Monday, May 30, 2011

The Space Between

This morning our daily team huddle at work was delayed in starting; neither our team lead, Dan, or our manager, Lilly, were available right away. "There's Dan," I said, "he's just having a confab with the CEO." Sure enough, the two of them were visible through the glass doors, and when they came back through, Monica didn't head up to her third floor office like I expected; instead she came right over to the group of us, and her expression made it clear something was very wrong.

"I don't know how else to tell you this, but Lilly passed away on the weekend; I'm so very sorry..."

Two dozen hands went to two dozen throats and mouths. Part of me wondered why that was, since my hand moved like everyone else's. There was a gasp, and multiple expressions of disbelief.    Then a sob.  The news  seemed too big to be real; after all, Lilly was only in her mid-forties, she had quit smoking two years ago and although she had been diagnosed with diabetes, she managed it by adjusting her diet and all that sort of thing.

David, our director (who is now kept very busy as an acting VP) came down from the third floor where he had been on the phone with Lilly's husband; he told us that apparently Lilly collapsed going up or coming down the stairs at home Saturday night, and Cliff heard her breathing irregularly, and I don't know if she passed in the ambulance or in the hospital or right there on the stairs, but she's gone.

Wordle: Lilly

I have been blessed with a succession of very decent bosses in my adult life, which I am very grateful for, and even among them Lilly was a standout.  She was both plain-spoken and insightful, both blunt and compassionate; she took her work seriously and expected her subordinates to do the same, but always took measures to insure that work was an enjoyable place to come to.  She had a profound effect on my workplace and our corporate culture.

There was an awful lot to like about Lilly, but what I admired the most about her was her total disregard for complacency.  If she saw something that could be improved, she did not rest until it had either been changed or every possible alternative had been explored.  By the time the rest of us had gotten used to the new arrangement, she had either found something else to update or was implementing something huge and new that the rest of us would need a lot of time to wrap our heads around.  Where I feared change, she embraced it, and where I sat collecting my thoughts, she had already struck out for a new destination.

She was like a smiling whirlwind that blew through a room, and if you weren't simply swept up and carried along in her wake, you were probably changed by the experience regardless.  Despite how busy her role as manager and acting director kept her, she always had time to ask how my girls were, or how Cindy's mum was doing after her stroke, or what plans you had for the long weekend.

I can't imagine not seeing her at work any more.

I got neck strain trying to avoid looking into Lilly's office all day, and as I was leaving at the end of the day, I checked out of habit, and saw the empty chair, and remembered she would never be coming back to it, and barely kept my composure on my way to the parking lot.

Work did a great job of helping us cope; instead of sending everyone home to grieve on their own, they gave us time to come to grips with it, and we all elected to go back on the phones, as much as a welcome distraction as anything else.  The Education staff came around with juice and tea and coffee to keep everybody hydrated (between tears and snot I lost more fluid than James Brown at the '64 T.A.M.I. show), and a number of staff from other areas offered to help man the phones if needed.  David came around several times to see how everyone was doing, or to borrow a tissue, and also had the presence of mind to call the new hires that were supposed to start work tomorrow and told them that while they would still be paid, they should come in next week instead.

A grief counselor came in this afternoon, and most of us met with her as a group. She insured us that whatever feelings we had at the moment were appropriate and valid, and said she was there to insure we had everything we need just to get through the present.  The future was going to have to wait until we get through this tragic now.  She asked us to take care of ourselves, and to listen to our bodies in terms of the food and water they would still require, and to beware of imbibing, as our metabolisms were probably working at an advanced rate, which could result in our becoming inebriated more quickly.

My faith is a comfort to me in a lot of ways, but it comes up short when dealing with a loss of this kind; I don't have any real belief in what happens after we die, but I am pretty sure it doesn't involve sitting on a cloud strumming a harp.  I also don't believe that everything we are simply ceases to be once our biological computer stops firing.  As far as a soul goes, I'm pretty sure I have one, because something has to be causing this pain I'm feeling.

