Lunedi Lunacy

To make fun of music be it orchestral, operatic, leider, art songs, jazz, or pop you have to have a sound grounding in the genre.  You only have to think of Anna Russell, Spike Jones, Victor Borge, Dame Patricia Routledge as Hyacinth Bucket, Chuck Jones at Looney Tunes, the Hoffnung’s  Interplanetary Musical Festivals, P.D.Q. Bach, or the Nitwits to realize that all these “comedians” knew exactly what they were doing in their madcap spoofing.

In 1936 Sid Millward was considered one of the top saxophonists in the United Kingdom and he and his band, the Nitwits, were more traditional in their style; though there was still a slightly witty turn to their presentation as shown in this 1940 Pathé newsreel.

As well as serving in the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) during the war he was also the bandleader at London’s fashionable Cafe Anglais.  In the late ’40s he teamed up with Cyril Lagey and Charlie Rossi to include comic versions of pop and classical numbers as well as sight gags into the act.

It was to become popular in clubs, on TV, and in the movies, in the UK, Europe and America.  An appearance at the famous Parisian night club the Lido de Paris led to a long time stint at the Stardust in Las Vegas when the tits-and-tassels spectacle moved there lock, stock, and danseuses nues. Many of the members including Millward moved to the city in the desert full time and travelled to international appearances.

This appearance on the Rudi Carrell show dates from 1970 and excludes the appearance of Lagey, a black performer who’s “Uncle Tom” character would be totally unacceptable today.  Lagey was an fine musician and an incredibly funny comedian; he was known for the bowler hat he wore onstage. It was actually only the brim as the rest of the hat was his hair.  He also was a master of incredible patter songs but belongs to a school of comedy that has seen it’s day.

Back in 2004 journalist David Millward wrote a fascinating piece on his elusive and colourful uncle Sid – a brilliant musician and comedian who knew exactly what he and his troop of nitwits were doing.

On this day in 1733: the right of settlers in New France to enslave natives was upheld at Quebec City.


On This Island

Island Distance

When we first visited the Island we heard people refer to “Island distance” or terms to that effect.  And on our first trip outside Charlottetown I noticed that often none of the road signs indicated how many kilometres it was to the place we were heading, just the direction.  And it seemed that when most people were asked they would say that such-and-such a place was about 40 minutes away.  Now we know that isn’t quite true, many things are an hour or more away but we find we are now using 40 minutes as almost a standard.   Suffice is to say that distances are compressed and as my friend Don says “It’s all a matter of scale.”  And you begin to adapt to “Island distance” as a norm.

A few weeks ago I realized that I had adapted more than I thought.  Our friend Cathy was visiting and Laurent suggested we should go to The Mill, Emily Well’s restaurant, up to New Glasgow.  I was surprised.  “All the way up there?” said I with an air of incredulity.  “But… but…. it’s ….” I sputtered in my normal articulate manner.  “Twenty-five minutes away,” said Laurent, trying not to use that tone that reminds me of my mother when I made a foolish statement.  Well now didn’t that stop me in my tracks.  He was right, it was a twenty-five minute drive, maybe thirty if you got behind an Amish horse and buggy.  I know people who drive more than that twice a day to and from work.   Still it was 25 minutes away!!!!

Several of our friends suggested that I had indeed gone “Islander”.

Red Head Harbour

Once you’ve travelled that 40 minutes (give or take 30 minutes or even two minute outside our door) you’ll find some glorious sights and sites.  Sights and sites that lend themselves to a painter’s brush.  Though red is not an unknown hair colour here to the best of my knowledge Red Head Harbour does not derive its name from a predominance of gingers in the area.  A mere 32 minutes from our place it is nestled in a corner of St Peter’s Bay and as well as being picturesque as all get out is the home of a  major PEI Mussel processing centre.  And we all know there is nothing like a big feed of PEI mussels steamed in white wine and herbs served up with home cut french fried PEI potatoes with a dollop of garlic mayonnaise .


