Canada Day 2021

I would like to wish all my Canadian friends, blog followers, and readers a very Happy Canada Day!

Here’s hoping you all have a wonderful (and safe) celebration.

Et pour ces francophones là-bas, mes meilleurs vœux à vous aussi.

Best wishes to you all over there, Pete. 🙂 X

Guest Post: Nadine Gordon On Canada

We don’t hear that much about Canada these days. Ever since the French-speaking people in Quebec stopped protesting about the British Royal Family, and Pierre Trudeau died, it seems that Canada hardly exists outside of North America. No reports of how they have been affected by the pandemic, and not even a feature on one of their ‘big freeze’ weather events. So when I read a post on the blog of Canadian writer Nadine Gordon, I thought it was only right to ask her to appear here as a guest blogger, and let us know what is going on in that vast country.

The Trefoil Muse Blog

This is a short ‘bio’ about the author, Nadine Gordon.

I began my writing career as a journalist for a small local newspaper. That’s where I discovered while interviewing several subjects that they shone while relating their own stories of how they accomplished that extraordinary feat to obtain victory or explained how to operate that new equipment prototype or even shared what the exciting idea behind the grand opening of a new store was. I thanked my lucky stars that I was the one able to capture those moments on paper through words for others to enjoy.

I have been published in Reader’s Digest, Horses All, The Violet Ray magazines and many newspapers. I write because there is a certain power in the written word that cannot be denied. Words can heal a wounded soul, teach, inspire, entertain and inform people. I also self-published a book called, “The Rose Path.”
I write because, I feel better when I do and from what I hear, so do others who read my prose.

WordPress is filled with talented, artistic entrepreneurs. It contains a wealth of knowledge if you are looking to learn. With the discovery of WordPress I began to take blogging seriously. As a Canadian author I find the WordPress community to be very kind and supportive.

I have come across many helpful sites on WordPress but upon finding beetleypete – well, I just kept coming back.
Beetleypete is very knowledgeable about the blogging world. From his site; I’ve learned what an avatar is and how to utilize the excerpt. Sites like also teach blogging etiquette. I like beetleypete’s no nonsense approach.

The day he published: “New bloggers: Following Back,” I commented because even as a new blogger I’ve come across the ‘follow me back,’ phenomenon.
Be prepared new bloggers; if you comment on another site, your own may be visited. Have more than the, ‘WordPress example post’ exhibited on your blog if beetleypete visits! “Canadian Tourists always have Maple Leaf patches on their bags so that we don’t think they are Americans,” commented beetleypete. He has lived in London most of his life but has since moved to Norfork to enjoy a slower lifestyle and country ways.
Beetleypete otherwise known as Pete read, “Literally Torn,” then generously invited me to do a guest blog about Canada because they get little news about us unless it involves a Royal visit.

Upon Finding beetleypete

In Canada, we have been in short supply of worldly news. Starving the World’s population of international news is a fall-out of the pandemic!
(We did receive news in Canada regarding the Royal family’s loss of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. We grieve with the United Kingdom.)
Let me begin by sharing that every five years in Canada, Canadians are legally required to participate in the ‘census’ to help paint a picture of our diverse population and where we live. We completed the census recently.
As a middle class Canadian, I get extremely annoyed when the census comes around asking questions regarding my cultural background. I have a myriad of different cultural bloodlines running through my veins. My family has been in Canada for generations. I was born here. I am Canadian! Enough said!

Even though I was born in the great country of Canada, it would be negligent of me not to mention that:
“I am not going to be reliable source for current events. I live an isolated existence on the Canadian prairie away from the masses. I do not live in an igloo or tee pee; I live in a house with four walls – sorry, for squashing that Canadian stereotype. We do have electricity; television and internet which helps me stay informed. Plus, Google is my friend – I know how research on it. I do my best to entertain those who love to read, learn and muse but there are other journalists better equipped in Canada to write about current events. So be prepared, I’m about to give you a rather satirical view of what is going on in Canada.”
“I don’t normally delve into the world of politics on my blog. However, life amid a pandemic has been frustrating even in our peace loving country thanks to the current political sphere.”