All your thoughts, all your feelings, all your emotions, all the things that make you you, occur in the brain.  Your brain is made of nerve cells called neurons, and they aren't much on their own, but in concert they constitute a neural network which is probably responsible for consciousness, although the labcoat types have a hard time agreeing on even that.

Thought itself probably happens in the gap between neurons, like the gap a spark plug has, which is called a synapse.  It's a horrible oversimplification, I know, but I can't help but feel that there is something significant about the fact that so much of our individual humanity comes out of nothing, arrives out of a space between two other things.

Lilly was more than a collection of molecules, or an assembly of cells, or an agglomeration of tissues.  She had a profound effect on a number of people, both in her personal and her professional life.  While she may be gone from our lives, parts of her will live on through the lives of those she touched, at the very least.

In time I'll believe this again, but right now, I can't see that big picture; I can only see the empty space.

Art School Antics

As our two girls get older, it seems our after-school and weekend time gets more and more frantic.  This is not a complaint, just an observation, but I don't recall needing a daytimer when I was twelve, even though I was a Cub leader and on swim team.

Insightful art by a Vic student.

This weekend was the Victoria School Festival for the Arts, and it was also the school's 100th birthday.  Unlike a lot of other school events I have attended over the years, I really look forward to this festival, and I am always amazed at the quality of work put out by the students.

There are displays of sculpture (ranging from cardboard castles and papier mache dragons), painting and textile work, and performances in dance, theatre, concert band and even a junior high improv group.  There is also a television production class, but we didn't get a chance to see their presentation this time around.

Normally we go to events to see Glory dance, or Fenya sing; this time we got to see Glory sing with her school choir, and Fenya dance with her class.  Glory's choir sang a Humpty Dumpty song that was actually pretty funny and not just schmaltzy:

...while Fenya's dance class did a Footloose routine to a very appreciative audience.  (Who figured that show to have such legs?  I guess that's why they are remaking it...)

The dance presentation turned out to be my favourite, which was a bit of a surprise to me, as I am not much of a dance aficionado.  Watching some of the routines, I had to repeatedly remind myself that these are not professionals, or even college students, but just kids.  The huge production for "Thoroughly Modern Millie" was especially good, and I am crushed that I accidentally deleted it from the camcorder.

Glory's Grade 3 dance did a routine to Stevie Wonder's "Superstitious" as a part of the elementary school's "Dancin' Through the Decades"; given that Grade 3s had the 70s, I was pretty happy with that choice.

I also got to see Fenya's concert band perform for the first time, and given that they started out this year (in their teacher's words) 'not knowing which end of their instruments was which', I think they sounded pretty good.  This is a piece called "Prehistoric Suite" by Paul Jennings, which I recorded because a) it includes some neat chaotic bits at the beginning of the final movement and b) it's about DINOSAURS.

All this activity made for a very long day on Friday, especially for Fenya , who had a rehearsal with Cantilon immediately afterwards. Still, both girls were in high spirits at the end of the day.

I don't think it has sunk in to them yet just what a special place Victoria School is, and how lucky they are to be exposed to so many different kinds of art, not only from their instructors, but also from their classmates. Fenya is already having to pare down her options, and by high school will have to choose an area of specialization from drama, visual arts or music, but since lately she is talking about becoming a firefighter or mechanic, I'm just grateful that both girls will have been shown the tools of expression, regardless of how they earn their living.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Feuermusikblitzen: Rammstein Concert Review

(Sorry about the made-up German title, but I figured "Playing With Fire" was probably played out by this point, right?)

Last week was the sixth annual convocation of the Fraternitas Subterra, more commonly known as Gaming & Guinness VI.  This year's gathering coincided not only with my 44th birthday, but the first Rammstein tour to hit North America in over a decade.  To say it felt like kismet is a bit of an understatement, as I am a big fan of the band, and the idea of going to one of the world's most outlandish rock concerts with a bunch of my mates within two days of my birthday felt like a real treat.

Earl, Mike P., me, Rob, and Mike T.