Unfortunately the day that my friend Catherine and I were there it was cold, grey, cold, wet, cold,  windy, and did I mention cold?  But fortunately I was able to find a photo of Red Head Harbour on a more pleasant day.

red harbour 3

And better yet I was able to come home and bask in a sunny day at Red Head Harbour as captured by Wendell Dennis in his oil on wood painting Still Water.  And even better, on a grey, dreary day I can see this hanging in our dining room and be reminded of the beauty that surrounds me.

Red Head Harbour

Dennis is one of a number artists who shows at Details, Past and Present, a gallery on Victoria Row only blocks way from our place.  This particular painting caught my eye and …   well there we go, I don’t have to make that long thirty-two minute drive – I can see Red Head Harbour from my dining room table!

On this day in 1798: The Battle of Oulart Hill takes place in Wexford, Ireland.


Friday’s Flowers

The story of Tumilco, the cacique and the beautiful dancer Grenadilla is continued.

The Last of the Cacique – Part II

The besotted Governor had arranged for the enchanting Grenadilla to join him in his chambers and watch the spectacle from the window.  As they awaited the arrival of the holy procession he pressed his suit but received only laughter at his protestations of eternal devotion.  Then she caught sight of the procession and the pathetic Tumilco weighed down by chains, wearing a cap emblazoned with red devils and his body enveloped in a sack.

Once more the viceroy made the same eloquent efforts pursuing the same order as before. “Cruel! Ungrateful! Hyrca tigress! What do you demand? Speak!” Grenadilla turned quickly round, and pointing to Tumilco, who just ascended the pyre, replied:

“That you should save that man’s life!”

The Governor was startled by her demand.  If he met it the people would surely turn on him – they wanted their entertainment.  He would have an armed revolt on his hands if he met her request.  But such was his lust that he ordered the execution be suspended and the cacique brought to him.  And his command came not a moment too soon – the flame had just been put to the pile.

Tumilco was brought into the Governor’s presence and that wily worthy demanded of the unfortunate heretic that he renounce his barbaric worship.   He offered him a pardon if he were to receive baptism into the holy church.  At the point of execution how could anyone refuse, with a shrug of his shoulders Tumilco agreed.

The Grand Inquisitor, who was melting in the heat under the weight of his vestments and who never liked the smell of burning heretics anyway, was informed.  In his delight at finally having a cacique as a convert he granted the pardon in the name of mother church and all the saints.

The Governor was highly pleased with his solution until he heard the crescendoing murmurs of discontent from the crowd, unhappy at being cheated of their promised sport.  What was he to do?  How could he appease them?  Startled by a rock hitting a window of his palacio he quickly decided hit upon a plan.  Striding out onto the balcony displaying a brave front betrayed by his quaking knees he called for silence.  With great pomp and solemnity he announced the conversion of the apparently penitent Tumilco and the celebration of his baptism with great ceremony the following day.  There would be processions, feasting, and dancing;  the beautiful Grenadilla would dance for them as she had never danced before.  The jeers that had greeted his appearance turned to cheers as the fickle populace turned their thoughts from the flames of the auto da fé to the cleansing waters of the baptismal font – and the promised food, drink, and the beautiful Grenadilla.

But where was Grenadilla?  The Governor had fulfilled his promise and was seeking out his prize.  But she was nowhere to be found.  The servants searched every room and stairwell of the palace, a whole troop of guardsmen combed the streets of the city, but she was never found.  The beautiful dancer was never to be seen again in the streets of the city nor in the Mexican countryside.

An Interlude

The reader has probably concluded that Grenadilla, though proud and beautiful as the flower whose name she bears, has nevertheless a secret passion for the cacique, the young and handsome savage. The rules of the novel would indeed seem to require this, but truth has its rights which we are bound to respect. Tumilco is old ugly and broken down and if as, the foregoing chapter shows, Grenadilla loves him it is because the cacique took care of her in her childhood.  It is because she was received by him when she was an infant, poor and forsaken, and was by him protected until circumstances, which we need not relate, compelled him to leave his native province. Grenadilla by saving the life of Tumilco had acquitted herself of this obligation.

Friday's FlowersSatisfied at having done her duty, she started that very night for Europe. It was the only way in which she could avoid the persecutions of the governor. When three months out the ship which conveyed her was wrecked. Her body was thrown by the waves upon the Spanish coast.

