A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Saturday, May 25, 2013

One's Favourite Programme On The Telly

 (L-R: Trixie, Cynthia, Jenny and, of course, Chummy)
Whew! Chummy didn't die! What a relief! Of course, if she had died, the producers would have been confronted by millions of angry fans making like peasants with pitchforks.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you haven't seen "Call The Midwife," the period drama from England that ended its second season on PBS last week.
It's about a group of young nurse/midwives and the Anglican nuns of Nonnatus House, a nursing convent in London's impoverished East End, during the early 1950s, right after universal health insurance was established. The nurses are initially appalled by the horrible conditions their patients have to live in, but they come to admire them for their perseverance and dignity.
After two seasons, the characters have become like old friends to us fans. There's the deeply spiritual but also extremely practical Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter); the blunt, earthy Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris); the dotty Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt), who might be losing it but might be doing it on purpose just to aggravate Sister Evangelina; and the sweet, earnest Sister Bernadette (Laura Main), the only nun who is the same age as the lay midwives.
The midwives include the pretty, idealistic Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine, with voice-over narration by Vanessa Redgrave playing Jenny as an old woman); the flirty, optimistic Trixie (Helen George) and the shy, sensitive Cynthia (Bryony Hannah).
But the breakout star of the series is nurse/midwife Camilla Fortescue Cholmeley-Browne (played by the marvelous Miranda Hart), known as "Chummy" to her friends.
Belittled by her aristocratic family, Chummy is crippled by shyness and lack of self-confidence. Her great height and physical clumsiness are part of the problem, but one suspects (that’s the way Chummy talks) a loveless childhood spent in boarding schools hurt, too.
But she is eternally good-humored and exceptionally kind, and she soon finds her true family in the nurses and nuns at Nonnatus House.
She also finds true love in the person of an ordinary working-class street cop whom she marries to the horror of her aristocratic family and the delight of her new friends. And, for the first time in her life, she thrives.
It's hard to express how much the fans of this show adore Chummy. She's the classic ugly duckling who blossoms into a swan, and it's a moving thing to watch.
So when word filtered out that Chummy's own pregnancy  was going to have a life-threatening complication – the same thing that killed Lady Sybil in "Downton Abbey" – we all went into a panic. Life without Chummy was too horrible a prospect to contemplate.
But we needn't have worried. The producers were too smart for that. Not only did they let her live, they threw in a resolution to the Sister Bernadette/Dr. Turner will-they-won't-they relationship that was the most romantic scene I have ever seen.
The series is based on the true-life memoirs of Jennifer Worth, after whom the character of Jenny Lee is modeled. Worth died on May 31, 2011, almost exactly two years ago. But the stories and characters she gave us will live forever.
Season three is already in production and will air on PBS in early 2014. In the meantime, do yourself a big favor and rent seasons one and two from Netflix. You'll thank me for it.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Grammar Police Strike Again!

