17 December 2012

The Man in My Basement, Walter Mosley


 
Charles, a black man with no job and no future is approached by Anniston, a mysterious white man with a strange request. He wants to rent Charles's basement for four months and offers $50,000 which to Charles represents salvation from his creditors.
 
While straightening out the basement in preparation for his lodger, Charles discovers hundreds of items stored by his long dead ancestors, artefacts which an expert tells him are very valuable as they represent a significant period in Negro history.
 
Anniston moves in and takes up residence in the basement as a willing prisoner in a specially constructed metal cage. After selling some of his heirlooms Charles is no longer so financially dependent on Anniston and subtle changes take place in their relationship. The author introduces themes of race, sin and atonement and in a curious role reversal there are echoes of black slavery with Charles the black gaoler and Anniston his white prisoner.
 
This is a deceptively simple book yet is in fact multi-layered and dense with allegory. As a modern fable, the tale which unfolds is eerie and unsettling. Mosley's writing is precise and uncluttered and he has created memorable characters here.

04 December 2012

making CD cases


These are downloads I burned to disc. The double discs required an adjustment to my patented homemade card cases. A few minutes tinkering with my template in MS Word and I printed a test copy. Good stuff, they work. Then I fiddled with RGB colour settings to match the album covers and filled the remainder of the design with the same colour. Finally I printed the resulting artwork on white card stock and the disc surfaces to match.
 
It’s quite a while since I listened to Hefner but inspired by recently getting back into front man Darren Hayman’s solo work I downloaded from DH’s site the latest incarnations of some of the band’s albums, double disc sets coming in at a whopping forty tracks each. So there are plenty of session outtakes, b-sides and acoustic versions etc.  The material is barely a decade old and has stood the test of time well. Darren Hayman is a hardworking Essex lad with an ear for melody and a lyrical turn of phrase that beautifully captures the minutiae of everyday life and the people who populate it.
 
Just need to find time to listen to them now!

22 November 2012

fibromyalgia and running

A condition some believe may be fictitious or at least exaggerated. Try it for a while and see. The pain is intense and debilitating yet the only visible signs are a slight swelling and a warmth to the touch. Let's not overlook the psychological effects either, the miserable impact of an inability to perform simple physical tasks. Since leaving my job in financial services, which was at times stressful, my own fibromyalgia has receded. It lurks unfelt behind the scenes – and in the connective tissue – occasionally for months at a time. Such was the suddenness of my initial relief that I took a whole new lease on life.

There are fourteen medically acknowledged points around the body which can typically be affected by swelling, stiffness and pain but my condition is mostly restricted to the upper body, elbows mainly but also jaw, neck, shoulders, wrists and fingers. Flare-ups returned at times of anxiety and sometimes for no apparent reason but eventually held off long enough for me to take up running five years ago, something that would have been unthinkable before. Vigorous exercise has had no adverse effect on me, in fact quite the opposite. I am convinced that running hard, often for hours at a time has brought big benefits all round, proof that my old doctor Bernie Bedford was right when he told me, ‘there’s no contra-indication to exercise’.

It’s not all plain sailing. Bouts drop out of the blue, stay for up to forty-eight hours then mysteriously vanish but a combination of diet, sleep and exercise seems to hold the condition at bay. Still something unexpected will arrive. On Sunday I ran a half marathon in two hours one and a half minutes, a personal best by thirty seconds, and felt great afterwards. Two days later on Monday I noticed a dull pain developing in my right hip, definitely not post-run pain, I know all about that. During the night I awoke hourly, grunting and grimacing as I tossed and turned unable to find relief from the pain. By Tuesday morning I could barely put weight on my right leg and I limped all day. Wednesday morning... gone, and I ran five miles in forty-two minutes averaging 7mph.

***

I have just finished reading two books about self-editing for writers. I was aware while I read that I already employ some of the suggested techniques but I learnt new and excellent ideas. Today I started James Lee Burke’s Pegasus Descending and saw from the first paragraph the advice I had recently received put to beautiful and thrilling use. It is without doubt possible to learn the craft of the novelist but takes a lifetime of practice to challenge Burke's lyrical prose.

08 November 2012

writing a novel


In recent weeks I have settled down to write. I had several ideas on my mind and I began by refining them into workable plots: a fast-paced thriller with science fiction aspects; a deep study in character and ‘coming-of-age’; a mystery within a tangle of modern relationships; and a slightly supernatural tale with elements of time shift.
 
