Me and Bridget Jones, we got a thing going on.

A couple of days ago I had finished a book and was looking for something light to read for the remainder of the evening. I went down to look at my bookshelves for something fun and not too taxing, and I saw my old copy of Bridget Jones’ Diary.

Remember Bridget Jones, BEFORE she became the star of not one, but two major motion pictures, BEFORE the Edge of Reason, and BEFORE she was Mad About The Boy? Those were the days. I will confess that I never saw the movie – and I don’t plan to see the upcoming one – because I loved the book so much I couldn’t bear to have it ruined. I didn’t enjoy the North Americanized Edge of Reason or Mad About The Boy, because I adored the very British peek into life in London. Silk Cut cigarettes! Weighing yourself using stones as a measurement! Milk Tray and Pimm’s Cups.

I eagerly opened the book and there, on the first page, was a diatribe about “learning how to programme video” and “creating themed mix tapes.” Programming video! Mix tapes! What year was this written, anyway?

1996. People, Bridget Jones’ Diary is twenty years old.

I’ll let that sink in for a bit.

I didn’t read it when it first came out; it was a year or two after that. I was working my first real job at a petroleum company, and I remember reading it on the train to work. I wore heels, nylons, and business suits to work every day, and that alone feels like a massive throwback. I wasn’t a thirtysomething Singleton, like Bridget, but I was a young working girl and sometimes it felt like I was playing a part. I could relate to her, even if I didn’t smoke and wasn’t having an affair with my boss.

1996. It doesn’t feel like twenty years ago, does it? Time, it flies.

Popular in 1996:

The English Patient

Oh, remember the dreamy, sexy, intensity of Ralph Fiennes? Hoo boy, there were some hot scenes in that movie, even if every man I’ve ever talked to about it thinks it is terribly dull. Whenever I think of The English Patient I think of Ralph Fiennes: I have been WALKING for THREE DAYS. Remember their dance scene? Did it just get hot in here? And poor darling Colin Firth as the sweet and cuckolded husband.

Other scenes of note: I have always had a bit of a crush on Willem Dafoe, but I have never actually watched the scene where he gets his thumbs cut off. I’m sure it’s not even graphic by today’s standards but still. And Juliette Binoche is absolutely perfect in that movie, along with Naveen Andrews as her lover.

I think I need to rewatch it!

Jerry Maguire

Where would we be without Jerry Maguire? We’d never say things like “show me the money” and “you had me at hello.” I just realized the adorable child in that movie must be about thirty by now. Huh.

Seinfeld

It was the height of Seinfeld mania, and that show still (mostly) stands the test of time. Yada yada yada.

Friends

Ross and Rachel were the big story, and every girl in town – myself included – had a Rachel haircut.

Tickle Me Elmo

Remember how innovative Tickle Me Elmo was? It was the toy at Christmas that parents were stampeding over each other to get. People were practically committing murder – or at least armed robbery – just to have a Tickle Me Elmo under the Christmas tree. In reality, Tickle Me Elmo was kind of a crappy, one-trick-pony toy. It also led the way for other creepy animatronic toys.

Macarena

The Macarena was very popular in 1996 and I was surprised to hear that my kids learned how to do it this year in the phys. ed. dance unit. Heyyyy Macarena.

Do you have a favourite memory from 1996?

you are my candy, girl

About a month ago, one of my kids mentioned casually that he’d never had a milkshake.

I’ll let that sink in.

Never. Had. A. Milkshake.

Almost eight years old!

I’m a terrible parent, you guys. A terrible, awful parent.

I’ve since rectified the milkshake issue (“this is so delicious, mom! I wish I could keep drinking it forever!”) but it did get me thinking.

Parents in my peer group are so health-conscious now. We know more about nutrition (or at least we think we do) and we are always fretting about what our kids eat. We make them kale chips and roasted chickpeas and avocado fudgesicles. These are all tasty snacks! I enjoy them myself! You can give the kids a bit of a treat and feel good about it too… plus those linked recipes are Nicole’s and they taste fantastic.

However.

Sometimes I am forcibly reminded that I ate a bunch of crap as a kid – whenever I could sneak it past my mom, that is – and while I’m carrying more junk in the trunk these days than I’d like I can’t say my early indulgences did me any harm.

And so, I’ve been trying really hard to occasionally give in to my baser instincts. I’ve been giving the kids freer access to some of the treats I loved as a kid myself… and mourning the ones that no longer exist, probably because of new food safety rules.

