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Every year, on May Day,
a spectre comes to haunt us.
The spectre of Karl Marx. He’s been coming since 1889, when the Second International first chose 1 May as the date for International Workers’ Day. [Gavin McCrea – Guardian/Opinion]

May Day is celebrated on May 1st by workers around the world as an expression of their international solidarity and shared political aspirations for freedom.

gain the time frame
needs clarification, not just what’s occurring in my personal life – inconsequential in the overall picture of things – but the chaos existing in the political world. The duet with Arthur Bull has come to an unexpected end with the June 4th/1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, which turned out to be a forerunner of several major events. In November the Berlin Wall is opened and the East German government resigns; six weeks later America invades Panama forcing Manuel Noriega, the de-facto leader and military dictator, to surrender; Mikail Gorbachev wins the Nobel Peace Prize and Nelson Mandela, incarcerated for the past twenty-seven years in a South African prison, is freed.

Arthur, my travelling companion in Duck Soup, is a bona fide scholar, conversant with poetry forms that included, because of his knowledge of Mandarin, the translation of 8th Century classical Chinese poetry, some of which had been published in suitable journals. History has revealed that much of this material was written by women but claimed by the Emperors as their own. Political material to be included in our performances. Our favourite was “Madam Chen” where Arthur read the original text in Mandarin, accompanying himself on guitar in an appropriate oriental manner with myself simultaneously reciting the translation in English. I imagined myself to be a messenger, carrying political and social communiqués to the hinterland disguised as entertainment. It should be mentioned that I’m a Taurus with all the characteristics and common traits that that Zodiac sign affords; stubborn, practical and the ability to take advantage of appealing proposals.

By the spring of 1989 what we all imagined to be a continuum was in reality the end of an era. To celebrate the beginning of the third tour of Duck Soup, a performance idea developed by Arthur and myself, we decided to have a farewell party in the theatre space in the back of the Rivoli – a Toronto venue that had become integral in the development of our multi-media performances – as part of a series called the Café of Wild Culture. It should have been obvious from the meagre audience in attendance that we were no longer of consequence to the fickle Queen Street scene. Apparently we had been replaced by the popular mediocrity of yuk-yuk humour, where amateur comedians compete for door prizes that they themselves had supplied with the cost of admission. A precursor of the dreadful comedy and reality television shows that now inundate the airwaves.

For a number of reasons we were popular with the government funding agencies, mostly I suspect it was because with the two of us travelling on public transport, predominately buses and trains, that we were an economical proposition in a period when art money was in short supply, a time when the american president was a B Feature movie actor, England’s prime minister was Maggie the Iron Lady and Mal Looney was trading Canada to America. The favourite bumper sticker of the time was: “Free Canada – Trade Mulroney”. A reign of rampant conservatism was in place which has continued to this very day. Duck Soup, whose name had been inspired by the 1933 Marx Brothers’ anarchic comedy film satirizing the absurdity of governments, legal systems and the evils of war, was a flexible duet with material drawn from a variety of sound and visual idioms. The programs depended on the venues physical environments and the needs of the particular community.

With age, time elasticates, so the following episodes are not necessarily in any recognizable sequence. Arthur is here on Hornby for a visit, an opportunity to hang out, catch up on each others lives, and as Arthur had brought his guitar, play some music.

In the early years, when I was settling in, there had been numerous visitors, curious I suppose to see where I had disappeared to, coming only once, their curiosity sated. At the time it seemed inconceivable that we would forsake Toronto, after all it laid claim to being the centre of the universe. But we did, travelled far afield, me and Arthur, to opposite coasts. Arthur has travelled more than four thousand miles from Sandy Cove on Digby Neck, a long narrow peninsula all but surrounded by the waters of Saint-Mary’s Bay and the Bay of Fundy. So it’s not as if Arthur is a stranger to the charms of coastal environs. Much of it is similar, except the Arbutus tree, that can only be found on one island south of the equator and here on the west coast.

It was a warm sunny spring day when we set out, the Arbutus bountiful with white blossoms releasing a delicious perfumed scent, the proliferation of oyster shells scattered about the beach a perfect souvenir, inspiring Arthur in his restrained droll manner to declare “what a great collection of ashtrays”. The channel’s water is cerulean blue filmed opal by the herring roe, at low tide exposing the secret world contained in tide pools filled with scuttling miniature crabs, the dislodged cliff top boulders settled into the soft comfort of the sand, home to the startling purple, pink and orange starfish, geoducks, moon snail casings and jellyfish. Thousands of seagulls are wheeling about its edge, screeching triumphantly as the spent herring are snatched up into their beaks, part of the ever moving food chain.

We stealthily approach a great blue heron stationary on a rock, appearing as a cloaked coachman from an Igmar Bergman film, always moving a safe distance away, eventually to take off in clumsy pterodactyl flight. As we draw near to the spit we are greeted by Pat Claridge, the only human met on our walk, pottering in his garden, surprised at the unexpected company. He is well known on the island, although many would be surprised to discover that he was once a famous football player, a receiver for the B.C. Lions, who proudly wears his Grey Cup Championship ring which was awarded to him back in 1964 when he was a member of the squad that defeated the Hamilton Tiger Cats by a score of 34 to 24 to win their first ever Grey Cup Championship at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto. His photograph hangs on the Wall of Fame at BC Place Stadium.

It’s time for a beer. Around the Spit, also worn away with the constant ebb and flow of the tidal waters, we pass three rather boring sod-roofed concrete block cottages overlooking the bay. Rumour claims that the three cottages were designed by the architect Arthur Erickson as a student project, although in my research I can find no evidence of this. As we trudge along the pebble beach past the cottages toward the pub a kingfisher, taking advantage of the bountiful supply of herring, dives for his supper; the eagles, bald headed despite the heat, perch patiently in the tops of the giant firs that surround the bay, and along the railings of the pub dock the cormorants are lording it over the lower echelon of scuttling seagulls and ducks. The bar is beginning to fill with locals, Ted Walker is tinkling out Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin” on the out-of-tune piano, a good place to end our day.

End Notes:

Sonnet by Arthur Bull
I think hallucinations were the best
part of the Sixties, never mentioned much
by all those documentaries and such.
In those visionary moments we were blessed
with illuminated sights, wonderful and vast,
sounds you could see, colours you could touch,
cascades of flowers coming down, or watch
office buildings melt in waves and crests.
(I had a friend who saw the Faerie Queen
appear in his fireplace.) You might say
what use are these imaginary schemes,
that are not there and never truly seen?
And I might say, what use is there anyway
of any beauty, even in a dream?

Arthur Bull: https://arthurbull.wordpress.com

Bill & Karl at Highgate Cemetary – Sheila Macpherson

Arthur at author’s home – Bill Smith

Arthur Bull – Electric Guitar
Bill Smith – Percussions Various

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