Sunday, October 23, 2016

Friends In Hard Times

One of the more common questions directed at Audrey and I of late is, "how is Fenya doing up there, anyways?"

Fenya's work experience in housekeeping and dishwashing in Churchill continues apace; she has established herself as a responsible and hard worker who also tries to brighten the spirits of her coworkers when she can.

After someone in the kitchen switched out The Phantom of the Opera for Slipknot in order to maintain the needed energy levels for the remainder of a breakfast shift, the two of them fell into a discussion of bands they both enjoyed. When Nightwish, Delain and Sonata Arctica came into the discussion, she lamented that she had not been able to attend the concert with her family.

"What do you mean, your family?" the confused cook inquired.

"My family: my mom, my dad, my little sister; they all went to see those three bands at the Winspear in Edmonton."

He shook his head in disbelief, but said, "Your family is awesome!"

That kind of exchange takes a bit of the sting out of a 5 am start time, and certainly made Glory and I feel good when Fenya shared the story with us over Skype.

Being able to relate with people when the chips are down can be a very important coping measure, as Fenya has discovered over the past couple of weeks.

Long story short, a dryer caught fire at the Tundra Inn; there was no structural damage, no injuries, but lots of smoke contamination and no place to do the massive amount of laundry needed once the all-clear was given. Everything from the bedskirts and the mattress covers to the sheets, blankets and pillowcases had to be laundered, and in short order.

The one housekeeper able to drive took all the washing to a series of laundry rooms in various residences, including her own and the one Fenya is currently residing in. Once completed, she collected them all and brought them back to the hotel, so the staff could get to work getting the rooms ready for visitors again.

This has necessitated a lot of flexibility on the part of the staff, including my daughter. In order to re up more staff at the hotel she has been working triple and double dishwashing shifts, putting in close to twelve hours of gruelling work in one day.

On another day, she came over to the hotel during her break between dishwashing shifts at the pub directly across the street, and things looked grim; glum faces, audible strain in the cracking voices, someone in tears on the telephone. She went over to one of the senior staff and said, "I've got an hour; can I help with anything?"

Red eyes blinked back, then comprehended that assistance was being offered. "God, yes," they said, "Go up to two and see what Sam needs."

As she related that story, I struggled with how to tell her how proud she was making me without embarrassing her, or giving her a swelled head, but then she went one better.

The following day, she brought a goodie bag over to the hotel staff, and she told Glory and I how she picked everything.

"I couldn't buy wine because I am not legal for, like, another two weeks - it was so frustrating - because I wanted to get them a bottle of wine, but I went and got them a bunch of colas to stay caffeinated and hydrated, something that it seemed they needed, and some of those nutritious energy bars because I care about their health, and then some chocolate because I don't care that much about their health, and then some cheese to go with the wine that, I'm sorry, they were just going to have to buy themselves."

I was gobsmacked, beaming at Fenya over Skype on my iPad..

Fenya then laughed, recalling how one of the desk staff, who hadn't been there when she dropped off her care package, came into the restaurant to express her gratitude to Fenya in person, but ended up blubbering in the middle of the restaurant. But it sounds like everyone understood; after all, there are less than 700 people in the whole town.

She was tired and a little punchy, but her spirits were still tremendously high, buoyed up, I presume, from being able to help her colleagues a little during a trying time.

"Sweetie, I have to go, but one last thing before I do," I told her. "I know you give me a hard time for saying stuff like this, especially if I have a drink or two in me, but you need to know I don't drink during the week these days unless there's company, so I am stone sober when I tell you what I am going to tell you, okay?"

A little apprehensive, but nodding. "And what's that?" she asked.

"You're awesome," I replied, my face split with a grin so wide it made my cheeks hurt.

She blinked a little, and her cheeks reddened a bit, but she smiled, and nodded.

I wished her good night, and handed her off to Glory.

My heart felt full. I remember learning my way around the work world when I was close to her age, the myriad motivations of coworkers, the sometimes contradictory requests of superiors, discovering the need to subvert oneself on occasion in order to get things done. It's not like school, or volunteering, or anything else, and it will likely be the biggest part of your life for the rest of your life. The kind of job doesn't matter, but how you approach it does.

It is arguably the most important part of being an adult, and no matter how you've prepared your children, there is no way to predict what their experience will be or how they will respond.

