Posts from the ‘Stuff I like’ Category

The Hip says “Bye, Canada.”

2016-07-30 22.13.06

The stage at Rexall Place, Edmonton, July 30, 2016

The Tragedy in Being Hip

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.”

–        Ahead by a Century, Trouble at the Henhouse
2016-07-30 19.39.58Like the loss of a Canadian NHL team, or the closing of Eaton’s, another Canadian icon will write its final chapter in a few weeks.  And just like almost all Canadians were glued to their television sets almost 44 years ago to watch Henderson jump into Cournoyer’s arms, a generation that was just in grade school back then will tune in Saturday night to watch five Canadian boys take the stage one last time, right back where they started in Kingston, Ontario.

No Canadian band has burned itself so deeply into my psyche than The Tragically Hip.  Their music has intertwined with my entire adult life.  As a young cadet at the Royal Military College in Kingston, I remember them – not so much as the eclectic, metaphoric group they grew into – but rather as a gangly group of wannabes. Their frothy cover songs and unripe originals did not do much to capture the imagination of a young lad who was more interested in the heavy metal riffs of Zeppelin, the mythological lyrics of Rush, or the guitar solos of Eddie van Halen.. The intended sarcasm of their name escaped my young mind, and we the sometimes showered the fledglings unkindly with the little bones of half-eaten 5¢ chicken wings during King’s Town Happy Hours gone awry.

51lg+oujt-LOnly a few years later, while serving in Germany, I fatefully unwrapped the cellophane from their second CD – Up to Here –  recommended by a mate.  Feeling a little homesick for my old stomping grounds, I gave it a listen – a deep, deep listen. The album and the Band struck a chord, in fact several pleasing, appealing chords. And the lyrics were clever, melancholic poems with a deep sense of Canadiana about them. The album made me feel for home.  I was hooked like a pike in a Northern Ontario lake.

I guess that is what The Tragically Hip has done for millions of us throughout the last 30 years – forming the soundtrack of a generation expressed through a strangely overt, yet unsurprisingly subdued sense of national pride. Through the national glue of hockey and canoes, of flora and fauna, of places and things they shouted, “We are Canada!” in a way that was an inside-joke – something you just could not understand, unless you knew about toques and pucks and Bobby Orr. Unless you understood Canada.

Canadians are a unique collective – so humble, so self-effacing, yet so proud. Only we understand experiences like Paul Henderson’s winning goal, or righting David Milgaard’s wrongful conviction, or that once there was a fishing fan named Barilko; only we celebrate places like Golden, Thomson, Bobcaygeon, Lake Memphremagog,  and Mistaken Point – or lay claim to the 100th Meridian where the Great Plains begin.  Many of us only began to understand the beauty of our country through the words of the Tragically Hip. They brought Canada to life in a way school atlases never could.

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Sadly, I had written off seeing them live this last tour as the free enterprise vampires sucked the tickets up in seconds after they went on sale. I was angered and dismayed that lifelong fans like me would not get a chance to celebrate them again. And, after hearing the hue and cry, I was jubilant that the CBC recognized the significance and would broadcast the final show from YGK live. Like the 1972 Summit Series final game, at least this unforgettable moment in Canadian history would be experienced live, even if on television.

2016-07-31 06.23.00But out of nowhere, my brother who understood my affinity for the Band – because his may be bigger than mine – surprised me with tickets for the final Edmonton show.  And so my wife, Sue, and I became part of the half million or so lucky Canadians who will see the last tour live.

As one of my friends rightly noted, my words cannot do justice to the experience. The concert and the mark it left on those who were there, are indescribable. The emotions inside the stadium were beyond any live event I have ever felt – perhaps because I am a Leafs fan.

Gord lived up to his legendary antics, thrilling tens of thousands of animated and lucky fans in his metallic suits and feathered hats, in turn like a metallic pink or turquoise or silver crayon gone wild.

