With two 90th Birthday Parties to host for Linda's mother and my own this weekend, I won't have time to post here until Monday. The photo above is of both mothers on a joint 85th Birthday held in 2004.
Have a great weekend!
And if you're interested in ironical posts like this one (posting to announce you will not be posting), check out Bella's Blog where she has scoured blogspot to gather up all such posts, some of which are very creative. Some are just downright funny.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Posted by Barry at 6:52 AM
Friday, February 27, 2009
This is not a sad story but a joyous one. It is about the generosity of people. A generosity of such overwhelming proportion that it lifted up a family at a time of unimaginable grief. It's about community at its best.
You expect families and friends to come together for support at a time of loss. Perhaps especially when that loss involves a five month old baby, my grandson Alexander, suddenly dead due to a previously unsuspected heart condition. Exactly ten years ago today.
What you don't expect, or at least we didn't, is the generosity of acquaintances. You don't expect acquaintances to be so moved that they had to do something, even where there was nothing that could be done.
It takes time for acquaintances to even hear the news. Alexander's death, although a profound and horribly life changing event for all of us, was unimportant in the grand scheme of things and not the stuff of modern news coverage.
So people on the edge of our lives only learned the news by word of mouth days and even weeks after the funeral, long after the donations to the Trans Canada Trail, that Heather had requested in lieu of flowers, had been received and forwarded.
Most of these people didn't know Alexander. Some hadn't known he'd been born. But they all knew my daughter and had watched her grow from girl to adult. They were touched and wanted to do something, something tangible.
So we spoke to my daughter and she suggested they plant a tree in Alexander's name. So when people asked, that is what we told them. And when more people asked and when more people asked. And when our dentist asked, and our dry cleaner, and our neighbours, we asked them to plant a trees in his memory.
Trees were planted in Australia, in the United States, in Great Britain, in Sweden, in Israel and in many, many parts of Canada.
In May of 2000, the staff at Linda's school planted a sugar maple tree in their habitat garden at the front of the school. They also ordered a large granite rock and had the words, "Alexander's Tree" carved on it.
In the ten years since it was planted the tree has grown to over thirty feet in height, its broad branches reaching out and sheltering the large rock where tired children on warm summer days can sit. And giggle.
In talking with my daughter last year about how she survived such a devastating loss, she told me it was because everyone everywhere had done everything right. Even in her loss, she had never felt more supported.
Heather is now the mother of two more children, Natasha and Griffin. Her sister Kathy had the latest addition to our family in September.
We are blessed.
Posted by Barry at 5:49 AM
Thursday, February 26, 2009
I will love you forever,
I will like you for always,
For as long as I'm living,
My son you will be.
I may not have the skill to write this without a preamble that outlines my intent. This is not a story about the death of my grandson, Alexander. I will write about him another time.
This is not a sad story but a joyous one. It is about the generosity of people. A generosity of such overwhelming proportion that it lifted up a family at a time of unimaginable grief. It's about community at its best.
The latest link in the Trans Canada Trail was opened last summer, connecting the community of Port Union with the West Hill Community where I live. It winds its way along the waterfront to Highland Creek and then climbs above the beach where I take Lindsay for her daily run.
The creation of a Trans Canada Trail was announced as part of Canada's 125th anniversary celebrations in 1992. At 18,078-kilometre (11,233 mi), it is expected to become the longest recreational trail in the world.
It has its counterparts in other greenway routes like the 12 EuroVelo routes and the USA's East Coast Greenway.
To date it has been funded largely by Canadian federal or provincial governments. However, there have also been corporate donors and individual donors.
Ten years ago tomorrow, a rare form of cardiomyopathy suddenly took the life of my 5 month old grandson Alexander. There had been no warning of any health concern. Heather awoke in the early morning to change his diaper only to find his breathing laboured. She called her husband who called 911 who instructed them in cardio pulmonary resuscitation.
Emergency Services were at their apartment within three minutes and Alexander was in the Emergency room of Guelph Memorial Hospital within ten minutes. But he could not be revived. An autopsy later revealed his heart had grown large instead of strong and nothing short of a heart transplant would ever have saved him.
The day he died was also my mother's 80th Birthday. The elaborate celebration had to be canceled. All the guests phoned with the terrible news.
Fortunately we will not be celebrating her 90th this year on the day of her birth, but on Sunday March 1st, a date with less competing emotion for us.
Alexander was born on his Paternal great-grandmother's birthday and died on his Maternal great-grandmother's. One of several oddities of his little life we sometimes ponder.
In their grief, at the loss of their only child, my daughter and her husband requested donations to the Trans Canada Trail in lieu of flowers. But the flowers came anyway, in overwhelming abundance, and so too did the donations which were sufficient to pay for 20 meters of trail.
Alexander's name is engraved on a donor's plaque at one of the Trail's Pavilions in the small town of Caledon, Ontario.
The connection with our grandson has made the Trail project very precious to us.
The Trail is still under construction and is now about 70% complete.
Linda and I attended the opening celebration last summer and have walked the new section of the trail many times since then. There were concerts all day, events for the kids, and a giant ferris wheel donated by our new Morningside Crossing shopping center, that gave a view of the bluffs all the way to downtown Toronto.
The death of a very young child touches people in profound ways. We were all unprepared for how profound the impact would be on people outside our immediate circle of family and friends.
What they did surprised and touched us deeply. But I'll talk about that tomorrow.
For more on the Trans Canada Trail, click HERE
Posted by Barry at 6:24 AM
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
The men are cleaning up after dinner while the women who made the meal relax and joke about us.
My granddaugther Natasha is hanging around the men in the kitchen.
"Grandpa, what's your favourite vegetable?" she asks.
"Tomatoes" I tell her.
"Tomatoes aren't vegetables," my brother Keith complains knowingly, handing me another dish to dry. "They're fruits."
"Tomatoes ARE vegetables," my youngest daughter Heather interrupts, coming into the kitchen with in six more dishes for us to wash.
Since she has a degree in Environmental Science, my brother thinks about his reply for a moment, knowing there's some unforeseen trap and he's in it, somehow.
"No, he replies cautiously. "They are fruits, like apples."
"Apples are vegetables too," my daughter smiles.
Now my brother knows there is a trap set to close. He hands me another dish to dry.
"Apples can't be vegetables," he challenges, cautiously.
"What are vegetables?" Heather asks.
"You know, cabbages, celery, carrots."
"Cabbages are leaves. Celery is a stalk. Carrots are roots."
"Of a vegetable."
"Tomatoes are the fruit. Of a vegetable."
"Vegetables are edible vegetation. Why should we deny that tomatoes are a part of that category. What else are they? They are just a part of a vegetable, the same as a leaf or a stem or a root."
"You can go back and join the women now," Keith said.
Heather stuck her tongue out at him.
Natasha laughed. "You're funny mommy," she said.
You may recall my meeting with a coyote a few weeks back.
Lindsay and I stumbled on a kill zone and as we stood in disbelief I discovered a coyote standing behind us. Watching us intently.
Or at least, staring at Lindsay hungrily.
It was finally distracted by another group of dog walkers and took off.
Well, my coyote is now a TV star having made the evening news after killing a dog in a backyard. The video includes pictures of the coyote.
The video isn't embedded but you will find a link to it: HERE.
Tomato image courtesy of photopbucket
Posted by Barry at 6:11 AM
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
I have nothing wrong with me. No aches, no pains, no fevers.
Although my blood pressure is a little high and I could stand to loose a few pounds. Or so my doctor tells me.
But it's hard to get motivated to make a major lifestyle change in the absence of any perceived incentive. For that I need a cattle prod. That's where a younger brother having a heart attack comes in handy. It tends to focus the mind the way an actual physical symptom does.
I've decided to change the way I eat lunch. I'm on the road quite a bit and lunch for me tends to be dropping into which ever restaurant happens to be closest. In case you haven't noticed, restaurant lunches these days are about the same size and caloric intake as the average banquet dinner. What's with this massive increase in portion sizes guys?
I found another incentive that lies close to the soul of my Scottish ancestors. If I take lunch, instead of eating out at expensive restaurants, I will save a fortune over the course of a year.
Driven by the push of my brother's experience and the pull of financial incentive, I find myself wandering the isles of my local supermarket in search of ingredients for a healthy lunch. There is an equation running through my head. Lunch costs about $10 a day and that is $50 a week and that equals $200 a month and that amounts to $2400 per year.
