I'm an aunt again (for the 27th time) and I'm resenting the Corona virus more than ever today because I don't know when I'll be able to see this little cutie in person. Nevertheless, it's a time of rejoicing and a reminder that even in- especially in- troubled times, there is life and love and family.
“I love these little people; and it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us.” ― Charles Dickens
This time of year it melts away fairly quickly, although we're supposed to have another storm on Monday. I bought a pot of tulips to remind myself that it's actually spring:
And spring arose on the garden fair, Like the spirit of love felt everywhere; And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast rose from the dreams of its wintry rest. -Percy Bysshe Shelley
I'm not housebound at present time- I'm still going in to work almost every day. One reason for this is that the company I work for is sourcing materials for making masks and scrubs, though demand is swiftly exceeding supply. But we're working with a skeleton staff, with only between 2-4 of us in the building depending on the day. I am finding this social distancing wearing, mostly because I'm used to spending time with various members of the family every week, and now haven't seen any of them in person for about a fortnight. I played Trivial Pursuit online last night with my parents and two sisters, but it's not the same. I especially miss seeing my nephews and nieces, though at least I get to see updates on their activities on Facebook. For example, some of the nephews organised a tourney with various challenges including archery (they have compound bows) and duelling with "swords":
Toasting their successful tournament:
My church's services are only online at the moment, so I'll be attending at home again today:
I'm finding this social isolation wearing, but am not really complaining- I know that I am incredibly fortunate to still be working when so many are not. But I do worry about how long our economy can sustain having so much shut down. I know that it's necessary to keep this virus from spreading, but it's also necessary for those with families to feed to be getting a pay cheque. I don't envy those who have to do the risk assessment and make the decisions on these matters, but I'm hoping that they manage to find a balance between justifiable precaution and economic necessity. Stay well, everyone.
“Again, the publick shewed that they would bear their share in these things; the very Court, which was then gay and luxurious, put on a face of just concern for the publick danger. All the plays and interludes which, after the manner of the French Court, had been set up and began to increase among us, were forbid to act; the gaming tables, publick dancing rooms, and music houses, which multiplied and began to debauch the manners of the people, were shut up and suppressed; and the jack-puddings, merry-andrews, puppet-shows, rope-dancers, and such-like doings, which had bewitched the poor common people, shut up their shops, finding indeed no trade; for the minds of the people were agitated with other things, and a kind of sadness and horror at these things sat upon the countenances even of the common people. Death was before their eyes, and everybody began to think of their graves, not of mirth and diversions.” ― Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year
Balancing out my frivolous Wodehouse and Broadway reading, I've been taking a look at Daniel Defoe's 1722 book A Journal Of The Plague Year. Written in the first person, the book gives a grim but fascinating account of 1665, the year London was ravaged by the bubonic plague. There is some dispute as to whether Defoe's book should be classed as fiction or non-fiction. On the one hand, all the places, events, and happenings in it seem to be verifiably true. On the other, it reads like a novel and, though it's written in the first person, that person isn't Daniel Defoe: he was only five in 1665. It seems likely that he based the book on the personal journal of his uncle Henry Foe; like the protagonist, Foe was a saddler (made & sold saddles) in London, and Defoe actually published the book using the initials H.F. In any case, as a work of accurate historical fiction A Journal Of The Plague Year is informative both about the progression of the plague and peoples' response to it. Although of course our "plague" today is much different, certain facets- such as found in the above quote- remain very familiar.
This image is from the 1944 film noir Laura, starring Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, and Clifton Webb. In it, police detective Mark McPherson is called to investigate the murder of society girl Laura Hunt, who was brutally murdered with a shotgun blast to the face when she opened the door of her apartment. As his investigation proceeds, McPherson discovers that a lot of Laura's friends were not really her friends and he himself is becoming oddly obsessed with the dead woman. Then... **Spoilers Ahead** it turns out that Laura isn't actually dead. Not only that, but the unknown-now faceless- woman killed was having an affair with Laura's fiance, Shelby Carpenter; he was meeting her at Laura's apartment while she was away in the countryside. In this scene, McPherson has taken Laura Hunt in for questioning about the murder... and a few other, more personal things:
This is another piece we were working on for our now cancelled concert: Lullaby, written by contemporary American composer Daniel Elder. It's the third of his "Three Nocturnes," the first two being Ballade To The Moon and Star Sonnet. The lyrics- also by Daniel Elder- are comforting, reassuring words which a mother would sing to her child, as the title suggests. But they can also be interpreted as comfort for those grieving a loss and the piece is sometimes sung at memorial services. In fact, one line of Lullaby is taken from the most well-known lyrics for Taps (also called Butterfield's Lullaby) the bugle call played at dusk and military funerals:
These are the lyrics from Daniel Elder's Lullaby:
Lullaby, sing lullaby The day is far behind you The moon sits high atop the sky Now let sweet slumber find you Away, away
The day is done, and gone the sun That lit the world so brightly The earth's a-glow with speckled show Of twinkling stars so sprightly Away, away
Where the sunlight is beaming Through a deep cloudless blue And the treetops are gleaming With a fresh morning dew Where the mountains are shining On the meadows below In a brilliant white lining of a new fallen snow
Close your eyes, breathe in the night A softer bed I'll make you The trial is done, all danger gone Now let far dreaming take you Away, away
Where the ocean is lapping at a soft, pearly shore And the swaying palms napping as their swinging fronds soar Now the dark night approaches, yet so soft and so mild
Lullaby, sing lullaby (Sleep, sleep) Sleep, my child (Now, my child)
P.G. Wodehouse's 1936 novel Laughing Gas is silly fun, something we could all use right about now. It has some features which will be instantly recognisable to Wodehouse fans such as the wealthy young British protagonist who, though perhaps not particularly clever, is good-hearted and well-meaning. There's also the precocious child, the laugh-out-loud ridiculous situations which occur, and even an intelligent, scheming butler. In Laughing Gas, Wodehouse also skewers show business, a world that he knew well; throughout the 1920's and '30s, he worked on many Broadway musicals and movies. He sends up the child star phenomenon, writers, actresses, moguls, the press, and more... while it's always funny, there's frequently more than a grain of truth underscoring these characters and their actions.
I presume that Wodehouse's child actor Joey Cooley is based on one of- if not the- first child movie stars, Jackie Coogan who is probably best known for starring in 1921's The Kid with Charlie Chaplin. Unfortunately, Coogan's story was darker than Joey's. After his father's death in a car accident, Jackie's mother and step-father siphoned off all of his amassed earnings- several millions, a huge amount in the 1930's- and blew it all on luxury cars, furs, and jewelry, leaving Coogan with nothing. Talk of some people who should have been "poked in the snoot." This eventually resulted in the California Child Actor's Bill being passed in 1939, often referred to as the Coogan Act. It requires a certain amount of a child actor's earnings to be put in a trust for them (called a Coogan account) and also lays down rules about the education of child actors as well as how many hours they are allowed to work.
The titular "laughing gas" which causes so much trouble for Reggie is of course nitrous oxide. It's been used as an anaesthetic in surgery and dentistry since 1844- and is still in use today. It's commonly called laughing gas because those who inhale it experience euphoria and often become giggly. In fact, long before it was used medically- as early as 1799- some members of the British upper class were using it recreationally, holding "laughing gas parties":
Oh, those crazy Brits. In any case, I'm pretty sure none of its side effects include switching bodies. In conclusion, Laughing Gas isn't my favourite Wodehouse stand-alone novel: that remains A Damsel In Distress. But it's a fun read and all-around good time, definitely worth picking up.