I chose one of these and wrote the preliminary draft of a first chapter, a hook baited to attract the curious reader. I quite liked the idea and set about the necessary leg work. Using Excel worksheets I fleshed out personalities for seven or eight characters, giving them appearances, habits, backgrounds and lifestyles, oh – and names. Fortunately there are many Internet resources which help with name popularity in given decades. Next I drew up a timeline of events (a very useful tool for a story that might span a couple of decades).
 
I was keen to get cracking but no, now I needed to research locations and residences. I took screen shots of street maps. To help me with character definition I also saved images of males and females who looked right for the roles I had in mind for them.
 
Ready to write? No, not quite. I wanted a way of keeping track of this project as it grows. My good friend Excel provided the platform to keep records. I have a workbook with columns for chapter, scene, time and date, setting, action and characters. I have set up hyperlinks from the spreadsheet to the relevant Word Documents where my initial writing sits.
 
You’d think I’d be ready to let the pen fly by now... well, nearly. I doubled the length of the first chapter but changed most of the characters’ names and revised the timeline significantly. Best to do all that before getting in too deep, right? I started a second chapter. It may not end up as chapter two because I haven’t decided the narrative order yet. By the way, I have written so far from a third person point of view. That’s ok isn’t it? It enables me to cover the actions and thoughts of everyone.
 
Last night I began rewriting, this time in the first person, and found that being able to delve deeper into the character of the protagonist was a great improvement. There are obviously constraints, the main character can only relay what he has seen and experienced himself. However there are subtle ways of delivering information that lies outside his knowledge and that can make for interesting dialogue.
 
So, now I am trying to choose between first and third person points of view. To rewrite a large chunk from a different viewpoint would require full scale restructuring so I am halting progress while I decide. When it all gets too much I pull on my shorts and trainers and run. It feels good.

01 November 2012

piecing the clues together

 
As something of a jigsaw puzzle fiend I was pleased to find this one by acclaimed Austrian puzzle maker Piatnik in our local thrift store. Usual approach, sift out and start on the edge pieces. That was the only familiar aspect to a challenge that turned out to be the hardest puzzle I’ve come across. What next..? There were no colours to collect, no sky. So I progressed by gathering pieces with vertical lines, those representing the ends of bars. After much effort I had a skeletal framework. So much for the easy part!
 

A click on the Piatnik site revealed this example is sixth on their seven-tier difficulty scale – Extreme - but it isn’t in my nature to be beaten. I dug seriously deep within my limited knowledge of music notation. Easy enough to sort out the alphabetic dynamics but when I ran out of these I hit the slurs and ties (curved lines), rests and clefs etc. Eventually I had to work through the remaining large pile of staves and notes.
 
A few minutes here and there totalling maybe an hour a day and fourteen days later I slipped the final piece into place... well there are four ominous gaps. What can you expect from a cheapie.



15 October 2012

Prince Edward Island Marathon 2012

Race day report, photos and a first for Buick City Complex, video!
 


I awoke to the insistent buzz of the alarm at 4:35am. It’s fair to say I like to prepare early. Breakfast was a bowl of porridge oats followed by toast and jam with two cups of tea. Next I ran a hot bath and sank in to soften my muscles. After rubbing warming embrocation cream into my leg muscles, lubrication gel into sensitive areas that might chafe and moisturising lotion into my face, I was as ready as I would ever be.

At a leisurely pace I pulled on my Lycra running gear and pinned on my race bib. There are several things I need to take with me on long runs and I stuffed the small pouch on my drinks belt with lip balm, two energy gels, jelly beans, tissues and a mileage chart I had printed and laminated listing various kilometer markers and split times and a water bottle of course.

 
 
Michelle drove me to Brackley Beach. We parked at 7:30am and wandered among the milling throng of athletes. Luckily it had stayed dry although the claimed one degree Celsius felt very cold in a stiff westerly wind. At the gun I set off at a gentle pace, deliberately holding back the temptation to surge ahead with all that pent up energy from four hundred miles of dedicated training.
 

I was passed by dozens of runners on the long straight drag of Gulf Shore Parkway and as always was struck by their variety of shapes, styles and colourful running gear. Some wore just a vest and shorts while others were bundled under coats, hats and gloves. We ran parallel to the shore and between the dunes I could see a fair surf. The Island event attracts fewer than three hundred runners (for the full marathon) and all are enthusiastic amateurs, no cartoon characters or runners with horses’ heads here. The winner will cross the line in just over two and a half hours but a mere mortal like me will require a couple of hours longer.

