Text of my acceptance speech or the Playwrights Guild of Canada 2015 Awards where I won in the Comedy category for my play "MOM RUNS AMOK"
Just in case I might win, I prepared the shortest acceptance speech ever. It was supposed to go: “A writer should get to the point. Thanks.”
But something’s come up.
Not to complain, of course: I have received more reward for my work than I deserve. But I am having a difficulty which on one level is only personal and hence unimportant, but which may throw light on what my peers in the theatre community might be up against in dealing with a certain institution we all know and love, and which we hate to see floundering around so badly.
The CBC has clearly gone to hell since I left.
I have a contract, agreed to by them, to put on the air one of my theatrical performances, and this project has been stalled and stalled and stalled again for TEN YEARS. That’s right. One full decade. It makes me wonder how, with these sorts of lightning reflexes, they manage to even broadcast the news of the day. I expect at any time to turn on the radio and hear: “Prime Minister Louis St Laurent met today with the young Queen Elizabeth....”
Anyhow, it gets worse. Two weeks ago a rather pleasant-sounding lady phoned me (I don’t know under whose authority) and said they weren’t going to honour the contract at all. Like that. To which I replied, “Wha..? But...Hunh?”
I mean, not honouring contracts is against the law, for Godsakes. How bad must they think my work is? “We will go to jail rather than put Lorne’s material on the air!”?
I realize the poor old Ceeb is going through hard times, but I’m only suggesting that perhaps these times would be less dire for them if they didn’t keep behaving in such a suicidal fashion.
Because if contracts are not to be honoured any longer at the CBC, how can any of their jobs be safe? And that’s what this complaint is really about.
It seems such a dangerous and illegitimate way to dismantle what a lot of Canadians enjoy and are being informed by: Our public broadcaster.
The last email I got from them said that I should talk to their legal department, but with the money that that would probably cost me I’d really rather be producing Canadian plays. Also, by me going to their lawyers it would cost the Canadian Taxpayer through them, and you may remember that Jian Ghomeshi went down that rabbit-hole of absurdity when he tried to sue the CBC for fifty million. Fifty Million! That's a buck-fifty for every man woman and child in the country! ("You there, sleeping on the subway grate! No coffee for you today. You owe Jian Ghomeshi that buck and a half".)
I’d much rather avoid the trap where only lawyers get paid, and meanwhile nothing is being put on the air, no value added to our increasingly empty publicly-owned airwaves, and the money that could be allocated to producing more and better shows is used instead to prevent shows from being produced at all.
So I will not follow them into Babylon. My forum shall remain The Public, and how nice of you, The Playwright’s Guild of Canada, and the Pechet Family, to allow me access to them through you.
So Thank you, Thank you Thank you. First of all for this honour, (which I must share equally with Mark Crawford and Frances Koncan. Because as all artists know, we are all trying to make something which is One Of A Kind, and so no play in any real sense is any “better” or “worse” than any other. (Except for Strindberg: He’s total crap)).
Thanks for the money, too, which I will immediately reinvest into getting something in front of the lovely people who make up what I believe is a growing audience for Canadian Theatre.
Most of all, though, I want to thank you for this opportunity to speak my mind in a world where information is always in danger of becoming more controlled, and where the individual voice is therefore bound to become increasingly more valuable. Let’s keep those breathing holes open, and something good is surely more likely to come of it.
It’s really not about me.
The rest is all Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. Merci, Meegwetch....
Our original plan was to walk the entire north shore of PEI, but by the end of the summer we had only managed to cover the distance between Greenwich and Rustico, so I guess that means we failed. We didn't much care, though. What we did we had a great time doing.
You forget how beautiful that north shore is when you're away from it. And that stretch we walked is a classic example of North Atlantic coastal beach, mile after mile of completely wild shore, where for long stretches you can only see sand, sea, and saltwater and only hear wind, waves and seabirds. You might say that it's not as wild as I'm making it out to be, but I think that's because most of us arrive and leave the beach by only a few access points, and these points, crowded, are how we form a mental picture of what the entire beach is like. I used to think that, anyway, but walking its length showed me what an untouched part of the world it all still is. On the entire 35 kilometre stretch there were maybe a dozen clusters of bathers at these different access spots, but there were never more than 100 people at the very most in any of them. The rest of the walk we were on our own. And this was high season, on the most popular stretch of beaches on the Island.
Mrs Elliott claims that one day we got lost. I refuse to believe that that is the case because getting lost on that stretch of coast would take real effort. The ocean on one side and the dunes or sandstone cliffs on the other are the two most obvious parts of the landscape and as long as you can keep either on its own side you will always be going in the same direction. So enough of this “lost” chat. I was never lost.
