hundred years ago, the mass media showcased the exception as the rule...  Here's a woman who makes 10,000 a year as Director of Chicago's Board of Education.  There's hope for you yet, low low LOW paid country teacher.

That's a real story, in the Delineator, I think. Or was it the Pictorial Review?

Back then, in 1910, the media consistently played up  the rare woman working in an usual job (construction, the stock market) making it seem as if any woman, anywhere,  could choose any profession she wanted. And that was music to the ears of many a 'restless' young women of the era (Well, you've seen Downton Abbey.)

And many people, even smart people,  bought into this myth because it was oft repeated in public speeches and other newspaper and magazine articles.

Even Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Council of Women, promoted the belief  in a 1912 speech she gives to Robertson's Royal Commission into Industrial Training and Technical Education.

And she should have known better!  Derick was one of the 'exceptions' : the first female full professor in Canada. As it happens, she had to spend her youth swimming upstream to earn that post which came without any extra pay, by the way.

This ubiquitous claim just wasn't true. Statistics from the era show that  almost all middle class women worked as teachers and that poorer city women  worked in factories or in domestic service.

(And there was a great debate being waged by middle class Social Advocacy types over which industry was more respectable for the lower class women.)

The pink collar field of office work was just opening up, becoming an option for very presentable well-educated well-connected young women, but that's all. And that very soon  became a 'ghetto'.

Ok, it wasn't ENTIRELY untrue. Historical employment charts show that there was one or even a handful of women working in almost every field.. but one, or a handful, does not a realistic trend make.

Showcasing a woman making 10,000 a year (a huge salary made only by wealthy industrialists) was merely deflecting the conversation from what really needed to be done to inprove the lot of poorly paid teachers. (And maybe that was the point: it's amazing how a population can be sustained by dreams.)

 Women winding bobbins in a Textile Factory in Montreal. 1910

 Which all brings me back to this entrepreneurism buzzword that's being shouted out all over the media as a way for middle class youth to avoid a lifetime of service-industry dronedom.

Yes, a few people can be entrepreneurs, but by sheer definition, only a few.

A month ago or so I made the mistake of going onto a CBC message board.

The story was about the Canadian Government  bringing in skilled workers from other countries to fill a need in industry.

Of course, 99 percent of the people commenting on the boards suggested it might be better to train our own unemployed or underemployed youth  before bringing in others.

(And, today, during the Olympics,  the government is drowning us in Economic Action Plan drivel - as if there is tonnes of money to train tonnes of young Canadians for tonnes of brilliant and fulfilling jobs in the trades. Like it can happen overnight! They've been touting 'the trades' for decades, since my kids were in high school! Lots of glossy brochures in those days being sent to schools. And nothing's come of it.

Of course, buying huge amounts of advertising time helps to get the electronic media on your side. )

One commentator on the CBC message board did say the future for Canadian youth was all about making your own job (if they don't want to work in oil in Alberta or go to China to teach English).

And, right on cue, he or she brought up Thomas Alva Edison.

But is Edison an example, to be emulated, or just an exception? Here's my twisted take:

Thomas Edison was  probably was one of, say, 1000  talented, driven inventors of the pre-1900 era. A contender.

Of these 800 got disillusioned dropped out and started working for their fathers-in-law. 160 others  kept going but fell into alcoholism. 30 stayed in the race and went bankrupt and their wives left them. 10 almost made it, 4 medalled but Edison (who was a ruthless businessman too, claiming the patent on the movie camera and chasing everyone away to California) won the all important Gold Medal

We only remember the person who won the gold in the Olympics, right? The Gold in the most illustrious sport.

So, Edison is held up as an example to us all, one hundred years later, and everyone quotes the adage "Success is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration" because then you don't even have to be clever or lucky to succeed. (And most of us know we are not really THAT clever.)

Thus, the 'real story of how these outliers  made it is kept a secret from most citizens, except for students at Harvard Business School who are taught  all about the brutal and ugly side of business, the historical facts.