I am buying field greens and peppers and cucumber and tomatoes and apples and clementines and carrots and almonds. Not a lot of stuff really.
At the checkout the bill comes to $37. Thirty-seven dollars!
It would be even more if we didn't have other ingredients, like onions and celery, already in the fridge at home. If I'd had to buy everything from scratch I would hardly be saving any money at all.
How can this be?
Well, to begin with, according to a report released last month by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, there are "startling discrepancies" in the cost of basic, healthy food at grocery stores across Canada,
Some Canadians, depending on where they live, are paying between two and six times more money for the same grocery cart of healthy foods, the report found. The same study also found the price of unhealthy processed foods and snacks, such as pop, chips and cookies, were relatively stable across the country.
The cost of a package of whole-wheat pasta ranged from $2.00 in Barrie to $11.37 in Dawson, Yukon. A 520-gram package of cheddar cheese cost $14.61 in Thunder Bay and $6.49 in Regina. While in Ontario, the cost of six medium apples ranged from $0.90 in Peterborough to $5.49 in Dryden.
Many provincial governments legislate the price of alcohol, but there are no regulations to ensure access to healthy food.
So I've lost the pull part of my incentive. Fortunately the push part is still there.
I'm going to try making the soup Meghann recommend in the Comments section to yesterday's post.
What's the matter with Blogger's Word Verification system. I haven't been able to leave comments on most blogs with popup WV for two days now?
Image of fruits and vegetables from Photobucket.
Additional Information from the Toronto Star.
Monday, February 23, 2009
This eating healthier can become obsessive. It can also be frightening.
Do you read the labels on things? I don't, or didn't.
I got interested in salt by being interested in soup. I got interested in soup by getting interested in salads. I got interested in salads by my youngest brother having a heart attack in December and requiring emergency double by-pass surgery
I thought to myself, maybe I should start to watch what I'm eating.
So I started eating salad for lunch but with this winter's extreme chill, cold salad wasn't proving very appealing. That led to my thinking of soup as a kind of hot salad (that's how my mind works). Except that a friend warned me not to eat soup because it contains way too much salt.
So what? Salt is good for us. Salt contains iodine. Good people are "salt of the earth". Of course you can over do it like Lot's wife, but I seldom put salt on anything. So where was the problem, buster?
The problem is that Statistics Canada estimates that Canadians routinely ingest more than double the recommended amount of dietary sodium per day. Even though a blue-ribbon panel of experts commissioned by the U.S. Institute of Medicine has set the adequate intake of sodium at 1,300 to 1,500 milligrams and an upper limit of 2,300 milligrams (less than a teaspoon), the average Canadian adult consumes at least 3,100 milligrams of sodium per day. To me that looks closer to three times the recommended "adequate" amount, not two.
Dr. Stephen Havas, vice-president of the American Medical Association, has estimated that cutting the amount of added salt by half in processed and restaurant foods sold in the U.S. would prevent 150,000 premature deaths annually; similar action on our side of the border would likely mean 15,000 fewer Canadian lives lost.
If so, this is at least four times the number of deaths attributed to trans fats. And a British Medical Journal study concluded that a low-sodium diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by 25 to 30 per cent.
The problem is sodium also hurts our health-care system and our economy. According to a new study published this month in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, reducing added sodium may lead to 1 million fewer people with hypertension. Direct cost savings from fewer physician visits, lab tests and lower medication use were estimated at $430 million annually, not including the spared treatment costs and productivity gains that would come from preventing disabling and fatal salt-related heart attacks and strokes.
The actual intake is likely closer to 4,000 milligrams when we include salt added at home at the table and stove, and consider the tendency of people to under-report their salt intake. The insidious effects of so much sodium added by food manufacturers and restaurants are particularly striking when one considers the intake levels of young children: toddlers ingest an average of almost 2,000 milligrams of sodium per day – double their recommended intake. According to Statistics Canada, these tots rarely lay a mitt on a salt shaker; for them, food comes salty.
Because four-fifths of dietary sodium is actually added by food manufacturing plants and restaurant kitchens, the American Public Health Association has advocated companies reduce by 5 per cent per year the amount of salt they add to such foods over 10 years. Which seems a criminally modest goal to me.
Dr. Norman Campbell, University of Calgary Research Chair in Hypertension Prevention and Control, is now calling for dietary sodium to be closely regulated.
I just finished eating a poached egg and tomato sandwich for breakfast. The bread had 160 mg of sodium per slice, a touch of mayo added 70 mg, the eggs themselves had 63mg and bit of ketchup added an additional 140 mg.
To save you the math, that adds up to 590 mgs of sodium. Nearly half an adequate daily allowance.
And I never touched the salt shaker once.
So what's wrong with the word verification feature today? I've visited several blog without being able to leave comments because the WV won't load.
Image of Salt Shaker from Photobucket.
Additional Information from the Toronto Star.
Posted by Barry at 5:39 AM
Sunday, February 22, 2009
It was around midnight that I made two discoveries. The first was that I was having a wonderful time.
Wally and Ruth had set out five card tables with four players at each table, and as the game was played, the winning couple moved on the next table. By the end of the night we had played with just about everyone in the room.
I had met 18 new people, eighteen new personalities, eighteen new stories to learn. The people tended to break evenly into two groups. Friends of Wally, meaning they were high school teachers. And friends of Ruth, meaning they were musicians.
My second discovery was the shock of realizing I was winning this tournament. Me, the game curmudgeon. The game avoider. I was the only one who made it around all the tables by the end of the night. Linda the gamer was still two tables back.
Because there was no money involved, fortune smiled on me.
I know it wasn't skill. I was just getting the right cards. A hand full of the trump suit and the rest aces and kings.
Every hand dealt me at all five tables was brilliant. The scores on my score card just kept getting higher.
"You just got lucky," said Linda on our way home.
"Did I ever!" I said happily.
"I had nothing in any of my hands," said Linda. "No trump cards. No face cards. Nothing."
"I had it all," I said.
"And how come every table I went too they were talking about salt in their diet. Did you get them talking about that?"
"It just seemed to keep coming up."
"Do you know how hard it is to eat potato chips with everybody talking about cutting back on salt? Poor Wally and Ruth had bags and bags of snacks left over."
"Well we also were talking about dogs."
"Arrugh! Was that you too. If they weren't talking about salt they were telling tales of taking their dogs for walks. What kind of card table conversation is that?"
"I'm not used to these things."
"No gossip. No catty remarks. No flirting. No couples having fights. That's just not cards."
"Yes but I was winning."
"We need to play more cards."
"Only if you let me keep winning."
Image courtesy Photobucket
Posted by Barry at 6:50 AM
Saturday, February 21, 2009
But first a confession.
I don't play games. Any games.
Snakes n ladders. Poker. X-box. Pick up sticks. Blackjack. Wii. Horses. Roulette. Super Mario Brothers. Slots. Trots. I Spy. Pac Man. Checkers. Chess. Euchre. World of Warcraft. Rumage. Bridge. Play Station. Game Cube.
Nada. None of them.
I've tried them. Don't see the fun in them.
Linda is different. She grew up in a family that played every game known to man. When company came, they played cards. When they went to the cottage, they played Punch Buggy and cards. At the cottage on rainy days they played pick up sticks and cards.
Cards. Cards. Cards.
The background theme music to their lives was the sound of cards being shuffled.
It was different in my family. When company came we turned off the TV and talked to them. On car trips we read books. On rainy days we read books. On sunny days we read books. In the morning we read books. At night we read books.
The back ground music to our lives was the sound of pages turning.
One of the adjustments needed to accommodate our marriage was that I had to learn to play cards and Linda went on a gaming diet.
Computers helped. While I read or blogged, she was into World or Warcraft, or playing solitaire, or the geography quiz on Facebook or scrabble on-line with friends in North Bay.
We could be together yet still follow the paths laid out for us by our family, by our own primal experience. We were at peace. Content.
Until two weeks ago when I came home and found Linda in a state of near bliss. A look of pure joy on her face. We were invited out, she told me. My son-in-laws parents had invited us over.
That's nice I thought. I like Wally and Ruth.
"To play cards," Linda said.
"Whist," She told me. "Nobody plays whist any more. Everyone will be learning the game together. It will be fun."