Rammstein is a six-piece band from Germany who have been around since the mid-90s. They play a frankly bizarre combination of pounding metallic guitars with danceable beats and keyboard accompaniment which in many ways defies description, but they are considered part of the Nieue Deutchse Harte (New German Hardness) movement, and their music is sometimes labelled as tanzmetal ("Dance metal") in their native land.  Me, I love getting metal peanut butter on my techno chocolate, so this mix is right up my musical alley.  Be forewarned, however, that this alley can be extremely dark and sticky in places, as their subject matter covers a lot of disturbing themes, including but not limited to lust, murder, incest, cannibalism and, yes, fire.  However, many of their harshest sounding songs are actually fairly innocuous, such as "Du Riecht So Gut" (You Smell So Good), or "B********" (Buckstabu, a made-up word which means whatever you want it to).

The band is renowned for the amount of pyrotechnics they use in their shows; it is not uncommon to see rafters glowing red after a Rammstein concert, due to the number of fireball hits they take in a show.  They also use a lot of imaginative and dramatic staging that doesn't use fire, like in their entrance, when the two guitarists chopped through a black wall with pickaxes in front of a blinding backlight, prior to lead singer Till Lindemann cutting an oval into the same wall with a shower of sparks before kicking it in and striding onstage.  I'm in favour of stagey entrances anyways, but opening up with something so reminiscent of the movie Aliens to the strains of "Rammlied", the opening track of the new album, was spot-on for me.

Make no mistake, this is not a concert anyone was likely to be bored at.  I even saw a young lass with a white cane in the lineup to get into Rexall, and thought, 'Between the energy level and the fire, this might be the best possible concert for you ever."  Our group was at least 150 feet from the stage, and we could feel the heat from almost every fire effect they used; I have no idea what it might have felt like on the floor, but I am almost starting to regret not having been down there.

One of Rammstein's greatest strengths is their realism; by this I mean that they are fully aware that a large part of their audience outside of Germany have absolutely no idea what the band is singing about, even if they are singing along boisterously, as the Edmonton crowd did with "Du Hast". 

Since this is the case, they really go all-out to make the stage show entertaining, with lights, sound, pyro effects and other staging elements less easily described.  How do you sum up the innate creepiness of having two dozen dolls suspended above the stage with green lasers beaming out of some of them, prior to their exploding loudly near the end of "Wiener Blut"?  Is it better or worse to learn that the song was inspired by Austria's infamous Fritzl case?  What do you call it when the lead singer and geeky keyboardist Christopher "Flake" Lorenz stage a fight which ends with his getting beaten and thrown into a grimy bathtub, prior to Till ascending thirty feet in the air on a tiny platform and dumping a LOT of fire into it? 

Whatever you might call it, there was a lot to like, but my personal favourite had to be during "Benzin", the band's lovesong to petroleum distillates.  Throughout the song, jets of fire at least twenty feet tall shot out of the stage, which is always cool, but at one point, Till walks up to the mock gas-station pump sitting on stage, pulls out the handle, sparks up a road flare with his other hand, and after finishing the verse, ignites a huge stream of fire which he then waved about the stage to the delight of all assembled. Yes folks, Rammstein is probably the world's least carbon-neutral band.

*Not* the peak fire moment of Waidmann's Heil

Suddenly, there was some jackass on stage in a black hoodie, dancing and waving to the crowd in the classic "Looka me!" fashion, while the two guitarists shot puzzled looks at each other.

And then Till totally set his ass on fire.

All right, most of us figured out pretty quickly that it was a stunt, but at least one commenter from the floor completely thought someone had slipped past security and was wondering if he should perhaps try as well, right up to the point where the stagecrasher was engulfed in flames less than ten yards away.  Someone else reported seeing a young man get physically ill immediately after this, but this may have been due more to something he was consuming at the time than any effects of shock or heat.  As the saying goes, "Other bands play, Rammstein burns."  Good thing their lead singer is a licensed pyrotechnician, eh?

