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October 2017

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My post of yesterday concerning the poignant death of Gord Downie was necessarily brief – because:

– the occasion was just too sad and I could not find words to adequately express the sense of loss…

– because in many ways there is little more to be said…

– because there is much more to be said but there are many considerably more qualified (and way more eloquent) than I to say it…

Canadians doubtless need read no further but for others – particularly those across the ocean in Europe – I sense that it may be important to add something more for the benefit of those wondering what on earth all the fuss is about.

I posted this missive on the occasion of the Tragically Hip’s farewell concert last summer, which might give the puzzled reader some insight into why it is that the premature but expected death of a rock singer has so traumatised a nation. That it has indeed done so may be confirmed by watching Canada’s premier – Justin Trudeau – failing to hold back the tears as he pays tribute on national television. “It hurts”, he says. “We are less as a country without Gord Downie in it”.

Given the almost total lack of interest in the Tragically Hip outside Canada this may seem somewhat over the top. All I can suggest is that the gentle reader spends ten or fifteen minutes reading some of the many tributes to Downie, in order to gain just some insight into why he was so loved and respected. For example,

‘The place of honor that Mr. Downie occupies in Canada’s national imagination has no parallel in the United States. Imagine Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Michael Stipe combined into one sensitive, oblique poet-philosopher, and you’re getting close. The Tragically Hip’s music “helped us understand each other, while capturing the complexity and vastness of the place we call home,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement on Wednesday. “Our identity and culture are richer because of his music, which was always raw and honest — like Gord himself.”’

As Vozick-Levison suggests, Downie was much more than just a singer. He was a writer – a poet – an occasional actor – a philanthropist – an activist on behalf of indigenous peoples and much, much more…

Above all, perhaps, he was a Canadian.

 

 

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Gord Downie

 

1964 – 2017

 

 

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

 

“First thing we’d climb a tree and maybe then we’d talk,
Or sit silently and listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal, this is our life”

 

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There is something completely magical about the way that fungi live patiently in one’s lawn – in the shape of millions of spores just waiting for the perfect conditions in which to thrive – before suddenly bursting forth for the purposes of reproduction. They have a relatively narrow window in which to do so once the air turns cooler and the moisture levels rise, before the first frosts persuade them once again to keep their heads well down for the duration.

Persistent little buggers, aren’t they!

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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Giving thanks

Growing up in the UK and paying little attention to matters beyond the confines of those verdant isles, my only vague understanding of the North American tradition of Thanksgiving came from the sort of cultural osmosis that arose from the post-war mid-Atlantic homogenisation of the entertainment industry. Even then I had no idea what it really signified and indeed thought little enough at all about it, except to wonder why on earth the Americans had instigated another turkey-based festival so close to Christmas.

I most likely assumed that the celebration had something to do with the secession of the US from its former colonial state, or was perhaps somehow related to the civil war. Either way I figured that it had little to do with us Brits and that given our long and (in)glorious history we probably didn’t feel the need to hold any special festival because we were permanently thankful for who we were.

The gentle reader will be unsurprised to hear that I received a rapid education in such matters when the Kickass Canada Girl and I moved in together. I learned that the Canadian and US Thanksgivings were different things and that they take place almost a month apart. As in so many areas the Canadian variant comes first! Whilst yet in the UK we celebrated the festival on a number of occasions with a gathering of Canadian expats and most enjoyable it was too.

What I still had not gleaned (a fact I can only blame on the sad decline of brain activity that comes with age) was that there is after all a correspondence between Thanksgiving and a UK feast day. I refer, of course, to that excellent pagan celebration – Harvest Festival. Doh! In my defence I would point out that Harvest Festival is not a public holiday in the UK, being traditionally celebrated on the nearest Sunday to the Harvest Moon. I was also misled by the lateness in the year of the American version – way after the harvest has been safely gathered in. Nonetheless, now that I have been enlightened it all makes perfect sense.

The long and the short of this inconsequential musing is that we celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving last weekend with our dear friends from Saanichton and were treated to a truly magnificent feast. A good time was had by all and the harvest was well and truly lauded.

Hoorah!

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Photo by Andy Dawson Reid…before the other thing!

If it is October then there must be renovation in the air…

Good contractors are much in demand. Excellent contractors are really difficult to find and,  should one be lucky enough so to do, one must needs accept that their schedule will take precedence over one’s own.