 The Flower Fairy, being at the time in those latitudes engaged in watching over the Jessamine, received the body of Grenadilla. In the spot where she found her she caused a splendid thicket of pomegranates to rise, whose fruits and flowers like the beauty and the talents of Grenadilla were delightful to behold.


Tumilco, having been baptized under the name of Esteban, made his home in Mexico, and lived there on a small pension provided to him by the government, in consideration of his being a descendent of Montezuma. The sincerity of his conversion was often questioned, and they were thinking of again bringing him before the holy office, when he fell very sick.  He asked that a physician might be called: his charitable neighbors sent him a priest.

Friday's Flowers“Brother Esteban,” said the priest, “it is time you should commend your soul to the mercy of God.”

“My name is not Esteban,” the cacique replied. “I am called Tumilco. Go about your business!”

“Think of God my brother!”

“Thy God is not mine,” said Tumilco.  “Will some one open the window?”

His request was complied with. The setting sun was still bright in the west.

“There is my god,” said the cacique, “and the god of my fathers.  Sun receive thy child to thy bosom.”

The priest covered his face with his hands, made the sign of the cross and murmured “vade retro Satanas.”

Tumilco was dead.

“Sooner might you prevent the sunflower from following the sun in his course, than one of these heretics from returning to the worship of their luminary. This is what we gained by not burning him.”

The charitable neighbor who pronounced the above funeral oration, had no idea that the cacique Tumilco was merely the incarnation of the Sunflower. In worshipping the sun he did but obey the laws of his being.

On this day in 1857: Dred Scott is emancipated by the Blow family, his original owners.

Lunedi Lunacy

When I was growing up – as opposed to growing old – the 24th of May holiday weekend was a major cause for celebration.  It was known as Victoria Day because May 24th was the day that Alexandrina Victoria, future Queen of the United Kingdom and Ireland, Empress of India, was born in 1815.   And it was celebrated as such in Her Majesty’s loyal Dominion and after her death became a day of remembrance of the old Queen.  Since 1952 it has served double duty as Victoria Day and as the official birthday of our reigning monarch.

A left click on the picture of a Victoria Day celebration in 1949 (?) will take you to a bit of a ramble on Victoria Days passed.

In our neighbourhood it was a day for celebration, the first family picnic of the summer, community events, parades, and usually fireworks to end the day.  It was a bigger to-do than the first of July, Dominion Day, in most communities.  But things have – as they will do – changed over the past twenty odd years.  For most people Queen Victoria means a period soap opera on PBS and the birthday our current Queen is largely forgotten in the hectic exodus to cottage country or the floral frenzy at the local garden centre.  It is now a holiday for beer, bbq, bugs, and blooms.


And though we are indeed heading to the country for a barbecue today I would still like to salute the Old Queen – oh stop it!  You know what I mean! – with a few clips of her that show she did have her lighter side:

And in deference to the horsey tastes of our own beloved Queen I offer this running of a traditional derby – a fine way to celebrate her birthday:

On this day in 1570: The first atlas, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, is published with 70 maps.

Friday’s Flowers

Another stroll through J J Grandville’s Les fleurs animées for a lesson from the flowers.

Its been a long while since I took a stroll through my virtual garden – the winter was long and snows deep this past year and it seemed gardens were a thing of the past. But the rains of the past few days have greened  things up a bit and I’ve found time to thumb through Grandville and read one of Taxile Delord’s cautionary tales.

Neither the writer nor the illustrator were particular favourites with the authorities – their tart observation of things political and religious often fell under the censors’ scrutiny.  The story of The Last Cacique is a bitter story of political and religious intolerance and hypocrisy. Until I read Cleaveland’s translation of Delord’s story I had no idea what a cacique was.  For him it obviously meant native of Central American and more specifically of Mexico though the Wikipedia entry gives it a wider and more political meaning.  It tells of a religious and ethnic clash and the toadying of politicians to the “bread and circuses” – though in this case it is “auto-da-fe and baptism – will of the people.  Once again behind the lovely lithographs lurks a damning and uncomfortable lesson.