"Its a tournament. They have ten couples coming over for the night. Its a card party."
"Yes. You'll love it. Everyone loves playing cards with you," she said, before a stray thought caused her trouble for a moment. "Well, as long as they're not serious about the game." Then she brightened and tossed that quibble aside. "Your so funny. And you don't care if you win or loose. You'll love it."
"I don't care if I win or loose because I always loose."
And so on Saturday night we went to Wally and Ruth's to play cards.
Posted by Barry at 4:44 AM
Friday, February 20, 2009
It is still early in the morning when I reach Highway 35 and turn the car north. On the radio, John Denver is singing about sunshine on his shoulder, but there is no sign of the sun in Ontario today.
I have two hundred Kilometers to travel toward a land slowly being encased in ice. The radio reports the freezing rain storm, currently sweeping across the north, began at six in the morning and the roads up there are treacherous, the OPP reporting numerous accidents.
Here in the south it isn't raining at all, the pavement is dry and traffic is light. I'm racing toward the ice storm, doing 110 km on the two lane highway, in a 100km zone, hoping the OPP will be too busy with those whizzing past me at 120 to be bothered picking on me.
I'm also hoping the predicted warmth of the day will have melted the ice by the time I get to Haliburton Village, where I have a brief presentation to give, before turning the car around and heading back down south.
Half way to Peterborough, Highway 35 veers north west to the City of Lindsay. I think of my own little black dog, with the same name, who will spend the day alone today.
Outside Lindsay I turn north again on Highway 121, the road now reduced to a single lane in each direction. It is 11:30 and I wonder about stopping in Lindsay for lunch, but decide to push on. I picture a quaint restaurant in one of the villages ahead of me, something rustic but where they take pride in preparing basic wholesome food.
But the restaurants along the highway are all closed for the winter, and I don't feel like turning off onto the main street of the villages, not knowing what I might find. Fearing a major delay.
I have reached the rain and it washes the accumulating salt off the side windows of the car and away from the edges of the front window where the wipers miss.
By now it is just rain, not freezing rain, and the tires grip the road safely.
On the radio some woman is preparing to go down with the ship refusing to raise her white flag in surrender even though her love is a hopeless cause.
The snow along the sides of the highway is dirty and black with the sand and salt that have been poured on the road. The beautiful north of summer looks ugly and mean.
I finally find a restaurant in Mindon attached to a gas station. But the cooking is no one's idea of wholesome. It's burger and fries or find somewhere else to eat and by now I'm hungry.
I look my presentation over while wondering how meat could be prepared to be so lacking in taste, and try not to listen to the elderly man and woman arguing in the next booth. I discover I know the presentation well and get bored with further review. So I start reading The Shadow Of Poe, by Matthew Pearl, a hardcover I found for $5 in a bookstore's over stocked bin back in Toronto. I've read Pearl's stuff before was was surprised to see it there. The book starts out well and distracts me from the tasteless burger.
I finally find Highway 118 just north of Mindon and start the last leg of the journey. Still no sign of the freezing rain that made this area the top news story on the radio. The temperature out side is up to 5C, about half what they were predicting for Toronto. There will be no more villages to pass through between here and Haliburton. Just lakes and rugged forest on either side of the road.
And political signs for the local by-election that is being held. I've been passing them for hours now.
A Forest Fire sign flashes past and think of the raging fires and searing heat ripping through Australia where my cousin lives. It is a tragedy difficult to contemplate.
By now I've passed the reach of even the strongest of the Toronto radio stations and discover I've forgotten to restock the car with CDs. My choice is either to tune in Lindsay's Radio Bob ("Turn Your Knob To Bob!") or turn it off altogether. I drive on in silence.
I reach Haliburton by 1:30 and have an hour to kill before the presentation at 2:30. Most of the trendy stores along the main st are closed. But a few are open and I browse without seeing anything that tempts me. I drop into an inviting restaurant for coffee and wish I'd held out on lunch until I'd reached here. I read a little more about Edgar Allen Poe.
By three thirty my talk is done and well received. I turn my car south and head for warmer climes.
Leaving another day of my life behind me.
Posted by Barry at 6:08 AM
Thursday, February 19, 2009
As my oldest daughter turns 36 today, my thoughts drift back to the first time we met, oh so very long ago. Or was it only yesterday?
Linda and I were living in Callendar, a very small (1200) village south of North Bay, famed as the birthplace of the Dionne quintuplets. That led to a lot of jokes about the number of babies Linda was carrying, and suggestions she eat for seven, not two.
It was a severe winter in 1973 and we lived in a two story house we brought for $6000. It sat on two acres of land high above frozen Lake Nippising and had a very long driveway I needed to keep clear, never knowing when we might need to make a break for the hospital.
In those days there was no way to know the sex of the baby beforehand (although a friend did the needle dangled from a thread thing over Linda's belly and told us it would be a boy), we turned an upstairs room into the nursery and painted it a powdery yellow with a pale green trim. With the sun streaming through the large window, we called it the "sunshine room". I would come home from work to find Linda laying on the carpet in the room, looking up at the ceiling entranced by how beautifully the room had turned out and lost in dreams of a not too distant future.
When the time came, I was the first father to be allowed in the delivery room at St. Joseph's hospital in North Bay.
I think the doctors were more worried about me, than about Linda. They gave me stern lectures on where I was to sit and what I should do if I felt faint. They also gave me stern lectures on what to do if there was a complication and they told me to get out. I was to get out. Immediately.
If I knew what was good for my wife and baby.
So I wouldn't say my presence was entirely welcomed. At least by them. Linda seemed to enjoy having me there, though. I was seated up by her head while they worked on her nether region.
But somewhere along the way the excitement of bringing a new little person into the world got the better of them and they kept calling me down to that nether region to see what was happening, before sending me back to report to Linda.
When the baby was born they called me down for me to see and hold while they did some rudimentary neurological tests. And that's when I met Kathy for the first time. All red and slimy. The doctor and I got talking about the baby and the tests they were doing, until Linda interrupted us to remind us she hadn't seen her baby yet, and she'd been the one doing all the work.
And then I was sent home, exhausted and alone to an empty house ten miles out of the city. It was around 4 am and I was too wired to sleep but it was also too early to phone family in Toronto with the news.
So I made some coffee (instant in those days), and took a steaming mug up to the baby's room and sat on the floor.
And felt wonderful.
Kathy with her own daughter Hailey (September 2008) The photo was taken by her husband Jeff who was not only in the delivery room but was loaded down with camera equipment. How times change!
Posted by Barry at 6:15 AM
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
It rose up above the hill to the left of us bringing Lindsay to a complete stop. A skidding, sliding, sit on your bum in amazement kind of stop.
The very crest of the hill in front of us was growing, lifting, rising higher into the air. Then falling back to its normal height, returning life to normal as if the impossible had never happened.
Forget Lindsay, I was stunned myself.
Silently the top of the hill once more grew in size as it floated higher into the air, until eventually it was massive in size and the very cap of the hill separated from the earth and floated into the sky.
Lindsay was trapped between viewing it as a religious experience or a threat. Immobilized for the moment.
Then came the black suited man seated beneath what was obviously now a huge red and white stripped parasail, pulling on cords, playing the winds like an organist at a Bach recital.
Suddenly, with a ferocious bark, Lindsay took off up the hill after him, having decided this apparition was a crime against nature and simply should not be.
The glider was fifteen feet above the hill top now and Lindsay was more amusement than a threat. The pilot of the glider waved "hello" as he floated above me and arced out toward the vast chilled lake.
Lindsay tore along the beach after him, barking loudly, knowing she had him on the run. Then he tilted, caught an updraft and climbed high into the sky above us.
I'd never seen anyone paragliding here before and, of course, it was on a day when I hadn't brought my camera with me. The last we saw of the kite, it was high above the crest of the bluffs heading west toward Bluffers park, 10 kilometres distant.
Lindsay a tiny black dot racing along the beach after it.
Back home, later in the day, I discovered the following video of paragliders shot at Bluffers Park. Although it was obviously filmed in the warmer Fall weather, with the leaves just beginning to change, it could have been the same man. In the video, as the glider rises up above the bluffs, the camera swings to the left and you can see the bluffs stretching out toward the horizon. The section of the bluffs where Lindsay and I walk and where we saw our paraglider is at that most distant point.