What if Edison had said, "Success is 1 percent being in the right place at the right time and  99 percent playing dirty and screwing the competitor"

Just a metaphor, but it's to make a point.  Winner-Take-All is lots of fun in sports (except for those tennis players who have to drive themselves to the tournaments and sleep in their cars) and people seem to like the same paradigm when it comes to The Lottery (because the lottery is about dreams, not about money) but it's no way to run an economy.

Public Relations and Science Writing

 A humour essay I wrote for Chatelaine, about women's periods. ONE person wrote in and complained and the Editor was worried. One person who thought the topic was too disgusting, which is the theme of the essay, by the way.

My cousin, who is a social media superstar in the United States, sent around a query on her Facebook page.

It seems that some press releases from university science Publicity Departments are being sent out to serious news venues and reprinted verbatim (but with credit).

She asked her Facebook friends what they thought of this. There were many replies as many of her Facebook friends are in the biz.

I wrote 'scary' in the comments section because it is. Where are the science journalists? (My son is a published writer with a Physics Degree. Can he have a job?)

Press releases are supposed to be teasers, to pique a journalist's interest and from that point the journalist is supposed to investigate the story and write his/her own story.

 I also typed in something else after 'scary'.

You see, I used to be a publicist for various small companies and when I sent out pressers I often made them 'reporter-ready' so easy to use.

I knew reporters were busy or lazy :)

I took pride in the fact that some of my pressers were almost printed verbatim, with a few words changed here or there for journalistic propriety. (And this without credit.)

Today, I looked up my old portfolio/C.V. from, say, the 1990's, and there it was in black in white.

In my portfolio, I showcased a campaign where one of my press releases was used in a Front of the Section article almost verbatim and then that article became a National story, shortened but still with all my own words. (This is PRINT journalism, way back when :)

I saw this as a feather in my publicist's hat. 

I will not tell you the name of the company or the newspaper. It's not important :) But I will say it was a senior reporter at a major market newspaper.

Still, I wasn't writing about an important issue like a cancer drug or climate change. It was a STYLE piece. So who cares?

What do you think?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Meaningful Objects, WWI and Books

A collage I made for my e-book, Not Bonne Over Here, a collection of letters from 1914-1919 Canada from the Nicholson Collection of Letters.

Amanda Vickery, my favorite historian because of her History of Private Life series on BBC Radio Four, tweeted a Telegraph  news story today about a book called WWI in 100 Objects. It's by Peter Doyle.

Interesting. An iron cross, butcher bayonette, Gallipoli Road Sign.  I don't see, at first glance, any Canadian objects, but I  might be wrong.

I'm going to add three of the objects I have lying around the house, Canadian memorabilia from the Nicholson and Wells Collections.

One I use as a doorstop. Two are  pieces of paper I keep in a box with lots of other interesting stuff.

The door stop is a crushed shell (I think that's what it is called) brought home from the Front by my husband's Uncle Ted.

The other is a Registration for WWI for Norman Nicholson, the patriarch of the Nicholson Family who was 64 in 1917.

They signed everyone up, I guess, once Borden won the Conscription Election. But only a few thousand men ended up going to the Front as draftees.

See my YouTube video Furies Cross the Mersey, about the Canadian suffragists and the mess they got themselves into over the Conscription Election.

The Registration Form says Norman Nicholson was duly registered for National Purposes the 22 of June, 1918. A note at top says the form must ALWAYS be carried upon the person.

Now the shell might have been made in Canada. (Probably was.)  Indeed, in 1917 Norman Nicholson worked as an inspector at the Rand Factory in Sherbrooke, Quebec, where they were making ammunition.

At Christmas I put a candle in the shell. "In Flanders Field, the poppies grow."

And the third object is a butter bill from WWI era, showing how the cost of butter went up each consecutive month in 1917.