How wonderful to discover that the child I love so much appears to be growing into the kind of young lady I would be grateful for a chance to work with!

The 4-5 weeks until she returns home feels even longer now, but there is enough happiness to offset the longing, for a little while at least.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sweet Christmas - Luke Cage, Season 1 Part II, Reviewed

Two weeks back, I reviewed the first half of Luke Cage. In the intervening  fortnight, I have watched the remaining 7 episodes, bought the soundtrack, and watched episodes 1-4 for the second time with Glory and Audrey.

Suffice to say, I liked it quite a bit.

Why? Well, there's a few reasons for that. First and foremost is still the cast, a who's who of modern black actors, from Mahershala Ali, Alfre Woodard to star Mike Colter. In this second half we add Erik LaRay Harvey as Cottonmouth's arms supplier, Diamondback. He brings a ruthless, Joker-like combination of charm and unpredictability to the table, grinning like a latter day Tony Todd (Candyman) and pursuing Luke Cage with the singlemindedness endemic to comic book adaptations.

In honesty though, the latter half of this inaugural season is less about Luke Cage, and more about Cottonmouth's cousin, Mariah Dillard. One area where the MCU movies can take notes from the Netflix series is the care and attention they give to their villains, an area the silver screen has flatlined on pretty much since Loki. If part 1 of Luke Cage is about establishing his origin, part 2 is about establishing Black Mariah as a worthy nemesis, balancing greed, vengeance and pragmatism in equal measure, which they do admirably. And she is only one of several smart, strong, female characters of colour. Simone Missick establishes Marvel mainstay Misty Knight to such a degree that many are calling for her to get her own show, which I am okay with so long as it doesn't prevent an ongoing Heroes for Hire at some point.

Showrunner Cheoi Hodari Coker also uses this latter half to establish a little more connective tissue to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Rosario Dawson makes a welcome return as beleaguered nurse Claire Temple, the woman we were sure was to become the MCU's "Night Nurse" until it was rumoured Rachel McAdams would play that role in the upcoming Doctor Strange, but then Marvel uberlord Kevin Feige denied it, so now...well, nevermind, it's not important and we can talk about Night Nurse another day.

The important thing is that there is a connection beyond just references to "The Incident" of the first Avengers movie. Frankly I could have done with more allusions to S.H.I.E.L.D. or Tony Stark, but gunrunner Cottonmouth does mention that a lot of his tech comes by way of Justin Hammer, secondary villain of Iron Man 2, Turk from Daredevil shows up, and the downfall of Wilson 'The Kingpin' Fisk from that same show gets a mention, so I am content.

All in all, Luke Cage is a solid addition to the Marvel/Netflix canon, but there are two criticisms that bear addressing. The first is that hey, for a superhero show, there isn't nearly as much action as you might expect, and the fight scenes lack a lot of the panache shown in Daredevil.

There is no denying this; Luke Cage is unquestionably a slow boil that metes out its action sequences like methadone to someone coming off horse. And the fight sequences aren't as imaginative or creative as the hallway fight in Daredevil. You know why?  BECAUSE LUKE CAGE IS BULLETPROOF AND SUPER STRONG, FOOL. He doesn't like to fight, He has nothing to prove. I love the internet commenter who described his fight style as "annoyed". I do love that the people he does hit fly back a significant distance, but the lack of flash is frankly refreshing; a violent vanilla sorbet meant to cleanse the palate just before the flashy kung fu of K'un Lun shows up when Iron Fist arrives on Netflix next March.

The second is that, wow, this may be the blackest comic adaptation to date; one person confided in me that, because they don't listen to a lot of hip hop or have other exposure to black culture, they were experiencing a degree of 'cultural whiplash' they found a little daunting.

Any you know what? That's fine too. You think a lot of young brothers and sisters in areas like the one Luke Cage is set in share our memories of The Facts of Life and M*A*S*H and even Justice League? A little turnabout here is not just fair play, it is long overdue, and all of it, from the slang, to the fact that the episode titles are all track listings from rap pioneers Gang Starr to the whole Harlem Renaissance angle you see in the show, is a critical ingredient. I will go on record as declaring Luke Cage as the most blacktacular show I have ever watched, and anyone who wants to characterize it as being 'too black' (whatever the hell that means), just needs to imagine a person of colour saying the same thing about Star Trek or Lost or Big Bang Theory being 'too white'.