The next day when Lindsay and I went for our morning run, although no paragliders were in sight, Lindsay raced straight up the hill, barking loud enough to scare the devil.
She had to investigate every inch of the ground up there to make sure she had frightened him off for good, before rejoining me for the rest of our walk.
Posted by Barry at 5:54 AM
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Of all the occupations Lindsay was likely to take up, the role of music critic would have been far down my list. Not quite at the accountant level, but very near by.
Despite the super sensitive hearing you tend to associate with dogs and their ability to hear notes far above the spectrum audible to us mere humans, Lindsay has shown a complete disinterest in music of all kinds until now.
Well, alright, if I happen to crank a rock song up a few decibels to see if windows really will shatter, Lindsay will beg to be let out of the house. But I take that to be an aversion to loud noise, not a criticism of a particular piece of music.
For the most part, no matter what I play, Lindsay just sleeps quietly on the floor, ignoring the whole thing.
On a Celtic kick, I was browsing through music videos on YouTube when I chanced upon a group I'd never heard of before. They were called the Medival Babes, six women who sing medieval songs in Olde English (no telling what you'll find on YouTube, right!)
By the end of the first stanza Lindsay was starting to whimper. At first I didn't associate her pain with the music and wondered if she had a burr or indigestion.
But then she came over and started to bark at my laptop. When that didn't shut the music up, she dragged herself down the hall to my office at the opposite end of the house, whimpering and casting baleful glances, all the way.
When the video finally stopped, she came bouncing back out to the living room.
Could her pain be caused by the video, I wondered. So I played it again and she immediately started to bark and headed off back to the office.
Medieval music sung in Olde English is just not to her taste, I guess.
Anyway here is the video that caused her so much distress. I you have a dog and if your dog shows any similar reaction, please let me know.
Posted by Barry at 6:47 AM
Monday, February 16, 2009
Every town has its famous person, the local nurtured in its bosom, who rose to greatness. Waukegan has Jack Benny. Parsons, Kansas, has Zazu Pitts. Bangor Maine has Stephen King.
Guelph, Ontario, as I mentioned in an earlier post, has John Galt.
And Port Perry has Daniel David Palmer, the father of Chiropractic. Not that he invented Chiropractic medicine in Port Perry, that was something he discovered in Buffalo New York. But Buffalo has had more than its share of famous people and he tends to get lost in the crowd.
In Port Perry, where he grew up, population 8500, he gets the respect he is due.
Now Daniel David died in 1913 and you may be wondering how he and Lindsay connect since she was born in 1999 and he had been dead for 86 years by then. I can only warn you not to put anything past Lindsay.
It was in the summer of 2004 when Linda and I decided a drive in the country would be refreshing. Port Perry with its trendy boutique stores is a popular destination for those hankering to get out of the city on a day trip.
For reasons that escape me at this time, we decided bringing Lindsay along would be a good idea.
I really don't know how that decision came about. In retrospect it seems uncharacteristicly reckless. But, there you have it. That's what we decided.
Lindsay was, of course, delighted. Everything delights her. She drank in the passing countryside with tail wagging joy.
In Port Perry we strolled the main street with all of Toronto's trendy refuges. You know the type. Couples wandering together, identical sweaters hanging down their back, sweater arms tied loosely around their necks, sun glasses pushed up on top of their heads. Both the man and woman, blond and fit. The streets were alive with their clones, And a farmer or two, looking very out of place in their own village.
I would sit with Lindsay and watch the passing parade while Linda shopped.
Eventually even the refined shopping experience of Port Perry became tiring and Linda suggested we relax in the park beside the lake at the end of the main street.
The beautiful little park rests on the shores of Lake Scugog where we could sit under the shade of a tree and watch the excursion boats filling with passengers.
Lindsay pranced along happily beside us, enjoying the fresh country air, her long ears blowing in the wind, delighting to all the novel scents flowing her way.
Until she suddenly turned into a an enraged watchdog, barking furiously at something high above her.
We looked up with unbelieving eyes. It seemed the good burgers of Port Perry had impaled the head of Karl Marx on a cement shaft and had mounted it in the public park.
What ever could they have been thinking?
Lindsay barked. Linda read the inscription on the base of the monument. "Daniel David Palmer," she read.
"The father of Chiropractic."
Lindsay continued to bark. Daniel David looked down from his impalement with considerable annoyance.
"I thought it was Karl Marx," I said.
"His beard is whiter," Linda reminded me.
Lindsay was now drawing a crowd. They could see she was assuming the Father of Chiropractic was lurking far above us with obviously evil intent. The crowd thought this was hilarious.
We pulled her away but she kept looking back, growling or leaving threatening barks.
Daniel David just loomed.
In fact he is looming still.
As for us, we got out of town.
Posted by Barry at 7:13 AM
Sunday, February 15, 2009
I didn't seek it. I wasn't expecting it. And as it turns out, I sometimes wish I didn't have it.
Actually it's kind of pretentious to call it fame, but to call it an annoyance doesn't do it justice.
When I first starting posting, Blogger felt like a vast empty soulless place where absolutely no one seemed to notice my existence. No one commented. No one welcomed me.
And I was fine with that. I wasn't looking for community, it was about the writing. He tried telling himself.
Eventually one or two people from blogger began to find me and I would get four or five comments and I kept up writing posts at the rate of three or so a week.
They would comment on my blog, I would visit and comment on theirs and we became a casual little group.
I didn't know blogger had a feature called the "Notable Blog Of The Day" until I visited my site one day and found dozens of comments and that the numbers of followers of my blog had jumped from ten to 300. 300! What the heck?
For the Notable Blog feature, Blogger selects one blog each day to showcase on their home page. For reasons unknown to me, mine was chosen. Actually, since it happened just after New Years Day, I suspect they were short staffed and decided, for just this once, to grab a blog at random!
When I checked the site meter I discovered my blog was being visited at the rate of up to 400 people an hour. Sitemeter estimated that at that rate over 100,000 people would visit my blog by the end of that week.
At first I was delighted, and then I was astonished and then I was a little alarmed, and then I was overwhelmed.
But as the numbers kept building, I began to get cranky. It was taking all of my time just trying to keep up with the number of comments, much less paying return visits to the commenter's blog. Eventually I just gave up trying. Besides it was seriously impairing my ability to keep up with that little group of bloggers who had been with me for months. Not to mention cutting into the limited time I had available to actually write the posts.
Porn sites began leaving innocent looking comments reading something like "Enjoyed your post now come visit mine, love Lacy!" When I would go visit my eyes would fry inside my head, explosions would go off in the back of my brain and smoke would pour out my ears. And yes, my toes would curl up. I would go racing back to the comments section to hit delete, delete, delete!
Yep, I know, I'm no fun at all.
I also started to notice that the average stay for those 400 people was a minute and a half. Since I was transferring posts of approximately 500 words, it would take the average person 4-5 minutes to read them. So more than half the people coming to the site weren't even reading one post.
They were coming to leave their name on a popular site so others would discover them.
Because they wanted their site to become popular. They wanted Fame.
I would have been happy to give them a little of mine.
Suddenly Blogger no longer seemed an empty and soulless place. It felt more like Grand Central Station at rush hour. And I was the guy in the crowd trying to go in the opposite direction to this wave of humanity.
Eventually it began to settle down. I discovered some wonderful new people who write some exciting blogs, many much more elegant and informative than mine. The notable blog feature helped them to find me and allowed me to find them.
The average length of stay for visitors is now 4 minutes, which means the visitors here are actually reading what I write.
So overall the experiences was a positive one. I'm glad it happened, otherwise I wouldn't have found half of you. I'm starting to be able to keep up with the comments and visits back to the blogs of those who visit mine. And that truly enriches my day.
But there were times when the ride felt like it was out of control.
Maybe you noticed?
Posted by Barry at 6:32 AM
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Friday, February 13, 2009
"Here Knave," Guenevere reached out her hand, "come see our world beyond the dank confines of this dreary room."
She gestured for him to join her at the window.
After being confined in a darkened room only half lit by flickering torches, Barry was struck first by the richness of the colour. The fortress had been constructed on the top of a vast hill of rich green grass. At the base of the hill was a small village and beyond that was a massive forest that reached out to the horizon.
The ancient forest reminded him more of his home in Canada than of the rolling grassy hills he associated with England.