This was why the local grocery store sent around a flyer to Richmond, Quebec homemakers in 1916 announcing  a new product, Crisco shortening. (I have that flyer too.)

Years ago I sold another WWI object in a yard sale, my French Uncle's WWI trunk. A collector came early and grabbed it right away. At that moment I realized I should have kept it.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Votes for Women; Chastity for Men.

 Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Suffrage Association, 1913-1919, a woman who believed in birth control, but not for the reasons we do today.

They are going to have a suffrage event next month in Manchester UK, the home of the legendary  Pankhursts, just as I embark on the writing of my play about the Suffrage Movement, not in Manchester but in Montreal.

Montreal? Well, it IS  a peculiar story.

Montreal, Quebec, Canada, really didn't have much of a suffrage movement, not in the 1910 era, but a suffrage organization was established in Montreal in 1913, more to control the suffrage discussion in the city.

The Powers That Be: social activists, society ladies, clerics and academics (mostly from McGill) didn't want the young single women of Montreal getting all in a bother about Votes for Women, even if the movement was about getting them the vote, eventually.

Peculiar, see?

The President of the M.S.A. was one Carrie Derick, McGill Botanist and believer in eugenics, a tainted tentacle of the pervasive Purity Movement of the era.

I've written a lot about the 1910 Purity Movement on this blog.

You know the Ivory Soap advert. 99.99 percent pure? Well, that's about the only remaining vestige of the movement.

In the 1910 era, almost all products were advertised as PURE, even whiskey, but especially water.

Water and women.

Anyway, I'm going over the first pages of the 1913 Minutes of the Association for my research.

The MSA executive is thinking about bringing in a speaker to explain the topic of  Social Purity.

The MSA is  also setting up a Literature Bureau and awaiting a large shipment of suffrage volumes from the UK.

One of these books is Plain Facts about a Great Evil: The Hidden Scourge  by Christabel Pankhurst, where Emmeline's daughter laments the fact that so many brides get VD for a wedding gift. Christabel wants Votes for Women, Chastity for Men.

Her entreaty  appeals to Montreal womanhood:Christabel's book becomes the bestselling volume  at the Montreal Suffrage League's Literature Bureau.

Alas, WWI soon breaks out and the MSA devotes itself to war work.

In a few years in 1917 Professor Derick does her best to steer her suffrage organization clear of the sticky controversies around the Conscription Crisis. And that is NOT an easy task.

See my YouTube video, Furies Cross the Mersey.

Montreal's Laurentian Spring Water was the first bottled water concern in North America, thanks to the City's typhoid issues.

 Here's a bit from the intro to Plain Facts: Christabel is addressing the glaring double standard around women and men when it comes to sex, a double standard that still exists in most parts of the world.

( The Urge to be Pure is a complex thing, apparently. It's about a genetic need to avoid germs and a spiritual need to be Divine although the concept has been used to rationalize horrific acts throughout history.

  St. Paul wanted all Christians, men and women, to be pure.  I wonder if Christabel writes about that in her book. I doubt it. But soon thereafter, Christianity dropped the male purity imperative for laymen, anyway.)

"This book deals with what is commonly described as the Hidden Scourge, and is written with the intention that this scourge shall be hidden no longer, for if it were to remain hidden, then there would be no hope of abolishing it.

Men writers for the most part refuse to tell what the Hidden Scourge is, and so it becomes the duty of women to do it.

The Hidden Scourge is sexual disease,which takes two chief forms — syphilis and
gonorrhoea. These diseases are due to prostitution —they are due, that is to say, to sexual immorality. But they are not confined to those who are immoral. Being contagious, they are communicated to the innocent, and especially to wives. The infection of innocent wives in marriage is justly declared by a man doctor to be "The crowning infamy of our social life."

The sexual diseases are the great cause of physical, mental, and moral degeneracy, and of race suicide. As they are very widespread (from 75 to 80 per cent, of men becoming infected by gonorrhoea, and a considerable percentage, difficult to ascertain precisely, becoming infected with syphilis), the problem is one of appalling magnitude.

