Busy day in the neighbourhood

Bit of a dull day, really. You know cloudy, windy. No sun. Snow in the forecast. Not a lot of activity around the bird feeder. Most of the afternoon, it was absent the sunny day show of avian gymnastics when chickadees and nuthatches vie for a position in any of the six portholes. Then again, mostly it just a case of one fellow not wanting to share. The nuthatch hangs upside down on the oak tree, neck outstretched, waiting for a straight-line zap to the roost.

Over the fence though, Covid-19 prompted a far different story in these unreal times of lockdowns and social distancing. I have never, in the almost 25 years we have lived here, seen so many people out walking the streets. The pavement on two sides of the house has seen a steady stream of ones and twos, of families, couples and singles, all ages, bicycles from tot pedals to fat tyre, strollers from big three wheelers to sedate covered four wheels. From puffer coats and toques to shorts and ball caps; masks, backpacks and snugglies; polers and joggers; sidewalkers and random street walkers.

Yep, a busy day in the little neighbourhood. We’ve seen more people than dogs, which is a change. Cars have had to stop at the crosswalk, even. 

On Friday and Saturday I put a table out in the drive and displayed a few of my books on it. I thought that with bookstores and libraries closed folk feeling isolated might like something fresh to read. I offered the books free for the taking. Before placing the books, I took care to clean the table top with bleach cloths and scrubbed my hands in soapy water before picking up and placing the books.

The result of my gift to the neighbourhood was 31 books found new owners. The novel Uncharted was the most popular at 12, the novel Finding Dermot went to 10 new owners, and the memoir Tide Cracks and Sastrugi went to nine. You can read about these books on my website at www.graemeconnell.com 

Of course, there was a subtle promotion tucked inside each book in the form of a bookmark for Beginnings at the End of the Road, the novel published by Westbow Press in October last year.

I beat Lois in the wordgame Upwords yesterday and quietly declined a rematch today. Son-in-law Greg delivered a grocery request at more than two arms’ length at the front door, much to the delight of a couple of passers-by.

Distancing has its fun moments. 

Farm life says yes!

True sign of spring when life down on the farm makes the announcement. Granddaughter Veronica sent me this picture today of the first arrival at the Fukuda family farm down at Patricia, Alberta, north of Brooks.

This little guy is the first of about 300. Life will be busy for sure, whatever the weather, whatever the social distractions we face here in the city during the vital health cautions we have day to day.

Great grandson George, almost four, was out with his da Ray checking the herd this morning while I shovelled snow off the driveway here in Calgary.

A virus and Vegemite

Breakfast at our house toasted homemade bread and Vegemite.

I heard the comment this morning among the very depleted supermarket shelves that “we’ve never seen it like this.” It brought a smile and a swift recollection of the post WW11 polio epidemic in New Zealand.

While that was not the worst polio epidemic in that country it affected us little guys in that schools were closed and we did our schoolwork around the dining room table as we ate our morning toast and Vegemite and listened to a correspondence school over the radio. That’s about as much detail as I can recall. Polio was very close to us in that our next-door neighbour’s son-in-law died as a result.

Those times are part of the enthusiasm I had in writing my latest novel Beginnings at the End of the Road.

And the way my mind works this memory of a bygone era came to a head this morning when I read about quarantined US actor Tom Hanks who, it appears, enjoys that popular Down Under spread Vegemite. The story was all about his fervent use of the salty, tasty delight on toast being laid on too thick for the average Aussie.

As a believer in the Vegemite spread since before those polio days, I am amused and thankful that I always have a jar of the stuff on my breakfast table each morning, seven days a week.

It is a staple of my home. Trouble is, it is not available in Canadian grocery stores. It was banned a year or so ago for some strange reason which I have not been able to get to the bottom of. The federal regulators apparently figure there is something weird in it.

Simply speaking it’s extracted from yeast grown on barley and wheat. It has been around Australia and New Zealand since 1923 or so. We either have visitors bring us a jar or we can obtain from an online store. It is allowed in the country, just not at the supermarket. Go figure.

An advertising jingle came out in the 50s for the “Happy little Vegemiters…it puts a rose in every cheek.”

So go for it Tom, I know you will survive the Vegemite storm as you and Rita recover from the Covid-19 virus there on the Gold Coast. Eat as much as you like, spread as thick as you like.

Untying knots

Bad move. I suggested that Lois might reduce her wardrobe by a couple of closets. I reminded her of that old saw  “buy one, discard two”. Her tight-lipped response: “Do your own.”

This came on top of a blog I’d read by a long time pal Sukumar Nayar who talked about that elegant item of maledom in his Subtext website. Sukumar and I first met back in the 70s in the small Peace Country’s City of Grande Prairie. He at the Regional College and me city editor of the Daily Herald-Tribune. Apart from the fun of writing, and daily newspapers, we hung out on the backstage side at vibrant Little Theatre productions, ideal pursuits during a prairie winter.

But, back to Sukumar’s downsize initiative by opening his closet to discard whatever was not in regular use. The rack of ties attracted his attention.

That got me thinking and this week I ventured into the back of my closet and retrieved two racks of ties: 26 versions of everyday ties including a few whimsicals, eight corporates and four bow ties. This represents about half of my 55-year working life. 