If you've ever been on Facebook, you know that the grammar police are out in full force. And now they've moved from the virtual world to the real one.
Case in point: Mr. Mopps' toy store in Berkeley, which for months has had a sign on its front door reading, "Push it good" – a cultural reference to a 1987 rap song by Salt-N-Pepa.
Wouldn't you know it? Last week somebody posted a second sign next to the first, reading, "'Push hard.' 'Push good' is not good English. Kids must learn good English. Thanks."
In other literary news, congrats to Cal's University Librarian, Tom Leonard, for winning the New Yorker's weekly cartoon caption contest No. 371.
The cartoon shows a mouse holding a gun on a cat, who is speaking. Leonard's winning caption: "Six rounds. Nine lives. You do the math."
The prize doesn't include a free parking place on campus. (For that, you have to win a Nobel Prize, confirming former UC President Clark Kerr's famous observation that "The main preoccupations on campus are sex for the students, parking for the faculty and football for the alumni.)
But he will get a framed copy of the cartoon, including his caption, signed by the artist, Joe Dator. According to contest rules it's worth $250, and Leonard is responsible for any tax obligations.
Since the contest began in 2005 it has attracted many thousands of entries from would-be humorists, including the late film critic Roger Ebert, who entered 107 times and won once.
But Leonard cautions not to expect a repeat performance from him anytime soon.
"I'd have to be inspired again," he says. "But I'm not quitting my day job."
By the way, Leonard knows a thing or two about cartoons himself. He's written a biography of the greatest cartoonist of them all – Thomas Nast, the man who created the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey.
Finally, May has been a mixed month for the City of Oakland.
On one hand, the city is going through police chiefs like facial tissues – three in one week, at last count. And the Warriors are threatening to desert their loyal fans for the fleshpots of San Francisco.
On the other hand, Oaktown was chosen by the travel website Movoto as "The Most Exciting City In America." (And to rub salt in the wounds of those snobs across the Bay, San Francisco placed a distant third.)
The criteria included museums, bars, movie theaters, music venues and theater companies per square mile (the more the better); big box stores and fast food restaurants per square mile (the fewer the better); and park acreage per person.
The two final criteria were population diversity – the smaller a city's majority race, the higher the score – and percent of population between 20 and 34 years old.
"We aren't saying older people are boring," says Movoto. "But a younger population does tend to be more excitable."
Sure, Oakland has problems. But it also has great weather, beautiful buildings, and some of the nicest and most creative people in the world.
"When we think of an exciting place to live, we think about places were there is always something to do, whether it's eating at new restaurants or jogging through a park," says Movoto. "That sounds a lot like Oakland."
To read the full study, visit Movoto's website at http://www.movoto.com/blog/top-ten/10-most-exciting-cities/

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Rock On, Girls!

Hey, girls. Remember the column I wrote last March about an upcoming event at Berkeley High called JazzGirls Day?
A lot of you took me up on it, and apparently you had the time of your lives. I got email after email, from both kids and parents, and they couldn't stop raving about the experience.
"It was awesome!" said one girl.
"I thought I was the only girl who liked jazz," said another. "It was so great to find out I'm not alone."
Well, if one day was so much fun, how'd you like to do it for a whole week?
Many of the same musicians who taught at JazzGirls Day will also be teaching at the 5th annual Jazzschool Girls' Jazz & Blues Camp, which will take place at the Jazzschool in downtown Berkeley from August 5-9. And every teacher is a woman who is making a professional career in jazz.
"That's important," says the camp director, saxophonist/drummer Jean Fineberg, co-founder – along with trumpeter Ellen Seeling - of the Montclair Women's Big Band and the Girls' Jazz Camp. "Girls need role models to make them realize that they can do it, too."
And that can be very empowering.
"My daughter LOOOVED camp and is now confident enough to join her school jazz band," said one mom.
A grandmother said, "My granddaughter came home excited and happy every day and now sees herself as a musician as a place in the world."
The camp runs from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, Aug. 5-9, with a concert, when the girls show off all the stuff they've learned, on Friday, Aug. 9, at 6 p.m.
One of the highlights of each day is the lunch break, when the teachers and students get together in the courtyard for a jam session.
Tuition: $450 if you pay before June 1, $475 afterwards. Some financial aid may be available. If you're an out-of-towner, housing with a local family may be available, too.
All girls grades 6 through 12 are eligible. All you need is some proficiency on your instrument – except singers, who can be newbies – and a desire to develop your skills in a fun environment with other girls.
The first step is registering online at jazzschool.org/girlsreg, where you'll find more information and tell them about your elective preferences.
Then call the Jazzschool at 510-845-5373 to pay and reserve your spot. You'll be contacted to schedule a short, friendly audition (voluntary for singers) to evaluate your skill level and place you in appropriate ensembles, including jazz, blues/soul and Big Band.
You'll also be offered a choice of electives, including improvisation, percussion, Latin music, pop music choir and songwriting.
Finally, each camper will be given a 30-minute private lesson.
Don't be scared by the prospect that you might not know anybody going in. On Monday morning Fineberg always says, "Everybody who doesn't know anybody raise your hand." And almost every hand in the room goes up.
But by Friday, those strangers will have formed lasting friendships based on mutual interests and mutual support. And that can be a real eye-opener.
"After I played my solo, all the girls in the band clapped for me," said one girl after last year's camp. "AND I DIDN'T EVEN KNOW ANY OF THEM!"