The homes in the village were two story thatched roofed dwellings of dark wood whose lentils, cornices and shutters were painted in bright reds and yellows. Every home had its plot of land where vegetables were grown. Geese, chickens and pigs roamed freely while cows were confined to a pasture at the edge of the village. The odd home in the village had a single horse tethered in the yard.
Not far from the village a large river of clear blue water, ominously swollen by the days of ceaseless rain, flowed deep into the interior of the mighty forest. A family of pure white swans swam contentedly in the lee of the strong current.
Emerging from a rough road carved along the water's edge, was a long line of soldiers, all in red cloaks carrying pikes topped with colourful blue banners. At the rear of the column two men pounded on massive kettle drums and the marching soldiers sang to the beat, their clear voices rising all the way to the fortress, with no mechanical sounds to compete with its passage.
Villagers were pouring out of their homes to cheer the arriving soldiers. Men held children on their shoulders, women held the hands of infants. At the head of the long column of soldiers rode a large man on a pure white horse, head held proudly high, his armour more resembling that of a Roman legionaire than a traditional Knight, a great red cloak flowing behind him.
Two hawks lazily circled the village in the skies overhead.
"Its beautiful," Barry stammered.
"Aye," said Arthur thoughtfully. "It is our world and our people and our way of life that we protect. And if, mayhap, it cost us our life, it is small price to pay."
Guenevere grabbed Arthur's hand, "But come my Lord we musts greet our guests!" She implored excitedly.
Arthur smiled and held her hand tightly, amused by her joy, "Aye," He agreed. "Come, let us prepare for our company."
"No, don't go!" Barry almost said, but didn't. He watched Guenevere pull Arthur from the room toward Lancelot with sad foreboding.
As the rest of the Knights shuffled wearily from the room, Merlyn held Barry back.
"A moment Sir," the old magician said.
Barry turned to him.
"You know you may not stay here." The old man whispered, gently. "You bring a falsity to our time that may not be. I know not how you came, but I will reverse that error."
He pointed a rugged stick at Barry whose eyes suddenly rolled back in his head as he collapsed to the floor.
Barry opened his eyes to see Linda's anxious face mere inches from his own. "He's coming to," she said.
Diana Gabaldon stood just behind her. "Oh my gosh," she gasped, "You poor man. Are you alright?"
Barry looked around the crowd of astonished faces gathered for Gabaldon's book signing. "Did I pass out?" He asked.
"This stupid bookstore thought it would be amusing to pile copies of my book into pillars representing the standing stones in my novel. And one of the piles fell on top of you. My books tend to run to over a thousand pages, so they're no light-weight. I've heard of people falling asleep reading them, but they've never knock anyone unconscious, until now."
"I had the strangest dream," said Barry in wonderment. "I dreamed I was back in the time of King Arthur. And it was a terrible place. Dark and smoky and dirty. The round table was a cart wheel on a barrel and there were rats and the knights all had fleas."
Gabaldon smiled, "Well that sounds about right for the period. Life expectancy was only about 19 years in those days. Lots of infant mortality but mostly wars and bad hygiene. Cesspools right outside the door, sleeping with their pigs. There was a reason they called it the Dark Ages."
"But it was beautiful too," Barry protested. "The air was so clean, the forests were vast and it was so quiet you could hear people talking a mile away."
"Now you weren't time traveling on me for real, were you?" Diana smiled.
Linda put her arms around him and he laughed ruefully. "We're thinking about our retirement in a couple of years time. And I think this has taught me a few things."
"Such as," Linda prompted.
Barry smiled, "Well, never volunteer for a Diana Gabaldon time travel demonstration, for one. Never judge a place by its reputation, for another. Always wash your hands just like your mother taught you."
"And how about 'There's no place like home?'" Linda asked.
"That too," Barry laughed. He paused and became more thoughtful, "And that some things that look really bad at first, may not be as bad once you start to see the full picture. That human nature is much the same wherever, or whenever, you go. And that there IS nobility in the world. You should have met Arthur. He was so calm yet so strong. he was the centre of everything without even having to move. There was a presence about him."
"You really did bump your head," Linda said, touching a tender lump on his forehead.
"Oh, and I learned one more thing," Barry said earnestly. "I really can speak great Latin. I never knew I could. You should have heard me!"
"Amor et melle et felle est fecundissmismus" said Gabaldon.
"What?" said Barry.
And the two women laughed.
All images in this series were courtesy of Photobucket
Posted by Barry at 5:31 AM
Thursday, February 12, 2009
"It is new to me," said King Arthur seating himself at the table, "This notion of a healthy place. Healthy people, yes. But a healthy place, what mean you by that Knave? How can a place be healthy or no?"
Barry was rubbing his wrists, so soon freed from their chains, "Well," he said. "I suppose I mean a place congenial to health within a person. Where a person is least likely to contract a disease, has good companions, good food, shelter, safety from harm, has options for interesting things to do. You know, stuff like that. Where people can be happy."
Galahad leaned forward with interest, "What mean you, pray tell, by 'contract a disease'?
One of the two dogs in the room sleeping contentedly by the fire, raised its head and with a roar leaped to its feet. A large rat went scurrying along the edge of the room, the dog at its heels. The two crashed into Percival's chair sending him flying. In the confusion the rat made for the open doorway where the second dog leaped on it and broke its neck. The two dogs then fought over the corpse.
"'Sblood," cursed Percival, getting to his feet. "I hate those cursed things."
"You are not injured, Sir" inquired the King.
"My dignity, only. My Lord,"Percival replied, setting his chair right.
"You have rats in the castle?" Barry was horrified, his gaze fixed on the two dogs biting and snapping over the dead rat. Ignoring the sight, the knights had drifted back into boredom.
"In the castle, in the village rats are everywhere. Is it not so in your time?"
"No. Rats and mice carry disease. And fleas."
Gawain scratched contentedly.
"Have you fleas, sir knight?" Barry asked him.
"We all have fleas, you idiot." Gawain coughed. "They are a curse for our sins."
"But they carry disease. You must bathe to rid yourself of them."
"Bathe? It is not spring, you fool!" grumbled Gawain.
"You don't mean you bathe only once a year?"
"And that at risk to our lives." replied Arthur. "Why knave, do people in your time bathe more often?"
"Daily," the visitor from another time stammered. "And wash our hands more frequently."
Gawain fought back still another cough, "But you wash away your protection against ailment! You will catch a chill and expire. Why place yourself at such risk?"
Barry looked around the room becoming aware of each knight scratching periodically, at the flies on the table top, the mud on the floor, the dirt on each man's hands. The air in the room was fragrant with bodies unwashed for months. Finished with the rat, the two dogs were returning to their place by the fire.
"Indeed, Gawain is right," Galahad shivered. "You place yourself at fearful risk with all that washing!"
"My Lord, sir knights!" Dressed now in a bright red gown of finer material, Guenevere appeared in the doorway to the room. "The rains have stopped and our visitors approach." She crossed the room to the window and threw open the shutter. Light burst in, blinding everyone. Percival opened the shutters to the room's other two windows and looked out.
The knights, bored from inactivity, all moved to the windows, blocking the view from Barry. The haze from the fire and the torches began to thin and a fresh breeze blew through the dank room.
"Who is here?" he asked.
Guenevere turned to him, her young eyes sparkling, "Our allies from Gaul have arrived. Led by brave Sir Lancelot du Lac."
For the first time seeing her face alive with pleasure like the 15 year old she was, Barry began to scratch. Thoughtfully.
"Oh Crap," he muttered to himself.
Posted by Barry at 6:28 AM
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Anon, Fair Maidens, Lords and Common Folk, please be advised you are about to embark on a flight of purest fantasy. Unlike other posts to this blog, it cannot be read as a stand alone, but musts require you to enjoin it at its very beginning, Part One far below.
Having fulfilled that obligation, then be hushed for the curtain lifts and our players take the stage.
It was only after the vicious swing of Merlyn's staff came to halt mere inches from his skull, that Barry flinched in terror. His feeble attempts to duck hampered by the heavy chains on his wrists.
Merlyn's gaze was unwavering, judging what he saw before him.
"Well," he said after a time. "It's obvious the man is no warrior. As you can see, my liege, his reactions are untrained. Remove his chains, Arthur, whatever we have here is no threat."
Arthur nodded to Percival who sighed, threw back his great cloak and bent to unlock Barry's chains.
