04 April 2017

Buick City Complex and puzzle fever

These are the twelve jigsaw puzzles I have completed in the first three months of this year. Mathematically that's an average of one a week. I like doing them for a number of reasons, principally satisfaction and relaxation. Along the way I can admire the work of the artist/photographer, and appreciate the puzzle maker's craft.
Eurographics, a Canadian company despite the name, produce a high quality product with wide ranging subject matter. I have settled on this brand as it seems to me that the difficulty level is higher then elsewhere. The pieces are intricately cut in irregular shapes which I find a refreshing change from the traditional grid pattern and conventional two tab/two hole pieces. 1,000 pieces is the perfect challenge.
For most of us jigsaws are one of our earliest achievements in life yet too soon we leave them behind in the rush to learn everything about everything. Well now that I am old and actually do know everything about everything, I find there is still much satisfaction to be achieved from completing a large and complex puzzle.
Some take a few hours to solve, others several days. The deciding factor is the breadth of the colour palette. I start by out-sorting the edge pieces (Eurographics rather fiendishly hides a number of straight-edged pieces inside the puzzle to confuse the issue), and during that process I divide the remaining pieces into colours and subjects using two 30" x 20" white foam boards, one for the puzzle, one for sorting and sifting. The boards are sturdy yet light and can be lifted and turned with one hand. I like to kneel on a cushion in front of my balcony glass doors for the best natural light and about an hour in I should have the outline complete and a number of heaps of colours. At that point my knees and I are usually ready to take a break.
If there are significant individual elements to the overall picture I build those up on board #2 and slide the completed sections into the outline for rough positioning. Eventually the sections start to connect and the piles on board #2 begin to thin out. By this point I am invariably left with a couple of hundred pieces of dark colours which I separate into shape types, approaching the final push like a military campaign.
Good puzzles aren't cheap. The Eurographics are around $25 each. Occasionally Amazon will drop the price to $15 for a few days but even that's a bit steep. The local Value Village usually has around two hundred puzzles in stock so I often breeze in for a quick browse. Eight of this year's have been V V finds at $1.99. (Only two have been missing a piece.)
The girls are still avid puzzle makers, albeit on a smaller scale, and on Saturday mornings we three are often to be found crouched over our individual white foam boards beavering away!

11 March 2017

Audio Books

I've listened to audio books daily for the past five years. At night I drift off to sleep with an ear bud in and my iPod shut-off timer set for thirty minutes; a really good book, and I will reset the timer - more than once. All this listening requires a big supply of audio books.

Averaging thirty dollars a time this could be expensive but thankfully the local library has a large and ever burgeoning stock of books on CD. Ripping the discs is a bit time consuming but a little effort and some file manipulation provides a digital copy to keep.

Another free source is YouTube where rascals upload entire audio books and bask in a remunerative hit count until the Google Police pull their plug. Long in-print books slip through the holes in the net but recent publications don't stay online long. If you want to 'harvest' an audio file best conduct regular YouTube searches! I keep the Amazon books page open too for inspiration and to read reviews. Armed with a few bits of free software, a copy can be collected, trimmed into shape and on your iPod in under an hour.

Freemake Video Converter downloads the YouTube video, extracts only the audio element and saves it to your hard drive in any format you want; mp3 is for iPods.

Next, Audacity is a free audio editing suite with which you can split a fifteen hour file into bite-sized tracks.

With Mp3 Tag Editor you can apply titles, dates, authors, narrators and artwork.

Install a free audio book app to your iPod/iPhone and sync the audio files to your device.

With time and a little tenacity, your favourite book won't ever be due back at the library nor disappear from YouTube.

10 January 2017

The Retiring Assistant Manager – 30 March 1990

The retiring assistant manager scribbled his last initial and put down his weary ballpoint with an air of finality. His “in tray” was empty, his “out tray” full and yet there were loose ends; things remained undone and must now forever remain so. The sand lay flat in the lower chamber of life’s hourglass. Intentions, objectives, ambitions; these were the loose ends which could not be neatly knotted.

He drew comfort from the tangible and pondered the forest of paper that had traversed his desk these four decades, hungrily sucking the ink of a thousand pens; gorging the graphite of a towering pencil. His mark lay on reams of records stowed safely in the banking bowels below; tasks completed, returns returned, ledgers ruled and checked. There lay the rich seams of evidence indelibly stamped in banking history.