"Where are we, then?" Mrs Elliott asked. I told her, "Prince Edward Island".
We did the entire walk, you see, in stages of two-hour hikes each day, by driving back and forth with the bike in the trunk of the car.(It more or less fits, if you don't mind having to rope the trunk closed with the handlebars sticking out the back.) We'd drive to where we ended the last day's walk, drop off our bike, then drive further along the coast to a distance we judged we could comfortably hike back from. Leaving the car, we walked down the shore to the bike, and while Mrs Elliott waited on the beach there, I would bike to the car on the road, put the bike back in the trunk and drive back to pick her up.
The day that she claimed I got lost I had hid the bike in a spruce thicket somewhere near French Village, making sure to fix in my mind the cottage with the peculiarly slanted roof to mark where our path to the hiding place led through the dunes. Then we drove up to Savage Harbour to walk back toward it, and after two hours walking, I couldn't for the life of me find the house. The dunes all looked the same and every cottage seemed to have an identical peculiarly slanted roof.
This is when Mrs Elliott started to hoot. "You're lost!"
"I am not".
"Oh please! Admit it. You have been wandering around with a puzzled look on your face for the last half hour."
"I was merely reorienting myself to a new navigational paradigm...”
"I've just seen you walk back a hundred yards and stop, look around, then climb to the top of a dune and stand there with your hands on your hips while shaking your head slowly and then scratching it. You are lost. "
"I was re-evaluating my position vis-a-vis a modified cartographical reassessment."
"Lost! On a beach!"
"Formulating a new directional strategy ..."
We eventually found the house and our bike, but we're still arguing about it.
The only place we had to walk into the ocean was a fifty-yard wade at Point DeRoche, and here and only a few other places by Savage Harbour and Rustico Island was it necessary to walk over jumbled sandstone to get to the next stretch of sand. Everything else was good beach walking, particularly once we figured out to time our outings for low tide, and stick to where the sand is wet and firm down by the water.
There are a few inlets on this stretch which cut through the shore, and which I suppose we could have swum across, but instead, at Rustico Bay, Cove Head, Tracadie, Savage Harbour and St Peters, we elected to drive around to where the beach started on the other side of the channel and then continue from there.
It slowed us down and added to our mileage, but we weren't trying to break any records.
If you know the area you will say that we wouldn't be able to drive or walk to that new Island that was recently created on Blooming Point dune when another channel broke through from Tracadie Bay a few years ago. They'd be right: it was the only part of the stretch we didn't do. We hope to get to it next year.
The idea was to cross Canada leaving no carbon footprint, but it was turning out to be trickier than I thought. My boat, the Sea Pig, in which I planned to start the journey with a quick sail across Malpeque Bay, was not in great shape. All winter she had been sitting in a field in Prince Edward Island, and the blue tarp which covered her had stretched under the weight of the snow and started to leak. Now she was full of water, and where her belly rested on the trailer some fibreglass had cracked. Also the wheel bearings of the trailer, not the best to start with, were under a lot of strain. The summer before we'd brought an old frame and set of wheels to a welder who'd rebuilt it, but the axel and wheels themselves were still fairly worrisome, and the extra weight couldn't have been helping.
On the other hand, in the field where she sat the wild strawberries were numerous and delicious. You have to take the bad with the good. I picked and ate them as the boat drained, then I stripped off what was left of the tarp and bundled it into the boat, hitched the trailer to the rented truck, and we started to haul it to our place in Charlottetown. Somewhere around Vernon River people behind started honking at me, and I thought, that's nice, fellow members of the International Boat Appreciation Brotherhood encouraging us in our adventure. Then a car full of students passed, making terrified pointing gestures out the window and when we all pulled over they told us that the tarpolin had blown off onto the highway behind me. I didn't want to turn around and go back right then because it would have meant backing the trailer around on a busy highway, so I continued to our house in Charlottetown and backed the trailer back into our driveway, then returned to see where the tarp had fallen. We never found it and I was angry at myself for being so stupid. I started to add up the damage. So far I'd driven out twice by car to check the boat, rented a truck and drove out once more, and halfway again by car to pick up the tarp, a total of about 300 kilometres. It was starting to look like I was going to have to plant some trees.
The way it works is that CO2 is absorbed by green plants, who use the carbon to create fibre and then give back the oxygen, so you can offset the amount of carbon you create by tree-planting. At one tree per 3000 kilometres we were already 1/10th of a tree into "carbon debt" and over the summer, I might as well tell you now, between cars and rented truck, coming down and returning to PEI, we logged about five thousand kilometres, meaning I would have to plant a little less than two trees to get even.