I checked off the kilometer markers, comparing them with my chart. I was on my planned schedule and feeling good. By ten kilometers no one was passing me; we had settled into our respective grooves. After a hot summer of sweating profusely through training runs it was a change to feel cool and dry. Truthfully it was cold and I wished I had worn my long sleeve shirt. I took sips from my water bottle and picked up Gatorade at several stations. I sucked down energy gel, trying not to gag and washing it down with water.


As I ran across the halfway mark my watch read two hours seventeen minutes and as my tentative goal was four hours thirty-five minutes, I was running at the right pace, to within a couple of seconds a mile. Michelle had driven out to cheer me on at halfway and for a while she ran alongside in her rain boots, offering me a bite of a Snickers bar and handing me the peanut butter and jam sandwich I had made before dawn.

The second leg of the route swings off the road onto a section of the Confederation Trail, a former railroad. The tracks were lifted twenty-five years ago and the lines given over to hiking and biking. It’s great for running because the locomotives required gentle gradients which are now runner-friendly.

 
My consistent pace began to draw me closer to runners who had passed me earlier but were now starting to flag. Traditionally you hit the ‘wall’ around kilometer thirty, mile twenty, but I still felt strong and started overhauling those who were beginning to struggle. I counted a total of twenty-five runners as I passed them. All those ridiculously big plates of potatoes or pasta had stocked up my muscles.

Eight miles of trail running, flanked by trees in full autumn foliage, gave shelter from the wind but as I turned onto Brackley Point Road for the uphill grind to the airport I felt very cold for the first time. The wind was strong and head-on. My right eye lost focus but I wasn’t concerned, the right turn onto Sherwood with its steep hill down then up took me closer to home.

The left turn onto University Avenue was both a psychological boost because the final three miles are a dead straight line to the finish and a physical boost because the wind swung round to my right shoulder. Crossing the various intersections was easy as traffic cops were out in force holding up cars and barricading the final section of the route.

University Avenue may be straight as an arrow but it is also undulating. Those rolling slopes are steep for a tired runner but I held my pace and checked my watch again: four hours seventeen minutes with three kilometers to go. University was closed to traffic and I ran on the centre line, all the while watching the finishing banner loom closer against the backdrop of Province House.

video

The race announcer boomed out my name with a hundred metres to go and I spotted Michelle, Maisie and Kathleen holding a huge “Go Daddy” sign and cheering loudly.  I waved and forged on to the line finishing in four hours thirty-eight minutes. A silver space blanket, a finisher’s medal and happy faces awaited me.

I came two hundred and fiftieth out of a total of two hundred and seventy-five finishers and twenty-seventh out of the thirty-seven males in my age category. More importantly I sliced seventeen minutes off my previous best which is down to better diet and hydration both in the preceding weeks and in the race, fewer training runs over sixteen miles and a lighter starting weight. I still lost almost four pounds in weight during the marathon, hardly surprising as I burned off three thousand eight hundred calories! After a lazy afternoon, another long hot bath and a huge supper, I settled the girls into bed at 8pm and went straight to bed myself to sleep soundly for nine hours. I feel stiff and sore today, particularly my right Achilles tendon and my left knee but I have energy and feel in pretty good shape.

Well, that’s it for this year. We’ll see what next year brings.

09 October 2012

master chef!

During the past six years I have begun to learn the basics of cooking and baking, nothing spectacular but hopefully a little more appetising than microwaved ready meals!
 
cheese and onion baked potatoes with baked beans
 
home made hash brown breakfast fries
 
chocolate Victoria sponge cake
 
vegetable curry with white rice
 
flapjacks
  
pizza with veggie dogs, pineapple and peppers
 
white loaf

30 September 2012

the missing piece

 
I knew from early on that there was at least one piece missing; a creamy yellow piece of flesh would have stood out like a sore thumb among a box full of blacks. What the heck, I ploughed on. The only way to solve the black areas was to sort the pieces into shape-types thereby reducing the number of unnecessary 'tries'.

As usual the snowball effect came into play and the final hundred pieces slotted in quickly. I offered Maisie the honour of inserting the final piece which she did although pointed out there was still one more to go! I explained a previous owner had been less than diligent when returning the broken down puzzle to its box; leaving the missing piece probably with the dust bunnies under someone's couch.