As Sukumar said, it should be easy to get rid of them because I hate ties. I presume that like most fellows we wore ties because we had to. It was part of office life in the shadow of the British connection. I was 17 when I reported for my first job as a young newspaper reporter in my home town of New Plymouth, New Zealand. I’d spent my earnings from milking cows and baling hay on a pair of dress trousers, a sports jacket, two white shirts and a tie recommended to me by a high school classmate.

For me, ties were the lot of a daily newspaper journalist and as publisher of the Fort McMurray TODAY newspaper. Then came life in Mobil and my Pegasus ties that took me to many parts of the world in my career with that company in New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

Pegasus adorns the Mobil corporate tie.

All that came to a good conclusion in 2000 when I discarded ties forever and bought a commercial print shop to round out my daily working life. I rewarded my neck in the clothing sense though not in the banking sense. My neck and I made it through though and with today’s rummage I wonder if I can still tie a Windsor knot or hand tie a bow tie. There’s always Youtube.

Sukumar writes: “I hate ties.  I am convinced that it is a brutal infliction on the body, and I suspect that Eve invented this to punish Adam.  One day, during a tiff, possibly because the apple pie that Adam baked was not up to par, Eve stripped the bark off a tree (a fig tree, perhaps) and strung it around his neck and dragged him around.  He being the weaker of the two (remember he was one rib short) succumbed to the punishment.

“Suddenly I was hit with a desire to find out more about this aberration and having shelved the idea of downsizing I went to the bottomless source of information, the Google. And what I found out is fascinating.

“The Chinese did it!!

“The earliest known version of the necktie has been found in the massive mausoleum of China’s first emperor, Shih Huang Ti, who was buried in 210 B.C. Desperately afraid of death, the emperor wanted to slaughter an entire army to accompany him into the next world.  His advisers ultimately persuaded him to take life-size replicas of the soldiers instead.  The result is one of the marvels of the ancient world.  Unearthed in 1974 near the ancient capital city of Xian, the tomb contained an astonishing 7500 terracotta statues. Legions of officers, soldiers, archers and horsemen, all carved in meticulous detail, guard the emperor’s sarcophagus.

081817_bb_terracotta-army_main_free.jpg“The armour, uniforms, hair, and facial expressions of the soldiers are
reproduced in exquisite detail.  Each figure is different—except in one aspect.

“They all wear neck cloths!!!

“The next probable appearance of the neckcloth was in 113 A.D.  Trajan, one of Rome’s greatest emperors, erected a marble column to commemorate the triumphant victory over the Dacians, who lived in what is now Romania.  The 2500 realistic figures on the column sported no less than three different styles of neckwear. These include the shorter versions of the modern necktie: cloth wound around the neck and tucked into the armour and knotted kerchiefs reminiscent of cowboy bandanas.”

And so the story goes. Sukumar closes his tie discourse by mentioning that Louis XIV—the Sun King—of France was intrigued and delighted by the colourful silk kerchiefs worn around the necks of Croatian mercenaries. The French word for a tie, cravat, is a corruption of ‘Croat’. 

My friend’s rescue came in the person of  the British actor David Niven who in one of his earlier movies, sported an ascot or cravat, “giving the word ‘debonair’ a new meaning. In no time flat, I acquired several of those life savers. Ah, the joy of open collars!”

Thanks, pal. I’ve removed my collection from the closet and tucked them neatly into a box. Their fate is unknown. What does a person do with outgrown ties? I very much doubt they are a garage sale item. The lady Lois says they can be repurposed.

Oh well, at least they are out of the closet.

(My grateful thanks to Sukumar Nayar https://sukumarnayar.wordpress.com)

 

Signs of spring!

Today has been pretty special for two reasons:

Sunshine, almost blue skies, above zero temperatures, and I’m back in my garden writing studio.

Our friendly neighbourhood northern flicker was at his drumming best this morning with each rat-a-tat-tat on the steel chimney cap being followed with long hearty laughter. Yep, this guy or gal wants everyone to recognise his/her territory and that a mate could be welcome. This bird is a sure sign of spring to us.

I’m out in the studio to apply myself to The Empty Envelope, my novel in progress.

Motivation to get cracking has been low, so after my comment in the previous blog I’ve had a strong reminder from Theo Tuckmitt that he is the protagonist. This means that Felix Willoughby is off the page for now.

My first day this year in the garden studio has been very fruitful in that I’ve had a big cleanup of various notes relating to structure and idle thoughts as I’ve doodled through wintry days. I haven’t had a lot of drive to build the new story mainly because I look at the pile of previous novels looking for readers (ie buyers).

I love creating the stories and completing a full-length book and sharing my drafts with excellent family mentors (ex-senior high school teachers) before submitting to my capable editor Nancy Mackenzie, maybe a couple of beta readers and then the line-by-line edits of my publisher.

It’s a long process and I’m promising myself that The Empty Envelope will be published in time to celebrate the start of a new decade in my little life.

So here we go, folks. Exactly two weeks to the spring equinox on March 19. That’s right, the earliest it has been in 124 years.