For now though my boat was in our driveway, ready to be fixed. Over the next week I sanded down and fibreglassed over the crack in the belly and made a new rudder blade to replace the one I had destroyed last year when we hit a rock in Cardogan Bay. There are four rocks in PEI and I've hit them all.
We rented a truck again to tow the Sea Pig out to Malpeque, but before we did, and while the truck was rented I also cleaned out the garage and brought a load of junk to the dump, or "recycling station" as they call it now. They weigh the truck going in and once again coming out and then charge you by the pound for what you left there. I'm not sure exactly when they started charging us for doing their work, but I suppose we can expect more of this sort of thing for a while. Don't get me started.
The first leg of our journey was supposed to be from Malpeque to Alberton and we'd actually done part of this before, and with no carbon footprint either, simply by sailing with no motor, but in and out of harbours can be tricky, so for this summer I had bought a second-hand electric outboard motor. The idea was that once I had bought a solar panel to keep its battery charged, I would have a permanent clean source of energy.
I have to say that I don't really understand how. When light hits matter it apparently creates an electrical charge. I started to ask myself how this could be, and when you find yourself asking questions about electomagnetism it's best to conduct the simple educational experiment of opening the hood of your car and attaching your jumper cables from the battery to your tongue. You will find that you will then stop asking yourself any more questions about electromagnetism.
Anyhow, I hadn't bought the solar panel yet, and this was just the sea-trial to see if the motor would push the boat. She was in the inner harbour and I wanted to bring it out to the dunes around Darnley Basin where we could rig her and set her up for sailing. It got me out of the inner harbour, but then it ran out of juice, luckily when I was out of danger of interfering with other boats in the channel. It hadn't run anywhere near the hour and a half I had previously test-run it in a barrel. But I had done that at it's lowest setting, and it seems that although at that setting in dead calm against no current whatsoever it moved the boat quite handily (and silently) once it found itself in any contrary wind or tide it had to use more power, which drained it much more quickly.
But it wasn't completely useless. I took it home to recharge it, and when we came back for our first sail we brought two cars, one to where we would sail to, and one to where we would leave from so this experiment was costing more and more trees. I had visions of acres of stumps, and baby seals washing up in oil slicks.
Once sailing, though, we were carbon free. The wind filled our sails, the tide carried us out the channel. The sun beat down and warmed the dark parts of the boat which absorbed it, but reflected off the lighter colours, leaving them cool. You could feel the difference on your bare feet. This warmth, rising and adding itself to other rising warm air, was replaced by other air rushing in, which were the winds that moved us. The tides shifted the ocean we were on with another type of energy, gravitational. A dazzle of light created a mild electric charge from any matter it fell upon, a charge which could fill our batteries once I'd bought a PV Cell. The day was hopping with all types of energy. I can see why Einstein enjoyed sailing.
He was the one who (amongst other things) found the mathematical proof for the photovoltaic effect and received the Nobel Prize for the paper he wrote on the subject when he was 26 years old, the smartass. As I say, I don't understand it. Something about photons in light which can be either a particle or a wave, transferring electrons to atoms which when they are full, move to other less charged atoms.
At any rate, by virtue of wind and tide, we sailed down the bay to Grover Island, which claims to be the largest nesting site for herons in eastern Canada but which I can't see will ever be much of a tourist destination. To make their nests the herons excrete on the trees, killing them, and creating a fairly rich pong, to say nothing of what they are doing to their carbon debt.
We sailed beyond the island on a "beam reach" which sailors call the "soldiers tack", because even dough-headed soldiers were deemed capable of executing it, then felt the wind on our port and aft, the mizzen was taut abaft, and I was thinking, look how much nautical language I know! There were thunderheads moving in from the west though, and the wind veered and came right out of where we wanted to go into Marchwater, on the shores of which we had parked one of our cars. The channel got narrower and narrower the nearer we tacked between the buoys. We finally started the electric motor to move us in the last little bit, but it made very little headway against the wind, then ran clean out of electrons altogether, and stopped. We tacked some more, rowed some more, swore, and finally it was shallow enough to hop out and pull the boat to the car. A clumsy end for an otherwise fine day of sailing. Driving home there was a spectacular double rainbow over Breadalbane, and then a torrential downpour which made our trip back like driving through a carwash with vast cracks of lightning, a trillion watts each. We could have used some of those watts back in Marchwater.
Next day I returned with my brother in one car this time, and a bike to get back to it. The wind was against us again, but we sailed effortlessly out of Marchwater, across the inside bar at Grover Island at high tide, like flying low over ocean floor, and up the coast back to Malpeque.