Today was my last long run before the marathon on 14th October, twelve miles in two hours exactly. Seventeen Celsius at 6:30am, soft drizzle and one hundred per cent humidity all conspired to make it a tough run. For the next two weeks I'll only be running half a dozen five and six milers to let my muscles heal and rebuild.

26 September 2012

mona lisa


I’m tackling a one thousand piece jigsaw puzzle of the famous painting, ‘Mona Lisa’. Sifting the pieces into piles of colour brought home to me how limited Da Vinci’s palette was for this masterpiece. Sky, flesh tones and distant landscape are three distinct colours in a range of shades but even those are pale and muted. The remainder, probably fifty per cent of the canvas is basically dark brown and black.

I raced through the edge pieces and the head and shoulders, slowed on the landscape and sky and have ground to a dozen pieces a day on the rest. To add to the challenge, my board accommodates the puzzle with just millimeters to spare resulting in frequent expletives as I nudge sections onto the carpet.

However I will persevere and eventually see the whole picture. I seldom if ever give up on a task I have set myself and will do it thoroughly and completely. I say completely but it remains to be seen whether all pieces are present and correct, this puzzle having come second hand from Value Village!
***

My time in Canada has flown fast and already I am eligible to apply for citizenship. Today I collated the necessary forms, documents, fees, cards and photos and sealed them in an envelope bound for Sydney, Nova Scotia. The forms came from a limited monochrome palette and the envelope was a drab beige.
***

The Prince Edward Island marathon is on 14th October. I have stuck steadfastly to my training schedule and feel in good shape. There’s a nagging ‘but’ lurking here and it’s making me wait until nearer the time to register. Last weekend’s eighteen mile run found me in some trouble. I was exhausted and reduced to walking for a couple of two minute, uphill stretches. At home I felt nauseous, light headed and was running a temperature.
 
There is a chance this was just a dose of whatever the young girls had last week but more worryingly it might be symptomatic of the wrong diet and insufficient hydration, both issues I thought I had dealt with. At the risk of boring my few long-suffering readers I will continue to run, eat and drink and try to come out the other end somewhere.
***

It’s too dark to tell the dark black pieces from the merely black and as I’m very tired today, I’m heading for an early night.

12 September 2012

morning runner

Orion hung low and large in the Southern sky as I closed the door softly behind me and padded out into the dark at 5:30am. I had risen early in an attempt to beat the sticky heat. It was a comfortable sixteen Celsius but as soon as I turned onto the sidewalk the humidity hit me. The start of my regular route north involves a steady half mile incline on Maypoint Road. As my loop today would be over sixteen miles I took the rise slowly but by the time I crossed the Trans-Canada Highway I was breathing hard and already sweating.
 
I trotted across the empty four-lane highway and headed on into the warm blackness. After thirty minutes I reached the three mile mark and slipped unseen onto Sleepy Hollow Road. This was the last time I would hit the ten minute mile pace. I use this course regularly and can peel off the broadly oval route towards home at many points resulting in runs ranging from eight to eighteen miles. So, I know the mile markers by heart and once I reached the Confederation Trail close to the Jail I dropped to 10m 15secs a mile with legs like lead and lungs like creaky bellows. My Lycra shirt and shorts were soaked. The Trail grew more familiar as starlight faded but everywhere was silent as the grave and I minimised the crunch of my footfalls by keeping to the grassy fringe.
 

I had eaten plenty of carbs the previous day and forced down a bowl of oats first thing but I was out of energy. I took regular pulls from the drinks bottle that sits in a belt-mounted pocket behind me and swallowed a sachet of energy gel after ten miles but something was decidedly wrong. I let my mind empty to find that zone where the right pace is effortless. I counted my steps and timed my breaths to them – one inhale to three paces and one exhale to three paces. Right, left, right – left, right, left. After a short while the hypnotic effect worked and I closed my eyes to run blind for ten seconds at a time.

It was 7:30am and broad daylight as I reached the eleven mile point where the Trail terminates at the Ghiz Park in downtown Charlottetown. The yielding surface of the Trail gave way to the harsh jarring of pavement and I made my way across town to Victoria Park. There I picked up the boardwalk and ran beside the harbour for a thousand yards, slowing all the time until mile thirteen when my dead legs gave up.