He had safely shouldered a mountain of responsibilities with his unique monogram. A million signatures had authorised, confirmed, advised, certified, applied, declared, reported and claimed. Now our man reached for a cigarette and wreathed himself in its haze. His mood of reflection continued and he seemed almost to disappear within the rafts of blue and grey, his mind adrift on a sea of nostalgia. An endless tide of faces, names, places, conversations ebbed and flowed, removed from time and context. When reality returned he would try to remember these details in ordered fashion, but not yet. Enough for now to indulge at random.

A column of white ash dropped unnoticed. Imagination slipped its leash and began to pad softly down the corridors of wistful thought where there were unopened rooms containing untested talents, unexpressed emotions, abandoned projects, forgotten thoughts and lapsed aspirations. There was so much to do, yet so little time. With frightening suddenness, conscious thought returned to him. His empty desk stared gravely back at him, an old and trusted friend. He must remember to bid his faithful wooden companion farewell. But how to say, “Goodbye?” How to say, “I won’t be back?” Soon its drawers would fill with unfamiliar clutter and this it would accept with brave resignation or bland indifference, he did not like to contemplate which. 

Sadness came over him; ‘end of an era’, a woefully inadequate phrase. He glanced at the relentless clock, willing it to stop and encapsulate the moment. On it marched, into the future. Why couldn't it just mark time or pass the time of day? He laughed aloud at the irony and with that the spell was broken and the fleeting moment of regret passed. The future held the key to those unopened rooms of opportunity, potential, and above all, time. With spirits rising he left the Bank.

A broad grin spread across his face as he detected a spring in his step, which had not been there yesterday. Was that last step more of a skip? The years rolled back and he summoned a memory from one glorious July afternoon half a century earlier: a small boy riding home from school, standing on the pedals, eyes ablaze with anticipation at the summer holiday stretching endlessly ahead.

He hadn’t felt like this in years. Cares, worries and responsibilities lay strewn in his wake as he hurried towards his tired, old car. His mind whirled with anticipation on the drive home. He concentrated on nothing in particular, allowing himself to bask in expectation: summer, cricket, gardening, Vivaldi, travel, sun, solitude, deck-chairs, reading, ...  he was drowning in euphoria. Full of unabashed excitement he hurried home to the future and with a sigh of relief closed the door on a most eventful day.

The beginning…

06 October 2016

Susan and the Medicine Chest

Charlottetown, 2014:

I winced. "Think I have a bit of a sore throat coming on."

"Take a spoonful of honey mixed with cinnamon," Susan advised.

Grateful but unconvinced, I suggested a visit to my medicine chest, a box of pharmaceutical wonders which Susan had yet to glimpse.

"What on earth have you got in there?" She asked, peering in as I removed the lid to reveal a cornucopia of salves, balms and ungents, bottles, packets and tubes.

"I think I have Chloraseptic Spray. Yes, here it is," I announced, as I proudly withdrew the dark green bottle from its somewhat battered box. "Look, you pump the top and a jet of soothing goo drowns your tonsils." I demonstrated the procedure with a flourish.

"Give me that. Looks like it's old," Susan said. I handed it over with a degree of trepidation. She squinted at the small print and her eyebrows arched suddenly, always a cause for concern. "This says 2007!" She barked.

"But, but, but..."

"No buts. It's going in the bin right now!" I watched as she tossed the wondrous potion into my bin. I was crestfallen. Honey and cinnamon it would have to be.


Charlottetown 2016:

"I'm all congested." Susan whimpered.

"Awww, poor you. I think I have some Dristan nasal spray. Hang on, I'll check. I could feel her eyes boring into the back of my head as I skipped to the bathroom. I returned with a smile carrying my medicine chest. No sooner had I located the squeezy bottle than she whipped it from my hand and began examining it.

"Geez Paul, 2004! Did they even make it back then?"

"But I've used it recently," I offered. "And it still works."

"I'm not squirting that ancient stuff up my nose, " She said, snorting loudly for emphasis. "And while we're about it, what else have you got lurking in there?"

"Errr, umm, nothing much." I hooked a defensive arm around the medicine chest. "Just some things." I avoided eye contact while s he stirred the contents and pulled out a small box, still sealed.

"Good Lord Paul, these eye drops are dated 2002!"

"Oh, that'll be ok," I said. "I'm sure they're fine. Please may I keep th..."

"And what the heck is this? And this? And this?" came the snapped response. Now she had her hand on her hip and was tapping her foot so I knew she meant business. "In the bin, all of it! And no dumpster-diving!"


I will have to find a new hiding place for my 1999 vintage eardrops.

16 September 2016

Harmony and nostalgia

Tonight I watched a BBC documentary about The Everly Brothers. It didn't tell me anything I didn't already know but those sweet voices got under my skin. There is something about brotherly voices, a baritone and a tenor singing one third apart on the scale, something in the DNA ensures a perfect blend.