The most telling reflection of Luke Cage in today's world, especially today's America, is a tweet I cannot currently find but in which a viewer said that watching a strong black man in a hoodie get shot and remain standing, literally reduced him to tears.

In short? If you like the idea of  something like a superpowered version of The Wire, a languidly paced potboiler that doesn't talk down to you and tells it like it is in terms of the modern black experience in America, Luke Cage is just the ticket.

And now a word on the soundtrack: this is some great stuff right here. I grabbed it on iTunes the day it became available, and have not regretted that choice.

Hip hop producers Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge have crafted a thoroughly modern and urban score, unencumbered by gratuitous record scratches and cussin', and which still echoes with traces of the jazz and funk that established Harlem as a musical incubator beyond compare.

Better still are the full tracks that we hear as source music in the Harlem Paradise club which is a key setting in the show: The Delfonics, Faith Evans, Raphael Saddiq, and my personal favourite, Charles Bradley.

How in the hell have I gone this long without hearing more about this guy? A man who ran away from a basement bedroom with a sand floor at 14, who worked as a cook most of his adult life, whose first band got drafted away from him to fight in Vietnam, and only started recording with modern soul saviours Daptone Records in 2002, when he was already over 50? If nothing else, I owe the show and the soundtrack for introducing me to this artist, who was tragically diagnosed with stomach cancer earlier this very month. (And check out how young and white his band is in the video; crazy!)

Music plays a big role in Luke Cage, no more so than in episode 12 (my favourite) where a chance encounter with rapper Method Man from the influential Wu-Tang Clan results in him creating a track on a radio show later on called Bulletproof Love.

A satisfying superhero show, with brilliant music, tremendous performances and great insights into modern black culture in America. The best thing about Luke Cage though is that it shows how much great television can be wrung out of a character originally established as a way to leverage '70s blaxploitation flicks, while still respecting the source material and the fans (like me) who love it.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Worse Than Trump?

As I write this, it is (checks watch) 15 minutes until the start of the second presidential debate between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. The bingo cards are printed, drinks for the drinking game are standing by. Since Friday, all anyone can talk about is the leaked footage featuring Trump describing how his fame and wealth enable him to approach, including married women, not only in an aggressive manner but in a way that is essentially sexual assault.

What followed was a simultaneous dogpile from the left (and a lot of folks in the middle) and immediate repudiation of Trump by dozens of down-ticket Republicans who have apparently only now realized what a boat anchor he is to their political careers.

Tonight's debate is expected to contain a number of deflections from Trump onto Secretary Clinton's husband, who, it turns out, is not only comparably famous, but also has a lot to answer for from an alarming number of women. In anticipation of this, Trump held a press conference with many of Mr. Clinton's accusers less than two hours before the debate. We will have to wait and see if this strategy  helps Trump in any way beyond reinforcing his already rabid base, but the smart money says otherwise.

But let me refocus on someone else and their response to Friday's video for a moment: UK Independence Party Leader and Brexit architect Nigel Farage. Farage was quoted as saying,

"Look, this is alpha male boasting. It's the kind of thing, if we are being honest, that men do. They sit around and have a drink and they talk like this.

"By the way, quite a lot of women say things amongst themselves that they would not want to see on Fox News, or the front page of a newspaper. I'm not pretending it's good - it's ugly, it is ugly."


You don't have to listen very long to the Trump tapes to hear an insecure weasel of a man seeking approval and validation from, of all people, Access Hollywood host Billy Bush, Trump is an egotistical man-child, a wealthy and entitled idiot so convinced of his own brilliance, he has convinced millions that he is as smart as he says he is, with almost no evidence to back the assertion. We can't expect anything good from him.

But for Farage, a selfish and short-sighted but generally accepted to be sane individual to say that mean everywhere are talking about pushing themselves sexually on women against their will? Unbelievable.

Thankfully people are jumping on these claims: Jake Tapper on CNN did one of the best jobs, pinning Trump surrogate and non-apologist Rudy Giuliani like a bug on a board:
"I have been in locker rooms. I have been a member of a fraternity. I have never heard any man, ever, brag about being able to maul women because they get away with it -- never."
Folks, this is not just talk.

Men, when you hear garbage like this, I hope you are calling it out.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

About D*mn Time - Luke Cage Episodes 1-6, Reviewed

It's interesting how things change.