Malpeque Harbour, set in classic dune country, looks benign but actually is quite treacherous. Darnley Basin empties out into where the mouth of Malpeque Bay empties in turn into the Gulf of St Lawrence, between dunes, and the channels of these contrary currents and tidal races create shifting channels and bars.The tide was rushing out of the harbour in one thick muscular current, impossible to sail up, so we sailed across and ran the Sea Pig aground on the far dune. The smart thing to do would have been to wait until the tide turned. But instead we pulled the boat on that far shore around into Darnley Basin. Now our way back to the outer harbour was blocked by a wide shallow bar so we sailed into the basin, came about clumsily, and back towards the mouth of the harbour aiming for the beach on the other side, trying to cut around that wide bank of sand. The current caught us, I started up the electric motor, and here it was we confirmed how useless that motor was against any real current. The tide race snatched us and we flew down and out the harbour and bumped ashore on the beach on the right side of the channel then almost snatched us away again but just then I hopped out to pull the boat ashore and found out how strong the current really was.
I couldn't hold the boat, so I let go, and then my feet slipped from under me. I looked down and saw beneath my feet sand pouring off the lip of the bar like a waterfall straight into the depths, and I felt myself being sucked down. It was a sensation I had never felt before and I started to panic. Intellectually I knew that the way to survive this was to just float, don't fight it, but it's hard to stay rational when panicking. That's the definition of panic. There's no reason for it, it fulfills no evolutionary purpose, but of course that assumes that evolution is designed to protect individuals. From nature's point of view, it is immaterial if I get swept to sea and "of my bones are corals made". Who says coral is any less important than me?
I do, that's who, so I splashed around and came ashore. I had been wearing my life jacket and it had held me up but I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't. I always wear my life jacket now, (though I do get some strange looks in crowded elevators).
My brother in the boat dropped anchor, tossed me a rope, I pulled the Sea Pig ashore and we walked it around the right side of the channel. The last little way, the skipper of a passing lobster boat asked if we wanted a tow and we said Yes Please.
I took down the rigging while my brother pedalled back to pick up the car on the bike which was too small for him. He looked like a Shriner. I told him he should wear a fez. He returned, we drove back home, came back the next day and in dead calm with the tide at slack water, moved effortlessly to the slipway, with the electric motor on its lightest setting. Then we dragged the boat onto the trailer.
I find sailing completely engaging, trying to get to where you want by using contrary forces to move you. You have to be constantly aware of your surroundings. But if you want to get to some specific place at a specific time a gas engine is of course much more efficient, as long as you don't factor in the hundreds of thousands of years of energy it took to lay down oil deposits. As everybody agrees, we will eventually run out of gas, so we will sooner or later have to use other forms of energy to get us around, and I guess that's what this project is about.
The problems we encountered on his trip all stemmed from not being patient enough.
Not taking time to tie down the tarpolin tightly enough, for instance. That was irresponsible, although ignorance is no excuse. Lucky nobody got killed, and this is why we have laws. Another example might be when, coming out of Kensington on the way back home, I saw flashing lights behind, I pulled over and the cop came up to the window and said my trailer was looking a bit wobbly, and that it probably wasn't registered, now was it?
I said I was only taking it to a barn not far away where I would be putting it away for the winter, at a cost of a hundred dollars, but worth it to get the damn thing off the road and didn't I just know that it was a danger, and thanks for the concern. He said the wheel bearings looked shot and I might lose a wheel on the highway, and added that if I didn't get it onto a flatbed to take it the rest of the way, he'd impound both trailer and boat.
And I thought: Until next summer?
And on the way to put the boat away for the winter, the boat on a trailer on a flatbed truck, all of which was adding immensely to my carbon debt, I devised a way to download the cost of recycling garbage back to the Government. I would buy old beat-up trailers, put trash in them, and drive around until police pull me over to impound them.
Over the years I have spent a certain amount of time in the Loire Valley in France, where my wife was born, and where her family still lives. We visit our relatives there about once a year, but these are in no ways mere duty visits. I would enjoy going there even if I wasn't married into the region.
The countryside is lovely and soft, with vinyards on the uplands, and poplar in the valleys. The Loire River itself, at least in the Touraine, is shallow and swift, with a current which endlessly rebraids the ivory-coloured sandbars of its bed. If you follow one of its tributaries north, La Brenne, you will come to the village of Reugny, which is my base of operations when I am in the area, and is fairly typical of the small towns of the region. The Place de La Republique has two cafés, a pharmacy, a few small businesses, and 2 bakeries which bake their own bread on site. People look at me oddly when I express surprise at this, but it's typical there; your daily bread is made by people you deal with daily.