Canada is situated on the top half of North America. We are often referred to as, ‘The Great White North.’ Canada is a large country spanning from the Atlantic Ocean on the east to the Pacific Ocean on the west. I have traveled Canada from coast to coast. Due to the pandemic, some of the provincial boarders are now closed.
Canada is a country with many cultures and belief systems. If you are interested in learning about another culture, the only thing necessary is an open mind and willingness to learn. Canadians are amicable, hard working, intelligent people who enjoy life. We have a great sense of humour. We value laughter. But, above all, we value what freedoms we are afforded. Most Canadians are very aware of the fact that other countries pay attention to our Democratic politics.
Canadians are also aware that our multi-coloured currency looks similar to that found within board games such as Monopoly or Stock Ticker. In our defence, we are a colourful people who deserve colourful coinage!
We are proud to be known as a Peace keeping nation which is why we display our maple leaf when travelling.
I suspect, the world sees our southern United States of America neighbours as more aggressive than those of us living in the Great White North because – they don’t have “legalized marijuana.”
We are known as humble people in Canada – even our own Prime Minister has described us as meek and complacent. Plus, most recently, he smugly referred to us as a bunch of ‘tinfoil hats!’

I find our current Prime Minister and his denigrated political ideals offensive. In my opinion, he has done nothing more than divide our beautiful country with reprehensible, arrogant viewpoints; toting incessantly that they are the “Woke.” If he actually believes that he or his party is “Woke” then they better lay-off of the ‘whacky tobacky’ they are so proud to have legalized in Canada! The “Woke” are out of touch with reality!
I am certain the Prime Minister would like to blame Covid-19 for the unrest in our country. According to the ‘Woke,’ our current madness stems from the isolation of our third pandemic lock-down.
The truth of the matter is that the Prime Minister of Canada was given too much power at the beginning of this pandemic. Too much power in the hands of the wrong person is dangerous. The Prime Minister and the Liberal party scheme behind closed doors – they are dangerous. They have been scheming to take hard fought freedoms and rights away but they have been found out! (Luckily, we still have the sharp-eyed United Conservative Party (UCP) actively working at the House of Commons in Ottawa. The UPC has alerted the Canadian public to numerous underhanded ploys attempted by the ‘Woke.’)
Regardless of what you may have seen televised on Main Stream Media (MSM); ‘meek, complacent Canadians,’ across the country have been banding together, outraged at elected officials who continue to participate in over-reaching, reprehensible acts in parliament such as abuses of power. Outrage alone should show the Prime Minister that Canadians are neither meek nor complacent and, remind him and his party that they are accountable to the people of Canada.
The ‘Liberal Woke’ members of parliament are elected officials who are not speaking, acting or representing their constituents. Instead, the ‘Woke’ party seek to promote their own dictorial ideals.
One would think Canadians actively protesting for their Charter of Rights would be enough to levy the Prime Minister and his party a rude awakening! Instead, their arrogance prevails. It seems the ‘Woke,’ merely roll up one fat doobie after another then check into fantasy land oblivious to the ensuing drama and political dissention they cause!
(Today’s politics or news broadcasts are all about denial, fear mongering & distracting the public with Covid statistics. It is absolutely nauseating! If you are looking for actual news in Canada, you have to look anywhere but Mainstream Media for it.)

Unrest in Canada is always indicated when the ‘Bloc Quebecois’ starts screaming separation. Quebec is the most vocal province we have when it comes to constitutional rights. I have always admired Quebecers for this tenacity. They are spitting mad and wanting a divorce!
Quebec – the rest of Canada is empathetic but, in light of never ending Covid-19 spikes; let me remind you to flatten the curve by quoting our illustrious Prime Minister, “Don’t breathe moistly on anyone.”
Quebec is an eastern province. If they separate, I hope they don’t take Newfoundland or our maritime provinces. Those people would give you the shirts right off of their back after filling your belly with jiggs dinner!
The Prime Minister’s fantasy land of choice is Ontario.
I never hear news about Manitoba. They are an extremely quiet province. The capital of Manitoba is Winnipeg. Winnipeg is a beautiful, extremely cold city. Many people call Winnipeg; Winter-peg. It’s still spring in Canada so the people of Manitoba could thawing their bones. I know from experience what it’s like to try and communicate when teeth chatter from the winter cold. Manitoba has its borders closed for non-essential travel.
Saskatchewan is the breadbasket of Canada.
People jokingly say that we live in Saskatchewan. We don’t but if I stood on a nearby hill with binoculars, I can see that province! From where I live, a carrier pigeon would deliver a message to someone along the Saskatchewan border in about four hours. I haven’t heard any substantial news about my neighbouring province to the east either. What I can tell you about Saskatchewan Canadians is that they are very loyal; especially to their Rough Rider football team. I mean, any people who would carve out a watermelon and wear it on their head like a helmet in loyalty to a football team is alright in my books!