As Barry made to rise, Merlyn's staff touched his forehead and pushed him back.
"Nay, sir. A seat in the mud will suit for now." Merlyn began pacing around him again, like a dog around a bear seeking a vulnerability.
"His strange clothing vouchsafes his odd tale," smiled Guenevere. "Have you seen the like Merlyn?"
"I have not my lady." The elderly magician crouched down, his face mere inches from Barry's own, his old man's rancid breath leaking through rotted teeth. "If truly you travel through time, sir, why come you here?"
Barry gathered his thoughts and looked up at Guenevere, "I don't really understand it myself. I hadn't expected time travel to work. It was a joke." he explained. "I guess I had Camelot on my mind because my wife and I plan to retire soon and I've been thinking about the healthiest place to choose. You know, our perfect place. Our Camelot."
Arthur nodded approvingly, "Camelot is the strongest fortress in the land."
"It wasn't a fortress I was thinking of. I just turned 65 and..."
Merlyn's staff whacked him in the forehead. "Don't test our credulity, sir." The old magician hissed. "You can be no more than 35. Our liege is but 24, our knights no more than 19 or thereabouts. Guenevere is but months from 15 though I myself am ancient at 51. We know our ages sir and you cannot be 65."
"No I am 65!" Barry protested with equal vehemence. "In the future we have better sanitation and better medicine. It is not unusual to live to be 80 or 90. That's what makes retirement so difficult to plan. I could well live another 20-25 years."
Arthur was intrigued. "This retirement, you speak of, what is that?"
"Well, you put money aside, the government puts money aside, the company you work for puts money aside and around 65 you stop working and start just enjoying life."
Coughing harshly, Gawain staggered angrily to his feet and began to draw his sword, "I've enough with these lies, my Lord. Let me end this!"
But it was Guenevere who answered, "Nay good Gawain. He amuses me." She turned to Barry. "Sir, I have not much time, we are expecting company. An alliance is to be formed, our guests will soon arrive and I musts change and prepare their greeting. Their herald reached us yesterday. So tell me true, this place, our Camelot is revered in the future?"
Barry nodded gravely, "It is my lady. Camelot is remembered as a nearly perfect land and Arthur the wisest and bravest of Kings. His knights, their ladies and the people lived the best of lives under his reign."
At the back of the room, Galahad voiced his accent. "I've seen worse," he said. "We fight the decline in everything since the departure of Rome in the time of our father's fathers. Then the land was at peace and people lived on splendid estates. Roman senators had estates here and magnificent homes. Now all about us the land returns to mindless violence and decline. The Angles and the Saxons and the Jutes invade from across the channel. We fight to preserve what little civilization is left."
There was a murmur of agreement from around the room and a beating of goblets upon the rounded table top. But Barry could sense the frustration and the weariness beneath the bravado. They were too few and the decline too pervasive.
Guenevere rose, "I must go. Our guests will be cold and wet and weary when they arrive." She curtsied to Arthur, "My liege, my husband, I must go. But keep this man safe. He will amuse our guests this evening, to be sure."
Arthur reached a hand down to Barry, "Come sir, up with you and sit with us at our table. I would speak with you some more. But vouchsafe me this I pray you, there will be no singing from you ever again!"
Posted by Barry at 5:46 AM
Monday, February 9, 2009
Anon, Fair Maidens, Lords and Common Folk, please be advised you are about to embark on a flight of purest fantasy. Unlike other posts to this blog, it cannot be read as a stand alone, but musts require you to enjoin it at its very beginning, Part One below.
Having fulfilled that obligation, then be hushed for the curtain lifts and our players take the stage.
"This can't be Camelot," groaned Barry, wiping the mud from his face and cautiously sitting up in the darkened room. "It can't be like this!"
The knights encircled him, long shadows caste by the flaming torches, they huddled miserably in massive cloaks against the damp and cold. The central table in the room was a slab of wood that appeared to be a wagon wheel tilted on its side.
"It isn't the place of a peasant to tell us what Camelot can or cannot be!" grumbled Sir Gawain from his place closest to the fire.
Merlyn continued to circle the stranger, both horrified and fascinated, his staff always at the ready. "Just how did you picture Camelot?" the old man asked.
"Well built of stone, for a start," Barry began, hesitantly. "In my time, Camalot is still remembered for its physical beauty," Barry's voice stumbled as he looked around the rough cut wooden walls and mud strewn floors of the room. He went on uncertainly, "Camelot is renowned as the embodiment of the ideals of justice, bravery and truth, the virtues Arthur and his knights champion. It's celebrated as the ideal society."
Merlyn was startled and stepped back away from him with a hiss. The knights began to roar with laughter, pounding their wooden goblets on the rough table top.
"Indeed, is this how the serious business of the country is conducted," a woman's voice cut smoothly through the air.
Barry lifted his head to see a slim girl poised in the doorway of the room, an aged hag by her side. The bottom of the girl's skirt was wet with the mud that coated the floors and her greasy blond hair was tied in a braid at her back.
"Today it is, Lady Guinevere" said Arthur calmly. "You see we have a guest."
The young woman advanced quickly into the company of men and glanced down on Barry with a look of scorn. "What this? It looks too pudgy for either work or fight yet has none of the appearance of clergy"
"He is an oddity, to be sure," agreed Arthur. "However it does entertain, of a fashion."
The woman gathered her thread worn skirts and seated herself at the table, leaning forward mischievously. "Why then minstrel, favour me with your song. I would be amused."
Stunned by her request, Barry was uncertain how to respond. To be sure he was no singer. The quiet in the room became frighteningly oppressive. In desperation Barry's wobbling tenor launched into a rough version of Camelot--
It's true! It's true! The crown has made it clear.
The climate must be perfect all the year.
A law was made a distant moon ago here:
July and August cannot be too hot.
And there's a legal limit to the snow here
The winter is forbidden till December
And exits March the second on the dot.
By order, summer lingers through September
I know it sounds a bit bizarre,
But in Camelot, Camelot
That's how conditions are.
The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
The young girl was momentarily speechless. The room was stilled to silence, marred only by the pounding rain and wind.
"Why knave," she stammered. "That was oddly terrible."
"I did say it entertained, after a fashion." Arthur warned. "I didn't know it sang, if singing that was."
"Cute accent though," Guinevere laughed. "Minstrel, you amuse me. How come you here to Camelot?"
Barry looked earnestly up at the taunt, young queen in her home spun ragged dress and attempted to reconcile his image of the regal Guinevere with this thin teenager. "I was at a Diana Gabaldon book signing in Toronto and she asked for a volunteer to demonstrate how the characters in her novels time-travelled to distant locations. My wife volunteered me and next thing I knew I was here."
The fire cracked in the grate. Outside the rain seemed to lessen.
"I know not what to make of gibberish." The young woman said. "Merlyn what say you of this creature?"
"I say this, Lady" Merlyn picked up his staff and suddenly swung it directly at Barry's head.
Posted by Barry at 6:55 PM
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Fair Maidens, Lords and Common Folk, please be advised you are about to embark on a flight of purest fantasy. Unlike other posts to this blog, it cannot be read as a stand alone, but musts require you enjoin it here, at its very beginning.
Be hushed now, the curtain lifts and our players take the stage.
They were in the second week of a relentless rain. The floors of Camelot were caked with mud, the roof was leaking and the men were growing sullen and dispirited.
Of the six men lit by the flickering torches and flames from the fireplace, only Arthur seemed at peace, calmly oiling and polishing Excalibur to a radiant gleam.
The cold rain battered against the thatched roof of the wooden room and the great fire in the grate did little to lift the damp or the spirits. The men were wrapped in thick cloaks and depression.
"You know, Arthur, there are pages to do that work for you?" Gawain coughed harshly, both hands cupped around his goblet of heated mead.
Arthur smiled grimly, "Indeed, as you say, Sir Gawain. Yet it is a task I prefer to do."
"You've loved that old relic since wrenching it out of those rocks a life time ago." Gawain observed irritably. "God's breath, I would rather have my guts ripped out in heat of battle than suffer another day of this interminable rain and damp!"
There was a general grunting of assent from the others in the room.
As Arthur was about to speak, Galahad strode briskly toward them, pulling off his soaking cloak and rushing nearer the fire. "They've found Merlyn." he announced. "As you predicted, my Lord, out in yon forest gathering herbs that only grow under these miserable conditions."