Foods like:

Shirley Temple (the drink) – When I was a kid, there was a “fancy” Italian restaurant in my hometown called Bacco’s. I don’t have any idea if the food was good, but I do know that on the rare occasions that we went, I was always allowed to order a Shirley Temple. It came in a tall glass and had two maraschino cherries speared with a plastic sword for garnish. They tasted so good, and at no point do I remember hearing anyone chastising me for drinking too much pop. We’ve now continued this with our kids at their favourite Chinese restaurant; the older boys can order Shirley Temples and jitter like fools until bedtime.

Froot Loops, Corn Pops, Frosted Flakes – My very favourite kids’ cereal was Frankenberry (mmm, red dye # 5), but it was pulled from the Canadian market in the early 80s. I switched my love to Froot Loops and it is a love that endures to this day (even though eating them lacerates the roof of my mouth and leaves a weird sugary film on my tongue that no amount of milk seems to rinse away). We go camping two or three times a summer season and one of our traditions is to stop and buy the snack pack of sugary cereals for the kids to eat while I’m cooking breakfast.

Squeeze Cheez – Oh, squeeze cheez. If Cheez Whiz wasn’t artificial enough to suit your tastes, there were always vacuum-sealed plastic tubes of “cheese” you could squirt onto crackers on to the end of your finger directly into your open mouth. For the adventurous among us, there was a spicy variety. As far as I know, you can’t get squeeze cheez anymore, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be still have perfect recall of that peculiar taste when I’m 90.

Bologna sandwiches – I haven’t given these to my kids yet although I have described them, and the reaction was horror from all three. My grandmother used to buy bologna just for me (she called it “baloney” and I still do; get out of here with your “bo-low-na”) and I reel to imagine how many sandwiches with Wonder Bread and Miracle Whip I consumed between the ages of 5 and 13.

Buried Treasures – These ice cream treats were “the bomb dot com” as my eight year old is fond of saying. A mix of orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream, they tasted like a better Creamsicle, but the best part was licking down to the stick and seeing what character was printed on it.

buried treasure

These are going for $35 on eBay. 

Sadly, Buried Treasures are no more. It’s a little disappointing. Nothing was as delicious on a hot summer day as one of these little orangey-vanilla delights and you know, if Farmers Dairy can bring back Beep for a limited nostalgia run I don’t see why Buried Treasures can’t make a triumphant return.

What was your favourite junk food indulgence as a kid? What have you shared with your kids while turning a blind eye to the questionable nutritive value? What sadly-departed treat do you miss the most?

 

You can never surrender.

In the last month, two strange packages have arrived at my house from Amazon; two vinyl records that my husband has taken to ordering for the vinyl record player that we do not yet possess. He has become very interested in vinyl records lately, which makes me wonder what ever happened to all the records we used to have, back when I was a kid. Probably they were all sold in yard sales or whatnot, since who played records by the 1990s? Certainly not me.

As a child, I remember going through my parents’ record collection; I still have a soft spot for Kenny Rogers and Creedence Clearwater Revival. In fact, my party trick is that I know all the lyrics to every Kenny Rogers song ever – even the less-popular ones like Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town and She Believes In Me. I remember looking curiously at the album covers of the hirsute CCR, which was starting to be an outdated look even then.

I had a lot of those little books that came with records to read along with. I can still hear the voice at the beginning: You can read along with me in your book. You know it’s time to turn the page when you hear this bell, like this…ding! Once I graduated from those records, I had a couple of LP’s that were pretty hip for a six-to-eight-year-old: the Mini-Pops and Disco Duck.

It was when I was nine that I got my first REAL record, and that was – inappropriately enough – Like A Virgin by Madonna. I remember looking at the album cover and thinking how beautiful she was, with her Boy Toy belt buckle and frothy dress. I began wearing a ton of rubber and friendship bracelets, as well as the occasional hair bow, in an attempt to emulate that look.

madonna

The second album I ever owned – and because of the event of cassette tapes, it was one of the last – was Corey Hart’s Boy in the Box.

Corey

Oh, how I loved that album. You can NEVER SURRENDERERERERRRRRR I would sing passionately in the mirror, using my hairbrush as a microphone. I would take out the album liner and read all the lyrics until they were memorized. I was sure – SURE – that I would marry Corey Hart when I grew up. After all, he was Canadian, and I knew that he spent time in Calgary, since this was featured in his Never Surrender video, and it was not that far from my house:

eamon

 So really, how hard could it be to meet and have him fall in love with me? Of course, this is what I looked like at the time, but I was still undeterred:

Sheep 001

I wrote letters to the Corey Hart Fan Club, and for my trouble I received a photocopied letter that said that even though it was photocopied, it really WAS Corey writing it. Swoon.

coreyhart

See you soon, Corey.

