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Gallery 46: Photos of homeless in 1970s London

A room in Gallery 46

Gallery 46 is in Whitechapel at 46 Ashfield Road, one of two adjacent Georgian houses. To be admitted to 46, you knock on the door of its neighbour. The gallery occupies three floors of the otherwise empty house.

The exhibition was “A Sort of Home”, photographs by David Hoffman of homeless people, some taken in a “wet crypt” under St. Botolph’s Church, and others in an unregulated Christmas shelter, run by Crisis at Christmas. These shelters accepted anyone, no questions asked, and allowed unrestricted activities (i.e, drinking and drugs). In this way, they provided minimal shelter for people who were otherwise unable to make use of more regulated facilities.

Black Alber comforts his friend Danny in St Botolph's Crypt wet shelter 1976.

Black Albert comforts his friend Danny in St Botolph’s Crypt wet shelter 1976, photo by David Hoffman.

The photos, black and white, simple and stark in composition, pack a powerful impact. There is nothing sentimental, just straighforward confrontation with the reality of certain lives and circumstances.

In one room, the St. Botolph photos are projected on a wall, accompanied by a sound recording of the hubbub captured by Hoffman on site. It’s a hypnotic and disturbing experience to watch while letting the din wash over.

August 3: Duchess of Malfi at Stratford-upon-Avon

Joan Iyiola, Alexander Cobb, he Duchess of Malfi

We made it to the closing night of The Duchess of Malfi at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Judith got a seat, and I had standing room not far away.

In many ways, a stunning production. The Duchess was played by the electrifying Joan Iyiola, at the farthest remove from the passive victim that

Nicolas Tennant, Joan IyiolaThe Duchess of Malfi

the role may suggest. Alexander Cobb and Chris New are the two venomous brothers who torment her for secretly marrying her steward Antonio (Paul Woodson). Alexander Cobb as Ferdinand, in particular, draws a fascinating portrait of a nerdy scholar capable of the utmost depravity. Nicolas Tennant as Bosola, the reluctant instrument of their designs, finds all the psychological corners and niches in that fascinating character. The acting (everyone) in short is what brings us over an ocean to see.

The Duchess of Malfi

And there’s more. Maybe too much more, but . . . I’m still wrestling with it all. The stage is literally (not figuratively, literally) bathed in blood. There is a huge black carcass of a bull in one corner of the stage. In the first act, the Duchess hauls on a chain to hoist it vertical; in the second act, Ferdinand cuts it open and red, gooey, sloshy blood gradually covers the stage. As the action progresses, the actors walk and slither through it, roll in it and die covered in it. Excessive, yes. Distracting sometimes. Overly simplistic. And yet, though I should have reacted negatively, I didn’t. Sure, go ahead, my psyche said. Bathe in gore. Let’s do this thing! And it helped that sometimes the actors would stand up, reminding us that this is just theatre, folks.

Joan Iyiola, The Duchess of Malfi

There are other concepts that were less successful. Someone decided that the key to this play is machismo and misogyny. In case we don’t figure this out for ourselves, the action is set in a gymnasium, and troops of muscular men do gymnastic dances now and then. All this seems like a Good Idea that ends up not adding anything of value. Webster’s play has a claustrophobic nastiness that does not need shows of excessive manliness. The grunty, sweaty dances were fun in their way, but didn’t really contribute.

Anyhow, caveats aside, a great night in the theatre.

A vintage panto at Wilton’s Music Hall

Day one in London, Thursday December 15.

Despite potential jet lag, went to  our local theatre space, Wilton’s Musical Hall. Derelict for years, the nineteenth century musical hall has been restored not to its former glory, but to a faded and tattered state that confronts its age with honour. The play was a panto, Mother Goose, written by Roy Hudd, featuring himself as the ultimate mother of all dames, and directed by his wife, Debbie Fitcroft. It was good fun, nicely designed and costumed, tuneful and energetic. The experience was a bit odd because there were no children in the audience. The cast tried its best to persuade us that we could be children at heart, but all the “look behind you” and “oh no you can’t” conventions really require the real little creatures. Should probably have caught the matinee.  Some cast photos at various locations inside and outside the building.