Arthur smiled and gestured to Percival, "Go ye hither then and fetch our guest for Merlyn's inspection. Perhaps some entertainment will lift all our spirits."
Percival downed the last of his mead and flung the cup aside. Pulling his cloak more tightly around him, he marched from the room.
Gawain pounded his fist on the table, coughing again. "Aye, some entertainment!" he croaked weakly, "Anything to distract from this sodden curse that afflicts us!"
"Patience, Gawain!" counseled a weak voice from the doorway. A painfully thin man, wrapped in bearskin and clutching a large leather bag, moved cautiously into the room. Merlyn threw back his hood to reveal a mane of white hair and beard. "If you were looking for a quest, sir knight, you could have joined me in my search."
Gawain laughted harshly, "I'm no so daft, Merlyn. I want to escape the rain, not bathe in it!"
Beyond the room voices could be heard and the pounding of feet. Percival reappeared dragging a man in chains. He shoved the man into the room where he slipped on the mud and fell to the reeking floor.
Merlyn, looked at the stranger with amusement. "And what have we here?"
"My gift to you, Merlyn!" Said Arthur rising to his feet. "Knowing your love of oddities."
Merlyn walked around the stranger, sniffing and prodding with his staff. "He is dressed oddly to be sure and a little pudgy perhaps. A loss of twenty or thirty pounds would harm him none. How came he hence?"
"Aye," agreed Arthur. "A good question that. He says he's here to gather research for a post to what he calls a "blog". Claims he's from 1500 years in the future. And his name is Barry."
Images courtesy of Photobucket.
Posted by Barry at 1:05 AM
Saturday, February 7, 2009
In many ways we are traveling back in time.
I began this series in the modern City of Guelph Ontario with the discovery of a statue honoring John Galt.
I then discovered that novelist Ayn Rand had visit the area 60 years ago and that this John Galt was the inspiration for the name of her central character in the novel Atlas Shrugged.
Wanting to learn more about the real John Galt took me back to the early 19th Century and the discovery that the John Galt who founded Guelph held views that were almost the diametric opposite of those Rand had championed in her novel.
Among the ideas the real John Galt advocated was the then new philosophy of John Stuart Mills known as Utilitarianism.
Now I want to go back even further in time and explore the connection between Utilitarianism and the most popular of all Roman gods, the goddess Fortuna.
Or "Lady Luck", as she's now known (and still worshiped) in Vegas.
Most people today have never heard of Fortuna. When they think of Rome they think of Jupiter or Mars or Venus, Rome's great gods of state. And certainly these were the gods the Romans officially worshiped, but they were not the god the Romans worshiped the most.
In terms of the amount of tribute, in terms of the number of shrines, the goddess uppermost in the minds of most Romans was the Goddess Fortuna.
The morality required by the worship of Fortuna will seem very strange to us today. Following a Judaeo-Christian tradition the rules of morality were literally cast in stone. Read the Ten Commandments and you know the will of God in advance of your behaviour. Not so with Fortuna, the goddess of good (and bad) fortune.
Let's take a mundane example. You are at an ATM withdrawing twenty dollars when the machine starts spitting out hundreds of twenties. The lobby of the bank fills with money. Morally what are you to do?
Today it would seem obvious. The money does not belong to you so the morally correct choice is to return it. Thou Shall Not Steal, is the expressed will of God.
But to the ancient Romans the proper moral choice would not have been so obvious. Fortuna was a fickle goddess. You could not know what the right and proper and moral action would have been until after you had acted. You would know it by the way Fortuna rewarded you for your behaviour.
If Fortuna did not want you to have the money and you kept it, you would be arrested and charged.
On the other hand if Fortuna wanted you to keep the money because she wanted to punish the Bank for its greed you would be performing a moral act and would get away with it, living long and certainly prospering. Keeping money that wasn't yours would have been a moral act sanctioned by the gods.
In Roman times no one knew what was morally correct until after taking action and suffering the consequences. It was the consequences Fortuna applied to the preceding actions that revealed their morality. Morality was a matter of interpreting Fortuna's shifting moods.
But what has this to do with John Galt?
Simply this, the ancient moral code of the goddess Fortuna was the inspiration for Mills philosophy of Utilitarianism. the belief that the moral worth of an action is solely determined by its contribution to overall utility, that is, its contribution to the happiness or pleasure of the greatest number of people. It is a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined by its outcome—the ends justify the means.
This is Fortuna's moral code in modern guise, with this exception, that now Mills believed he had understood the mind of the goddess and knew her expectation.
It is a strange world we live in.
Images courtesy of Photobucket
Posted by Barry at 6:47 AM
Friday, February 6, 2009
Alisa Rosenbaum had a problem.
Her novel The Fountainhead had achieved major success and she was deep into the planning of her next work, Atlas Shrugged. But the hero of the new novel lacked a name and for her the name of the hero was critical.
The name had to be strong and short and romantic. "Howard Roark", the name of the central protagonist of The Fountainhead, was perfect. Because the very name of the hero of Atlas Shrugged would be critical to the plot, his would have to be even better.
Alisa was living in California at the time where she had been making a living working in the movie industry for many years, most recently overseeing the movie version of The Fountainhead.
In the mail one day, she received a fan letter from a young Canadian boy named Nathan Blumenthal. Intrigued by the quality of the letter, Alisa invited Nathan to her home for a visit. The visit lead to friendship and more and to Ayn paying a return visit to Nathan's home in Southern Ontario.
It was during that visit that Rand chanced upon the name of the founder of the neighbouring town of Guelph Ontario, Scottish novelist John Galt.
For her the name was perfect, strong and original. Alisa herself had chosen a new name, Ayn Rand, after immigrating to America from Russia. Nathan Blumenthal would also rename himself Nathaniel Branden, and go on to write a series of best selling books on Psychology. The proper name conveying the proper image was critical, especially for the hero of Atlas Shrugged.
However, it is doubtful Rand knew much about Galt, whose name she appropriated. Her Galt would be the enemy of religion and mysticism in general. Her Galt would be the champion of reason, individualism and Laissez-faire capitalism.
John Galt, the Scottish novelist, was a religious man who built the Town of Guelph Ontario around the church. The hero of his most successful novel was a Scottish Parson. A failed businessman, Galt's novels were often light and humourous.
He was also, philosophically, an advocate of utilitarianism, the idea that the moral worth of an action is solely determined by its contribution to overall utility, that is, its contribution to happiness or pleasure as summed among all persons. It is a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined by its outcome—the ends justify the means.
There were few philosophical ideas that came in for more scathing criticism from Rand than Utilitarianism.
For those with a love of irony, you've just struck the mother-load.
Images courtesy of Photobucket
Posted by Barry at 5:41 AM
Thursday, February 5, 2009
The opening words of Ayn Rand's massive 1957 philosophical novel, Atlas Shrugged, pose the following question-- "Who is John Galt?"
In the context of the novel the words have become a popular phrase that means, roughly, the equivalent of the sarcastic current phrase "Who knows?" Meaning there are some things that are just beyond us, that have no rational answer.
However, those characters in the novel who are strong enough and intelligent enough and determined enough eventually discover that John Galt actually exists and in finding out who he is, their lives are, not transformed, but unfettered.
Yet John Galt is more than the protagonist of Ayn Rand's novel. Rand learned about him during a visit to Southern Ontario. He is an actual man who lived a real life and accomplished amazing things. Even if some of those amazing things would not sit at all well with Rand's philosophy.
Born in Aryshire Scotland in 1779, Galt moved to Canada in 1826 as secretary to the Canada Land Company. He carried out extensive schemes of colonization, and opened up a road through the dense forest between Lakes Huron and Erie. In 1827 he founded the town of Guelph, and along the banks of the Grand River, the township of Galt, named after him by the Hon. William Dixon.
Despite all this work Galt was not a successful at business and returned to England in financial ruin. In 1829 he began to devoted himself to literary pursuits immediately achieving great success with his first novel "Lawrie Todd". Then came "Southennan", a tale of Scottish life in the times of Queen Mary.
Encouraged he went on to write other novels, biographies and an autobiography and to become one of the most popular novelist of his time. Although his works are seldom read today, his popularity came to rival that of Sir Walter Scott and Galt eventually retired to Greenock, where he continued writing until his death on April 11, 1839. His entire literary career packed into the last 10 years of his life.