Well. Time went on and instead of vinyl albums I saved my money to buy cassette tapes instead. They were so much more convenient, as I could use them in my Walkman on the way to school. By the time I was fourteen, though, it became hilariously “retro trendy” to buy vinyl again, at used record stores. I even had a boyfriend working at one such store, and he would alert me to any Beatles albums that arrived. While my peers were embracing the New Kids on the Block, I was excited at my purchase of an old copy of The Wall. I read and memorized all the lyrics again, although I found them – along with the illustrations on the liner – disturbing and frankly, I didn’t even really like Pink Floyd. However, it looked cool with my copy of Abbey Road. To this day, I change the channel on the radio when I hear Another Brick in the Wall. No really, I think you *do* need education, sir.

And just like clothing fashions, it appears that vinyl is back in style. I wonder if you can still skip songs by counting the grooves on the record, or if the needle still bounces back and forth when the record is finished. Now, if only my parents still had those Kenny Rogers and Juice Newton records.

how may I direct your call?

This past weekend I had the very definition of a #firstworldproblem; my 10 year old was at a baseball clinic in one location, and my 7 year old was having his first music lesson in another. Two kids, two spots, one vehicle… and overlap.

I found myself needing to leave the music lesson early to pick up my oldest because I had no way to contact him, and he would have needed to use the community centre phone to call me. I was driving back and forth in a mad sweaty froth, it occurred to me that my boy, who still needs a snuggle on the couch sometimes, calls me “mommy” when he’s sad, and listens in when I read The Gruffalo to the little kids, will need his own cell phone.

When I was of an age to be left at various activities for later pickup, I always had a quarter in my shoe. Can’t lose it there, was my mom’s logic, and then if plans change or there is an emergency I could just go to a pay phone and bam! all set. I even figured out that if you found yourself without a quarter, you could call the operator and they’d connect you to any local number for free. It was great! Pay phones were plentiful. Remember banks of pay phones? Just a whole row of them all lined up, in mall entrances, airports, movie theatres… anywhere, really.

Phone booths were so ubiquitous that it made sense for Clark Kent to use them as changing rooms, for heaven’s sake.

***

When I was a teenager what I wanted more than anything else in the whole world was my own phone. Remember how Claudia Kishi was vice-president of the Babysitters’ Club just because she had her own phone? Magic. Her own phone number! She didn’t need to share it with anyone, or tie up her parents’ line. I was only a few years out from having a party line when I first read BSC and so the very notion of a 12 year old having a private phone was more exotic to me than her creative fashions.

Do you remember party lines? I tried explaining it to my kids just the other day. See, there were three families on our line, and each family had a different ring sequence. I think ours was short-short-long. If we heard that, we knew it was for us, and we answered it. We heard all the rings for the other two families, too. And if someone else was using the phone, you could pick up your phone and listen to the whole conversation! Oh, and our neighbours had two teenagers so we almost never got phone calls, because they were on the phone all the time.

Whenever I hear of teens sending thousands of texts or snapchats in a month, I remind myself how many hours days months of my own teen years on the phone, and I say nothing.

***

My first cell phone was an enormous thing with a retractable antenna and no extra features. I remember I once downloaded a ringtone at a cost of two dollars and then I was stuck with Stewie from Family Guy yelling “DAMN IT, WOMAN!” for months because I didn’t want to download another one. The first time I saw a clamshell phone it was a revelation – so tiny! Then came my first phone with a sliding QWERTY keyboard to facilitate texting. Now I have an Android which is a tiny computer first and a phone second… how did we get from this:

Vintage rotary phone - black antique-phone

This image is named “antique phone”, if you want to die of old age today.

To this:

iphone6s-plus-rosegold-select-2015

In only twenty years? HOW???

***

So, to wit: I am old, you kids need to get off my lawn, and my ten year old will soon have a smartphone at his disposal, because we can add one to our existing cell phone plan for only $4 a month.

I still want one of these, if I didn’t think it would probably cost a small fortune on eBay.

clear phone

The Times They Are A-Changing

My older son got braces last week, and has been basking in the glory of having “teeth bling” ever since. He has received myriad compliments about how cool his new braces look; I expected them from the adults in his life, but was surprised to hear that his peers have also been commenting on his awesome new metallic smile. It made me think about how braces have morphed into an exciting status symbol/ rite of passage for young teenagers, when back in my day they were considered a curse.