I am from the Western province of Alberta.

Let me say that again; I am from Alberta. The Prime Minister would like to pretend Alberta doesn’t exist. He actually forgot to name our province when reciting the provinces of Canada! What an endearing puppet!

It is probably no secret that Canada has an upcoming election. Political posturing abounds between various parties. We have a great many things in our country to be proud of – the current Prime Minister is not one of them. Bearded or unbearded, I find him to be a complete embarrassment! The thought of an election has me on my knees praying to the Universe, “Please let Prime Minister Pinocchio and his ‘Woke’ party crickets return to fantasy land!”
So, while Quebec screams separation on the political front, a petition to unify Canada’s western provinces has emerged once again. The petition is called Wexit. It includes the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Albertan and British Columbia. I guess that bears further watching.
We started hearing the cry for Wexit again in Alberta recently when Premier Jason Kenney of the UCP, decided to flex his muscles and force our province into our third lock-down during the first week-end of May. The Premier’s tactic was to utilize RCMP members and city police forces to dole out tickets with hefty fines and/or arrest any Albertan who gathered peacefully in protest. Specifically, they were to target any Albertans defying rules which contravened Section 73(1) of the Public Health Act of Alberta – especially those who refused to wear masks even while outdoors. The facade behind the lock-down was to flatten the spiking Covid curve by jabbing as many Albertans as possible with the now available vaccines; thereby saving lives and easing the strain on our over-worked, stressed-out Health Care system.
Alberta protesters simply ignored the Premier as they were defending their Constitutional Rights such as the right to assemble and freedom of choice. I would like to point out, that peaceful protests were taking place in cities across Canada and internationally for the same reasons during that week-end.

In Alberta, rallies were held in a variety of cities including our capital city of Edmonton and in Calgary (home of the infamous Calgary Stampede), with no MSM coverage. Bowden; a town between Edmonton and Calgary, held a rodeo on private property. Why the Premier and the news media chose to zero in on the Bowden Rodeo attendees is beyond me. I’ve seen pictures and videos of the tough, healthy country folk, and cowboys who attended. They all looked healthy! Anyhow, there was quite the hoopla over this little rodeo because of their outlandish refusal to mask-up for an outdoor event.
The Premier said he felt like he’d been slapped in the face by the disobedient rodeo goer’s then closed the Alberta parliament for two weeks and ran home to sulk. He even admitted to wanting a new base of supporters.
Rachel Notley, is head of the New Dreamtime Party (NDP) in Alberta. They are the official opposition of Alberta’s UPC and close allies of the ‘Woke.’ She figured since the Premier had tucked tail and run that it was safe for her to poke her head up from wherever she’s been n-deep-sleeping and yell in all her blurry-eyed, glory; “Coward!” No doubt her munchies of choice during Covid-19 has been the orange coloured THC laced gummy bears – this heady delight, is what it would take for Ms. Notley to have found such dreamtime courage. Albertans have not forgotten what her short stint in power did to our province!

As for Alberta’s Premier feeling like he’d been slapped – better a good slap than a swift kick in the butt via pointed cowboy boots!
There have been MSM reports that Alberta is an anomaly. The Government doesn’t know what to do with us. (Political mumbo jumbo and Covid statistics are like the weather in Canada. If you don’t like it just wait a couple of minutes.)
The third lock-down in Alberta is easing.
The redneck slap brought Premier Kenney to his senses or perhaps, someone just poured him a strong cup of Tim Horton’s coffee. In any case, he returned to the Alberta Legislature Building after a two week hiatus prancing around like a proud rooster. Albertans successfully exceeded the Premiers expectations. 60% have gotten jabbed at least once with a dose of vaccination. Kenney is now dangling the golden carrot of freedom in front of his base supporters.

Beginning June 1st, Albertan’s can enjoy the more relaxed restrictions of Stage 1.
Stage 2 of regained freedom begins June 10th. We get more rewards as long as we stay diligent at flattening the curve.
Stage 3, enters at the end of June or beginning of July, with the promise of a Calgary Stampede. It appears we’ll be able to gather publicly – at least at the Stampede in Calgary. (This will be a welcome change from the gatherings held at Walmart or Costco!)
British Columbia is Alberta’s neighbouring province to the west. They too have had their borders closed for anything but essential travel. They are attempting to knock down the Covid-19 spike prior to tourist season.

