There is Nothing Like This Dame

Dame Katherine Patricia Routledge proudly displays the insignia of her newly – and so justly – awarded DBE.  March 24, 2017.

I have never made any secret of my love for Patricia Routledge who I consider one of the great performers in my lifetime of theatre going.  I first saw her in 1967 at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre in the Broadway bound Darling of the Day (though it may have been called Married Alive at that point).  It was a show that changed titles almost as often as it changed directors and sadly folded after 31 performances in New York.  Blame for its failure was laid at many door steps – leading man Vincent Price, the work of five various book writers, even Jule Styne’s music and Yip Harburg’s lyrics came in for some criticism.  But the praise for Patricia Routledge was unanimous and she was – howbeit briefly – the toast of Broadway.  Her next Broadway appearance was to repeat the story:  Leonard Bernstein and Alan Jay Learner’s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was savaged by the critics and lasted seven performances after a tortuous try-out period.  But on opening night  Patricia Routledge received a mid-show standing ovation for her performance of “Duet for One (The First Lady of the Land)”. And on closing night the orchestra stopped the show to give standing-voice to their delight and approval. Flop or not that’s one show I wish I had seen.  Routledge was to receive Tony Awards for both these shows.

I was to see her again the summer of 1969 on stage at Chichester in Pinero’s The Magistrate   holding her own with Alastair Sim who was  giving what was considered by many as his greatest onstage performance. It was one of those theatrical events that stays in my mind until today.   For Routledge it was only the first of her many appearances at the Festival in comedy, musicals and drama.

She makes Chichester her home and works tirelessly for local and national charities both church and theatre related.  It was for these efforts as well as her theatrical work that her name appeared on the 2017 New Year’s Honours List.  On Friday a very smartly attired Patricia Routledge arrived at Buckingham Palace and was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire for her services to the theatre and charity work.  At her investiture Prince Charles recognized that it was an long overdue honour for the 88 year performer.

Though she is best know for the widely-viewed Keeping Up Appearances her television career has included the proto-type for what was to become Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues, murder mysteries, drama and comedy.  On stage most of her initial successes were in musicals – which comes as a surprise to anyone who every heard her Hyacinth Bucket vocalize for poor Emmett.  In a recent interview she said that you have to be a good singer to be able to sing off key.  Anyone who has listened to that episode would draw the conclusion that she must be a great singer.

Here she is giving proof of what had the critics and audiences on their feet back in 1967-68 in the eleven o’clock number from the ill-fated Darling of the Day:  Not On Your Nellie!

Around the same time she appeared as the Mother Superior in a studio recording of The Sound of Music.   Where the previous clip showed a bit of the Broadway belter this excerpt is almost operatic.

Though she has slowed down a bit she is still tours doing two shows:  Admission: One Shilling about the Wartime concert pianist Myra Hess and Facing The Music – reminiscing about her career on the musical theatre stage.

Congratulations Dame Patricia – there truly isn’t nothing like a Dame!

Some other appearances by Dame Patricia on Willy Or Won’t He:
As the very opinionated and not at all shy Kitty on Victoria Wood:  Lunedi Lunacy
A very rare early recording of popular songs: Mercoledi Musicale

On this day in 1807:  The Swansea and Mumbles Railway, then known as the Oystermouth Railway, becomes the first passenger-carrying railway in the world.

06:29 – It’s Spring

Yes it appears that this morning at 06:39 Spring arrived in all it’s glory!  Even as I speak write people are throwing aside gloves and scarves; boots and downy coats are being jettisoned, and toques and muffs cast to the (very strong) winds.   And then they are very quickly gathering them up again and shivering as they put them back on.  Yes it is Spring on the Island – or at least on some Island somewhere.

I honestly think we should rethink this whole: the sun is directly overhead the celestial Equator so that makes it Spring theory.  We all know that here in Canada – and it appears this year no region is being spared – snow at Easter is not an unknown; hell snow for May Day isn’t much of a surprise either.

However in honour of the season – if not the day – I call to mind a little ditty (oh grow up I said ditty) that one of my former supervisors at Air Canada use to recite every March 20th.  George was an Ottawa valley boy and had an accent that suggested that exotic mix of Irish and French that you find out Packingham way.  To this day I can see him standing on the steps of the control podium and  in my mind’s ear (!) hear him declaim:

spring-birdSpring has sprung!
The grass has rize!
I wonder where
the birdies is?

They say the bird
Is on the wing!
But we all know that
that’s absurd!
We know the wing
Is on the bird!

They are real poets in the Valley!

Happy first day of spring – now where the hell did I put that thermal underwear?

On this day in 1854: The Republican Party of the United States is organized in Ripon, Wisconsin.

It’s All A Matter of Interpretation!

