A Queen in time

The Queen’s special broadcast today brought back a vivid memory of my youth, a 67-year-old memory, the year of my 13th birthday. 

Today, we set aside a few minutes to see and hear the Queen’s Covid-19 address streamed on our iPad. 

This was a far, far different scene to the day I sat with my family, huddled round the household’s one radio, to hear her Christmas broadcast from Auckland, New Zealand. 

That broadcast had a sombre conclusion as not 24 hours earlier the country experienced its worst-ever rail disaster at Tangiwai, in the lower part of the North Island.

Just before midnight on Christmas Eve, a locomotive and carriages dived headlong into the river when a lahar flood knocked out the bridge piers. And 151 people perished. 

It was a tragic introduction to the country’s first visit by a reigning monarch. 

We received the appalling news on Christmas Day via the radio, that news link to the whole country as newspapers did not publish on Christmas Day. (Television did not arrive in the main centres until 1960.)  

The Queen and Prince Philip arrived in New Zealand by the chartered Royal Yacht SS Gothic. They stayed in the country until January 31, travelling the length and breadth by car, train, and plane before reuniting with their ship at the southernmost part of the country. All told, more than three-quarters of the population must have turned out to see them. 

Prince Philip amended his itinerary to take part in a state funeral for many of the rail disaster victims.

1953 was a landmark year in other ways for me as an adventurous 12-year-old living in the shadow of wonderful Mt Taranaki. I’d followed the conquest of Mt Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and the Sherpa Tensing. And yes, I still have my scrapbook documenting the world shattering news of that achievement on May 29 just a few days before Queen Elizabeth 11’s coronation on June 2, the actual day the epic news hit London.

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)

 

Poles apart

Zyon in his playground, The warm black sands of Fitzroy Beach, New Plymouth, New Zealand

I sit  in my little Calgary, Alberta,

George and Eleanor in their playground at Patricia, Alberta. (Not today)

room with vivid memories of six months in Antarctica some 50 years ago.

 Not a lot of difference today when I woke to -38 degrees and expected daytime highs close to the -30 mark.

 Move north to New Zealand from the polar memory and I find my great grandson Zyon (4) on a sandy surf beach in the mid to high teens. (It’s tomorrow there). 

Travel a couple of hours east from where I am now and we find our great grandkids George (3) and Eleanor (1) bundled in their world on a recent day.

Poles apart maybe, yet totally connected in a flash through the magic of internet: we can see, hear, or read about each other in second. Gotta love it.  

Day of Wonder

Today is one second longer than yesterday.

Fresh snow to celebrate the lengthening of days.

The winter solstice yesterday means we are on the way to longer days, minute by a minute or so until the buds, the blooms, and the greens burst exuberantly into summer decoration.

To us, it is all part of the magic of living in this climate of four seasons: white, brown, green and yellow/red.

Four days before Christmas and we have fresh snow. We are all white again and I see the forecast promising a wee bit more. Warmish too.

This is all so different to what Lois and I experienced just one year ago when a New Zealand visit gave us sunshine, big heat, refreshing surf on sandy beaches, and picnics in the parks.

Calgary City Council in its infinite wisdom has declared this day as the final day in the transit route that saw buses 16 and 84 end their run along 98 Avenue SW.

The (almost) final Route 16 bus to visit our stop on 98 Ave SW.

The sign says these routes have been rerouted. My interpretation is canceled, discontinued.

We will miss the chattering school kids though, crowding our driveway, sitting on the steps as they wait for their ride home. We’ve had up to 18 junior highs gather here.

Passengers from this section now walk across to Southland Drive, where they can hop aboard Max Yellow, or catch a bus to the Southland LRT. Alternatively, we can hike a block to Palliser Drive and join the bus to the LRT.

Life is always changing and always interesting especially so when green Future Bus Zone signs have replaced the blue Transit Stop signs.

This means the council is keeping its options open in case this route is restored sometime down the road.

The good part it is now legal for cars to park there.

With the bus route extinct, I wonder if we have seen the last of  plow and sand trucks around these parts. The funny thing about this comment is that I cannot recall our little corner of this big city ever being so popular with the grader crews as it has been so far this winter.