In British Columbia, MSM actually reported some breaking news on May 27th.
A mass grave with over 215 First Nations children was uncovered in what used to be Canada’s largest residential school in Kamloops, B.C. This school operated between the years of 1890-1969 under a Catholic order called the Oblates of Mary Immaculate until the federal government took it over and ran it as a day-home until 1978 when it closed. Missing, undocumented children as young as 3 years old were discovered by a ground penetrating radar.
The recent breaking story by MSM is a reminder of our not so distant past when assimilation took place in our country through genocidal, prejudicial degradation of our First Nations and Indigenous people.
I am not only devastated for the families and band nations in Canada for these losses but also, for those who continue to suffer daily because of elitist, anti-Semitic beliefs. Canadians will never be able to fully rectify these injustices. Those of us in touch with reality know who the true ‘savages’ are in our society and where they hide. We must hold them accountable for inflictions of horror.
The Prime Minister has offered his feigned, contrition.

On the Federal front, the Prime Minister has also come up with an International travel strategy; this mainly due to his own self-interests. His motivation – he desires to find the magical Blue Fairy who will turn him into a real boy so he can attend the G7 Summit in the United Kingdom which is scheduled for June 11-13, 2021.
It seems a shameful to have spent so much time sharing about Canada’s political sitcom when there are many wonderful things about Canada. However, the current political sphere has me sitting on the edge of my seat wondering what type of absurdity will happen next! The state of our country or, that of any other country in the world since the pandemic began is unbelievable. The news here is the same as elsewhere – it’s all politically motivated pandemic propaganda or twisted with distractions designed to hide politically motivated strategies.
Suffice to say; no news is not good news for Canada!
At the end of the day, whether we exit or we stay, our PM remains nothing more than a drama teacher puppet. That being said, this ‘tin-hat’ bulletin author finds Canadians up Schitt’s Creek without a paddle.

Thank-you for reading! Stay tuned for more Canadian political satires on the blogosphere.
Also, my humble gratitude to Pete for graciously allowing me to guest blog on his site!
For more of my creative stories, please visit:

Guest Post: Liz Lloyd

I am delighted to present a guest post from British blogger, Liz Lloyd.
This is her own short bio.

‘After 35 years as a primary school teacher and school librarian, I started two blog sites based on my main interests in history and books. I am a volunteer researcher at my local Workhouse Museum as well as following my own family tree. I also enjoying travelling, especially to the Algarve’.

Liz has two blogs. One is solely concerned with book reviews.
Her second blog features her travels, photos, and visits to places of historical interest.

Here is her unedited guest post, a sad story of poverty, and forced migration.

British Home Children in Canada.

Since 2013 I have been researching the lives of people connected to the Union Workhouse in Guildford, Surrey. Initially we were preparing for an exhibition at The Spike museum about the changes from Workhouse, to war hospital in both world wars and later a General Hospital but subsequently I became particularly interested in what happened to the children who had stayed in the Workhouse, many of whom went to Sail training schools, Scattered homes, into domestic service or apprenticeships. However, the most alarming fate was the decision to send the children across the ocean to a new life in Canada.
“From the late 1860s right up to 1948, over 100,000 children of all ages were emigrated right across Canada, from the United Kingdom, to be used as indentured farm workers and domestics. Believed by Canadians to be orphans, only approximately 12 percent truly were. These children were sent to Canada by over 50 organizations including the well-known and still working charities: Barnardo’s, The Salvation Army and Quarrier’s, to name a few.” (British Home Children Advocacy & Research Association)

In Canada and America many descendants are trying to trace the origin of their ancestors, often only discovering after their grandparents’ deaths that they had been sent across by British charities or Union Workhouses. Some of the children were lucky, going to good homes where they were educated and cared for, but others were treated like slaves or abused. Government Inspectors visited from time to time but in such a large country this was a rare occasion. These are a few of the children I have followed.