It seems like half the population of tweens and teens are showing off their shiny metal grins, whereas when I was in junior high I knew a girl who refused to show her teeth for the two years she was undergoing orthodontic treatment. Brace Face and Metal Mouth were actual insults, whereas now braces are so commonplace and, frankly, desired, that no one would think of making fun of a child with braces.

It really made me think of all the things that have changed in perception from when I was young.

Nerds

Remember how people would dress up like a nerd for Halloween? Revenge of the Nerds? Can’t Buy Me Love? Being a nerd was considered to be social suicide, whereas now I think we can all agree that being nerdy is where it’s at. After all, those nerds can really make the big bucks, and with computers being so deeply entrenched in our society, acceptance of the nerd is now at an all-time high.

Smoking

It’s not like anyone thought smoking was a particularly good idea back in 1990, but it was certainly acceptable. At high school, there were designated Smoke Doors and even a part of the compound that was the Smoking Section. When I got my first office job as a summer student in 1997 some people still smoked in their offices, and I remember one professor telling me about the days when he and his students would smoke in class. I think someone would get pelted with rotten tomatoes if they tried lighting up in a lecture hall now, and at a school? Forget about it.

Mohawks

When I was a teenager I went to school with some real punks: the big boots, the leather and chains, and the Mohawk haircuts. These guys – and some girls – were badass and maybe even a little bit scary to a princess-type like me; they threw parties with lots of booze and drugs, some of them didn’t live with their parents, and there were always a few hanging out at the Smoke Doors. Only people who were very cutting edge and part of the punk culture had a Mohawk; now you see it on any given toddler coming out of Beaners’ with a lollipop.

Hair Colour

Speaking of punks, the only people who had hair colour that wasn’t a natural shade were the same people wearing Mohawks and chains. In fact, I don’t really remember anyone in junior high who coloured their hair; there might have been a few highlights and perhaps a Body Shop henna shade on some girls, but it certainly wasn’t common. And green, pink, purple, or blue hair colour? That was not for the pedestrian. Nowadays, though, it’s completely mainstream and even on fleek to have at least a streak of bright colour. Walk into any junior high class and you’re guaranteed to see several rainbow shades of hair.

Piercings

I have three earrings in my right ear and one in my left, and let me tell you, people, back in 1989, in my house, that was a scandal indeed. I had my ears pierced courtesy of an aunt on my ninth birthday, but when I was 13 I got a double piercing, followed by my third the next year. I snuck out to a salon in Estevan, Saskatchewan while visiting my grandparents that summer. My grandma knew and vowed to keep it a secret from my father who would flip out at such wanton behaviour. I had successfully hidden it for eight months until one unlucky day when I had pulled my hair into a ponytail. “NICOLE. What is with the DUAL PIERCED EARRINGS?” he said in his Scary Dad voice, and because I was evidently not very savvy, I said, “Actually, Dad, it’s three earrings, I just don’t have the bottom ones in.” With the brou-ha-ha that ensued, you would have thought I would have come home with a prison neck tattoo or something. I mean, it’s not like I had a tongue stud, which I think we all can agree has but one connotation. My dad might have been conservative even at the time, but he wasn’t totally alone in this. I knew several men of his age who would have fainted if their sons had come home with an earring, let alone two. I mean, think of the guys now who have those circular earrings that stretch their lobes out. THAT’S a crazy fad, to me, but maybe in 20 years everyone will have them. Or, those guys will just have droopy earlobes and deep regrets.

there’s a bathroom on the right

Many songs have commonly misheard lyrics. Jimi Hendrix wasn’t saying ‘scuse me, while I kiss this guy and Elton John is not imploring hold me closer, Tony Danza. AC/DC did not write an anthem about dirty deeds done to sheep and The Beatles did not sing a girl with colitis goes by.

What about the songs, though, that are complex metaphors? Or the ones that deal with adult subject matter or themes? I got to thinking about this the other day, when I heard my four-year-old singing the chorus to Space Oddity as background music for the elaborate game he was playing with his space Lego.

benny

Major Tom, apparently

I was amused to realize that there are a lot of songs I sang along with as a child while yet having NO IDEA what the real meaning was, or how inappropriate it was for me to be belting them out in the grocery store. And so, without further ado, I give you Songs I Shouldn’t Have Learned As A Child, Probably.