Guelph. the little farming town he founded, is now a small but vibrant City in southern Ontario and is home to my youngest daughter and her family.
When we go shopping in the downtown core of the City, we pass by John Galt's statue which stands proudly outside City Hall in a pose that might be worthy of a Rand character. His hand is outstretched because he used the outline of his hand as the model for the downtown core of the city, roads radiating away from the palm like the fingers on his hand.
Tomorrow I'll explore how Rand came to Southern Ontario, discovered John Galt and came to use his name as the central character in her novel.
Images Courtesy of Photobucket
Posted by Barry at 6:32 AM
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
The snow was light but persistent. All the way in to work on the GO Train, I watched it fly past the window, wondering how the day's accumulation would impact on the ride home. The snow was as cold and depressing as the thought of shoveling my driveway again, in the dark, after a long day at the office.
Once I arrived at work, the opposite of cold and depressing grabbed me before I could get my coat off.
"Barry!" Debbi was nearly bouncing with excitement.
"You gotta come and see this," She grabbed me by the arm. "You'll love it. It's so simple but really powerful..."
She dragged me into her office and then went off stalking anyone else foolish enough to have arrived early for work. In the end she only found Rose.
"So what are we here for," I asked. Rose was standing in a puddle and busy brushing large white flakes of snow off the shoulder of her winter coat while looking as puzzled as I.
"This," said Debbi, hitting the play button on a YouTube video....
Posted by Barry at 5:31 AM
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
"Remember how you were telling me the other day about your worst fault?" Linda asked one day, her hair a little tousled and a dreamy look in her eyes. "Well, do you know what your best quality is?
"I'm a tiger in bed?"
Linda laughed. "No, no. Be serious!"
"I look like Sean Connery?"
Linda laughed harder. "Oh stop it."
"I look a little like Brad Pitt?"
Linda's eyes were starting to water. "Please," she pleaded. "Not even in your dreams!"
"I'm honest and pure?"
"Ya right," said Linda, catching her breath and calming down a little.
"I'm hard working and industrious?"
"I asked for your best quality, not the things that drive me nuts."
"I care about my health and follow my doctor's orders? I don't make fun of your friends even when they deserve it? I never say I told you so? I take my dog for daily runs? I cut the grass without having to be asked?"
"Actually some of those are good qualities, but they're not your best. Although don't get me started on you and your doctor. And what's funny about my friends?"
She cut in, "You weasel, you mentioned that just to change the subject, didn't you? You're embarrassed to know you have a good quality, aren't you?"
"No I'm not embarrassed."
"Yes you are, and you're doing it again! Now stop it! Do you want to know what your best quality is?"
"Do I have to?"
"Yes!" she shouted. "Your best quality is that you like people. You actually deep down really and truly like people. All kinds of people. I don't think there's anyone you've ever met that you didn't like."
Surprised, I thought about it. Surely that couldn't be true. "That can't be right," I said.
"Name one person you ever met that you didn't like?"
"Aside from your sister, you mean?"
"I don't like my sister. You pretend not to like my sister for my sake. But deep down, I think you like even her, right?"
"This doesn't sound like a good quality," I said. "This sounds more like a character flaw."
Linda hugged me. "No," she said. "Its a very good quality. You make people feel good. You make me feel good."
I enjoyed the hug for a moment.
"I'd still rather be a tiger in bed," I said.
"Rowrrrr," said Linda.
Photo of Sean Connery courtesy of Photobucket
Posted by Barry at 6:36 AM
Monday, February 2, 2009
"You know what my biggest fault is?" I asked Linda.
She was concentrating intently on a painting she has been working on for some time. It's close to being finished but something about it just isn't right and it bothers her.
"Interrupting me when I'm concentrating on something else?" she guessed, continuing to study the painting, gently cocking her head from side to side.
"No, of course not," I laughed. What a sense of humour she has! "I mean my biggest fault."
"Persisting in interrupting me when you see I'm concentrating on something else," she guessed again, her gaze wavering only slightly from her work.
"No my biggest fault. You know, the thing that annoys you the most!"
Linda sighed and put down her paintbrush. She looked at me with an expression I couldn't fathom and sighed again. Then with a look of resignation on her face, she asked, "Walking too fast when we're together so you leave me walking two or three feet behind you?"
"Telling my stories when we're at a party, so I have nothing left to say."
"No, that's just being helpful. I mean an actual fault."
"Making me guess things you already know the answer to?"
I laughed again and shook my head. I really love her sense of humour.
"Forgetting to pick up the simple things I ask for at the store? Taking me out to see movies you love and I don't care for? Forgetting to give me messages from my friends when they phone?"
"Not lovable idiosyncrasies, I mean that thing I do that really, really annoys you."
Linda shook her head. "So I haven't guessed it yet?"
"You're not even close!"
"Okay so maybe you'll have to remind me. Obviously this is such an annoying trait I've blanked it out as an act of self preservation, or something." She cast a longing glance at her painting out of the corner of her eye.
With her running out of ideas, some of the fun went out of the game for me. We were having such a good time playing. Women, can be such spoil sports some time. Or maybe I don't have as many faults as I thought?
"You know," I finally told her. "It's when you ask me to do something and I do it right away."
It was Linda's turn to laugh. "Alright, well you're going have to give me some examples of that happening!"
"You remember when your dentist told you we should be using an electric toothbrush, and I ran right out and brought one and you were really annoyed."
The light dawned in Linda's eyes. "Yes, well I wanted a say in the choice of brush we got."
"Yes, yes, I was annoying right? And when you wanted that bookcase taken down and I ripped it out the next day."
"I was just wondering what the room would look like without the bookcase. I wasn't sure I wanted it removed."
I was triumphant! "There, you see, it's my worst trait!"
"Well, that's annoying of you alright. But what about it?"
"I promise not to do that any more."
Linda was startled. Actually shaken.
"I thought I should make some changes in my life," I explained. "And get rid of some of my bad habits."
"And that was the bad habit you planned to get rid of?" Linda shook her head in wonderment. "Actually doing something I ask you to do as soon as I ask you to do it?"
I could see the light of understanding in her eyes. "Exactly! I thought that would please you."
Linda shook her head. "Men," she said, along with something else I didn't quite catch.
I guess she was marveling at what wonderful creatures we are!
It really feels good to know you've made your wife happy.
Posted by Barry at 5:37 AM
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Little did Linda know that in the wake of agreeing to marry me an acausal chain of events would be unleashed that would obliterate every site of importance associated with our marriage.
Entire buildings would be reduced to rubble. People would die.
There was forewarning of the catastrophes to come, but it was ignored.
The day the wedding invitations were to be printed, I got a phone call from Linda, in tears, telling me to call the printer and stop the printing of the invitations. The church where we were to marry had just burned down.
This was Linda's church, where her parents were founding members of the congregation, where her father taught boy scouts, where her mother sang in the choir and where her father's funeral service had been held after his tragic heart attack at 43 years of age. The building was only 10 years old. Eventually the cause would be traced back to faulty electrical wiring in the kitchen. But the building was completely destroyed.
Instead of her beautiful church, set quietly back on a suburban street, we were married in a small Presbyterian chapel on busy Kingston Rd. Two years later that chapel was torn down and replaced with a seniors home.
I hope you're keeping score. The church where we were to marry and the church where we actually were married, have both been destroyed. And that was only the beginning.
Our wedding reception was held at the Broom & Stone golf and curling club. It burned down the next year.
Our honeymoon was at the beautiful Inn on the Park, where six people would soon loose their lives in a tragic and deadly fire. According to the New York Times article, "SIX DIE IN TORONTO HOTEL FIRE: Six people were known dead and about 60 were sent to local hospitals. The fire broke out at 2:35 A.M. and was brought under control about 90 minutes later. Guests had to wait for hours in temperatures of 4-below before being allowed back in the building." It has now been torn down.
Our first home was in the town of Parry Sound. A year after we moved in, it was expropriated by the town for the construction of a mall. Where our house once sat, where I carried Linda over the threshold, where our dog Jenny had her litter of puppies, where we had so many good parties with wonderful friends, is now a mall parking lot.
If it was a curse following us, destroying every place associated with our marriage, the curse ended there. Our next home, in Callander, still stands, as does the home we lived in for eight years in Powassan.
And of course, we still stand. But I think it was a close call.
Posted by Barry at 6:26 AM