Margaret Ellen, Edith Mary and Louisa were born in the village of Pirbright, Surrey the daughters of James Chewter and his wife Sarah. James was a farm labourer. As agricultural labouring opportunities declined many families moved closer into Guildford so that the fathers could find casual labouring jobs. They managed to eke out a living until one parent died and then it was impossible to provide for the family and look after the children. According to the death records registered in Guildford, Sarah Chuter, mother of the three girls, died at the Royal Surrey Hospital in 1884 aged 38, so it must have been very difficult for their father James to look after them on his own while continuing to work.

Margaret, Edith and Louisa were first sent from Surrey to Mr Middlemore’s Home in Birmingham where they were prepared for their voyage. The Board of Guardians in Guildford provided each with a chest containing a basic set of clothes and a Bible. On June 18th 1887 they were part of a group of 115 children aboard the SS Lake Ontario bound Quebec and on to the Guthrie Receiving Home in London, Ontario. The Chewter/ Chuter girls were soon given placements. Edith was placed in three different locations, the final one being at Belmont, Ontario, Louisa, age 7, was placed with Francis Davis at Adelaide Street, London, Ontario and Margaret, age 12 went to David Phillips of Durham, Oxford Co. Ontario.

Two years earlier, Walter Shires, an 11-year-old boy from a tragic family, had also been migrated to Canada. He can be found age 7, amongst the inmates listed in Guildford Union Workhouse in 1881 and next to him, the name Mary Ann Joyce, age 12, who was his stepsister. Both children had been orphaned two or three years earlier, but only Walter would be part of the small party of children sent out to Canada to begin a new life.

Walter’s mother Kate May married William Joyce at St Nicholas, Guildford in 1866. He was an Agricultural Labourer and by 1871 they were living in the area of St Catherine’s with their three children, William John Joyce, age 4, Mary Ann Joyce, age 2 and newly born Kate Elizabeth. Sadly, Kate died within a few months and a year later their father, William Joyce, was buried in St Mary’s churchyard, aged 26.

The young widow, Kate Joyce, married again next year, this time to labourer Walter Henry Shires. Their son, also called Walter Henry Shires was born shortly afterwards but there is no evidence of any other children born to the couple before Kate’s death in 1878. At the age of 30, her funeral was held at St Nicholas’s church. With three young children to look after, Walter Shires senior entered Guildford Union Workhouse where he died a year after his wife, aged 37.

By 1881, the eldest boy William John Joyce was 14, so he was working as a farm servant in Hambledon. The next time we find Mary Ann Joyce is in 1891 when she is living in Spitalfields with three other girls, all with no occupation, in the household of a Docker and a Laundress.

Like the Chewter sisters, 12-year-old Walter first went to the Guthrie Home in London, Ontario. From there, Walter was sent to live with J D Crane, a farmer in Chatsworth, Ontario. Each child was subject to one inspection to check that his new home was suitable. Walter Shires was reported to be both honest and untruthful, stubborn, sulky and a source of trouble. He was, however, “showing signs of slight improvement,” in his behaviour, although suffering from scalp disease. In later years Walter married and had 2 children, before his death in 1937.

In 1881, wheelwright, Benjamin Sink was living with his wife Jane and their three little girls in Farthing Lane, Wandsworth, but Benjamin came from Ockham, Surrey where most of his family still lived. By 1883 the lives of Ruth, aged 7, Beatrice, 6, and Ada Sink, aged 3 had been turned upside down. Their mother Jane had died and Benjamin was imprisoned in Wandsworth jail. The family in Ockham took in the three girls, but their grandmother was 64 and nearly blind so they were soon given up to the Union Workhouse in Guildford. In in June 1884 the sisters set out from Liverpool on the Allan Line steamship Parisian, with 115 other girls from various parts of Britain.

It is recorded in Ontario that Mark Smallpiece, Clerk to the Board of Governors of Guildford Poor Law Union, requested feedback on the children’s situations, as did other workhouse Boards and thus we have it on record that Beatrice, “would like to know her birthday if possible,” that Ada, “thinks she has a brother in the Union,” (Guildford Workhouse) while poor Ruth is so unwell she has been returned to Guthrie House. We do not know whether Beatrice discovered her birthday or whether Ada really had a brother “in the Union.”

Thanks to Maureen Salter, a descendant of the Sink family, I now have a little more information.

Beatrice Sink was adopted by the Burton family and took their surname. Later she married a cousin of her adopted family. Ada also went to a caring home in Ontario where, at the age of 6, she was adopted by Ephraim Snell. Sadly in 1893 she died of typhoid fever.

