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A United Kingdom

O I love this city. Can you tell? Crazy flawed as it is. So much going on, it’s overwhelming sometimes.

In the spring, tickets for a John Prine concert, with Ron Sexsmith, were offered for sale, and for some reason I bought one. I wasn’t particularly a Prine fan, but I certainly knew his name and his work, and was interested to see him and the Canadian musician too. So last night, I landed in the midst of a hoard of John Prine fanatics. The couple next to me at Massey Hall have followed him all over North America and that day had driven five hours from northern Ontario. I got on my bicycle and in ten minutes was in my seat.

Sexsmith plays the guitar magnificently and has that odd quavery voice and the face of a cherubic nine year old – when he told us his daughter, in the audience, was 26, I couldn’t believe it. Prine, on the other hand, is a little old man, his neck bent sideways by cancer, his voice rough. But his songs are gorgeous – “Angel from Montgomery” et al – his band was sterling and his patter was great. “My granddaddy,” he said, “was a carpenter. He’d come home filthy, go up and have a bath, and come down for dinner every night in a 3 piece suit. Didn’t matter if we were eating fried spam – he was in the suit.” He also sang his famous protest song about how “Your flag decal won’t get you into heaven any more.” “But your flag decal,” he said to the Canadian audience, “WILL get you into heaven.” Yeah!

Most enjoyable. When he appeared, the woman next to me yelled, “I love you, Johnny.” As did many.

This morning the Cabbagetown Festival started – in the rain. A friend was going to use my front yard to sell her handmade jewellery – decided to come back tomorrow. I went off on my bike (rain turning into oppressive heat) to join a huge crowd at TIFF, courtesy of Jean-Marc and Richard. We saw “A United Kingdom,” a stunning film based on the true story – who knew? – of an African prince living in London in 1947 who falls in love with a white Londoner, marries her, and takes her to his country Bechuanaland (now Botswana); they are rejected by everyone, her parents, his family and country, and especially the venal political rulers of England and South Africa. It shows the couple’s enormous courage in fighting to remain together despite the poisonous racism of the time. Shot partially in London, which is all rainy gloom, and partially in Africa, all bright yellow and orange, and beautifully acted by David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike. Stirring and very moving. Yes, a bit too black and white, figuratively, but an important film very well done. And incidentally, the couple’s eldest son is still the leader of Botswana.

Of course, it also triggered thoughts of my own parents, who met in 1944 – Dad wasn’t black, but he was Jewish, and to my conventional British grandparents, he was strange and frightening. My mother told me that the first time he visited her parents, he sat casually on the arm of a chair and they were appalled. Both families were unhappy about the marriage but they soon came round, especially when the adorable (ahem) Elizabeth was born. Nothing, nothing like what this couple endured.

Home in the hot sun to do a walkabout at the Festival and buy some food to take home – kotha roti, samosas, fajitas, pad thai, mango salad … Every nationality on earth, it seems, is walking on Parliament Street right now.

So that’s my city, three extremely diverse events within a ten block radius in less than 24 hours. And that’s just a tiny taste of the stuff going on. What’s not to like? Well, transit for one, but let’s not go there today. Today – celebration. And eating.



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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