I did not hear every Hip song that holds deep meaning to me. How could I hear them all? There are just so many.

But from the opening chords of Blow at High Dough, to New Orleans is Sinking, to the poignant refrains of Courage , Grace, Too,, and so many more to the end of their second encore and Bobcaygeon, it was an emotional roller coaster. Each song brought back so many memories and reminiscences…it was a dry ice-, light- and sound-filled travelogue through my last 30 years.  Happy times, sad times, challenges, triumphs all rolled up into one evening.

And each time we thought it was over, the musicians of The Hip demonstrated the classy humility that we all strive to display. Knowing that Gord Downie is their voice and the recognizable tip of the Hip’s iceberg, they surrendered the stage repeatedly to their lead singer to absorb our love – fully and completely. And as we shouted ourselves hoarse and clapped until our hands were red, he looked back at us all with many emotions: sorrow that it was likely the last time that he would thrill an Edmonton crowd, and joy that he left us so fulfilled.

But mostly what I saw on Gord’s face was a deep, deep gratitude. Gratitude that we have appreciated the poetry, the music, the showmanship, the enigmatic persona – the whole musical adventure and journey.  That we grew from six people in seedy pubs and taverns to almost thirty-thousand in the shrines of hockey all across Canada.

And after what possibly seemed like an eternity for him, but only a moment for us, he left the stage… leaving a vacuum in the moment and quite possibly forever.  Though others did, I did not cry, but I did feel a well of sadness.

I felt for him, and for all those that know they face a shortened future because of some incurable illness.

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And selfishly, I also felt a tiny bit of me slip away, too…30 years of memories seemed to fade slightly with The Hip’s departure from Edmonton’s and Canada’s stage. It was an evening of ups and downs that left me hoarse, ringing, and emotionally drained. I would not have missed it for the world!

And for those that are not fortunate enough to see them live one last time, the broadcast of their final concert is not something to miss. I know like the majority of Canada, I will be glued to the set, with a beer in hand, watching history. Just as they would like us all to be.

It will be Tragic, yes; and it will also be epic.

In the end, I have a feeling we will all be saying, “The Hip shoots and they score!”

Later,

ASF

 

 

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Day 18 of 100 Happy Days – Cozy Socks…

Day 18-100

Old, wooly, winter warfare socks, my cozy trackies, heat from the fireplace, and pablum on the TV…makes a tired guy happy….

Day 18 of 100 Happy Days

Days are busy. Early morning workouts, followed by commuting, then meetings, emails, briefings, questions, presentations, interviews….

And sometimes evenings are full; if you are lucky, it is with your best mate with dinner and laugh as you look into each other’s eyes lovingly, or a fun filled evening and drinks with friends.

Regardless of what it is and even if it is challenging and invigorating, entertaining and enjoyable, it takes energy and effort. To maintain that happy face, the telephone voice, the “I can do it” attitude, and to look like you have it all together can be exhausting some days.  Even in the best of jobs with the best of colleagues, some days and weeks can be draining.

And once home, you can put down the shields. You can take off the tie, slip off the shoes, and relax. Sometimes it is about crawling into a pair of sweat pants and cozy socks, and hunkering down on the couch to watch TV.  There is no pressure, no expectations, no demands…the mind can go into neutral, and recharge.

And the TV can be banal and clichéd and trivial…sometimes the mind needs the cerebral equivalent of junk food. It allows for defragmentation… it soothes…it relaxes… it lulls. The mind takes a nap while you don’t.

It is hard to be “on” all the time. Coming home, putting up the feet, and just doing nothing is sometimes just what is needed.  Sometime the thought of coming home and unwinding, kicking back, and loosening is something to look forward to and can make for a happy end to a busy day.

Enjoy your cozy socks and sweat pants watching Netflix, or slippers and pyjamas in front of the hockey game, or your tatty bathrobe and the evening’s shows…whatever makes you happy!