I wonder . . .

I love this picture of our great granddaughter Eleanor Lois Fukuda, down on the farm at Patricia, Alberta, north of Brooks. It says so much.

The wonderment of a one-year-old’s perspective, a wee tot who has discovered her ability to stand on two legs. Tiny steps on tiny feet. Maybe the thrill of grabbing the sill and hoisting herself up for a new view of her world.

I wonder what she sees? Is it just a frosty morning, fresh snow on the trees? Are there birds finding sanctuary in the branches? Is there a deer, a bush bunny, hare, or even a dog?

I wonder how we might view our world, near and far, with open eyes?

I wonder what this week will bring for our family, at Patricia, in Calgary, AB, in Sooke BC, in New Plymouth, New Zealand?

I wonder what our friends and neighbours are up to as we countdown to the shortest (or maybe longest) day of the year, Christmas and New Year.

I wonder what our politicians are up to, civic, provincial and federal?

I wonder about the poor folks involved in New Zealand’s tragic White Island eruption?

I wonder at the effect of the Trump impeachment process on Canada?

I wonder at the impact of UK politics?

I wonder about marketing and sales of my new novel Beginnings at the End of the Road? I wonder who might read and enjoy the story?

I wonder how I might write and finance the new book gradually taking early shape in this computer?

Yes, I wonder what the 2020 will bring, that hope and faith we have, a new respect and tolerance for each other.

Thanks, Eleanor, that I might look out my window. What do I see: the missteps of days gone or the new steps as I pace into this day that I’ve been given by the grace of God.

I wonder . . .

Ta Da

Big, bright and beautiful. A nice new banner to herald my new novel. Terrific artwork by Lois to fit the story. I’ll have an excerpt up as soon as I can figure out how to add it to this website. This banner was created by the designers at my publisher Westbow Press.

I’ve checked a few online stores and Beginnings (hardcover and paperback) is available online at Chapters/Indigo, Amazon, Fishpond, Abebooks and MightyApe. Varying pricing. Not sure where the ebook is yet, but it will be available soon.

Bookshelves that surprise

The best surprises come at the oddest of times and in unexpected places, like the washroom I spoke of in my previous blog. I gravitate towards the used book racks in out of the way places on the off chance I’ll find a gem. That happened in Kaeo, New Zealand. It’s a fascinating little town, so full of history and for the traveller a good place to snag a ubiquitous kiwi meat pie.  

My soon-to-be-published novel Beginnings at the End of the Road is the story of Brandon Silverberry, a baker turned gardener who listens to God and develops his estate lands to help others.  The heart of the story grows from Brandon’s teenage days as a polio sufferer.

Imagine the size of my smile when I spotted Over My Dead Body by June Opie at the back of a very colourful local knickknack store. It was an instant buy ($3.00 I recall) of this 1957 long out of print book with its mellowed pages by a young woman widely known because of her illness.

Ms. Opie spent her early life just an hour’s drive north of where I grew up. Her story chronicles her arrival in London from a sea voyage from New Zealand in the late 1950s only to end up in a London hospital paralyzed except for one eyelid. It’s a sobering, yet inspiring read.

We spent a lot of time up at the beach at Mokau earlier this year. It is a wonderful getaway place, miles of sandy beaches and rolling surf. The village features a small museum that houses a feature on Ms. Opie and her family. The family graves are prominent in the cemetery high on the cliff overlooking the sea.

The editing phase of Brandon was well underway by the time I got to read Over My Dead Body so it thrilled me to learn that my new book conveys the flavour of a polio sufferer’s fight. In January, while I waiting in the hospital for a blood test, I came across another booklet about the polio sufferers of my home province of Taranaki, We Can Do Anything, the work of Shirley Hazelwood, herself a polio sufferer. All good background.

Westbow Press will publish Beginnings at the End of The Road. I’m expecting the final editorial work back any week now. My author review will take a couple of weeks and then it goes into the design and production cycle. My hope and prayer are that we’ll see a brand new book for Christmas buying.