I know there is a better version of this out there but I can’t seem to find it.

But I still want to know – what the hell is the answer?

And thanks for my friend Shirli for putting me on to this.

On this day in 1794: Eli Whitney is granted a patent for the cotton gin.

Spring Ahead

For Cathy, Faye, Darrell, Jeffrey and all my churchy friends to join in joyful chorus.

Though it may seem that we just set our clock back only months ago – to be honest it was less than five months ago – it’s time to spring gaily forward even though spring is still 10 days away.  Because we follow – often foolishly though in this case we are their biggest trading partner so needs must – our American cousins we are making that one hour adjustment tomorrow.  Our European friends are waiting until the last Sunday in March  after the official arrival of Spring while much of the Middle East will have jumped ahead a few days earlier on the Friday.  And let’s not even look at the Southern Hemisphere let alone Saskatchewan which doesn’t observe DST however since it is theoretically in the Mountain Time Zone but observes Central Time is actually on DST all year round.

Now there’s all sorts of discussions going on about the advantages and disadvantages of going on Daylight Savings Time and because, as I’ve often said, I don’t get involved in politics my question is “does it affect when the sun is over the yardarm?” That question is easily answered – it doesn’t because the “sun is always over the yardarm” someplace in the world.  However experience has taught me that there are two things that are seriously affected by the push of that hour  to and fro – animals and church attendance.

dog-dinner-dstWe are often told that dogs (and cats for those of you what has them) have no sense of time but any of our Hounds from Hell have always felt the time change.  And it’s  particularly apparent at feeding time; not so much the spring forward as that means earlier “mangers” which for dachshunds is any time you want to feed them.  But that “fall back” thing does take some adjusting.  The indignity of not being fed at the time god intended but an hour later can led to some interesting conversations (oh come of it you have conversations with your dog or cat so don’t get so bloody high-handed with me!) and interactions.

And church?  Well any priest/minister/teacher can tell you that the Sunday of the time change at least two or three people, if not entire families will show up late/early for mass/service/Sunday school.  I myself remember on particularly dreary morning standing on the back steps of Saint Thomas Huron Street surrounded by swirling autumn leaves like something out of one of those pathetic Dickens’ stories waiting for someone to come along to open the vestry door.  Or arriving on a bright sunny morning in time for the Gloria when I should have been madly swinging a thurible an hour earlier during the Credo.

And here for all my church choir/organist friends is a little something that you might want to add to tomorrow’s service.  It would be a fine hymn for that period of mediation that follows the nap most of us take during the sermon.  And it’s sung to one that lovely old Welsh hymn tune Cwm Rhondda.


On this day in 1927: In New York City, Samuel Roxy Rothafel opens the Roxy Theatre.

A Brand New World

In which a post began last September is finally completed.

Looking across the Buttermilk Channel from Brooklyn to New York City from our stateroom on our arrival from Southampton on September 27, 2016. (A left click with enlarge the photo.)

After six days at sea last September the light house at Sandy Hook was a welcome sight. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have meant for early travellers, particularly immigrants, to see land after far longer, stormier, and less luxurious voyages across the Atlantic.  Throughout the Queen Mary 2 the origins and stories of Sam Cunard’s ships are traced in paintings of former liners, quotes, old photos, newspaper articles, portraits of famous voyagers, and potted histories of the Company’s successes.  However at the entrance to the Britannia Dining Room the panels trace the trials, successes and, sadly, failures of  their less famous passengers.  A reminder of what Trans-Atlantic travel meant for many of our parent, grandparents or great-grandparents – it followed an immigrant’s voyage from the Old World to the New.

At one end of the elevator concourse on the Queen Mary 2 this gigantic mosaic of Halifax born Samuel Cunard welcomed us aboard and bid us goodbye.  A left click will reveal what was on the tesserae that make up this impressive portrait.

It’s estimated that over 100,000 immigrants came to the shores of North America on one of the many Cunard ships that made the crossing on regular schedules. The process often began in the offices of Cunard agents throughout Europe who arranged travel to the company’s ports of departure and onward to New York, Boston, Halifax or Quebec City. The class most of these hopeful – often desperate – passengers travelled in was called “steerage”.  In the early days of sailing ships the name was apt – the area that had carried cargo from the New World to the Old served as sleeping quarters, dining room and bathroom for as many as 500 people crowded together like cattle for voyages that took up to 40 days.

A “guinea” was monetary value to denote charges to the gentry.  It was equivalent to £1-05s-0d.  Professionals were paid in guineas, labourers in Pounds.