Both of my daughters enjoy Rammstein a lot, especially the songs "Links 2-3-4" and "Amerika", but given some of the band's past shenanigans and adult-oriented content, it was decided very early on that they would give this one a miss.  To be fair, most of the concert was fine, if you consider watching someone getting immolated onstage to be age-appropriate for a nine-year-old, but hey, he walked off under his own power.  I am glad to hear they are making a concert DVD of the 2010 shows at some point so the girls will get to see most of it from the safety of our living room at some point.  That said, I do intend to skip the pre-encore finale of "Pussy" (no, it doesn't mean something different in German), which reached its, er, I wouldn't want to say climax, but perhaps rather 'high point', um, no, let's call it finale, with Till wheeling out a huge anatomically inspired cannon and blasting a (presumably fire-retardant) foamy substance out over the heads of the crowds. I wouldn't be inclined to say a huge member-gun was gratuitous per se, given that one verse of the tune being played is "blitzkrieg mit dem fleisch gewehr".

The concert was a great 18 song setlist with at least two songs from all six studio albums except for "Rosenrot", with 7 songs coming from the most recent album, "Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da" (Love is for Everyone) and 4 from my current favourite, 2000's "Mutter" (LIFAD may eventually eclipse it; a very solid album).  I can never seem to recall afterwards what songs were played and which weren't, so I ended up writing them down on my arm with my Space Pen during the show.

Not exactly 'Armo virumque canto'...

I thought it looked pretty silly afterwards, but I managed to transcribe all 18 songs eventually.  Despite the illegibility, Pete was somewhat impressed; "You did that with a ballpoint pen, in another language, in almost total darkness?  And you can read any of them?  That's actually pretty suave."

The least impressive element of the entire evening was getting into Rexall place, as everyone was subjected to a physical patdown, and some of the more metallic attendees were required to remove studded gauntlets or chain belts and the like.  The audience itself was extremely impressive and highly engaged, chanting, cheering, pumping their fists and even singing along on a few tracks.  I am not often impressed with Edmonton crowds, but this one was fantastic.  I wonder if the band thought so too, since at the very end of the concert, they all came to centre stage and took a knee in a surprisingly touching salute to the crowd.

Strange as it may seem, Rammstein is somewhat like British prog-rockers Muse, in that you don't have to be a fan to make going to their concerts worthwhile.  If you are a fan of powerful music, mixed genres, dramatic staging and unrivalled degrees (Fahrenheit) of pyrotechnicity, you owe it to yourself to go to a Rammstein concert.  Hopefully we won't have to wait another ten years for their return, because I have every intention of being there; this was a great and unconventional show by a great and unconventional band.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Locked Down, Locked Up

I realize that when you are dealing with issues like the safety of schoolchildren, a lot of your decisions are going to be based on fear as much as anything else.  Even though it might be statistically unlikely, having policies which address unsettling scenarios like a school shooting could potentially save a life a someday, so having 'lockdown drills' in addition to fire drills makes a certain amount of sense.

As a result of this, I was not surprised last week when Fenya mentioned they'd had a lockdown drill that day, and was laughing about it because she had been in the bathroom when it occurred.

"Well, at least you were sitting down, right?" I joked with her.  She and Glory both shook their heads.

"If you are in the bathroom when they say 'lockdown' over the intercom," Fenya explained, "you have to pull your legs up so they can't be seen from outside the stall."

My blood ran a little cold.

I think Glory might have misinterpreted my surprise as meaning I didn't understand the purpose of the maneuver, so she explained.  "You see Daddy, that way if someone tries to peek underneath, they won't see your feet on the floor and maybe won't come and try and hurt you."

Fenya nodded.  "And you can't let your head show over the top of the stall either, so I had to basically squat there for thirty or forty minutes until they said it was 'All Clear'!"

She was smiling as she said it, simply recalling a humorous inconvenience from her day, and a break from her normal routine, but I still found it a little unsettling.  I'd assumed these drills were just a swift way to insure that all the classroom and building doors were locked so that a person of malicious intent couldn't simply roam the halls at will, but there was clearly more to them than that.  I managed to put a frail smile into place so I didn't inadvertently freak them out.