Memorable distraction

Distraction comes easy to me.

For the past 24 hours my head has been in a space I left some 66 years ago — my primary (elementary) school in New Plymouth, New Zealand.

By chance, I started clearing out some old papers while searching for a short story I’d written some years ago and which I figured might be worth updating, or at least seeing how my brain worked back then.

In this futile effort of finding the paper file, I uncovered a newspaper clipping of my classmates and boy, did I get a sudden brain rush of memory. I counted 42 kids in that class of 1953, our final year together before heading off to high school. I’d just turned 13 when the photo was taken and I realize now that I’d shared the previous eight years with most of the faces I saw. I could name each person without checking the caption.

At the end of that school year, we began the journey into our respective lives. The girls headed to their high school and the boys too theirs. We entered into different career streams and slowly the bonds of our preteen years faded. 

One face stands out in the back row. He did not make it to high school. He and I had planned to meet on the corner and cycle to the big intimidating school together. We had it planned, but sadly a couple of days before he was electrocuted by an electric drill, making a milkshake I recall.

By chance, I did meet up with a couple of these guys earlier this year during my extended holiday in the old home town. The thrill of contact fades as fast as conversation drops over the cliff of “what have you been up to?” Sixty-odd years cannot be covered in that opener. After all, my career took me away from New Plymouth in 1969. I returned there for four years in the 1980s and since then there have only been irregular family-style vacations.

My memory names our teachers, the good folk who piloted us through the basics of learning: reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic, as they say. The time they spent with us in the classroom and on the sports field. The fund-raising days too, like the penny (it was about the six of a loony) drive we had to line up the coins each day around the perimeter of the netball court; of delivering crates of half-pint milk to each child in each classroom.

I’m left to wonder now where each of us is and where the adventures of life have taken each one of us.

Finding Dermot

It’s that time of year every two years when the tiny town of Whangamomona, New Zealand, hosts its annual bust out — Republic Day for lots of genuine Kiwi fun. Whangamomona is central to my novel Finding Dermot. And the key part of the historic town is the Whangamomona Hotel (whangamomonahotel.co.nz) now 103 years old. Wonderful place in a magic part of this world. I love it there, midway along the Forgotten World Highway. Beautiful rugged country and spectacular native bush. Put it on your to do list and while you’re at it buy a copy of Finding Dermot, worldwide at any online book store or at the BookStop Gallery in New Plymouth, New Zealand, or Owl’s Nest Books in Calgary, AB, Canada.

Have fun! It’s midsummer somewhere!

Whanga

 

 

Blown Away

What a tremendous evening!

Calgary’s Owl’s Nest Books was standing room only last night for the third bi-annual Taste of Local Authors evening, Organized by author Randy McCharles and Owl’s co-owners Michael and Susan Hare.

Nine authors presented and read from their recently published books. For two hours people listened (three sets of three five minute reads), and mingled to the music of Calgary singer songwriter Vanessa Cardui.

For me, it was an evening to treasure, being among new-found like-minded friends. Guests came to me and chatted about my Antarctic experience and the two books I’ve written since — a memoir (Tide Cracks and Sastrugi) and a novel (Finding Dermot).

My fellow authors were Jodi McIsaac, Al Onia, Mahrie  G Reid, Nola Sarina, Randy McCharles, Eileen Bell, Gary Renshaw and Sherile Reilly.

Owl’s Nest is a place where readers can connect with books. And I have the distinct feeling that Michael has sampled every book the store carries. Earlier this week he moderated a book clubs evening at the Jewish Community Centre book week and highlighted 11 books (including Finding Dermot). The bookstore is located in the Britannia Shopping Plaza at 815a 49 Avenue SW Calgary. (www.owlsnestbooks.com). The store also features Owlets, an amazing children’s bookstore.

Mingling time

Mingling time

My turn at the mic.

My turn at the mic.

Vanessa Cardui entertains

Vanessa Cardui entertains

 

Dermot’s Domain

I was blown away this morning when I opened my iPhone to see a Facebook reference

Magnificent beaches in the heart of New Plymouth.