Long before our contractor finished our shiny new deck back at the start of June we had started carefully lining him up to commence work on the interior of the house. October was the earliest that he could manage and even that has since slipped a little to ‘the end of October’.

Well – we have enjoyed a blazing summer on our lovely deck but the Fall is now upon us and the end of said month is rapidly approaching. Ergo it must be time to surrender ourselves once again to the joys of living on a construction site.

We have a number of immediate projects in the pipeline. Our kitchen urgently needs replacement. We have two bathrooms that require dragging out of the 1970s. We have flooring to update in a variety of areas and – worst of all – the entire main floor of the house is ‘blessed’ with what are know as popcorn ceilings – having been sprayed with that lumpy stuff that was once used willy-nilly to cover any sort of sub-standard plaster-work (dry-walling).

Being the cautious, somewhat methodical chap that I am I would very much have liked to have been able to run these projects sequentially, with adequate time for each to be fully completed before the next one were embarked upon. Unfortunately the hideous mess that inevitably ensues from the scraping of popcorn ceilings requires that that be done entire before any construction be commenced and certainly before any of the new flooring goes down. As the flooring will also run throughout that must be done at the same time that the kitchen is stripped out and replaced.

I was reluctantly forced to accept – with considerable squirming on my part – that the best way to proceed was to hand the whole floor over to the contractor for as long as it takes. We are fortunate in that we have a full walk-out basement into which we can move in the meantime. Unfortunately this will require packing everything up and moving it downstairs before the works can commence.

It will – of course – all be perfectly lovely once it is done. I will let you know how it goes…

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“At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas of which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is “not done” to say it… Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the high-brow periodicals.”

George Orwell

I found myself quite taken aback the other night whilst watching the season opener for the new series of ‘Saturday Night Live’ on the TV. The item concerned was actually pretty funny; a skit featuring actor Ryan Gosling delivering a rant about the designer of the credits on James Cameron’s film ‘Avatar‘ having chosen the font ‘Papyrus’ for the main titles.

I was surprised because I had not heard that this was ‘a thing’ – (or what would now probably be referred to a ‘meme’). The InterWebNet rapidly set me right – informing me that Papyrus is one of the most hated fonts ever and offering me a panoply of websites dedicated to pejorative references to its usage. The level of loathing was well up to usual InterWebNet standards, comparing the antipathy toward the typeface to that of ‘Comic Sans’ (though I did find it amusing that some wag had apparently merged the two to create what was briefly called ‘Comic Papyrus’ before being renamed for legal reasons to ‘Comic Parchment’. Blimey!).

Now – let’s sort out issues of self-interest right away. I use Papyrus in the banner for this site and have also used it in other places for titles. I like the font and I think that – in the right place – it works pretty well. So there!

Clearly at least some of the antipathy is simply down to popularity. Microsoft inadvertently created a monster by including the relatively obscure font with their Office suite, thus giving access to those who had no right to such things. Popularity seems to bring out the worst in some people and when Microsoft is involved it is clearly open season.

Certainly a case could be made concerning over (or inappropriate) use, but I suspect that something else is going on here. On one design website an article going by the title ‘10 Iconic Fonts and Why You Should Never Use Them’ includes the following:

“Unlike other reviled typefaces, though, Papyrus isn’t bad because it is overused: it’s bad because it just doesn’t look good. Kitschy, cheap and vile, Papyrus has no place in your designs.”

Ok – so those judgements are subjective in the extreme and the designer who wrote the article is an eighteen year-old entrepreneur, but do I detect a slight whiff of professional snobbery here?

Now – I spent forty years as an IT professional and it was certainly annoying when someone who had bought a computer from a store and read a couple of magazines believed that they knew better than I how to run an IT service – but the world has changed and the gap between the professional and the ‘amateur’ is no longer as wide as it used to be. Yes – I studied Computer Science and built a career in IT; I also spent more than four decades learning without formal training how to be a musician, a composer, a writer, a theatre practitioner… and in each of these I was aided by the rapid development of tools that placed in the hands of those who cared to put in the time and effort the means to reach a pretty decent standard.

The point surely is that – counter to some recent views to the contrary – ‘experts’ are a good thing… but that their expertise should be based on wisdom and such wisdom is usually acquired through (extensive) experience. Once achieved such doyens will doubtless be wise enough to recognise when some spotty youth armed with an iThing has actually produced something that they themselves could only dream of.

Flame off!

 

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