Currently, blockbuster movies are taking a lot of their cues and subject matter from comic books, but in the 1970s, it was the other way around.

Having put most of their romance and western comics out to (ahem) pasture, and after establishing their newer, modern superhero characters in a shared universe, Marvel Comics was looking for new ground.  The first place they looked for inspiration was the movie screen.

Movies like The Omen and The Exorcist prompted a greater pop culture interest in the occult and Satanism, spawning comics like Ghost Rider, Son of Satan, Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night. Kung-fu flicks were the motivation behind Iron Fist and Shang Chi: Master of Kung Fu. Eventually, the wheel stopped on blaxploitation, and Luke Cage, Hero for Hire was born.

A man convicted for a crime he didn't commit, experimented on behind bars and who emerged from captivity with tremendous strength and bulletproof skin.

Despite having pretty much the same origin and power set, Netflix's Luke Cage (as played by Mike Colter) bears little visual resemblance to that character (even though the showrunners carefully work in a great reference to his original look during his origin flashback!).

In the comics, Luke Cage has gone from being the brash, confrontational fellow whose loud facade concealed a thoughtful and calculating man, to a quieter, more self-assured one who doesn't raise his voice too often because he doesn't have to. Colter's Cage is cut from the same cloth.

I mentioned how impressed I was with Mike Colter's casting in Jessica Jones, and he brings the same reflective intensity to his star turn here. Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker and his writers have not only brought Marvel's first black superhero to the screen in a big, big way, but they have also given us the fundamentally most decent person to star in a Netflix show yet.

It's a bit of an unfair comparison: Jessica Jones didn't ask be to doubly traumatized, first by her origin and then later by her captivity under the mind control of Killgrave. The plot of Daredevil often seems to rely on Matt Murdock making bad decisions and alienating those closest to him, just like in the comics. Luke Cage is a superpowered hip-hop western, about a reluctant fighter looking for peace. Later on, when he finds himself having to fight more often, it is clear that he will not kill anyone, even though he has the means.

We meet Luke Cage working in Pop's Barbershop, sweeping hair and supplying towels, being paid under the table. Not glamorous, but he's happy to help Pop provide an oasis of sanity in Harlem, a salon and meeting place where youngbloods play videogames in the back, while men play chess and talk basketball up front. The sign on the wall says profanity is NOT allowed, and offenders pay their levies to the swear jar, a battered coffee can on the shelf.

Later on we see that this easygoing social hub is Pop's real mission: a chance for young men to see grown ups working, in uniform, taking pride in themselves.

The blackness of the show is prevalent, without being offputting. The majority of both crew and characters are people of color. Harlem, in all its glory and tragedy, emerges as a character in its own right: inspiring, revealing, and concealing in turn. Every place with a name brings a layer of meaning: Martin Luther King, Crispus Attucks, Jackie Robinson.

This undercurrent of self-improvement and empowerment is the foundation that Luke Cage is built on. Later on, a former ball player laments that he learned the game from his father, and now, no young black men want to play, because the fathers are all gone; bitter stuff.

Others are content to build their progress on the backs of others, like club owner and ganglord Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes and his cousin, city councilwoman Mariah Dillard.

Cottonmouth is played with suave, dangerous tension by Mahershala Ali, who can play the thug with one hand while keeping time as the sophisticated businessman with the other, and all over an underlay of regret as we learn more about his past.

Meanwhile, Mariah Dillard preaches about the Harlem renaissance and the rich, black history of the neighbourhood, pulling funds for an ambitious real estate development from her unscrupulous cousin while telling him she doesn't want to know where they came from. Alfre Woodard brings the same charm and intensity but in inverse proportions and aspect, to amazing effect.

From a comic book perspective, Luke Cage is a bit of a slow boil, with only a little action to begin with, and a main character unwilling to reveal his abilities. Eventually he gets there, but the journey here, at least in the arc that covers the first 6 episodes like a mini-season, is a lot less about defeating the villain, and coming to grips with oneself.

The opening credit sequence is Luke Cage in a microcosm: a punch that takes almost a minute to reach its target, while landmarks and street signs from Harlem illuminate the back and arms of the man punching. The funky breakbeat and guitar give way to the soaring strings from scores like Shaft and Rocky, and horns finish the build as the fist finally reaches its target and debris falls away to reveal the eponymous title. Oh, and let the record state that the moment they release a soundtrack for this show, featuring its hip-hop score and source music with a pinch of jazz, I will be getting it.