Grimeborn: Alternative Opera at the Arcola Theatre

The bar at Arcola Theatre

The bar at Arcola Theatre, an exellent place for a glass of wine before the show. (You can take it in with you.)

We love the Arcola Theatre, London’s most vibrant and ambitious alternative theatre. It’s up in Dalston, a maelstrom of multicultural life, once an area of dubious repute, but now verging on getting to be maybe nearly (dare I say the word?) trendy. Every summer, for those of us who can’t afford the Glyndebourne Festival, it hosts the Grimeborne Festival of Alternative Opera, where tiny, impoverished opera companies present glorious music.

Wednesday’s program was called The Clown of Clowns, consisting of two works: Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Sideshows, by Leo Geyer. The presenting companies were Constella Ballet & Orchestra in collaboration with Khymerikal. The program points out that “many of the musicians involved in this production are members of both ensembles”. Continue reading

Alice’s obituary

SONY DSC WEIHS, Alice Elizabeth (nee Fritsch)
Passed away peacefully on February 18, 2015, at the age of 93, cared for by her son Ronald Weihs and his partner Judith Sandiford at their home in Hamilton, ON. Her son Frederick Weihs and her sister Rosemarie Herrell were of great support during her final months.

Alice was born on August 27, 1921 in Bačka Palanka. Alice’s sister Madeleine was born a year later. Her mother Rosina (Eich) and her father Louis Fritsch were part of the Donauschwaben community in Yugoslavia (now Serbia). Louis was a miller on a floating flour mill on the Danube River.

The family emigrated to Toronto during the Great Depression, where siblings Joseph and Rosemarie were born. Alice went to St. Patrick’s School and Jarvis Collegiate in Toronto. The family became active in the movement for social and economic justice. Alice, still in her teens, was a shop-floor organizer for the United Electrical Workers Union.

In 1944, Alice married Harry Weihs. The family lived in Scarborough and Don Mills, and were active in the Don Heights Unitarian Church, where Alice directed the Sunday School. She worked as a preschool teacher and directed nursery schools.

The marriage ended in 1970. In 1976, Alice went to London, England, where she joined a group of activists in the East End that turned an abandoned Council Estate, Matilda House, into a co-op. In the mid-1980s, Alice began spending part of each year in Toronto, living with Ron and Judith.

In 1986 she travelled with her son Fred and his wife Kowyeesa Owpaluk (now deceased) to Southampton Island in Hudson Bay to go spring camping and goose hunting with her Inuit in-laws. Alice was a frequent traveler on the bus from Toronto to Ottawa, where she lovingly assisted with raising her two grandchildren, Rosina and Leah.

In September 1995, Alice moved into the Performing Arts Lodge (PAL) at 110 The Esplanade. Thanks to the supportive environment at PAL and a wonderful neighbourhood, she was able to live independently. Her sister Rosemarie was a frequent companion, marching with her in the Labour Day parade, and putting up anti-apartheid posters. Alice celebrated her 90th birthday in the PAL Green Room, with many friends from PAL, Older Women’s Network, and the Unitarian Church.

On October 27, 2014, she suffered a hip fracture. She moved to Hamilton in the care of Ron and Judith. She was doing well at her rehab exercises, but her ongoing congestive heart condition took over in January, 2015 and she began to decline. Ron and Judith were grateful that they could help her through this final phase of her remarkable life.

Alice is predeceased by brother Joe Fritsch and sister Madeleine Joseph (Philip). She will be greatly missed by sister Rosemarie Herrell (Edgar), sons Ronald (Judith Sandiford) and Frederick (Darlene Pearson), grandchildren Rosina and Leah Weihs, and Robert Allison (grandson by choice), great grandchildren Angelika, Ralph and Jasmine, nieces and nephews Jill, Owen, Marie, Anita (Herrell), and Stephen and Nicola Joseph, and numerous grand and great-grand nieces and nephews.