Eventually wooden wind-powered ships were replaced by steel hulled steam ships which cut the longest journey to 12 days.  The United States government took the lead in demanding a standard for passenger carriage – the United Kingdom reluctantly followed suit and by the later half of the 19th and into the early 20th century standards had improved for what was often now called “Third Class”.  Sleeping quarters were segregated, sanitary conditions vastly improved, basic food provided and a promenade deck provided fresh air.  The Captain was now being held responsible for the cleanliness, health, and discipline on board his ship and fines were severe for non-compliance.

The Cunard agents booked the emigrants passage to the departure port, arranged accommodation (in hostels affiliated with the line) and transportation to the ship. Ofttimes it was  here that the change of names took place not as erroneously thought on New Yorks’ Ellis Island, Halifax’s Pier 21 or Quebec City’s Grosse Isle and Louise Basin.  The agents were dealing with people who’s language or even alphabet was not their own and names would be shortened or Anglicized and appeared in their new form on the ships’s manifest.  More often than not immigration officers in the receiving ports were recent immigrants or sons of immigrants themselves and spoke several languages.  New York’s mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was an officer at Ellis Island for several years and spoke Italian, Yiddish, German, French, Hungarian, and Croatian as well as English.  And he was not unusual for that.

The Manifest of Alien Passengers on the HMS Luciana which set sail from Liverpool on September 19th, 1903 and arrived New York on September 26th.

As Cunard was subject to fines for anyone deemed inadmissible the Company set aside sheds at their ports where doctors examined all the steerage passengers prior to boarding.  They were then given an antiseptic bath, a haircut and their luggage subject to disinfecting by steam – a process which often destroyed their worldly belongings as well as germs and vermin.  They would then be quarantined for several days before boarding their ship.

Cunard’s SS Lucania served the Liverpool, Queenstown, New York corridor from her launching in 1893 until 1907 when she was replaced by RMS Lusitania.

The Queen Mary displays centred on immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, but the experience was much the same in Boston, Halifax or Quebec City.  The Commanding Officers would present the passenger manifests and the required paper work to an Immigration Official who had boarded the ship with the pilot.   As well as the manifest affidavits addressing the health of those on board were required.

The following transcript is taken from the  Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild* entry for the arrival Manifest of the Cunard liner SS Lucania from Liverpool, England and Queenstown, Ireland into New York City on July 28, 1902.

Affidavit of the Master or Commanding Officer, or First or Second Officer.

I, Jas. B. Watt, Master of the Lucania from Queenstown do solemnly, sincerely, and truly swear that I have caused the surgeon of said vessel sailing therewith, or the surgeon employed by the owners thereof, to make a physical and oral examination of each and all of the aliens names in the foregoing lists or Manifest sheets, 9 in number, and that from the report of said surgeon and from my own investigation, I believe that no one of said aliens is an idiot, or insane person, or is a pauper, or is likely to become a public charge, or is suffering from a loathsome or a dangerous contagious disease, or is a person who has been convicted of a felony or other crime or misdemeanour involving moral turpitude, or a polygamist, or an anarchist, or under promise or agreement, express or implied to perform labour in the United States, or a prostitute, and also, according to my knowledge and belief, the information in said Lists or Manifest concerning each of said aliens named therein is correct and true in every respect.

(signed) J. B. Watt, Commanding Officer

Sworn to before me this 28th day of July, 1906 at New York
(signed) (illegible) Immigration Officer

Affidavit of Surgeon

I, B. Sydney Jones, Surgeon of the Lucania, Sailing Herewith, do solemnly, sincerely, and truly swear that I have had 9 years’ experience as a Physician and Surgeon and that I am entitled to practice as such by and under the authority of RCP London & RCS, Eng., and that I have made a personal examination of each of the aliens named herein, and that the foregoing Lists or Manifest Sheets, 9 in number, are, according to the best of my knowledge and belief, full, correct, and true in all particulars, relative to the mental and physical condition of such aliens.
(Signed) B.Jones.

Sworn to before me this 28th day of July, 1906, at New York.

(Signed) (illegible), Immigration Officer.

After the Immigration Officials had been reassured that indeed the Commanding Officer and Surgeon of the Lucania  had personally checked all the people on the 9 pages of the Manifest who were not citizens of the United States the process of verifying the suitability of said aliens to reside in the United States began.  Of the 970 passengers on board 570 were in steerage, though not all of them were immigrants, passenger #869 was author Sinclair Lewis who was returning home to continue his schooling at Yale.

Upon docking at either the Hudson or East River pier the cabin class passengers would disembark and proceed through what were lax procedures even for those who were immigrants.  Often people who otherwise would have been “excludable” would spend the extra money on a cabin knowing that their chances of avoiding being deported were better as “cabin class” passengers.

The Princzess Irene was a North German Lloyd steamship that did the Genoa-Napoli-New York run until the outbreak of the Great War.  Stranded in New York Harbour it was seized by the US and was rechristened the USS Pocahontas.