I walked for two minutes and downed the last of my water. My left foot was screaming from a long-standing, intermittent injury, my thighs were on fire and salty sweat made my eyes sting. Gently I settled back into a slow jog and climbed fifty feet above sea level. As the gradient steepened I walked again and realised heavy grey clouds had gathered. The road leveled and I jogged again to mile fifteen when a thick drizzle began to fall. After a short walk to cross the light Sunday morning traffic on North River Road I set off running on the long descent to Ellens Creek Bridge.

Another minute of walking up the sharp rise away from the creek then I was running the final half mile up Beach Grove Road. At 16.36 miles this is the second longest training run in my marathon preparation and at two hours and fifty minutes is below the pace I anticipate for a four and a half hour marathon. I’ve run it twice before, ten minutes quicker. I put the lacklustre performance down to a combination of lack of sleep, insufficient to eat and drink both on the day and the previous day plus drenching eighty per cent humidity.

PS: I drank two pints of water, had a hot bath, slept for two hours then ate a large lunch and began to feel considerably better. The following day I suffered no ill effects and ran five miles in forty-five minutes. Making time to stretch my leg muscles thoroughly after Sunday’s run had probably kept any delayed-onset-muscle-soreness at bay the next day. I think I need to eat more the day before long runs. At one hundred and sixty-six pounds I’m about eight pounds lighter than a year ago despite adding considerable calf and thigh muscle mass.

31 August 2012

a post Olympic view London 2012



I have a bad case of Olympic fever. For sixteen days I lived the action: charged up the hundred metre straight, gasped breaths between strokes in the pool, grunted with each tennis serve, panted and grimaced my way to impossible weight lifts and span my imaginary pedals at the velodrome. I should be exhausted but no, I’m still on a high.

The sporting achievements were truly impressive but these days world records are nothing unless delivered with glamour. The athletics showcase events, the 100m and 200m sprints, threw up almost predictably stunning results by Usain Bolt and his Jamaican cohorts but did you check out the diamond earrings, the gold neck chains and the designer sunglasses colour coded to match the one-piece Lycra suits.

The price of failure is high and with this in mind competitors were spurred to ridiculous lengths. At least two weight lifters were all but crushed beneath the crippling weight of their loaded bars; the coach of the losing Russian women’s volleyball team has since committed suicide.

However with former middle-distance track giant Seb Coe at the helm it was never in doubt that London 2012 would deliver big. For Team GB Andy Murray was always going to thrash arch-nemesis Roger Federer at Wimbledon; Mo Farah was destined to overhaul all his African cousins in the 5k and 10k; Chris Hoy simply HAD to pedal his bike to a record fifth Gold and little Jessica Ennis was nothing less than a certainty for the women’s heptathlon – a gilt-edged, copper-bottomed dead cert!

I can’t take some events seriously: beach volleyball is a cross between sunbathing and soft porn; rhythmic gymnastics (while doubtless a highly demanding physical triumph) could be dismissed as girly ball-bouncing and ribbon-jiggling; I’ve never watched it but sailing is probably just a few laps round the Isle of Wight and a nice glass of Chianti; BMX biking was something we did over the common and got punctures – (hey, don’t you know your saddle’s way too low?); table tennis, good grief we played that at the Youth Club as teenagers and now the Chinese seem to dominate the world!

This Olympiad was not without a wryly comical side, for me at least. I was still shaking my head in disbelief at yet another flawless dive leaving barely a ripple in the Aquatic Centre when the commentator (doubtless some chlorine-soaked old wrinkly) hooted in derision at the over-rotation, loose shoulders and general sloppiness of the performance. Diving beauty is clearly in the eye of the beholder.
 
In this age of visual excess and clamour for Warhol’s fifteen minutes The Games were a platform for the movers and shakers to be seen moving and shaking. No opportunity was wasted by competitors, reporters, statesmen, celebrities or spectators to see and be seen. Prime Minister-in-waiting and friendly buffoon Boris Johnson even gauged a period of comical suspension from a zip wire would do his self-promotion no harm at all and he was probably right.

04 August 2012

crazy olympics report london 2012


I find it difficult to imagine Apollo squeezing into his Speedos for a few sets of beach volleyball; Hermes mounting his stallion for some ‘horsey-dancing’or Poseidon and Heracles adjusting their noseclips as they prepare to start their synchronised swimming routine...


The first Olympic Games for the Twitter and Facebook generation has produced some crazy stuff. Clues that this was a ‘modern’ Games came at the Opening Ceremony; teenage Olympians marching in the entry parade, their iPhones held aloft capturing video instead of/as well as soaking up the atmosphere of a lifetime.