To discuss an evil, and then to run away from it without suggesting how it may be
cured, is not the way of Suffragettes, and in the following pages will be found a proposed cure for the great evil in question. That cure, briefly stated, is Votes for Women and Chastity for Men."

According to minutes, St Paul was once again invoked by a pro suffrage cleric, Reverend Dickie.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Costco Chicken and CBC Giraffes

Jerome the Droll Giraffe from a YouTube video of the Canadian Broadcasting System's 1960's kid show The Friendly Giant.

The Twitterstorm over Marius's the Danish Giraffe's demise caught my attention lately. I couldn't help it:  that picture of the cutie petootie ungulate was re-tweeted over and over.

And I'm Canadian, so the story disturbed me all the more. You see, I grew up watching the CBC's the Friendly Giant, where the lead character was a droll giraffe named Jerome.

 As it happens, I am taking an online course from Yale, The Moralities of Everyday Life where the types of reaction many of us are having over this Public Relations Disaster of a Zoo Story are dissected, oops I mean deconstructed.

Is human morality based on rational or irrational systems? As it happens, it's an age-old question.

Everyone knows that people will be much more moved to charity if they are shown a picture of one starving child. A cold statistic, explaining that 1000,000 children are starving leaves most of us cold.

And my husband who works in TV news will tell you that a story about a kitty cat in a tree will solicit more telephone calls to the switchboard than a story about homeless men at Christmas.

(Well, there are no more switchboards, but you get my drift.)

We humans are hardwired for empathy for the cute and cuddly. Hence all those kitty cat pictures circulating on Twitter.

 I'm addicted. Are you?

And  yet we all know our dear pussy cats are responsible for culling the song bird population all over the world.

It sure doesn't help, in the disgusting (?) Marius case, that giraffes have evolved to look like Sesame Street characters. Or your Great Aunt Tilly.

(Hey, zoos! If you are going to give your inmates names and anthropomorphize them to attract young clients, then don't shoot and dissect them as a learning exercise.)

And like horses giraffes are prey, not predators. They never harm anyone and my online course explains that we humans are hardwired, even as babies, to prefer those individuals (humans or anthropomorphized animals) who do no harm.

I just realized something odd, though,  playing this YouTube video of the Friendly Giant. (The intro music actually makes my heart hurt.)

The other animal character is a CHICKEN. Rusty.

And I've been eating chicken all my life. I ate a nice fat juicy Costco BBQ one yesterday!  And I do this knowing that chickens are tortured so we can get our industrial mush protein fix.

Well, I started watching the Friendly Giant when I was 6 in 1960. Before then we lived for two years in Wabush, Labrador, and we didn't have a TV.

I recall one day a hubhub around the trailer park. A bear had been shot trying to break into someone's house. What excitement! We all hightailed it to the scene of the crime for some badly needed entertainment.

I saw the bear, but, unlike the adults, I was not impressed. Indeed, I was instinctively sad for the beast. I could see quite clearly that the culprit was only a baby bear. I identified with the bear.

(And my reaction wasn't because of my acculturation: I didn't have TV or any picture books out in the bush.)

Which makes me wonder how those Danish children felt, the ones who got to watch Marius, a young giraffe, being killed and dissected as a 'real life' science lesson.

Me in Wabush holding up some fish my mother had caught. (They were spawning. My mother told me she just hooked them as they milled around.)

I remember my Dad telling me on fishing excursions that FISH HAD NO FEELINGS...so it didn't matter that we killed them. And I bought it, despite the fact fish flapped around on the end of the line.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Just Some thoughts on Cold Weather Sports and Consumerism

Not a creature was stirring....We've had an old-fashioned Canadian winter here in Quebec, but the suburbs are  as silent as ever.

I am enjoying watching the Sochi Olympics as much as anyone, and I am happy Canadians and especially local Quebecers are making it to the podium.