Space Oddity, David Bowie

So, my boys love Space Oddity just as much as I did when I was a kid, because it sounds like a sort-of scary song about an astronaut named Tom who flies into space and is lost. It tells a story, and what kid doesn’t love a story?

I was in my 20s before I started to wonder about this one. Then one night I heard Ashes to Ashes and it hit me like a ton of bricks: Ashes to ashes, funk to funky / we know Major Tom’s a junkie / strung out in heaven’s high / hitting an all-time low.

OMG THERE IS NO SPACESHIP OR ASTRONAUT OR ANYTHING MAJOR TOM IS A JUNKIE AND HE DIES AT THE END OF THE SONG.

This makes the song a brilliantly-crafted metaphor and helps account for its enduring popularity, but it also makes me wonder at what point I should enlighten the kids so they can avoid embarrassment at some future university trivia night.

Horse With No Name, America

I loved this one. So much going for it! Nice clear vocal track so you can learn the words, beautiful harmonies, a chorus where you get to sing “la, la, la-la la la” over and over again. Plus, horse.

I remember once pestering my dad for a good many minutes about what he would name the horse, if the horse belonged to him. Why no name, poor horse? Horses should have names.

When Trainspotting came out in 1996 I was eighteen – just the right age to not be horrified by the message but instead attracted to Ewan MacGregor, teenagers are weird. I suddenly got Very Informed about heroin culture and with dawning horror I realized that “horse” is a slang term for “heroin”.

Dammit, were all songs in the 1970s about drug overdoses??

Sam Stone, John Prine

OK, if you’re familiar with this song or you just clicked on that link to read the lyrics, you are asking yourself why is she so stupid, good lord, this song isn’t even a metaphor, it’s explicitly about a wounded war vet suffering from drug addiction. In my defense, my parents listened to a lot of John Prine when I was preschool age. I didn’t learn every word, because I simply didn’t have the life experience to even understand lines like there’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes. I would cheerfully sing along, thinking that a purple heart and a monkey on his back sounded VERY cool.

At the end of the song, the titular character is alone, when he popped his last balloon and because I was five and dumb, I honestly thought that he had started out with a bunch of balloons, and now the last one was popped. How sad! I vaguely remembered thinking that Sam Stone was a clown in a circus, or something (purple hearts! monkeys! balloons! he climbed the walls while sitting in a chair, for heaven’s sake!) and that he was too old to be in the circus anymore.

I don’t remember when I suddenly became aware of what I was actually singing, but it was a pretty sobering moment. I still love the song, but only when I’m feeling melancholy.

99 Red Balloons, Nena

Now, I freely admit I didn’t – and still don’t – know all the words to this one, but it’s such a happy song! Who doesn’t like the image floating in the summer sky / 99 red balloons fly by? I can’t remember who first told me that a) this song was originally written in German or b) that it was an anti-war protest song, but I know it was pre-easily-searchable internet, and that I didn’t believe them. I have a history of being extremely gullible, and this smacked of “someone’s trying to get Hannah to believe nonsense again”. When I finally had it all laid out for me one day, I was kind of horrified, and I still feel a little glum whenever I hear it.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

Private Dancer, Tina Turner

Tina Turner’s Private Dancer album came out in 1984, so I was six. My dad bought a copy and it was in heavy rotation there for a while. I haven’t tested the theory recently but I’ll bet I can still sing the whole thing (or at least mumble along phonetically).

I clearly recall twirling around the living room, singing Private Dancer and pretending I was a ballerina… because that’s what I thought it was about. A beautiful lady who was locked in a tower and only danced for one man.

I can only imagine what it was like for my parents to see six year old me singing I’m your private dancer / a dancer for money  while pirouetting in front of the stereo, but I’m sure they were relieved when that phase passed.

Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, The Beatles

Probably the most classic misunderstood song. The original and still the best. I was in grade seven when someone pointed out that Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was almost certainly not, as John Lennon claimed, based on a drawing by his son Julien. I refused to believe it, and held on to that for many years, because SERIOUSLY, WHY ARE ALL THE SONGS ABOUT DRUGS. Eventually I gave in, but I’ve always been kind of disillusioned by it all. I’ve never done LSD myself; I tried mushrooms once, and while it certainly made me feel shitty I didn’t see anything even remotely like the wonderland described in this song. I just got very paranoid, and twitchy, and ended that particular ill-fated experiment having a terrible fight with my then-boyfriend that ruined my weekend.