I thought the Opening Ceremony, despite media criticisms, presented Great Britain to the world in a strong light. Above the spectacular Olympic Stadium remotely controlled cameras scuttled like big black beetles on a network of high wires to beam pictures of the visual feast from every conceivable angle. TV viewers had sumptuous views from inside, outside and above the stadium without having to stump up an eye-watering £2,100 pounds for the most expensive tickets in the house.

I’m watching the spectacle from Canada. There’s a bias in the TV coverage towards events favoured in Canada and The States and commercials appear every few minutes. I hear regular references to landmarks such as Bucking-HAM Palace. Those irritations aside, at least I have five Olympic TV channels, including three in hi-definition, plus plenty of unofficial streaming online so I have most events covered. Reports tell me the Brits are infuriated with some crass home commentary and insensitive interviewing. Another sign of the times is the stinking army of British Trolls unleashing verbal campaigns against British athletes on Twitter and in online comments threads everywhere. It seems Silver is regarded as abject failure. The prospect of a Canadian disrespecting a Canadian athlete seems unthinkable.

Call me an old traditionalist but Track and Field are where the true spirit of the Olympics lies. I’ll be watching the athletics with keen interest from this weekend onwards.

The Mad
  • Gymnasts using little water pistols to spray the Uneven Bars (By the way, when did we stop calling them the Asymmetric Bars?)
  • The trampolinists whistling shrilly with each breath. (Is it just me or did her hips look a bit soggy?)
  • Swimmers wearing TWO caps, one on top of the other. (Never venture out without your undercap!)
The Bad
  • Badminton players expelled for trying to lose.
  • Athletes naively posting scans of their Olympic security passes online.
  • Olympic officials who allegedly charged a barely credible £19,000 to expenses for a single bottle of 1853 vintage Cognac.
The Sad
  • The civilian cyclist tragically crushed under an Olympic shuttle bus on Thursday.
I can’t help but wonder what that mythical god and resident of Mount Olympus, Zeus would make of twenty-first century shenanigans: Olympians stabbing away at smart phones or wearing giant headphones as they saunter into the arena. Everywhere style vies with substance for supremacy and you can be forgiven for thinking competitors are awarded marks for fingernail flag painting, naval jewellery, sparkliest shoes and wackiest cycling helmet. Despite all the silly trappings of modernity, athletic cream will rise to the surface and I’m sure there will be some truly momentous performances.

16 June 2012

the way we were

When you look in the mirror what do you see?

06 June 2012

queen


In 1973, as an impressionable sixteen-year-old, I saw Mott the Hoople in concert at the Bournemouth Winter Gardens. Needless to say it was a riotous occasion with the band riding high on the successes of “All the Way From Memphis” and the Bowie-penned anthem “All the Young Dudes”. The supporting act that night was an obscure British band by the name of Queen.

Queen’s eponymous first album had failed to make a serious mark but the new single “Seven Seas of Rhye”, taken from their upcoming second album, was causing a stir. In those days bands didn’t headline a tour until they were fully established but after the second leg of the ‘73/’74 tour with Mott the Hoople in North America, Queen would never again play second fiddle.

In 1971 legend has it that Freddie Mercury sang with his back to the audience, such was his lack of confidence. Well, how things would change! By the time of Queen II Freddie had evolved into a dazzling showman, strutting and preening in a way no one before him had. His was a unique and towering stage presence who demanded attention. And the songs themselves did too, for Freddie was the band’s primary songwriter and a highly accomplished pianist.

I left the theatre that night a convert to the Queen cause. The next album “Sheer Heart Attack” marched further into pop territory while retaining Brian May’s metallic guitar riffs and set Queen on the launching pad for stardom. In 1975, just as the short-lived glam-rock era began to wane, and the dogs of punk were sniffing at the door, Queen released their magnum opus, the genre-bending “A Night at the Opera”. With nods to hard rock, music hall, progressive rock, shiny pop and rock opera, the disc was a showcase for Freddie’s lyrical and vocal prowess and Brian May’s scorching guitar.

Reputedly the most expensive record at the time ever to emerge from a recording studio, it propelled Queen into the stratosphere, became their best-selling album, and for many including the band themselves, it was their defining work. It produced the epic single Bohemian Rhapsody, which went on to become the third-best selling single in the history of the British pop charts (behind Elton John’s Candle in the Wind and Band Aid’s Do They Know it’s Christmas – both specific ‘period pieces’). Love it or hate it, many of us can still sing along to the poetic lyrics.