Glory nodded at Fenya's toilet predicament; "We were in our class, so we had to get out of our desks and go lay down on the floor by the windows."

Now I was actually a little confused.  "Why would you do that?" I inquired.

She finished a mouthful of her dinner and in a matter-of-fact voice told me, "So someone bad couldn't look in the window and see you, and maybe shoot a gun.  If you are lying down by the window, they can't see you."

That's when it became clear to me that a lockdown drill was not nearly as simple a process as I had previously believed.  What I had thought to be an exercise in access control and perimeter security was, in practice, a chance for my children to play hide-and-go-seek with a hypothetical gunman.

I can't say this made me very happy, but really safety issues are supposed to be a little scary, right?  No one wants to actually think about the building they're in catching fire, but knowing what to do if this should happen means that it may happen in a quick and orderly fashion.

While I am not quite old enough to have experienced seeing instructional films like Bert the Turtle's "Duck and Cover!" from the 1950s and 60s, there was a real sense of potential conflict with the Soviet Union.  In fact, Audrey remembers playing at school when she was about 8 years old, and low-flying planes prompted here and her classmates to run under a playground slide.  Everyone in Leduc knew that the siren at the Alexandra Arena which summoned the volunteer fire department would also double as an air raid siren in the event of an attack.

For better or worse, it makes more sense for my girls to do these lockdown drills than it ever did for an American school kid to practice throwing his bike down and laying down next to a curb after a multi-kiloton nuke has just gone off down the block, but I hope they keep being motivated by caution and practicality, and not just blind fear.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Thor Review: Kirbylicious and Simonsontastic

What a fantastic Mother's Day; lovely service at church, brunch with my sister and her beau and Nanny and Poppy at the Nisku Inn, and on our way back from Leduc, we stopped in to see Kenneth Branagh's Thor in its opening weekend.

We saw it at South Edmonton Common, and since we were short on time, we bought our tickets online, opting for the UltraAVX cinema so we could select our seats.  It is a premium service, so you do pay a bit of a premium price, but not having to be there 45 minutes ahead of time to avoid sitting in the first 7 rows was certainly worth it today.

The UltraAVX auditorium has better sightlines, more legroom, a larger screen, an allegedly superior sound system, and indisputably better seats; high backed rocker units that wouldn't look out of place in a sports car.  Is it worth the $2 extra you'll pay?  I guess it depends on what movie you see; if it's Thor, I say, verily, it is coin well spent.

Comic book movies share one critical element with their source material: you can make a perfectly reasonable bit of entertainment having two gaudily clad characters beating the living shit out of each other, or you can use that same kinetic and colourful conflict to explore deeper themes, like justice, or vengeance, or families.

I was on board immediately with Marvel Studios choosing Kenneth Branagh to direct Thor.  His Shakespearean experience, both as an actor and director, would give him the necessary handholds to bring heavy thematic elements into place, and his love of cinema (especially film noir and suspense) would give him the chops to build the tension, appreciate the action and even leaven it with just the right amount of humour.

The biggest theme at play in Thor is that of family, and of a father's love for his son, but there are also tones of war and peace, and what it means to be a just and wise ruler.  I was a bit concerned when Sir Anthony Hopkins was cast as Thor's father, Odin, feeling he was just a bit aged and frail to be playing a robust viking-style Allfather, but I have never been happier to be so wrong.  He brings so much oomph, so much chutzpah, to the role, that he is instantly credible as both a warrior and moral authority over his sons, Thor and Loki.

And speaking of casting, please believe me when I say that Chris Hemsworth's casting as Thor is at least as good that of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony 'Iron Man' Stark.  With his big muscles and classic diction, Thor is all too easy a character to spoof, which is why I never picked up an issue until rumours of the astonishing things Walt Simonson was doing reached my ears in the mid-80s.