They do care about their food. Everybody seems to have a kitchen garden, perfectly laid out and tidy (except for the sheds, les cahutes, which, as though to offset the geometry of the gardens, are universally ramshackle.) Apart from the usual potager, they have cherries, pears, peaches, apples, the occasional fig tree, chestnuts and walnuts. Wild blackberries grow in hedgrerows, and if you find mushrooms in the woods, the local pharmacist will identify them for you. It would be absolutely no problem to enjoy a full and delicious diet from food made or grown within, say, twenty kilometres. Two good local cheeses are St Maure and Valençay, and the local wine, a white, is Vouvray. It is light and ebullient, with the baroque extravagance of a wine columnist scrambling for words. This wine is valued highly by the people of the region. Outside of the town of Vouvray itself, when the new bridge across the Loire was built, rubber cushions had to be installed under its pilons because the vibrations it caused in some of the wine caves were deemed to interfere with the fermention process.
The buildings in Reugny are mostly constructed of "tuffeau", the local limestone, and some of the grander houses take their architectural cues from the three chateaux in the area, two which were built in the Renaissance and one in the 17th century. The prettiest, the Chateau de La Vallière, is where Louise de La Vallière lived. She was the mistress of Louis the fourteenth, and Flaubert wrote her into "Madame Bovary" as a role model for Emma. Also, Alexandre Dumas has D'Artagnan rescue her in a sequel to the Three Musqueteers. In real life, when she was supplanted in the King's eyes, she entered a nunnery, with the Queen presiding over the investiture ceremonies. The manners of other times are incomprehensible.
There used to be a fourth Chateau, long since disappeared, built over some refuges souterrains, used possibly in the fifth century to hide from Barbarians, built in turn from one of the natural caves which are a feature of the escarpments along the Loire Valley. Some of these Troglodytes, originally used by Neanderthals, are nowadays adapted into habitable (though rather dark, I imagine) living abodes, and others are used as wine cellars.
But this was the first time I have heard of secret underground passageways so I thought I would go and investigate, which would mean finding out the location of L'Ancien Château.
I've always had in the back of my mind the idea that if things didn't work out, I could fall back on becoming an Archaeologist-Adventurer, traveling the world with a brace of pistols in my belt, rescuing priceless artifacts from the hands of evil regimes. First you quiz the locals, then find an underground entrance with cryptic riddles engraved in its door, which you decipher using arcane knowledge of dead languages, allowing you to penetrate into a booby-trapped system of tunnels, which, through agility and courage, you arrive at the inner vault wherein lies the artefact. This you pluck from its mounting, causing the whole underground network to rumble and collapse, which you have to run out ahead of, narrowly cheating death. So I understand the basics.
"Quizzing locals" meant asking my Father-in-law where L'ancien Château use to be, and he gestured "over thataway". So, keeping my eye peeled for suspicious foreigners, I went behind the Café de la Place to a square with five roads coming onto it. This is where the real Archaeologist-Adventurer shows his mettle. You have to make intuitive decisions based on years of intense study of crappy movies. You also have to put yourself into the mindset of a 5th century Gaul. Where would they build a defensive system of tunnels? It takes an eye for such things, and you either have it or you don't.
The road up to the Château d'eau looked promising. (This is not another Château, incidentally, but means simply "water tower". I won't be fooled that way again.) When I got up there, the fields of colza were so yellow that it hurt your eyes to look at it, and the poppies in the ditch so molten red you couldn't focus on them, but nary a sign of crypts or portals. So I went back down to the square, and looked west to the Ecole Primaire . This slope was not in as defensive a position, and less sunlight would fall there which meant it was less typical for a dwelling place, but perhaps these crafty Gauls wanted to throw the enemy off the scent. I walked up that side of the valley, through the ash forest with missletoe hanging in balls like something handmade, but no sign of "midden" or "berm", two telling features by which us Archeologist-Adventurers are always finding historic sites. I went back to the square. I walked up to the 13th century church, but this couldn't have been the site of the Chateau, as they both existed at the same time. So, back to the square. Across from the Post Office, a walk up the road where Marcel Aymé once lived was equally fruitless, and the next and last chance was the road right up the valley of the Rouare de Melotin, a stream which feeds two lavoirs or wash-houses. Nothing. Back at the square I cast my eye for some sign, no matter how subtle, to indicate where the castle, and hence the caves, had existed. And as I gazed about, my eye fell on irrefutable proof of the existence of an ancient fortification. The name of the square, printed up in large official letters on the sign was "Place de l'ancien château". You either have the eye or you don't.
And the refuges souterrains? They're wine cellars now.