In short, kids, don’t do drugs!

Any songs you radically misunderstood as a child? Or an adult? Any songs you won’t let your kids listen to because you don’t want to have long involved conversations about the lyrical content?

 

 

 

Shagadelic

While reminiscing about Valentine’s Day with Hannah and Allison last week, I remembered a strange little detail from junior high that had been hereto repressed, deep in a dark place in my soul.

As I suspect most of my peer group did, I loved going to school dances in junior high. It was just so exciting; who would dance with whom? Would there be a slow dance? Would teachers tap a slow-dancing couple on the shoulder and tell them that there had to be a six-inch separation between bodies? What exactly were you supposed to do when slow dancing to Say You, Say Me? The middle part speeds up considerably, should you continue slow dancing or start fast dancing? Would they play Mony Mony and would it get forever banned from subsequent dances because of the entire gymnasium chanting the Hey motherfucker get laid get fucked part in the chorus?

Answer to the last question: yes. Every year at the first dance that song would get played, and then stopped mid-song, never to be played again until the following September.

At my junior high, there were a couple of big dances per year, and they would be held in the evening. These dances were usually the semi-formal one at Christmas, and then again in the late spring. Throughout the year, however, were after-school dances for Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and the like. At other schools, so I hear, this type of after-school dance was commonly referred to as a Sock Hop.

Not at my school, though. At my school, an after-school dance was known as a Shag.

Now, apparently this is a common name for a particular kind of dance from the 1930s, which involved vigorous hopping from one foot to another. However, I did not go to school in the 1930s and I seem to remember that dancing in the Eighties was less like vigorous hopping and more like this:

But I could be wrong.

The point is, I spent my entire youth thinking that a Shag was an innocent after-school dance. I was in university, going to see Austin Powers with my then-buddy-who-became-my-boyfriend-who-eventually-became-my-husband, when the other, better known meaning came to light.

That moment caused me to reflect back on everything I knew as a youth. Everything was a sham. My eyes were opened and to this day, I have to do a quick check to make sure I’m not naively saying something that has an entirely-different meaning.

That was the end, my friends, of innocence.

put a little love in your heart

Mired deep in the doldrums that is a Canadian February lies buried one of the weirder holidays – Valentine’s Day.

I could write essays about how strange Valentine’s Day is. About how fraught with weight and expectation it is. I could go on and on about the cards I saw at the drugstore last night; if you think your husband is “my everything, my whole life” then I humbly submit you may need some hobbies.

But I won’t! This blog is all about looking back. See how many of these memories sound like yours of Valentine’s Day gone past.

A week or so before V-Day, the class list would come home, along with a notice about the class party. We’d go to Zellers and get a box of pre-made Valentines – gendered to within an inch of their lives, I might add, some things never change – and we’d sit, carefully and painstakingly writing each classmate’s name on the “to” line. I’d always check each one off on my list because I lived in terror of missing someone and hurting their feelings, but I would choose the wording for each carefully. Boys I found repellent? “You’re a star, Valentine!” Boys I had a crush on? “You’re sweet, be mine”.

I still remember my mortification when I expressed my grade-two yearning for Ryan in the form of a Cheer Bear Valentine and he laughed at me. Ah, love’s cruel sting, etc.

The cards were always stuffed into a decorated paper bag, or envelope, or heart-shaped pouch made of red construction paper (February 13th’s art class!) Then the envelopes were immediately dumped out all over the desks, and we went through them all while munching on whatever treats moms had sent.

Somebody’s mom always sent heart-shaped sugar cookies with pink frosting. Someone else’s usually sent a cake. Children, this was in the days before organic vegetable trays with homemade hummus were de rigueur; even ranch dip and carrot sticks were rare. If you wanted the approbation of your classmates, it was refined sugar and white flour all the way.

Once we got to grade four, we were allowed to attend the Valentine’s Day sock hop at lunch hour. Yes, it was still called a sock hop even though this was the late 1980s. The first time I ever heard AC/DC in my life was at a V-Day sock hop… needless to say I was quite a bit older before I actually understood the lyrics to Pour Some Sugar On Me. I distinctly remember thinking it was meant literally.

Sugar Bomb

See, this seems fun, despite Adam Levine’s angry expression. 

 

Do you have a favourite Valentine’s Day memory?