Magnificent beaches in the heart of New Plymouth.

from my nephew in New Plymouth, New  Zealand.  Antony Thorpe simply said “Our backyard … anyone want to come for a visit!”

What followed was an inspiring  You Tube (experienceoz.com.au/nz-top-10) piece on the top 10 New Zealand destinations.

It’s No 1 that got my attention — Taranaki is not only the province I grew up in but also the centerpoint of much of the Finding Dermot story, my recent novel.

“Both wild and rugged, spectacular and historically influential, the Taranaki region checks all the boxes as far as nature and variety of landscape are concerned — with the mountain the cherry on the top of the sightseeing sundae.”

Pukekura Park, blocks from the downtown core.

Pukekura Park, blocks from the downtown core.

A midsummer view of 2518 metre Mt Taranaki which reigns over all, hiking and adventuring all summer, ski and alpine activity during the winter snows.

A midsummer view of 2518 metre Mt Taranaki which reigns over all, hiking and adventuring all summer, ski and alpine activity during the winter snows.

Hub of the hill country, Whangamomona.

Hub of the hill country, Whangamomona.

Very encouraging. A key character in Dermot is Blossom O’Sage who spends much of her New Zealand time in the main city of New Plymouth on her quest to find the out of sight Dermot Strongman. Her journey takes her to Whangamomona in the rugged hill country on the eastern rim of this adventurous region.

Along the path

Well, there I was out on the pathway today and saw Paddlewheelersomething that wasn’t new but really where I spotted it was new to me. The sight of Heritage Park’s paddle wheeler S.S. Moyie near the southern shore of the Glenmore reservoir lake caught my attention. Usually the vessel cruises over closer to Heritage Park.

I mentioned yesterday pathways reveal things and I thought back to our adventures in the Yukon Territory some 42 years ago. (golly, that long ago!) when we marvelled over the S.S.Tutshi paddle-wheeler in dry dock at Carcross. That vessel  was built in 1917 and restored about the time we were there. Sadly this queen of romantic Yukon history  was lost to fire in 1990. Remnants remain today.  The steamboat had such a big impact on us that we named our dog Tutshi. Sadly, he died too. Other examples of the steamboat era remain at Whitehorse (S.S. Klondike), Dawson City (S.S. Keno) and original and real S.S. Moyie at Kaslo in BC.

With that memory of today’s pathway I thought about the treasures we find in books. Take my novel Finding Dermot for instance. That story takes the reader from Canada to a magnificent city in New Zealand (New Plymouth) with its surf beaches, mountain and great bush walks, to one of the remotest villages in the country (Whangamomona) as well as a frozen winter in Antarctica’s truly wonderful and remote Wright Dry Valley and Lake Vanda. I weaved the story of Dermot and his strange adventure around those places.

The novel is available in all the online bookstores around the world in hard cover, paperback and ebook versions.

Pick up a copy, travel and enjoy the stroll along the reader’s “pathway.”

 

Writer’s what?

Writer’s block comes easy when you’re immersed in sunshine, sand and the surf of many beaches. I’ve just returned back to my snowy Calgary, Canada, home after a wonderful month in that amazing place of former years, New Zealand. Yep, it was terrific. With Lois’ sister and brother we had a wee road trip up and around the Coromandel Peninsula sampling beaches and meat pies. Then a great three weeks around “our” Taranaki province coastline and hinterland.
A major part of the trip was business: to publicize and launch my novel Finding Dermot. The book is now available in two bookstores there, The BookStop Gallery (www.bookstop.co.nz)in New Plymouth, a central setting of the novel, and Adventure Books (www.adventurebooks.co.nz) in Oamaru in the South Island.
We also drove the Forgotten World Highway once more, revisiting Whangamomona, another key location for the story.

The BookStop Gallery owner, Les Marshall, did a great job with a window display of both my books.

The BookStop owner Les Marshall did a great job with a window display of both my books.

A further further display right inside the street entry.

A further further display right inside the street entry.

The local newspaper Midweeker ran a nice article profiling the book and publicizing the launch.

The local newspaper Midweeker ran a nice article profiling the book and publicizing the launch.