I'm 8 episodes in, believe that most high schools would benefit from showing Luke Cage every February, and cannot wait to see how it all turns out, and how it will tie into the next chapters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on Netflix, Iron Fist and The Defenders.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Until Next Time, Rev. James

I've always been pretty upfront about my resistance to change.

Philosophically, I recognize the  the danger of stagnation, the necessity of adaptation, importance of progress. But it's rarely been something I enjoy.

Rev. James, our minister and friend for nigh on 7 years now, is moving to Richmond Hill, and in a lot of ways, it is kind of a tough pill to swallow.

Again, the necessity of it cannot be questioned; his father is in declining health, and unable to come out west, as had been the assumed plan for many years. As the offspring with no children and a job that affords him some latitude in relocation, it is eminently sensible for he and Glen to relocate back east. As much as I recognize the rationality of it though, my inner Dr. McCoy is yelling "Damn your logic, Spock!"

Inner Spock will probably win, as he often does, with a relentless inevitability that is belied somewhat by the recognition that James is unquestionably doing the right thing, and for the right reasons, as well as the fact that it is clearly exacting an emotional price on him as well.

Today's farewell service and the pot luck that followed was not very elegant, but it was earnest and heartfelt and honest, all characteristics I value and admire, and see in James. For the first time I can remember, he had to refer to his notes during his sermon, because reading it afforded him a modicum of emotional control that simply speaking them from the heart could not.

He told us he was proud of how far we had come in our efforts to be more inclusive and welcoming, from becoming an Affirming Ministry and marching in Pride, to the work we did in respect to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. He choked up, telling us he loved us, and that he would continue to pray for us on our journey, as he knew we would for him.

The staff presented him with a brilliant painting by a local artist, and an envelope that started circulating only three weeks ago came back with a significant amount of cash in it, which seemed to rock him back on his heels a bit. The original intent was to turn part of it into a gift card for a posh restaurant (the thinking being that even $300 for food can be 20 x $15 fast food dinners or one spectacular night at someplace posh), but there was no time to arrange it. Also, many givers felt cash was a far more sensible gift due to its flexibility, and you have to respect those wishes. As one of the presenters though, I had a chance to hug him immediately after he received it, and whispered in his ear "A third of that must be spent in a single night!" in the urgent manner of a gypsy prophecy.

I repeated it to James' husband Glen, who was seated next to me in the congregation, and he grinned and said, "That shouldn't be a problem in Toronto!"

The pot luck was a bit chaotic because just so many people wanted to take part in this final farewell, and there were over 40 feet of folding tables laden with food. A mic was set up so that people could share stories or remembrances or public wishes, and a few people took advantage of it, giving heartfelt thanks and wishing James and Glen all the best in their travels and new home.

And of course I was one of them.

I began by recalling a couple of incidents early on in our relationship which occurred at Worship Committee meetings. At one, a gift basket had been prepared, but the aggregator was unable to gussy it up for presentation purposes. James immediately volunteered, saying, "Give it to me, I can make anything pretty."

Knowing his fondness for musicals, I grinned and replied with, "Pretty? Oh, so pretty? You feel pretty and witty and-"

"You cut that out!" he interrupted sharply. But he smiled when he did it.

At a different meeting, he took note of the Muse t-shirt I was wearing from a concert the night before. He asked if I had been there, and I was impressed he knew the band, since many didn't, but when I told him, yes, I had, he immediately held up his hand for a series of high fives, to punctuate his declaration of "Best! Concert! EVER!"

We then turned and looked sheepishly at the chair of the committee, who had no idea what was going on and was watching us with incredulity. James offered a mea culpa and said, "We were just having a moment, there..."

(For his part, James told me that he knew that he and I would get along famously when, at a church council meeting, we fell into an animated sidebar discussion about whether it made more sense to use sesterce or denarius to refer to the contents of a church's coffers, which devolved into the proper pluralization of these ancient currencies, when we were sharply called to attention by the chair of council. Even he grinned, though, as he threatened to put us in separate seats, like errant schoolboys.)

I followed up these anecdotes by mentioning that I had watched The Shawshank Redemption with my nephew Mark the night before, as he had never seen it. (I should mention that there were appropriate gasps of disbelief at this revelation.) I described the scene where convict Andy Dufresne strides outside the authority of the warden by barricading the door to his office and broadcasting an aria from The Marriage of Figaro over the prison P.A. system, mesmerizing the inmates, and earning himself two weeks in 'The Hole'; solitary confinement.