And the Sochi sites are very appealing to the eye, day and night. It's a television event, isn't it?

(Did you know a Quebec firm helped design the Sochi Opening and Closing Ceremonies?)

But I can't help but wonder, as I watch these 'new' extreme sports: Are these acrobatic and dangerous high precision sports keeping Canadian kids even more sedentary.

No question mark as I consider this a rhetorical question.  No need for you to answer.

An article in the Globe and Mail yesterdays dissects why so many Quebecers are winning medals, as of today, anyway. It has to do with funding, apparently, funding that started BEFORE the Vancouver Olympics.
 Just like my favorite sport, tennis, you have to start 'em young to get these Olympian results.

And, it just occurred to me, who started this kind of scientific method of building top athletes? Well, the "Russians".

Back in the days of the Soviet Union.

They were the ones who realized that only kids with certain builds would excel at any given sport. So they picked them out early for targeted training.

And (just like today) our Western Media found excuses to diss the Russian way of doing things.

The Ruskies were accused of raising cold automatons and preventing children from experiencing the true joys of childhood.

These Soviet athletes didn't even get to watch TV as kids Imagine! No Beverly Hillbillies.

Well, now we are all Soviets, aren't we? when it comes to training elite athletes (and from what I see, there is no other kind.)

And, today,  a successful athlete who spent a great deal of her childhood on the tennis court, like the Russian Sharapova or the Quebecer Genie Bouchard, are merely exceptional individuals with uncommon determination and a dream - and, of course, a very supportive family.

This brings to mind what some Social Scientist (can't recall whom) said: That Communism and Capitalism are not opposites, they are merely different sides of the same coin.

Why? Because this Soviet paradigm works very well for a Consumer Society like we have here  today.

Some kids work hard at a certain sport for years (with a zealous energetic Mom behind them) and some of these (albeit a very small fraction of them) make it big time, fame, fortune and all that, if only for one short moment in one particular Olympic games.

The rest of Western child-dom  eats everything up with their eyes, especially the advertisements for  sugary, salty processed foods that no modern super-athlete would dare touch, not while in training anyway.

And these same ads do not focus on the quality of the iffy product, they focus on the myth and  the 'dream' of being active, talented and, most importantly, famous.

Which makes it nice to see the Norwegians doing so well: they have an entirely different paradigm. They do well in the sports everyone in their country participates in.

And what money they do invest in their athletes helps bring down future healthcare costs, I imagine, the opposite case from us Canadians.

An illustration in UP and Away the first volume in the Canadian Reading Development Series used for decades in schools all across our fair land... Hmm.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Childhood Classics and Missed Opportunities

I found this 1964 edition of Anne of Green Gables, with a near perfect dust cover, in the basement.

 (I had forgotten the word for dust-cover, which tells you something.)

Now,  I don't have to tell you that the 4 word phrase Anne of Green Gables evokes an avalanche of  wholesome sentiment in so many people all over the world, and even in me, despite the fact that I've never actually read the book.

And I'm Canadian. Imagine!

I don't know why, really.
I snapped this picture of Anne in PEI, a few years ago.

That this book was taught in Canadian schools in the 60's,  I have proof positive.  This little volume was the desk copy of a certain teacher at John Rennie High School in Pointe-Claire, Quebec in 1967.

Marion Wells, my mother-in-law!

She worked for the West Island School Commission. She taught English and History.

In 1967 I moved from an elementary school in the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal on the island to a high school in Rosemere, within the  North Island Regional School Board,so I never had to read the Lucy Maude Montgomery Classic.

Maybe I missed reading Anne due to the awkward mid-year transfer. (I went from elementary to high school, traumatically in late November 1967, without any transition.)

And my mother,  a French Canadian, had never read Anne, so she never recommended it.

I read a lot in those days..All This and Heaven Too was my favorite read of the era, with Jane Eyre,  both bleak books.

And, of course, in the 1980's I watehed the Megan Follows Anne on TV, a validating experience, although by that time in my life Brideshead Revisited was more my style.