Later,

ASF

Day 13 of 100 Happy Days – In Vino Veritas

“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.” ― Ernest Hemingway

“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
― Ernest Hemingway

Day 13 of 100 Happy Days

Had the good fortune to be invited out for drinks tonight. Well, a few glasses of wine actually.

Wine. Vino. Wein. Vin. Vinum.

I am not sure when I developed a taste for wine. I drank it when I was of age, but I did not have a schmick about what I was drinking. I remember buying Rothschild’s Mouton Cadet when I was younger…I was a cadet at the Royal Military College and my rank was on the wine label! How bad could it be?

I suppose I developed a taste when serving in Germany during the tail end of the Cold War; I drank fine German wines like Reislings and Weissburgunders (Pinot Noire), Gewurtz Traminers, late harvest and ice wines and made my foray into the Old World French wine…Bordeaux, Beaujolais, Cremants. There were so many and they all tasted wonderful.

At some point in your life, you move from shooters and hard hitting spirits, and become a wine person. It’s no longer about getting hammered, drinking as much as you can or as fast as you can. It is more about enjoying, about socializing, about sipping and tasting, about pairing…meats, fruits, cheeses, nuts, chocolate.  Maybe it comes with age…

Now it is all about heavy reds…Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignons,  Prioriats and Malbecs.

Wine can shift a mood…turn bad into good, turn good into great; it is consumed by the glass, by the bottle, or occasionally, by the bottles.

And while it should be consumed in moderation, occasionally we take Oscar Wilde’s advice, “Everything in moderation, including moderation”. El vino did flow…in a David Brent kind of way!

There have been many painful mornings, and many declarations of “never again”. But the sweet bacchanalian temptation always brings us back for a glass of red, white, rose, sparkling, fortified, late harvest, or ice…and happy times.

Later,

ASF

Day 10 of 100 Happy Days – Piano Man in training

Day 10-100

Day 10 of 100 Happy Days

Today, I took up a new challenge. I took on something that has been sitting around quietly, partly taunting me, teasing me, mocking me.

A couple of years ago we purchased a nice digital piano. My wife owned a piano once, and a digital was an inexpensive way to have quality sound at a reasonable price – as well as with a reasonable space footprint. It was a hobby she enjoyed.

As for me, I do not know how to play piano. Nevertheless, this Christmas, my brother-in-law picked up my guitar, and with no lessons, theory or practice, was able to translate his piano know-how into actual carols and songs like some kind of savant.  I wanted to be able to do the same – on the piano that is, and without people thinking I was Dustin Hoffman.

So with the same vigour, and subject matter expertise and support  that I attacked my guitar playing over a decade ago, I have taken on the challenge of learning the piano. By  myself. Who needs formal lessons? I’ve got Google and You Tube.

So I downloaded a chord chart from the internet and started banging away. And despite the fact that I am absolutely horrible, it was an entertaining time. Wearing my headphones, I lost track of time as I tried desperately to tap ebony and ivory (or the synthetic versions of them) with rugby prop fingers, hoping to develop some sort of muscle memory as an anchor for my budding pianist aspirations.

After the hour, I was starting to sense some order emerging from the chaos and the jumble of black and white keys…the sequence, the scales, the chord patterns were making sense.  There is a repetitions, a predictability that  appeals perfectly to the orderly and methodical engineer’s mind. I know I can learn the chord and notes through analysis and identifying the repetition and symmetry.  Like the guitar there is math involved. And I like math!

So I will carry on, and hopefully over time, as I will get better. Maybe in the future there will be some creativity intermingled with the patterns and sequences.

But then again, maybe not.

It took a while for the guitar to stop screeching, so I think that Ray Charles, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Ray Manzarek, and the kid from School of Rock  have absolutely nothing to worry about. Hopefully one day I’ll hear someone say, “Sing me a song, you’re the Piano Man.” Guffaw, guffaw!