Simonson got rid of a lot of the almost 200 issues of backstory, having an alien character temporarily assume the mantle of Thor and smashing the old logo in his very first cover, and not only brought Thor back to his roots as a modern re-telling of the Norse eddas and sagas, but also as a cosmic superhero within the established Marvel universe.  He brought depth and vulnerability to a caricature more similar to a renn-faire version of the Hulk than a demi-god Avenger.  Hemsworth does much the same with his portrayal of the Odinson and wow, does he ever look and sound the part.  I could hear his lines turning to wood on the lips of a lot of other good actors, and I don't think he missed a beat in Thor's journey from arrogance to humility, one of my favourite character arcs in any medium.

I could say similar things about Natalie Portman as Jane Foster or Tom Hiddleston as Loki, but as good as the acting is, my favourite thing in this movie is the art direction.  All of the scenes in Asgard, home of the Norse deities, show that despite how far the bar has been moved in terms of fantasy landscapes by the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there are a few places left to move it even farther.  The architecture, the armour, the halls, the costumes, the starscapes, the props; they all look like they could have fallen right off the pages drawn by Jack Kirby or Walt Simonson at their peak.  Thor's take on the Bifrost bridge is absolutely spectacular, and Idris Elba does a great job as its guardian, Heimdall, despite a number of irrational idiots who felt he was the wrong colour.

There will probably be those who feel the movie could have used more action, especially since Thor's mighty uru hammer, Mjolnir, spends most of the film stuck in the ground where no one can lift it, like a blunt version of the sword in the stone, but I was satisfied.  I got that itch scratched in the initial battle in Jotunheim, land of the frost giants, where you get to see the hammer swung, thrown, returned to his hand, and most importantly, whirled.  I had not idea how important that last one was to me until I saw him do it, spinning Mjolnir by its strap so fast that it cant be seen, like the blades of a helicopter, but it is a signature of the character in just about every iteration of the comics, and pretty much every artist.

I hope DC is sitting up and taking notes, because Marvel has done a better job with Thor, a second tier character, than they have done with most of their A-listers, including Superman.  As an added bonus, I don't have to wait for a sequel to see Thor again; a message appears in the credits that is reminiscent of the old James Bond films, promising that "Thor will return in The Avengers", along with Iron Man and Captain America.  If they can keep blending action and theme the way they have with the first two X-Men and Spider-Man movies, as well as this one, we are going to be in for a real treat next summer when Joss Whedon unveils his first superhero movie.

In the meantime, please go and see Thor.  It has action, humour, and pathos, it looks brilliant (especially in 3D) and despite dealing with big themes like The Dark Knight, it's a move both my 9 and 12 year old appreciated.  It also has a hunky guy walking around with no shirt for a couple of scenes, if that's your thing, or if you need to sell it to someone whose thing that may be.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Valhallan XXII - Ready for Deployment

I bought the first piece at Baltimore's GW HQ in 2001, most of the rest in my final staff purchase in 2007, and the remainder last fall.

I finally started gluing the Basilisk together last spring when my nephew Mark was visiting; I showed him how to build a plastic kit while he worked on a 1:144 scale bi-plane.  I put the half-finished kit away over the summer and didn't finish it until October.

From there it was pretty much a constant state of production until, well, this afternoon, when I finished the stormtroopers.  After that, I simply had to see what the army looked like all together.

Since most games involve armies around 1500 points, this is actually closer in size to two armies, so I am pretty pleased at having finished in time.  Most importantly, all these models aren't languishing in a box in the closet any longer.  I probably won't get too many chances to field the XXII in its entirety, but my first chance is only 5 days away.  Holy crap, I guess I had better find something to carry them in...

Obviously toy soldiers aren't everyone's cup of (tanna leaf) tea, but hopefully the interstitial posts kept you from getting too bored.  Thanks to everyone who has followed my progress on these Valhallans, and for your comments and support!

Valhallan Infantry: Stormtrooper Squad

At long last, the final unit of infantry are finished: a squad of elite Stormtroopers.  Raised in the halls of the Schola Progenium, the orphanage schools for those whose parents have died in the service of the Imperium, they are loyal, tough, highly skilled, and well equipped.