(Ironically, a classmate of mine went on to work in TV and give Megan her first role in a short film based on a an Alice Monroe short story that won an Oscar.)

Yes, I think I would have loved this novel had I read it back in the time of Beatle Boots and Yardley Slicker.

 Maybe I should read it now, pretending to be 12 again! (Nah, it won't be the same.)

 A classic illustration style of those days!

 The dustcover side-thingy (what is the term, flap?) quotes Mark Twain saying Anne of Green Gables is "the sweetest depiction of child life yet written." He died two years after its publication.

With the Victorian Age over, you could write happy-ending stories.

Here are two ngrams off Google, one for Anne of Green Gables, published in 1908 and another for Polly and the Circus by Margaret Mayo, published at around the same time.

Both novels (aimed at young women) were extremely popular in the 1910 era, but one lived on...and on...Thanks to TV.

Polly and the Circus was a popular theatre play as well. Flora Nicholson of Threshold Girl goes to see it in Montreal in 1911. She loves it! And the Lux Radio Theatre performed it in the 1930's.

High School 7th grade class. I'm in the second row, second from the left (The boy at the side didn't want to get near or something.. And a certain Media Mogul is in the top row..)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Copyright, Gorgons and Pretty Aunties

 I spent some minutes trying to find my folder with pictures of the Minutes of the Montreal Suffrage Association, pictures I took a year ago at the Montreal archives. (I want to transcribe the minutes and put them up on Amazon.com as a complement to my e-books, Threshold Girl and the Diary of a Confirmed Spinster.

 I finally found it, buried in other folders, and saw that with the Minutes I had these pictures. Carrie Derick, at top, was President of the Montreal Suffrage Association, which lasted only from 1912-1919. So her picture should be in the file.

 But I've also got a picture of my Aunt Flo, posing as if for a magazine, at the age of 45 or so.
She wore nice dresses. She worked at the Morgan's Department Store and got her dresses at a discount.

 And I also had a picture of the Huntress Diana and the Gorgon, Medusa. Was I planning to write an essay about the many faces of womankind?  Or did these pictures end up in the file at random?

 Guernica. It would be better to have Les Demoiselles D'Avignons? No? Yes?

And blind justice, this one from the Courthouse in Brockville Ontario... I thought she looked like the Screen Gems Girl.

And here are the by-laws of the Montreal Council and a handwritten page from the Minutes.

Now, the issue of copyright is a bit iffy. I spent a good half hour on the phone to a woman at the Canadian Archives who said it was better, always, to err of the side of copyright, even for 100 year old documents like these.

But who can possibly own them? The Montreal Suffrage Association has been defunct since 1919. These documents were given by Carrie Derick, in the 1930's to the Ligue des Droits de la Femmes, which has been defunct since 1949.

I told the nice lady at the archives how I found an entire section of these notes in a scholarly tome, plagiarized without credit. 

So I will transcribe some of them, annotate, embellish and make them mine. I think.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Canadian Skating circa 1900: A family history


In the 1909 era, Marion and Edith Nicholson of Threshold Girl skated often at the M.A.A.A. grounds in Westmount about a block from Edith's school on Staynor. 

From their letters it seems they never went without male escorts. I suspect it was bad form for young women to go to skating rinks alone. 

A few years before, in the 1906 era, Marion Nicholson, a first year teacher at Sherbrooke High School, went often to the rink. Indeed, her social and dating life were conducted there. 

 Sherbrooke Quebec 1910

Here's an excerpt from her diary:

Monday 14th of January 1906

After school went home and worked on some songs to teach kids. Went to rink. Had dandy time. Danced with G.N.E. Came home as usual.

Tuesday 15th of January
Went to rink. Band played. Had a good time. Montie came home with me. Asked me to go to next good theatre.

Thursday, 17th January.

Did not go to rink as I had planned. Consequently had the blues.Bert S came up to see Irene who is sick in bed with grippe.