But regardless of how it goes, a new goal means new challenges. And new challenges mean happy times…

Wish me luck!

Later,

ASF

Day 6/100 Happy Days – Camellia sinensis, or A Cuppa (if you prefer)

Day 6-100 Happy Days

Day 6/100 Happy Days

Major General Urquhart: Hancock. I’ve got lunatics laughing at me from the woods. My original plan has been scuppered now that the jeeps haven’t arrived. My communications are completely broken down. Do you really believe any of that can be helped by a cup of tea?

Corporal Hancock: Couldn’t hurt, sir.

Operation MARKET GARDEN in  A Bridge Too Far (1977)

‘Ow ’bout a cuppa Rosie Lee? A Builder’s? Or do you prefer exotic and dangerous like Lapsang Souchong or maybe Oolongs. Maybe a respectable, venerable Earl Grey….or maybe just some comforting and soothing Chai  – milk and sugar.

I grew up on tea. It was the staple hot beverage in our house. Nice strong traditional Indian tea, black or pekoe, was brewed with a heady mixture of  cardamom, cinnamon, cloves – a special ingredient my Mom called “chai masala”.  Loaded with milk and sugar, it still is beyond compare!

The cups of tea would start first thing in the morning, usually delivered by Mom while we were still in bed, just shaking the sleep from our eyes. It was the best tasting laxative that a child could ever ask for, and was the homeopathic solution to constipation and all sundry affliction related to it – headaches and grumpiness being the two most common.

That was the Pavlovian conditioning. Tea equals love and comfort and care. It has been that ever since.

Now I know that some people are coffee people – and I have to admit that I can be bi-caffeinal. Mostly at work. Coffee has its own unique merits, but comfort is not one of them. Coffee is a no-nonsense hot beverage.

Coffee signals business, business, business…wake up, stay awake, stay alert…it is the pick-me-up needed during long meetings or conferences. It fights boredom. It is the trophy of our constant drive-thru hunts. The extra large we rush in and out of as we dash from place to place and commitment to commitment. It is the human fuel of the long distance road trip. It is the drink of commerce, all frothy and tarted-up, flavoured with syrups and creams and covered in chocolate sprinkles or powdered cinnamon. It is dolled up to disguise its taste – mocha or pumpkin or brulée. It is the adrenaline that jacks us up and gets us all fuelled to take on the world.

It is not tea.

Tea is the yin to coffee’s yang.  Tea means that you are taking the time – the time to boil the kettle, the time to steep the tea as the lovely herb is brought back to life from its dehydrated stasis, the time to sit and open a newspaper, a magazine, or a good book and expand your horizons. It gently encourages you to sit and reflect. To pull up a chair and have a chin wag. It evokes images of family and friends and steaming cups of fragrance, fortified with lashings of sugar and milk.  It doesn’t necessarily solve the world’s problems, but it makes life so mellow that you actually don’t care about them!

After a particular demanding round of home DIY, after a hectic period of errands, after an evening meal, nothing hits the spot like ambrosia under the tea cozy…

Add a cookie – or biscuit, if you prefer – and it’s heaven.

Put the kettle on then, eh? Oh, Happy Day!

Later,

ASF

Day 5/100 Happy Days – Baby Faces

 

shaving 2

Day 5/100 Happy Days

Twice a year, you can always recognize the serving Army guys. They are the ones sporting the hockey playoff beards, the mutton chops, the goatees and other facial hair during the summer and most definitely over the Christmas break.  I am not sure if it is some sort of low-level mutiny, a full-scale rebellion, or just a desire to take a break from the daily ritual of dragging a piece of steel across their faces.

Facial hair – you either love it or hate it.

And if 1 December is an indication, I am guessing the majority are not fans. I have never seen such looks of relief on so many partner’s faces as when the Movemberites shaves of the 30 days of growth.