 

Depressing-era Books

When I was a child I had a real affinity for books that had what I would call a “hard-luck factor.” My favourite books centred around heroines who were unloved or unwanted, who suffered poverty and hardships, and who – in the case of Heidi – were sent away to big cities to entertain wheelchair-bound children. In all cases, the heroine would overcome all obstacles to be showered with love, affection, and occasionally amazing gifts, like Sara Crewe in her icy-cold attic room.

Whether it was Anne Shirley or Emily Starr shedding their unwanted-orphan status to become much-loved members of the community, or Sara Crewe going from riches to rags to near-death from overwork and exposure to riches again, I devoured those stories, over and over. Sometimes the poverty would be relative, like Meg March having to wear an afternoon dress to an evening event. Sometimes it would be overt and terrible, like Laura Ingalls subsisting for months on a few slices of bread made out of ground seed wheat and a potato a day.

littlehouse 001

But there is no poverty like the poverty in Depression-era Liverpool. I was tidying my bookshelves the other day when I came across Liverpool Miss, by Helen Forrester.

liverpool-miss

Are you familiar with this book? It is an utterly wretched, true story about a girl growing up in Liverpool in the 1930s. Her formerly-socialite-now-completely-broke parents force her, as the eldest child, to quit school to stay home to look after her six brothers and sisters. They have no money, and live on the brink of starvation in an unheated house that is overrun with bugs. She desperately tries to go to night school, and then to get a job, but is constantly discouraged by her parents, who treat her like a slave.

In other words, it’s a pretty dark book.

Eventually things turn out well – relatively speaking – although she undergoes a few illnesses that are exacerbated by her lack of nutrition and proper clothing. Any money that she manages to make once she actually gets a job is taken from her by her parents, who rail against her for every thing she does.

What is it about these hard-luck stories that is so appealing to children? Is it the heroine’s inevitable rallying to overcome any obstacle, whether it be incredible poverty or simply the stigma of serving your friend what you thought was raspberry cordial but was really wine? Or is it the way it makes the young reader’s life seem glorious by comparison? I mean, having a fight with your brother doesn’t really compare to having to make friends with a rat in the attic. Your mother being mad at you for breaking a plate isn’t really on the same scale as your mother telling you that you don’t deserve food and should save it for your six younger siblings.

I think it’s probably a bit of both. The common theme in this genre is that the heroines are always eventually compensated in some way for their hardships. Laura eventually finds herself in the midst of a good old-timey romance, and is the recipient of a very special hair comb. Sara becomes a wealthy princess once more thanks to an accidental discovery due to her cheerful, optimistic spirit. Anne and Emily live their best lives and Heidi goes back to the mountains.

And Helen, the Liverpool Miss? Well, she gets to go to the theatre once and…that’s about all.

It’s all relative.

The Voice falls silent

One week ago today, the world lost a truly unique talent when British actor Alan Rickman died of pancreatic cancer.

He was only sixty-nine years old.

There have sadly been many celebrity deaths already in 2016. David Bowie, who I knew first from Labyrinth and only later from his music. Brian Bedford, the Stratford theatre actor who made a cartoon fox totally crushable in Disney’s Robin Hood. Glenn Frey, guitarist & founding member of The Eagles. It’s been rough – we have reached the age where we feel like we have to start checking the obituaries because we’re going to recognize a name or two. I’ve made my peace with sliding gently toward my forties, but if I’m getting older it means my idols are too, and the outpouring of public grief that follows a celebrity death is each of us mourning our own mortality.

Alan Rickman hit me the hardest. He is one of the few actors that I would approach if I ever saw him out in the world, just to thank him for his many performances that have brought me so much joy over the years. He was my first non-teen-magazine-approved crush. He could convey a full range of emotions with a quirk of one eyebrow. A friend of mine whose young daughter performs on stage tells her to speak slowly and deliberately; “bring a bit of Severus Snape to every role you play”. Depending on how old you are and where your interests lie, he was Hans Gruber or the Sheriff of Nottingham or Harry Potter’s nemesis or Harry the cheating lout.

Just about everyone has an Alan Rickman role that sticks in their mind, and in the days following his death the internet was awash in memories, memes, and video clips. It was a public funeral, really, and it helped us all.

And so, in no particular order, here are some of Rickman’s most iconic performances.

With-a-spoon

The Sheriff of Nottingham

When I was thirteen, I went to see Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I went because Christian Slater was in it. CHRISTIAN SLATER. I had so many posters of his face, torn carefully out of Tiger Beat and the like. I came out two hours later (and went straight to Zellers to buy the soundtrack on cassette, because I was cool like that) wondering just who that British dude was who played the Sheriff.