Friday, January 18.
Club met and went to rink. But I did not favour them with my presence. Stayed with Irene. Read Hearts and Masks.

Saturday January 19th.
Went to the snow shoe club. Had a good time although GNE was not there. Rained like fury all the time.

Sunday, January 20th.
Horrid Day. Went to church. G. saw me home.

Skating and dating involved complex rituals and signals, that could end up causing problems:

Tuesday, January 22.

Went to bed at 8. Horace and Frank Hill came up and they and Ruth and Irene played euchre.

Wednesday, January 23.

Went to rink and froze both ears but had a good time.

Thursday January 24.

Went to rink with Montie. Had a good time.  Had coffee with Harry Samson and G walked me home.

Tuesday January 24.

After having refused to go to rink with Montie I went with Irene. Saw and skated with him. Then went home with G.

Thursday, January 31

Went to rink and offended Montie because I took off my skates before his turn. Going to rink with him tomorrow instead of driving. He was quite huffy.

Friday, February 1

Same old story. Rink again. Went with M after scrap. Had to exert myself to be agreeable. Wants me to go to Gleaner's snow shoe tramp. Think I will have to. Feel very much out of humour with the whole world. Skated with G.N.E.

Excerpt for The New Skating, Youth's Companion Magazine, November 1909.

"Skating includes speed skating and hockey, thoroughly commendable ice sports, skilful, lung-filling eye hand and leg training sports, absorbingly attractive to young America, who loves a game, loves competition, that can be tangibly and fairly measured, loves to 'get there' before somebody else. But you do not dance 'to get there' and dancing too has its attractions for some. 

Few girls can play hockey; all boys do not wish to; and no boy or girl can both play hockey and skate gracefully on the same flat hockey skates. 

Besides, exclusive or preponderant indulgence in hockey tends to dull the sense for good form and incapacitates graceful movements. Finally, many skating clubs do not allow for hockey playing at all."

Three Rivers Hockey team 1898. Hugh Blair, Marion's future husband, at left. 

The McGill Women's Hockey Team (courtesy of their archives.) In 1928 Edith Nicholson was tutor-in-resident at the Hostel, the residence for the Women's Phys Ed students. There was no room for them at the Royal Victoria College, although they took their classes there.

Female Hockey Player, turn of 20th century, Wikipedia.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What I Learned at Divinity School (Well)

Montreal's Notre Dame de Bonsecours Church in Old Montreal. Lay sister Marguerite Bourgeoys practiced there, centuries ago. Her bossed did not want her to go out into the community either, but she did.

There's no end to the lengths I will go to research the background to the Nicholson Family letters and the e-books issuing from them.

Indeed, I just took a course from Harvard! Harvard Divinity School of all things. The Letters of St. Paul.

It's an interesting and well designed course. I did not do all the message board and annotation assignments because my old laptop wasn't up to the task, but I did read everything, the course material and comments on the message boards, and listened to the lectures and discussions.

I had no background in the Bible at all (despite having studied the  Greek and Roman Classics 30 years ago at McGill).

But I wanted to learn about St. Paul. Why?

Because he is mentioned in the Nicholson letters, with respect to woman suffrage.

St. Paul was often invoked to PROVE that women didn't belong in the public sphere.

Margaret Nicholson, my husband's great grandmother, born 1853, argues in 1909 with a relation, saying "Times have changed. I don't milk cows anymore."

 Margaret. Feisty Feisty

(Well, actually, in 1900 Norman Nicholson bought a cow, probably to save money on milk or protect his family from typhoid, but that experiment in middle class slumming did not last long.)

 I was not disappointed in this course, that focused a great deal on whether or not St. Paul was the misogynist he is cracked up to be (or just believed women's place was in the home.)

From what I learned, NO.

The first Christian communities were communistic or the opposite, aesetic, believing women and men and slave and master were equal.  Paul wrote this in his letters. He mentioned women who were high in the church.