Frank Darabont, in the commentary that I watched last night, says, "The whole movie is in that scene: he is [trapped] in a place. He does the best he can. And he shares his soul with the people around him."

He gives them hope, a strange overlapping of the Venn diagram between a two-decades-old prison movie and modern Christianity.

To me, this describes James to a 'T', and I told that to the assembly.

In a spirit of honesty and commitment to right, he presented us uncomfortable truths and asked what we were prepared to do about them.

He taught ancient wisdom, but carefully explained the historical and societal context it came from.

James spotlighted injustices and cruelties in the world around us, some of which we ourselves were complicit in, and suggested ways we might do better.

Onstage, my voice caught when I turned to James and thanked him, and told him how much I hoped he knew the extent to which his shared soul had galvanized us, and how he had forever changed the way in which many of us view the world, and how grateful we were for his leadership and for showing us what being a loving and inclusive community really means, How appreciate we all were, that I was, that we had him in our lives for the time that we did. How happy Audrey and I are for the influence he had on the lives of our daughters.

I reached across the table to shake his hand again, but he was having none of it, and came around for a hug. Again.

There was a lot of eye-sweat going on in the Friendship Hall of St. Albert U.C. that day I can tell you.

The week previous, Audrey and I had James & Glen over for drinks after supper, ostensibly to say goodbye, but in truth, it was a way for us to extend our connection, and to offer the two of them a bit of respite, some non-obligatory decompression time in a familiar space. We had talked about watching a movie: I had lent James the Firefly DVDs some time ago (two years, perhaps? I'd lost track, having an extra set that I had subsequently replaced with BluRays...) abd he'd had yet to see the theatrical movie, Serenity, which capped off the series.

After everything today, and heading out tomorrow at 7 am, they swung by after dinner to check it out. My nephew asked to stay, instead of heading back to his residence at UAlberta, because of the gratitude he feels for the influence James has had on his life. We lounged, snacked on chips and popcorn, downed a few beers and ciders, and watched a decent sci-fi movie, but mostly, we just enjoyed the pleasure of each other's company.

We paid no mind that it may be some time before such an opportunity presents itself again, and the only indication that tonight was any different than our regular Monday night Game of Thrones viewing was the fact that I got Glory to snap a picture of the four of us at the door when it was all over.

I'm tired and sad now; my keyboard hasn't been this wet since I sat here and wrote out my Dad's eulogy, which is stupid. I mean, Canada is a big place, but it is not as though we will never see each other again. James & Glen have already made plans to return next summer. We are due to return to Ontario at some point, and in the meantime there is Skype, and long distance, and both James and I keep a blog, so the connections will be stretched, but no broken. Never broken.

But for the time being, I am giving myself permission to be miserable, and to lament this change, and the fact that in addition to a swell couple of friends, a tremendously influential mentor are no longer going to be as accessible as they once were. The Sunday sermons, the Oscar parties, the Game of Thrones viewings, the Canada Day celebrations, they are all going to be a little bit diminished because a couple of intelligent, compassionate, smartasses that mean the world to Audrey and I are moving a couple of time zones over, and if the ocular humidity that I saw going around the Friendship Hall this afternoon are any indication, I am not the only one who feels that way.

Godspeed, James and Glen. You will be missed, and we all count the days until we can see you both again. (The Oscar party invite is decidedly not perfunctory.)

(Nov. 2014)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Highs and Lows of Summer's Last Weekend

The highlight of this imminently-autumnal weekend is always Pete's Geekquinox dinner, this time re-using the Star Trek theme in honor of the 50th anniversary of the franchise. I had ordered some appropriate nerdwear back in August, but by Friday afternoon it had not shown up, leaving me extremely disheartened.  On the plus side though, my BluRay of Captain America: Civil War had arrived, and Glory and I enjoyed watching it Friday night after supper.

On Saturday morning, I whipped up some scrambled eggs, sausages, and toast with lime curd before we took Glory in to St. Albert where her Irish Dance school was conducting a bottle drive. It went pretty well too, and in about 4 hours they had pretty much filled a 30 foot trailer with refundable empties. That should go a long ways toward financing some team dresses!