Since I was a young lad,  I have been gifted with the werewolf look (except on top of my head). I had to start shaving at a young age, secretly at first.  My father warned me that my silky, but ugly, adolescent boy-beard would gradually morph into unsightly, coarse stubble. This transition was the gateway to manhood.

I remember watching my Dad using his Noxzema shaving cream, a cracked plastic measuring cup, and a double edged safety razor to complete this daily ritual, seven days a week. It was so manly.

I know this does not make sense to many of you. Maybe you do not have a beard; maybe you have a beard but you can shave with Kleenex. Maybe you put milk on your face and let the cat lick off your beard. If that is your fortune, you probably don’t get it.

But to many of us, shaving has just become one of those grooming things we have to do – like putting on deodorant or flossing our teeth. What a shame!

It is a unique rite of manhood!

As a 20th century man, I moved through a multitude of razors to achieve a closer and closer shave: first the disposable safety razors by Bic et al; then through the chain of cartridge razors – first the Mach series, and then Fusion series, and now I am wooed by the Pro-Glide FlexBall!.Oh, the money I have spent!

I have even tried the electric razor – but that experiment did not last long.

And I won’t even delve into the different types of creams – gels or foams, menthol or tropical breeze, tube or can  – or the pre-shave exfoliants, the post- shave balms, other razor burn soothers and the sometimes required step It is boggling.

Alongside the razors, the cream, and the various other products, I have adopted many different strategies to maintain the Army grooming standard. I am trying hard to forget the dry shave that many a man has tried while rouging it in the deep of winter – when warming up cold water and stripping off the shirt is just too manly to attempt.

I have tried hot shaving cream, hot towels, evening shaves, and shaving in the shower. For pure ease and convenience, plus the added benefit of spending time under soothing massaging jets, shaving in the shower is the winner – if you can find the right mirror that doesn’t fog and stays put!

I have always loved to grow outlandish facial hair when I could. To grow be Lemmy, the Fu-Manchu,  the Boer War Chops, or the Breaking Bad  has been fun – even if my wife and friends think I’m a nut!

After this Movember, I splurged for a relaxing straight razor shavette to smooth my bald pate and baby-faced cheeks. If you have not pampered yourself by fully reclining in an old fashioned barber’s chair, by having your face lovingly swaddled in almost too hot wet towels, by allowing liberal applications of facial pre-shave creams and hot mugs of foamy lather, by experiencing a slow, deliberate with-the-grain and against-the-grain straight shave, and ending with an invigorating facial massage – you are just not living to your potential!

It is the male equivalent of the pedicure and toe nail polish.  Expensive, yes – but I would argue, a periodic necessity!

During my time in the Army, I saw shaving as a necessity – something that had to be done, sometimes twice a day.  And even though I still can pull off the two minute panic shave to get myself to work on time, I believe that taking the time to pamper your face is important.

Occasionally you just need slow it down and to reconnect with males from yore. You need to wet the shaving brush, vigorously work up a lather in a shaving cream mug, carefully and liberally paint your face lovingly with warm , and slowly, deliberately and shave those whiskers off your face as you enjoy the unique sound of one thins steel blade dispensing with the whiskers in the traditional way .

In these hectic times, a slow, cautious, deliberate shave is a meditative experience that kindles thoughts of a simpler time! Something all we men deserve to be happy, happy!

Later,

ASF

The shame, and joy, of doing nothing!

to-do-list-nothing[1]

I have a confession to make.

I did nothing today.

Well that is not quite true. I did do some things. I showered. I emptied the dishwasher. I ate. I watched TV. I actually went outside and turned on the water sprinkler.

But did I meet the Facebook criteria of doing something? Did I build a deck, or bake a cake or wash my car? Nope, nope, and nope. So technically, I did nothing because I have nothing to brag about.

Maybe that should be something to brag about.