The Last of the Cacique – Part I

There was a time about the middle of the last century when the city of Mexico had become very dull.  Since the death of Havradi the famous toreador the bull fights had lost their charm with the public. It was the rainy season and they could have no processions and adverse winds had prevented the arrival of the fleet from Europe. The inhabitants clamoured against the public authorities for not finding means to amuse them. The governor Don Alvarez Mendo ay Palenzuela y Arnam began at length to fear an insurrection. Having risen one day in worse humour than usual and feeling it his duty to attend to affairs of state he summoned before him the commander of the forces Don Gonsalvo de Saboya who like all Spanish officers claimed descent from Gonsalvo of Cordova.  The governor had a project in his head  “It is” said he to himself “a long time since the city of Mexico has enjoyed an auto da fe.  A spectacle like that would have the double advantage of quieting my complaining subjects and of securing the favour of the Inquisition which complains somewhat of my luke-warmness.”

And the most obvious choice for the festive pyre would be a native or cacique, a follower of the old Sun worship.  In fact there had been rumours of a renewal in the old believes amongst the locals that the Inquisition was not happy about. But of course like all politicians the good Governor doesn’t want to soil his hands with anything so unsavoury. So he delegates the task of finding a heretic to the good Commander  who not being the bravest or brightest of men delegates it to his Captain.  The Captain worries about his next commission and by happenstance discovers that his Sargent has a drinking buddy who is a Cacique and orders him to arrest his old friend.

La Grenadilla

Friday's FlowersNext to the toreador whose death was so much deplored, next to the processions, the bull fights and the arrival of the fleet from Spain the chief delight of the inhabitants of Mexico was the dancer Grenadilla.  Lord,  citizens, soldiers, sailors, everybody knew her; everybody admired her and respected her – and yet she was only a poor street dancer – a child of the common people, a gipsy and a mountebank.  Still whenever this mountebank gipsy began to dance the fandango there was not a duchess of them all who had an air more noble a more flexible form or whose movements were prouder and more graceful than were those of the Grenadilla.

Needless to say the Governor was not immune to the charms of this beautiful gypsy girl and she often danced for him in his private quarters. But when he pressed his suit she would laugh at him and run back to the streets to be with her people. When the Governor told her of the coming auto da fe La Grenadilla spread the word amongst the populace who greeted the news with acclamation.

Meanwhile Tumilco, the Sargent’s cacique drinking companion, was happily celebrating a successful day at the market at a local taverna.  His old friend the Sargent appeared but his charge was not to drink with Tumilco but to arrest the bewildered man.  He was trundled off to without a word of explanation to a dark cell away from the life-giving sun.  A month later he was led before the dreaded Inquisition where a tribunal of glowering priests demanded that he say a Pater or an Ave.  Poor Tumilco knew neither prayer and his silence condemned him as a heretic to be burned at the stake in the public square.

The Auto da Fe

In the mean time the Mexicans became impatient.

On every side was heard the inquiry “When is the auto da fe to place?  Will it be tomorrow or on the day after? Is it or proper to make us wait so long for the burning of a wicked little heretic? This is showing but small zeal for the interests of religion and little regard for the feelings of good catholics!”

All these remarks were repeated to the governor who replied “It is nothing to me. The prisoner is in the hands of the Inquisition. They may do what they please.”

Meanwhile the governor more enamored than ever of the charming Grenadilla would almost have himself worshipped the sun had it been necessary to please her. The Grenadilla however was incapable of requiring such an enormity.

At length one fine morning the inhabitants of Mexico saw the funeral pyre, which they had so long and impatiently expected, set up in the public square. The bells sounded a general peal. The fraternities of the Penitents, with banners flying, proceeded to the house of the grand inquisitor to form his escort to the elevated stand which had been reserved for him in the public square, and which fronted the funeral pyre.

Two o clock was the hour fixed for the execution.

But long before this, at an early hour of the morning indeed, the crowd had filled the place. At the windows, in the trees everywhere, one could see nothing but heads. These multitudes were talking, waving their hands, and calling impatiently for the victim. At last the cortege made its appearance on one side of the square. First came the clergy, then the Penitents, and last of all the victim surrounded by the soldiers of the Santa Hermandad.

At this moment all became still and deeply attentive.

To be continued next Friday …….

On this day in 1743: Jean-Pierre Christin developed the centigrade temperature scale.