It was the entrance to a wormhole from which I have only emerged two hours later. After the documentary I delved into distant parts of my music archive to seek more harmony. A big dose of Buddy Holly, a dash of The Beatles, and I'm wallowing in half a century of nostalgia. What's this dad? The girls were curious. Resisting calls for Taylor Swift I persevered with a medley of The Beach Boys' Californian genius. Remarkable that bitter in-fighting and drug-fueled arguments should produce such enduring melodies. Then Barbara Ann got all our feet tapping.

After a while I realised I had been singing loudly for longer than I can recently remember. I hope the neighbours shared my enthusiasm. After a further brief run through Blondie's hits and a detour via Cockney Rebel and Squeeze I decided our time in 50's 60's and 70's harmony was up. The spell was broken. But it can (and will) be cast again.

31 July 2016


6:30 and a glorious summer morning, perfect for an early grocery shopping expedition. There would be few people around; just how I like it. So I roused the girls and marched them, sleepy-eyed and stumbling, to the car.

"Aren't the roads lovely and quiet this morning girls," I remarked into the rear view mirror. (That's because it's Sunday, the little voice in my head affirmed.) "I love Sundays!" I said aloud. "I'll get my groceries in peace and quiet, far from humankind, and be home in time to watch the Formula 1 motor race from Germany."

I cruised along the deserted streets of Charlottetown, all the while patting myself on the back for my foresight until we swung into the Superstore parking lot. It was empty. The huge sign reminded me Sundays, 12:00 - 17:00. I muttered an internal Fuck!

"Sorry girls, for waking you so early. Right now I'm the only idiot in the whole of Canada driving with his shopping bags and shopping list to a closed store." There came no reply.

A little later as we rounded the corner by Ellen's Creek Maisie asked, "Daddy, what's the opposite of idiot?! "Genius," I asserted. One good thing is, I would definitely be home in time for the German Grand Prix. Yes, genius!

07 May 2016

In celebration of Naked Gardening. (I think!)

World Naked Gardening Day is a recent tradition for the first Saturday of May, encouraging us to tend our gardens au naturel, a curious yet alluring notion in which I participated with gusto, diving into the great outdoors, fork and hoe in hand, wearing only a winsome smile. What could possibly go wrong?
Some months ago, the custom of vacuuming in my birthday suit was exposed after Susan caught me red-handed (and bare-cheeked) skipping around my apartment clutching my hose and crevice tool, so venturing into the great outdoors was surely a logical progression.
I wish this event were held a tad later in the growing season, then my neighbourhood might resound to cries such as, "nice cucumber, sir!" Or "impressive hollyhocks, my friend!" And "I see your gherkins are coming on nicely, gentlemen!" However, custodians of this celebratory date have dictated May, and we all know nature is not gloriously rampant at this time of year, in fact it can be decidedly shrivelled. But it's not what you've got, it's how you garden with it which counts, so...
"Hello there, neighbour. I notice you're trimming your bush, Ma'am!" I called. She was clipping her Forsythia and my double entendre was likely lost on her as she was fully clothed. "Careful with those shears when it comes to 'the lady garden' Ma'am!" I offered with a chuckle. She gave me the stink-eye.
Oh well, I myself intended to mark the day 'renewing my earthly bonds' and was sure others would soon join in. It was time to fire up the weed-wacker. I yanked the crank, announcing my presence to the world, and skipped merrily along the path to trim up the gooseberry patch.
Caught up in the emotion of the moment, the early spring breeze ruffling my seed packet, I pranced from spot to spot, relishing the gorgeous, trouserless freedom of the day. Bugger the gardening, I thought and for no reason other than sheer exhibitionism I sprinted the length of the lawn. Had this been a running race I might well have been disqualified - for 'flapping' into lane two.

When gardening, you can lose yourself in daydreams and it's easy to forget you are as naked as the day you were born. So when I switched off, and the deafening sound of silence descended, I was startled to see a row of grinning faces peering over my fence. I'm sure at least two had binoculars out and one was scribbling notes with a pencil, or was it a field sketch.

"That reminds me. Meat and two veg for dinner tonight," one remarked.

"Sausage for me!" cackled another. At that, I clutched 'Mr. Sniffles', acutely aware I was the only one marginally under-dressed (albeit impeccably manscaped).

The wail of a police siren; then a cruiser pulled up.

"Move along. Nothing to see here, folks," the cop observed.

Girding my loins, I galloped for my door calling out limply, "Forgive me, officer. It's all been a dreadful mistake."

Oh no! Did I get the day wrong?