But it was not easy.  The idleness came with a price tag. A nice dose of self-shame. Crazy! Why do I feel guilty about doing nothing? Why do I feel I need to busy – like the ant instead of The_Ant_and_the_Grasshopperthe grasshopper? Does busy ever end?  I mean, there is always the sense of satisfaction in doing things, but it is never like I get any closer to getting everything done.  Every time I finish something, there is always another thing surfacing…it is like the Three-Headed Hydra:  my list gets longer as each completed task seems to spawn two more!

And I tell you, being busy takes effort. There is always something to fill the time –  something to tighten  because it’s loose, to glue because its broken, clean because it is dirty, polish because its dull, cut because its long, empty because its full, fill because it’s empty…the list can go on forever and ever.

All of us that have come out of the long winter hibernation know that the brief period between “snow thaw” and “mosquito season gets busy.  (I think it is called spring – a time where Canadians don shorts and flip-flops at a balmy 6*C.)  You know the to-do list…thatching and weeding and fertilising and planting and mowing and gutter-cleaning, organising, vetting, discarding, washing, cleaning, assembling dandelion_farmetcetera. And no one wants to be the home-owner who brings down the neighbourhood property values with the huge dandelion farm, or the lawn that looks like a grade school baseball diamond.   So I will admit that there has been a tiny degree of panic and stress because I needed to get a few things done or yard will continue to look trashy, the garage will stay chaotic, or the summer clothes reamin buried under boxes and boxes. There is so  much that should be, or really “could be”, done.

But let’s park the whole spring-thing aside. The spring clean and renewal will happen eventually – hopefully before Labour Day…

I have to ask, “Why is ‘being busy’ my default setting?”  Why am I embarrassed to do absolutely nothing productive? And when did I forget how to relax idly? Even calming things, like running or biking, seem to have become agenda items.  Why do I plan my “down time” and not just let whatever is going to happen, just happen?  And it seems like I am not alone – check out all the Facebook statuses – full of accomplishments and activities and running around and getting things done.  Rarely do I see the status, “I did sweet FA this weekend, and I am good with that!”

I remember being a kid, bouncing from activity to activity carelessly.  One minute it was staring at the clouds, the next examining the anthill, then a game of hide-and-go-seek, then my paper route, then a game of street hockey or soccer or touch football,  and then homework and a bit of TV, and then bed, all the while looking forward to the next day full of who-knew-what!

kids playing

And today, things have changed now that I am almost half a century old (ouch!). Let me think about it…oh yeah, responsibility, reliability, dependability, accountability.  All those translating to timings and deadlines and tasks and task reminders and “to do” lists. It means not letting down the side and not being the point of failure, the choke point. or the weakest link. It means checking and rechecking and confirming and rescheduling and prioritising and eventually, completing.

And what if it that has been a part of your life for 30-odd years? What if paying attention to detail and ensuring the equipment is ready for its next use, that the car is full of fuel before the big trip, or the clothes are laid out the night before to save time, is part of your being?  What if your whole life has been an exercise in finding time and maximising concurrent activity and minimising effort expended?

I guess it means that it is hard to relax.

Not impossible, but hard. It takes a few days to get into vacation mode.  It means accepting that things might not get done.  That the lawn will be weedy for one more week and that I will have to dig through the Rubbermaid totes in the garage for my favourite pair of cargo shorts.

its-better-to-be-doing-nothing-than-to-be

So today, I took my first step at doing nothing. I was able to sit around and take control of the big screen and eat leftovers and basically chill. It was great. It wasn’t completely blissful – I did have the inevitable pangs of guilt: yes, I thought about the lawn (rationalising that the seeding I did last week was too fragile to be mowed); I shuddered at the winter disorganisation as I tossed the empty pop cans into the garage recycling bins. But I fought through the shame and managed to find my way back to the man-cave and Lucky Slevin. I made my peace…

And to quote the sage Dr Seuss, once you make that peace, “Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!” So let the fun begin.

And as for those other things, I’ll get them done later.  When there is nothing good on TV, or the internet ends.  watching-tv

Later,

ASF