Soon, though, other people started writing in his name, changing his ideas to ones that more reflected the Hellenistic and Roman Home Code. MEN ARE BOSS. And women make babies. Oh, and  owning Slaves is OK, as it were.

One prominent Christian woman, Junea, became a man in the 13th century.

That's my take anyway. (Not that this in any way excuses the way Christians have treated women over the millenia, 100 years of the witch hunts in particular.)

 A pretty church in Russia. Love those Byzantine structures.

So, in April 1913, when the Montreal Suffrage Association was launched, a Dr. Herbert Symonds of Christ Church Cathedral mentioned in the press conference that St. Paul was not against women getting the vote.

Did he bring up these key points? No.. He was very general, saying that what St. Paul said in the old days was no longer relevant. He said the same thing Margaret Nicholson said to her relation.

There you go. (Dr. Symonds later led a Purity Committee Post WWI that led to a public inquiry into morals and corruption in Montreal in 1926 where my own grandfather, a senior Civil Servant, got slandered and slurred.)

Now, this Reverend Symonds also wrote a piece for the Montreal Herald in November 1913St. Paul and suffrage. It was included in a special suffrage edition edited by Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Suffrage Association. I saw it a while back at the National Archives in Ottawa, but didn't photocopy the page, and now I can't remember what his argument said.

Must check again.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Naughty Canadian Victorians

Norman Nicholson, 1870's, and his sister.

Well, there's a little piece of paper from the Nicholson Collection that I have lost and I am sorry for it. It was tucked away in an old wallet, like the one pictured below.

It contained a poem, a love poem, indeed, a kind of pornographic poem. Not a good poem, but that wasn't the point of it.

The poem had eight lines, a bit like this...

When the nightingales sing
Will sweet dreams they bring
You so peaceful in your bed.
Sleep for me is next to naught
With only one idea, one thought
Me and You, I wonder, want
My pressing question is made clear
Dear in the first words written here

(That's the gist of the last two lines, anyway.  When Will You Sleep With Me, My Dear????)

Hmm.. Dirty Dirty. (The Edwardians had to have self-control. They generally married later in life. In some spheres in the UK for instance the males were permitted to get their sexual education from prostitutes or in France, say, with older married women. But not these Canadian Scots - as a rule. Very strict. In a book about the Edwardians I have in my Kindle, it is claimed  in the UK in Edwardian times, only 1/3 of marriages happened with a bun in the oven, whereas a hundred years earlier the figure had been 2/3rds.. Of course the middle class was always more prim and proper than the lower classes, who were practical. And the middle class expanded greatly in the Victorian Era.)

I found this little piece of paper tucked away in an old wallet, once belonging to Norman Nicholson, my husband's great grandfather, and patriarch of the Nicholson Family of Richmond, Quebec.

He figures as a secondary character in e-book Threshold Girl

Here are some other little love poems I found on scraps of paper. (Others were written in notebooks. Knowing what to write when a lady presented her autograph book was an important part of courtship in the late Victorian era in rural Quebec, anyway.

The little notebooks Norman Nicholson left behind from the early 1880's, when he was in his early and mid twenties suggest a man with a lot of unfocused energy, so to speak. Lots of manic scribbling.

He was working at various odd jobs, turkey salesman, grain salesman, bill collector but he definitely had sex on the mind. (SUCH a surprise.) But in order to get sex a young man had to be married in those days, generally speaking, so a young man had to focus his energy enough to get his career going.

In 1882, Norman had his hemlock bark business going great guns, and thousands in the bank...He got married to Margaret McLeod in 1883. And the writing in his notebooks became more steady, long lists mostly. Norman was a lifetime list-maker, which is why I know so much about this family of Nicholsons.

Funny, the only line he wrote in Margaret's Autograph book, back in 1881 were "Best wishes from your friend," Norman Nicholson.

I guess that says it all!

Young Margaret

Margaret and Norman