The children’s birth father Benjamin Sink died in Richmond Workhouse, Surrey in 1938. There is no record of a brother in Guildford Union Workhouse, and we do not know whether Beatrice was given her correct birth date.

It seems fitting to conclude with a quotation from the journalist of Guildford Jottings in the Surrey Mirror in 1885,
“Although one feels almost guilty of expatriating the poor little ones by deciding to send them from our shores, it does not follow that it is not in reality, the very kindest thing it is possible to do for them. They are at a premium in Canada, they are a discount here. It’s just as well to get a premium on one’s wares where possible.”

Liz Lloyd

Please take time to visit Liz’s other blogs, and give her some support from our great community. There is lots to discover on her general blog, and I am sure all you book fans out there will appreciate her reviews on the literary blog.

My DVD Films: Another stack

Six more films, lifted from a middle stack this time, and containing a varied selection once again. This has also shown me how many times I have bought films that are not very good, lured by the subject matter, or the presence of an admired actor in the cast.

Passchendaele (2008)

I would like to say something positive about this film, but I am afraid I cannot. Because I am interested in the First World War, I tend to buy any and all films relating to the period, hoping for the best. On this occasion, I was bitterly disappointed. This is ostensibly about Canadian soldiers, in the build up to one of the largest battles of the war, that lasted for almost four months, during 1917.
There is some background, an unlikely love story, and some battle scenes. That’s about it. It is impossible to engage with any of the characters, or to believe in the events shown, though they are all based on truth.

5,000 Canadian soldiers lost their lives in this battle, and this film is a poor tribute to their sacrifice. Best avoided. I might end up using this as a coaster.

The Officers Ward (2002)

By complete contrast, this superb French film (Original language, English subtitles) takes a realistic and difficult area of the same war, and examines it in detail. The pioneering experiments in plastic surgery, to try to overcome the disfigurements of injuries. Something we may well take for granted now, but at the time, it was almost unknown.

Adrien is injured early in the war, his face badly disfigured by shrapnel. He is transferred to the Officers’ Ward of the title, where he finds himself with others in the same situation. The mirrors are removed, to avoid the soldiers becoming suicidal at their appearance. Modern surgical techniques are tried, along with early prosthetics, to attempt to give these men some semblance of normality. It doesn’t always work, and even at its best, is barely acceptable. But there is no alternative, and we are there to see the struggles of all concerned, both victims, and medical staff.

Adrien is left struggling to come to terms with the outcome, and wondering what his former sweetheart will make of him, once he recovers. This film allows no happy endings though, and tells it as it was. Even with that, it is still marvellous, and a complete work, in every way possible.

Lakeview Terrace (2008)

This is a formulaic and ultimately disappointing American film. It tries to be different, by turning the idea of racism around, and having a protagonist who is black, yet racist against his new neighbours. Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) is an experienced Los Angeles police officer. When his new next-door neighbours turn out to be a white man and his attractive black wife, his resentment soon surfaces.
I won’t bother with too much detail here. You can imagine the rest, I am sure. Abel begins a war of nerves against the couple, with security lights, hosepipes, and everything he can think of to disrupt their happy life, including officially harassing them when on duty. He eventually spirals out of control, with an unfortunate outcome.
This is little more than an average TV film, and best seen for free. Fortunately, I didn’t pay much for it, and I doubt that I will ever bother to watch it again.

Ravenous (1999)

Is this a horror film, a serious drama, or a comedy? In truth, it is a little bit of each of those genres, rolled into one. And it has a great cast, including Robert Carlyle, and Guy Pearce, with music from Michael Nyman, and Damon Albarn. But what is it about? (I hear you cry)
it is set in the 1840s, in the then mostly unexplored areas of California. Captain Boyd (Pearce) is an army officer, sent to a remote outpost, Fort Spencer. There are only seven others at the fort, and they are a mixed bag of characters. A stranger arrives, (Carlyle), telling of a disaster that has befallen his wagon train, and how they have been abandoned by their guide, and forced to eat human flesh to survive.

The soldiers see it as their duty to form a rescue party for the survivors, and set out to look for them, led by the stranger. I am sure you can guess the rest…I really liked this film. Despite the unsavoury subject, (excuse the pun) the accomplished cast relish their roles, (pun intended) and provide us with an unusual and entertaining film, that though set in the west, is not a western. I will leave it to you to place it in the genre that you see fit.