They are shielded by carapace armour and armed with hotshot lasguns (nicknamed 'hellguns') which are capable of breaching even Space Marine power armour.  They are flexible in deployment, and can start out behind enemy lines, surprise the foe by appearing on their flanks, or use grav-chutes to drop in just about anywhere on the table.  The good armour save and hellguns make them a good choice for taking and holding objectives, and the meltagun and grenade launcher means I can task them for some anti-armour work as well.

I wish I hadn't been so tired when I attempted to put danger stripes on the krak grenades on their backpacks, but I think the idea will still be clear, even if the lines aren't straight.  I'm not at all sure what is in those enormous backpacks, but I'm pretty confident it isn't a hot lunch.

This is another choice that started out as a theme inclusion; the bulky bad-assedness of them is reminiscent of modern Russian paratroops.  When the new hellgun rules made them capable of taking down Space Marines, they went from maybe to must-have.

Most importantly, after more than seven months of painting and building, the last unit is done!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Song & Dance

Last weekend was very culturally engaging for both girls; Glory had her third-ever feis or Irish dancing festival on Saturday, and Fenya's Cantilon Choirs had their spring concert on Sunday.

Glory took a silver medal this time out; I was unable to go as I was ferrying Fenya to rehearsals, but in all honesty, I was more proud of her performance in February where she didn't get a single prize.  It's not that I spurn recognition or anything like that, but she was really under the weather in February, and the fact that she was able to finish a single event, let alone the six she was entered in, and that we got to watch her guts her way through the end of her second last jig when even a stranger could tell she had nothing at all left in the tank made me far prouder than any medal or trophy would have.

It's a lovely medal, and it made her happy because now she has "one of each colour."  She also brought some of her birthday money along and bought her very own claddagh from one of the merchants at the feis.

Obviously I am always very happy when my offspring embrace the Irish portion of their heritage, but the symbology of the claddagh made it problematic for me as a father.  You see, the claddagh design features hands, a heart and a crown, signifying friendship, love and loyalty, respectively, and as such, the claddagh is often used as a wedding band.  Audrey and I have a pair from Ireland we bought for each other as a tenth anniversary gift, which may be a part of why Glory wants her own.

Now, I suggested that she where the band with the crown pointed outwards, the same as a married person would, showing that her all her love is for her family at this time, but how would a stranger know this?  Wearing the claddagh with the heart pointing towards the end of the finger signifies that the wearer is unattached (which obviously wounds me deeply as her da, being most decidedly attached), but not necessarily, you know, 'out there'.  In the end, she and Audrey decided this last way made the most sense and if they're happy, then I'm happy.  Because that's just how it works.

Fenya's concert was brilliant as always.  There were a number of songs I liked, but my favourite for a while now is "Bonny Wood Green", a melancholy romantic ballad from the Emerald Isle that they sang as a farewell for the retiring manager of the choir.

If you like the sound of it, I understand their entire catalogue is on iTunes now.

I'm amazed at the range in the music they cover, from language to culture, to song types and tempo to subject matter.  One of their other concert selections was "Der Wasserman" by Robert Schumann, a terrifying tale about a charming merman who lures young maidens to the middle of a river, either to drown them or to take them as his brides.  As creepy as it is (or perhaps because of this) Fenya loves it.

Cantilon is going to Wales to compete in the Eisteddfodd festival in July, which is less than two months away now; when the heck did this happen?  It will be a bit of a slog in places, and the competition promises to be intense, so it has the potential to be a real character-builder for Fenya.  They are also doing some touristy things as well, so I am sure she will have a great time and bring back a ton of stories.

Even if it never becomes a part of their adult livelihoods, I am very grateful for the opportunities they've had to participate in the arts; to rehearse and perfect and practice and compete and perform.  They are learning a great deal more than songs and dances.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Making Tracks: Valkyrie Assault Carrier

(Before you say anything, I am fully aware that this flying vehicle has no tracks to speak of, but I'm a sucker for consistency, and all the other vehicle posts are called Making Tracks, and this should be the sole exception.)