While she was dong that, Audrey and made out way out to Leduc (but not before stopping at Warp Comics to grab a Star Trek pin so I could improvise something remotely thematic) so we could help my mum empty out her motorhome.

With Tara and Jerry relocating to Texas, Mum will be moving into the other upstairs bedroom and setting up a small sitting room in Tara's old office so she can look after the place for the three weeks of every month they will be stateside. It's a big change from driving a humungous RV out to Osoyoos for their milder winter, but I know Tara is grateful that the house will not be so empty.

We got her place around noon, and was gratified to discover that there may be a genetic explanation for my affinity for smart-ass t-shirts:

True to form, Mum had already moved out most of the stuff she could, holding some back for an end of season campfire event they are having at her campground in Leduc next weekend. There wasn't a lot for us to do except a little technical support on her iPad and moving one awkward metal rocking chair that her dog Willow has pretty much claimed as her own.

After getting that situated, we made our way back up to Ellerslie Road and Geekquinox. It was a wonderful time, as always, filled with great food and better people, and official lexicographer Earl has done a marvelous job documenting it at The Earliad.

Not everyone dressed up, but those who did looked fantastic, evocative of one of the most positive futures ever depicted in science-fiction, and even my slapped-together effort didn't look too far out of place.

There was even a neat moment where esthetics met practicality, as Pete used the dry ice he had procured to make dramatic, steaming beverages to cool down a pot of beef broth in a hurry so he could more easily remove the fat.


There was much catching up, revelries galore, and even a couple of games of Star Trek Trivial Pursuit (in a suave shuttlecraft Galileo carrying case). The main course (a chuck roast that had spent 30 hours in a sous vide bath before getting smoked in Pete's Big Green Egg for another three!)was served up just before midnight, and people began breaking orbit a couple of hours after that. The diehards playing a small game of SpaceTeam at three in the morning signalled the end of festivities. After brunching together the next morning, we were back on our way to Castle Downs..

The grocery shopping still needed to be done, and I was on tap for preparing Sunday dinner, so part of me hoped to find a lasagna or something else that required minimal effort. Seeing rib roasts on sale and knowing my daughter was hankering for Yorkshire puddings put paid to that, however!

After dinner, Glory volunteered to go up on our roof to try and sort out the squeaky turbine vent that had been niggling at us the past couple of weeks. I showed her some pictures to give her an idea what needed doing up there, and she scampered to the top in great form.

Unfortunately though, the squeak persisted, and I ended up joining her on the roof. My reluctance was due less to any sort of fear of heights than an acute awareness of my mass-based proclivity for gravitational attraction. There was also an element of not wanting to place an undue burden of 1/8 ton on an aging roof, but in the end, there was nothing else for it.

Getting onto the roof and scrambling to the pinnacle to join Glory was surprisingly easy, and once ups there, we used our vantage point to take a good look at our neighbourhood and the setting sun, and took a selfie or two before getting down to brass tacks.

With one of us lifting the whirlybird itself and the other spraying some lubricant roughly in the direction of the spindle, we were able to make short work of the squeak in a very reasonable amount of time. Glory then scuttled over to the over turbine to repeat the process as a preventative measure while I crab-walked my way down the other side of the roof in order to remove about three dozen pine cones, and to note that the far side eavestroughs now had seedlings sprouting up from them.

The two of us then reconvened to remove perhaps a decade's accumulation of pine needles and other detritus, shoveling them into pails which I then levered over to Audrey at the end of a gardening hoe.

I managed to thrash the sweat pants I was wearing while scooching around on the shingles, and am not sure if the sap from the pine cones will ever come out of the work gloves I was wearing, but in the end it felt like a very productive evening, with a bit of fun in it too.

Come to think of it, our rooftop adventure was indicative of the weekend as a whole: a change in perspective, a bit of work and some fun as well.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

England Visit 2005 - London

Twenty-one years ago, I took a job with Games Workshop, purveyors of fine metal miniatures and tabletop wargames, which means eleven years ago they flew Audrey and I to the company HQ in Nottingham for the Veterans Dinner. (Honestly, why didn't I write this post last year? Well, better late than never, I guess...)

It was a pretty compelling perk: after ten years with the company, they not only flew you and your wife to the U.K.. but they also rented you a tuxedo for the big night, and presented you with a Burberry leather jacket with your name and start date on the label.