I distinctly remember his throwaway lines as he stormed through the castle in a rage. He runs past two serving girls, skids to halt, and points dramatically:

You. My room. 10:30 tonight. You. 10:45. And bring a friend.

I thought to myself ha ha ha, that’s funny, because there’s a sex joke in there. Wait. Hold on. Bring a friend? Like, two of them? Like two of them AND him at the same time? No joke, that was my first-ever inkling that more than two people could have sex at once, and I had no idea how it would work but it was certainly intriguing.

tumblr_ln034hSqrr1qfueh7o1_500

Hans Gruber

There are those who will always associate Alan Rickman with the Harry Potter universe, and there are those who will never get past his first movie role, in arguably one of the finest action movies ever made, Die Hard. (It’s also a sort-of-unlikely Christmas tradition for a lot of folks, so get on that, Netflix.)

Better writers than I have talked about how this particular role is pretty damned inspiring, because Rickman was 42 years old when he was cast as the suave and terrifying Gruber. I know a lot of folks who aren’t 42 yet who are convinced their life path is carved in stone. To those people I say “yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker”. Rickman owned this role, and you can see echoes of his icy, merciless performance in countless action movie villains since.

Galaxy Quest

Alexander Dane / Dr. Lazarus

Galaxy Quest is a movie I watched once, when it first came out, and then not again until this past weekend. I was much more able to appreciate it now, after nearly 20 years of watching Star Trek – because if you haven’t seen it, Quest is the finest Trek parody ever filmed. This is due in large part to Rickman’s portrayal of frustrated stage actor Alexander Dane, forever trapped in a role that comes with a prosthetic head and a catchphrase: “By Grabthar’s hammer, by the suns of Warvan, you shall be avenged.” Just listen to the disgust in his tone as he is forced to recite “the line” at a store opening:

It’s also on Netflix right now, so go watch it. You’ll thank me.

Metatron

The Metatron

I know Kevin Smith’s movies aren’t for everyone. The humour is juvenile, the directing style is usually pretty flat, and they often don’t have much more to say beyond very VERY broad social satire.

If you haven’t seen Dogma, though, you really ought to give it a chance. The humour is still juvenile, that’s true, but it’s a fascinating look at the nature of faith. Any movie that has a Catholic plenary indulgence as the plot lynchpin but still manages to fit in dick jokes – and have both work – is pretty remarkable.

Rickman’s portrayal of The Metatron – the Voice of God – is nuanced, funny, loving, and imbued with a pathos that elevates the whole film.

Brandon

Colonel Brandon

Surely I don’t need to tell any of you about his heartwrenching portrayal of Colonel Brandon, in Sense & Sensibility? Pity the poor actor who played the cad Willoughby, who was supposed to be believable as Marianne Dashwood’s crush but paled in comparison to the always kind but inexpressibly sad Colonel.

Snape

Professor Snape

JK Rowling has said on several occasions that Rickman was in her mind when she wrote the character of Professor Snape, and it truly is hard to imagine any other actor in the role. It’s an amazing achievement, when you look at all eight movies as a whole; the audience is required to believe that he is a terrible villain, capable of horrible cruelty; we need to hate him as much as Harry Potter does, and that’s a challenge when the actor is as beloved as Rickman was by the time he took on this role.

As the series progresses, we are asked to feel sympathy for Snape as a child and a young man, never popular, never fitting in, coming from a broken home. We see his helplessness over his estrangement from Lily, and his anguish when he realizes his actions have caused her death.

By the final movie, when Snape dies, you are cognizant of having lived through once of the most layered and complex character portrayals you’ve ever seen on film. Then you remember that he knew where Snape was headed all along (Rowling told him, as an enticement to take on the role) and yet never allowed that knowledge to bleed through his performance in the earlier films.

It’s pretty amazing, really, and it’s no wonder that a whole generation of young people (including my own 10 year old, who was devastated at the news that Snape had died) will forever associate him with this role.

I could go on. Alan Rickman had a steady career in film, and I’ve yet to see him in a movie where he didn’t elevate the performances of everyone around him. After his death, many actors talked about how generous he was, how unfailingly kind and encouraging, how warm and loving to his family and wide circle of friends. By all accounts he was not only a unique talent, but also a genuinely decent human being.

I’ll leave you with his last “performance”, a short narration of a charity fundraiser for Save the Children. Please, click on the link – each view means a donation to this worthwhile cause, and it’s a fine way to honour his memory.