It was not so easy for those in steerage.  Wearing tags bearing their manifest number they would be hurried along to board barges and then wait for hours for transport to Ellis Island for processing.  Even then a type of segregation was practised and passengers would be lined up according to their appearance with the prosperous-looking in the front of the line.  Those who Cunard officials felt would possibly hold up the process – poorly or unusually dressed passengers – were kept to the last.

A button-hook was used to lift the immigrant’s eyelids to check for trachoma.

On arriving the passengers, who were allowed to enter the main shed in groups of thirty, would face their first challenge:  a wide steep staircase to the Registry Room.  Most were unaware that they were being watched by medical inspectors as they struggled to reach the top carrying the possessions they had brought with them.   Anyone showing difficulty – gasping, stopping – had a large “H” marked on their back in chalk, a signal for a further medical check.  They were eyed quickly from head to toe and further chalk marks could be added – “G” for goitre, “L” for lame, “B” for back.  Elaborate hairdos were suspected of camouflaging possible scalp diseases, a child of an age to walk who was being carried was examined for infantile paralysis, signs of mental weakness were looked for; the inspectors had it down to a science and the process was quick and over in less than three minutes.  The final check was the dreaded “eye” men; using button-hooks they would lift the eye-lids of each passenger looking for signs of highly infectious trachoma.  A large chalk “X” could lead to further examinations, possibly hospitalization, and in many cases deportation.

If the immigrant passed the medical there was still the Immigration Inspector to see – the final arbiter with many questions about you: Who you were?  Where you came from? Why you were immigrating?  Were you an anarchist? Were you a polygamist?  Did you have relatives in the United States?  Many of the same questions Cunard had asked you on their manifest.  The inspecting officer would make notations on the manifest and indications of their decision.

Four to five hours after their arrival at Ellis Island almost 98% of the immigrants were free to leave.  The sad unlucky few who had been refused would be held on Ellis Island (sometimes for a lengthy period in the detention hospital there), deported on the next ship back to England or Ireland and an unknown fate. Such was the case of Frum Churchin who had made the trip to be reunited with her husband, who had no doubt come ahead to get settled and then send for his wife.  This transcript is taken from the documentation from the arrival of the SS Lucania on July 28, 1902.

882* Churchin, Frum? 46y; female; married (stamped over: “In Hospital”); HWife;
Contract 43236; can read/write; Nationality: Russia; Race-Hebrew; Last Resi-(“Russia” heavily written over something else); Final Dest: New York
City; tkt?-yes; Pd by Self; Has $10; In US before?-no; Joining Husband, N. Churchin, 282 Monroe St, New York City, NY; In prison-no; Polygamist-no;
Anarchist-no; Promise of Labor-no; Health-?; Crippled/Deformed-no.

“Deported” stamped over passenger number on Manifest.

Amongst the standard information – literacy, nationality, race, funds, anarchist (?) is the dreaded question mark following “Health”.  Mrs Churchin had been subjected to the button-hook and according to the deportation record below (though the name is spelled differently the passenger number is identical) trachoma had been detected rendering her inadmissible.  She had been given one meal – a dinner – at the Island facility and then boarded on the RMS Carmania (another Cunard liner) for return three days after her arrival.

*Chinejin, Fruine 46y; female; Grp 5, Pg. 1; 1 person (Pass 882); Cause of
Detention-Dr.Cert. Trachome; Insp-Rotz; Def: 7/30, Pg (unclear); Secy-Lor;
Deported: 10:30 7/31/06, Carmain, Officer: Kennedy; Meals: 1-Dinner.

It is hard to imagine the emotion after such a long voyage – which according to the records started in Russia – to be so close and yet so far. What would happen to her? Where and what was she headed for when she returned to Liverpool? What of her husband who was no doubt waiting for her? Trachoma was largely untreatable and repeated infections lead to blindness.  Unfortunately though much has been done in transcribing passenger list from to the New World very little seems to have been done to record the return voyage.  I’ve been unable to trace anything about Frum Churchin (Fruine Chinejin) after she left New York on July 31, 1906.  Sadly this was often the fate of those who were turned back.

Reading over what I have written since that day in September when we stood in line for the longest time to go through Immigration at the Brooklyn Cruise dock after seven days on a luxury liner I question how I would have fared as an immigrant over a century ago.  And I think back to my mother in 1919 – a 17 year old girl who had never been outside of Crumlin coming to a strange country to be with family she had never met.  I can only imagine the courage, and often the desperation, that it took for her and all those others to take that step.  And I think how lucky for me and so many of us that that step was taken.

On this day in 1900:  The German liner SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse becomes the first ship to send wireless signals to shore.