I'd been to England a few times previous for company conferences and the like, but going with Audrey was a treat, and after getting the girls situated with Oma and Opa,we arranged to spend a few extra days in London before heading up to Nottingham.

London is an amazing city, and I would love to return and spend more time there, especially with the girls. We never made it to the Imperial War Museum, or to a show in the East West End, or any number of other not-to-be-missed experiences, but we still managed to have a good time.

We rode the London Eye to get a bird's-eye-view of the city.

Afterwards, Audrey successfully defended her $9 hot dog against a voracious pigeon.

A double-decker bus took us to see the rest of the sights from ground level, and we drove by Tom Hanks shooting The DaVinci Code (too slow to get a camera on him though).

Great name for a pub, don't you think?

Walking about, we saw a member of the Life Guards on horseback. I can only imagine what level of upkeep those boots require!

We made our way to the gates of Buckingham Palace, but too late to see the changing of the guards, unfortunately.

Audrey chatted up the only Bobby we could find who was not totting around a submachine gun, due to a member of the Royal Family being on the move, and he kindly agreed to have his picture taken.

Later that day police motorcycle stopped the traffic in the roundabout by Trafalgar Square shortly after the dedication of the new Battle of Britain memorial, and I somehow managed to put two-and-two together and realize a motorcade must be coming. Sure enough, a moment later HRH The Prince of Wales and Camilla came racing around the corner. Not long enough for me to get a good picture, but sufficient to capture his distinctive silhouette.

Trafalgar itself is dominated by Nelson's column, the same height as the mast on his flagship, HMS Victory.

The lions at the base are powerful symbols of a once-mighty empire, but alas, deceitful.

We only found out later that real lions are actually incapable of sitting with their rear legs posed in such a manner; pressed for time, the story goes, the sculptor had used his housecat as a model.

The next day we got to see the (then) only recently unveiled memorial for the Battle of Britain, financed solely with private funds.

As a sculpture, it is an awesome piece, full of dynamism, character, and amazing detail.

As a history buff, seeing the names of every single one  of 'The Few' inscribed on the plaques, as well as all the participating squadron insignias was an even greater treat.

A boat tour on the Thames gave us a different perspective on the city, and showed us us how a clever bouillon company managed to dodge the ban on riverside advertising.

And we made it to the Tower of London, a visit which I recommend to everyone, but perhaps not for the reason you think. Yes, there is a tremendous amount of history on the site, and granted, the Crown Jewels are very impressive, but the best part of the tour is that it is given by Yeomen Warders, sometimes know as the Beefeaters.

To become a Yeoman Warder is very difficult as I recall being told: they must have 22 years of service in Her Royal Majesty's Armed Forces, and attained a rank of Sergeant. There is a rigorous interview process for both the candidates and their wives, as these men (no women at the time, and I don't knwo if that has changed as of yet) not only represent the face of the Tower to thousands of visitors every year, but they must also live on the premises.

Our guide said it's a great job, not unlike life in the army: marching around, shouting at people, telling them where to go, but at the end of the day, having a mailing address of "#7 Tower Green, Tower of London, England" is in many ways the best part of it. He was friendly, knowledgeable, and had both a great delivery and wicked sense of humour.
Yeoman: As you might imagine, the cellars underneath the White Tower are very damp, and quite cold, creating the ideal conditions for...what?
Tourist 1: Torture!
Tourist 2: Executions!
Yeoman: (Disgusted) Wine, you savages, wine! It's where they kept the wine!

Or as evidenced in this brief excerpt of his description of Traitor's Gate:


He also provided a brief rhyming shorthand for remembering the fates of the wives of Henry VIII which I still remember clearly a decade later: "No, it's like this, see - Divorced, Beheaded, Died; Divorced, Beheaded, Survived. Easy, ennit?"

Of course, there are two other famous denizens of the Tower worth noting; first, the Royal Guard, who, though ceremoniously and archaically dressed, still carry modern and fully functioning bullpup-style IW assault weapons...

And of course, the ravens.

It turns out these ominous corvids are looked after by a Yeoman called the Raven Master (how cool would that look on your resume?) and have their wings clipped to prevent their flying off. I don't recall getting a direct answer when I inquired if this was related to the infamous prophecy that if the ravens of the tower depart, the Crown will fall and take Britain with it, but now I find myself wondering if anyone has checked on them since the Brexit vote...