Last fall, I went to Games Workshop with a bunch of kits I had in the closet that didn't have a high likelihood of getting constructed int he next two years, and traded them for things I could use in my Valhallan army, and a handful of Black Library books.  One of these things was the Valkyrie Assault Carrier, a flying troop transport halfway between a Russian Hind-D helicopter and the dropship from aliens.  I started building it last Sunday and finished it last night.

I added the Valkyrie to my army for two reasons, the first being that it is handy to have something swift that can ferry troops around and perhaps seize an objective or secure a flank, and the second being that it does kind of look like a Russian Hind-D, especially with the big rocket drums under the wings.

In just about every way, this is the coolest GW kit I have ever built, and I don't mind telling you I have built a few of them over the years, especially while I worked for them.  Having been designed on computer (as opposed to building a larger 3-up prototype and creating the steel molds by means of tracing it with a pantograph machine), there is a great deal of detail, especially one the interior. 

Island Mike has already built one-and-a-half of these, and told me he regretted how little of the interior was visible after he was finished, so I was fully prepared to do very little to the inside.  Until I actually saw it.  Then it was, "well, I'll drybrush the interior with Boltgun Metal and pick out a couple of details."  And then it was "well, that looks dumb without paint, I'll get some colour on that too."  And then, "Well, if this gets some colour, that clearly has to have some too..."  And then suddenly it was kind of late Sunday night, but the interior was pretty much done.

Normally I have finished or nearly finished building the complete model before I put on the primer, but obviously that was impossible here. I primed the insides of the fuselage in black, painted them separately and then assembled them. Then I disassembled them and re-assembled them as I puzzled out the best order in which to join the walls, floor, roof and assault ramp.

I love the idea of the door gunners (and they are a brilliant fit with Island Mike's Air-Cav themed Jungle Fighters), and the sculpts are pretty good, giving you 5 different heads to choose between for 4 bodies.  I snapped these pictures with the understanding that once the roof and wings went on, it would be pretty hard to see in there.

I also needed to assemble and build the cockpit interior prior to building the rest of the model.  I haven't painted a cockpit since I was about fourteen, and that was probably a WWII era plane  (AT-6 Texan maybe?), so blinky lights and a video display were a new thing to me.  In the end, lots of colors, and a display that is maybe a little reminiscent of a certain arcade game I might have played at fourteen seemed to fit the bill.

Once these were done, I could construct the rest of the model, but before using the spray primer, I had to mask off the cockpit (no way in hell was I painting all those lights again) and put Post-It notes inside the sliding door so spray couldn't fly in through the viewport.

After the white primer had dried, I used Silly Putty to Mask out some areas for a camo scheme.  The green putty I had used on a number of my tanks ran out, so I had to go to the back up purple putty, and the result was a vehicle that would look right at home in either an Easter or Pride Day parade.

When all was said and done, no primer crept in through the windows, which is good, because the interior is more visible than I anticipated, although the lighting is pretty poor.

In all honestly, I am not very happy with how the ink wash turned out, as I think it makes the Valkyrie look less weathered and more just dirty.  It's not irredeemable, but the camo scheme is not as impressive-looking to me as it was prior to the ink wash.  Still, un-shaded white just looks stupid, so I am not sure what I might have done differently short of painting in every water channel and shading point by hand, and that just was not going to happen with the time constraints I had.  I did add a couple of details where I could, like pilot and backseater (RIO? Navigator? Weapons Officer?)call signs under the cockpit...

Not-quite NASCAR levels of decal usage...

And a safety stripe on the edge of the assault ramp (which it turns out, is a lot easier to paint at both larger or smaller scales):

Only after everything else was painted and varnished was I able to finish the model by gluing on the cockpit, which I have to say was a total chore, and end up requiring extreme measure in the form of superglue and accelerator, which I am praying will not end up fogging the cockpit glass.  (24 hours in, so far, so good!)

I wouldn't want to paint another one anytime soon, but if you have the opportunity to add a Valkyrie to your force, I heartily recommend it as an excellent modelling and painting experience.

With only a week of painting time left, the only question remaining is can I give this warbird a payload of elite soldiers before G&G VI?