Pretty Village, Pretty Flame (1996)

This is a Serbian film (Original language, English subtitles) about the civil war in Bosnia. It looks at this tragic war through the lives of two best friends, the Serb Milan, and Bosnian Muslim, Halil. Before the outbreak of the war, the two live in the same village in Bosnia, still part of Yugoslavia at the time. When war breaks out, the friends find themselves on opposite sides, and much of the story is told in flashback, where we see the young men in happier times, and the slide towards hostilities.

Trapped with his unit, Milan remembers a tunnel, and suggests that they hide there, as they are surrounded by Bosnian Muslim soldiers. The opposing force includes his old friend, Halil, and eventually, the men meet once again, with hard questions for each other, and even harder answers.
The events of this war are well-known, but often little understood. How friends and neighbours can suddenly descend into a frenzy of atrocities, and ethnic cleansing is shown here, with an attempt to explain some of the reasons behind it. But for those of us who were not involved, the violence and the hatred remains almost impossible to comprehend. A powerful and moving film, giving much to think about.

The Magdalene Sisters (2002)

This incredibly moving film, written and directed by the excellent Peter Mullan, is based on real events that continued in Ireland, until modern times. The Magdalene Asylums were laundries, owned and operated by the Catholic Church. The role was to serve as a home and workhouse for ‘fallen’ girls in Ireland. This could mean anything; from girls known to have had sex with boys, to some with learning difficulties, or a proclivity toward promiscuity. They were given over to these homes by their families, who wanted to avoid the ‘shame’ attached to the wayward daughters.

The film follows the fate of four different girls, all placed in the asylum for various reasons. They are worked like slaves, and subjected to extreme violence from the nuns in charge, as well as being used sexually by the visiting priest, who is supposed to be caring for their spiritual welfare. A brilliant cast, including Geraldine McEwan, Anne-Marie Duff, and Eileen Walsh, all give heart-rending performances. This is a film that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

And it is worth noting that the last of these laundries only closed in 1996.

I hope that you enjoy some of this latest selection. I cannot recommend two of them at all, and one is worth watching, depending on your personal taste. But the other three are superb films, and will each reward the serious viewer.

World War One: A Centenary

I hope that nobody is unaware of the fact that 2014 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World War, in August 1914. To many of you, especially those still young, it might seem like a dusty old piece of history, played out on TV in black and white. You may well consider that it has no relevance any more, and it is of no interest to you whatsoever. You will have no intention of sitting through the endless documentaries, dramatised reconstructions, or worthy coverage of commemorations. Please think again. We can all learn much from the follies of this tragic conflict, and the reasons that it began.

My own grandparents were born in the year 1900. Both of my grandfathers were lucky enough to not have to serve in this war, as they only reached the required age of 18 as the war ended. Other relatives, some uncles and cousins of my parents, did take part in this war. When I was very young, one of them would tell me of his experiences in the Royal Flying Corps, as part of the crew of an early type of bomber. I would read books about the battles, which ranged from France to Africa, and across the mountains of Italy, to the deserts of Arabia. Even the outbreak of the terrible Second World War, from 1939, could not diminish the impact and legacy of this first global war.

Look hard enough, and you will see that many problems experienced in the world today, stem from unresolved issues after allied victory. Instability in the Balkans, power struggles in the Middle East and Arab lands, all have roots that can be traced back to the time immediately after the armistice, in 1918. Once-great empires. such as those of Turkey and Austria-Hungary, were shattered by involvement in the Great War, and eastern Europe was splintered as a result. Russia experienced its revolution during this war, and the world changed completely as a consequence of that alone. American involvement late in the war changed the relationship between that country and Europe irrevocably. German resentment at their post-war treatment led directly to the start of the Second World War, and the ‘Cold War’ that followed it for decades.

I used to think that all this was something not to be dwelt on, to be constantly reminded of. Patriotism and Nationalism are not healthy in extremes, and every Poppy Day and Remembrance Sunday seemed to be celebrating the past, instead of looking to a better future. We lived in fear of a nuclear Armageddon, and the flickering footage of troops digging trenches before I was born had little relevance. So it seemed. A little over twenty-five years ago, I went on a five-day trip with a friend. We had decided to make our own tour of the battlefields in Belgium and France, to see for ourselves these cemeteries and monuments, and the preserved sites of these immense battles. Within seven hours of our arrival in Ypres, my mind was changed forever, by something that happens every day, and has done since 1927, interrupted only by the Second World War.