Cremation has taken place. There will be a celebration of Alice’s life at Performing Arts Lodge, 110 The Esplanade, Toronto, on Sunday, April 26, 2-5 pm. In lieu of flowers, please donate to the Council of Canadians (www.canadians.org).

The Circle Unbroken

Alice Weihs at her 90th birthday party at PAL. Taken by Alla Palagina.

Alice Weihs at her 90th birthday party at PAL. Taken by Alla Palagina.

My mother Alice died last Wednesday (February 18, 2015) in the early morning. She was in my house in Hamilton, where Judith and I had been looking after her since last November. She was born on August 27, 1921, and had a full life, which she enjoyed with great gusto up to her last day.

In the last few years, she had an ongoing heart condition, aortic stenosis, which had been causing shortness of breath and dizziness. However, it didn’t prevent her from venturing forth with her walker from her apartment at Performing Arts Lodge (PAL) on The Esplanade in Toronto to the St. Lawrence Market, where many of the shop owners would greet her warmly. She lived at PAL since 1995, and was much loved by her fellow residents. Dr. Robison was two blocks away at the St. Lawrence Health Centre, and monitored her medical condition with great dedication.  Her grandson (by choice) Robert Allison visited her every week, usually for a pizza dinner.

On October 27, 2014, at 10:30 pm, she set out with her walker to get herself a hamburger. Somehow, we’re not quite sure how, she fell and broke her right hip. I got a call from St. Michael’s hospital the next morning, informing us that they were taking her to the operating room to apply a single compression hip screw. The operation was successful. She spent a week at St. Michael’s (where she received excellent care). After 10 days, she was transferred to a rehab hospital, where she was not happy. I intervened and arranged to have her brought back to St. Michael’s because the congestive heart condition had re-emerged. My brother Fred came down from Ottawa and visited her every day and encouraged her to do her leg exercises every hour.  After a week, Fred and I persuaded St. Mike’s to discharge her into my care in Hamilton, rather than back to the rehab hospital. Judith and I brought her to our house on December 1.

Alice sitting by the flowers sent by her friends at Performing Arts Lodge.

Alice sitting by the flowers sent by her friends at Performing Arts Lodge.

With the help of a physiotherapist from Community Care Access Centre (CCAC), she exercised diligently, and was making very good progress. On January 15, we took her for x-rays to St. Mike’s, and stopped in at PAL for Kaffeeklatsch,  where she was greeted with cheers. The bone was healing very well. In February, another visit to the Fracture Clinic showed the bone completely healed.

Starting the following day, however, her energy started to decline. On January 29, her cardiologist told us that the end would come soon.

We looked after her in our home, making her comfortable. CCAC provided a gentle and sympathetic nurse, who helped us understand what we were going through. Alice was sleeping more and more, but when she was awake we still had good times, singing the old union songs with her from the People’s Song Book.

Having my mother with us, and being with her during this time, was very rewarding. It wasn’t easy, but it felt very right and very rich. Judith had a special way with Alice that I loved to see. She also worked hard keeping Artword Artbar going, with the help of Tom Dusome, while I stayed home with Alice. My brother Fred and Alice’s sister Rosemarie visited and helped out.

The night she died, I held her hand and stroked her head, comforting her when she called out. At about 3:00 am, she became quiet and fell asleep. I went to bed. I thought we were near the end, but expected her to be awake the next day. Judith woke up at six with a feeling that a great quiet had descended. Alice had passed. Judith roused me and I went into the room. Yes, she was gone. She looked very beautiful.

I have included two photos in this post. The first was taken at Alice’s 90th birthday party at PAL. The second shows her on January 2, sitting in our living room beside the flowers sent by her PAL Kaffeeklatsch friends.

We’ll be having a celebration of her life at Performing Arts Lodge (PAL), 110 the Esplanade in Toronto, April 26 from 2 to 5 pm to share memories and songs.