Every night at 8pm, the road under the Menin Gate Memorial is closed. Buglers from the local Fire Brigade arrive, and play ‘The Last Post’ on their bugles, the sound resonating inside the arch. This short ceremony is well-attended , by curious visitors like ourselves that night, and by war veterans; though sadly no longer from that actual war. The occasion is incredibly moving. Surrounded by the carved names of those who died but have no known grave, it was impossible not to get caught up in the feelings and emotions under that arch. The fact that it continues to this day, a tribute by the local people, to those who came from other lands to fight in a mutual cause, is tradition made flesh. We returned to a nearby bar, visibly shaken, close to tears, and quietly reflective.

The rest of the week was spent visiting cemeteries, mostly maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. They are immaculately kept, and the rows of neatly carved headstones go on into the distance, overwhelming in their scale. We saw preserved trenches, huge craters caused by massive explosions, and everywhere still, pieces of barbed wire, and the metal posts that it once hung from. We visited the massive Thiepval Memorial, like a cathedral in a field, and the monumental memorial at Vimy Ridge for the Canadians who died, again with no known graves. We stopped at tiny isolated cemeteries, containing small groups from one company, then on to massive graveyards on the Somme. It was all too much to take in. The enormity of the loss was beyond all understanding. After that week, everything changed for me. My attitude to remembering this conflict became completely different, and my respect for those involved increased dramatically. So much of Belgium and France contain these cemeteries, it is impossible to appreciate them, unless you see for yourself.

So please don’t disregard the commemorations of this war. Count yourself lucky that you never had to be a part of anything like it, and spare a thought for those that were there. Whatever we may think of the reasons and justifications, with the benefit of hindsight, and the information available to us now; they did their best, for something that they believed in.

Significant Songs (23)

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

The Canadian/American group The Band, were best-known for supporting Bob Dylan, on various tours. Most of the members had been around the music scene since the late 1950’s, and when they got together as a group, something magical happened. Their sound is perhaps best described as Country Folk, and the songs could also be seen as a history of the USA, in lyrics. I first noticed them after the release of their debut album, ‘Music From The Big Pink’, in 1968. This album contained the classic song ‘The Weight’, written by The Band’s front man, Robbie Robertson, and their version of ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’, co-written by Bob Dylan, and The Band’s Rick Danko. The whole album was full of solid tracks, and I felt that it was a worthy introduction to this unusual group.

The second album came out in 1969, and I thought that it was even better than the first. I initially bought the single released from it, ‘Up On Cripple Creek’ around Christmas that year. The B side of this vinyl was the song ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’. This combination was enough to ensure that I soon bought the complete album, which I later replaced with a CD, which I still play today, forty-five years after the original record was released. It is hard to describe the effect that this song had on me. The vocal is performed by Levon Helm, the drummer in the group. It has a plaintive air, and is sung in a noticeable southern accent. (He was from Arkansas) Since I had been a small boy, I had always had a fascination with the American Civil War, and The Confederacy. The spirit of rebellion appealed to me, and like most others, I naturally took the side of the underdog in that conflict. I was then 17 years old, and still interested in the subject, and also in music. This combined the two, in a way that I could never have imagined.

I cannot recall any modern songs about the Civil War in America. This one stands alone, not only for the orchestral composition, the unusual instruments, and the heartbreaking vocals, but also for the way it tells a story of a country, and men broken by war and tired of struggling; sad to see the end of an idea, and the loss of a cause. This simple song says all that, you just have to listen. It has been put to me that this is a ‘Country’ song. I suppose it is, in a way. It is one of the few Country songs you will ever see written about on this blog, but it has remained one of my most enduring favourites for decades.

The song gained a much bigger audience, when covered by Joan Baez, in 1970. She enjoyed worldwide success with her version, so much so, that many believe it to be one of her songs. It was written by Robbie Robertson, who left the group in the late 1970’s, and still continues to work today aged 70, after a successful solo career. Sadly, many of the other members of The band are no longer with us. The singer on this track, Levon Helm, died of cancer in 2012.

The star-studded farewell concert, held in San Francisco in 1976, was later turned into a well-known film by Martin Scorsese, and called ‘The Last Waltz’. This featured a particularly poignant rendition of this song, one of my favourite versions. It still gives me a chill, after all this time. Here it is. Play it loud.