“Opera” set in motion a train of four albums that set Queen apart from all other artists of the time. Straddling the genres of arena rock, ballads, hard rock and vaudeville, they were without equal in terms of intellect, musicianship, stagecraft and public image. From 1974 until 1980 they could do no wrong and both the British and American music press were filled with stories of their wild excesses both on and off stage.

But at the end of the decade it was like a switch had been thrown and the eighties ushered in a new era. Guitars were out of favour, ice-cold synths ruled the scene. Queen maintained a dedicated following but their day was done. Several huge radio-friendly singles kept their name in view but by the time of Freddie’s untimely death in 1991 the band was a shadow of its former self.

Incredible how a style of music can surge and roar then reach a wild crescendo and ebb away as fast as it arrived. Fortunately we are left with several concert videos from the late seventies and early eighties so can relive Freddie Mercury’s powerful and melodic voice; see the way he held an audience of seventy-thousand in the palm of his hand and lose ourselves in the astonishing spectacle which was, simply Queen.

30 May 2012

Flickring around town

I'm using my Flickr account as a repository for my Charlottetown summer photographic project. I'll record architecture, street views and landmarks. So far I have uploaded photos tagged 'churches', 'shops' and 'street views'. I have a big collection already in my digital archives and will upload more groups each month. Diary and weather permitting, I am venturing out before 6AM on Sunday mornings onto peopleless streets to fill gaps in my record.

24 May 2012

Photos on Flickr

From now I plan to upload all photos to my Flickr account instead of to my photo blog Thru the Lens.

09 May 2012

a day in the life of

5:00am small girls burst into the bedroom
5:15am make jam sandwiches and drinks for said small girls
5:20am stack away dry dishes
5:30am bowl of cereal
5:45am break up fight between small girls
5:46am threaten to turn off TV
5:47am peace breaks out
6:00am decide it’s too early to use the washer & dryer
7:00am start load of laundry
7:30am switch to dryer
9:00am strip and launder bedding
9:30am bid farewell to small girls and M – departing for playgroup
10:00am vacuum apartment
10:20am wash breakfast dishes
10:30am remake bed
10:45am rip two audio books (20 CDs) to laptop
12:00am settle smallest girl for nap following return from playgroup
12:30pm grocery shopping
2:00pm 10k run (59m 23s)
3:20pm bath
4:00pm bake loaf of bread
5:00pm chop & prepare salad for supper
5:30pm supper
6:00pm baths & hair washes for small girls
6:20pm pyjamas (for small girls of course)
6:30pm Coronation St and supervise play (tricky)
7:00pm bid goodnight to M (sleeping before night shift)
7:30pm brush small girls’ teeth, brush hair
7:35pm read bedtime story
7:45pm read riot act (re staying in bed)
7:50pm lights out
7:51pm stretch out on couch with music
9:00pm DVD/TV
10:30pm bed
10:31pm audio book on iPod
10:32pm fall asleep after 2 sentences of audio book
11:59pm wake to find M has left for nursing night shift

---

5:00am repeat to fade

11 April 2012

busy doing nothing


St Paul's Anglican Church, Charlottetown

I haven’t done much of anything lately. There’s been too much snow and ice to run and cycling’s out of the question until May at least. Even walking isn’t pleasant. Roads are dirty and stubborn snow heaps are still melting into puddles that are slow to soak away.

Abdominal pain hasn’t helped. I’ve had two bouts of serious pain. It comes in waves like cramp and at its worst leaves me doubled over, sweating and almost breathless. My digestion arrangements were all over the place and I lost my appetite. Eventually I went to the ER and had blood and urine tests followed by x-rays and a CT scan. None of these were conclusive but the doc treated me as if it might be diverticulitis. Antibiotics have helped and the pain has loosened its grip leaving me with mild discomfort.

All in all, sluggish is a fair assessment.

In addition to testing the recovery of my running injury when both warmer weather and better health arrive, I have a couple of projects sitting in the wings. In particular I want to make a photographic record of the principal buildings in Charlottetown. This may run to a few hundred images. There are many churches, government offices, historic buildings, shops, restaurants, public amenities, education and healthcare establishments as well as beautiful old homes full of architectural detail, some restored and others in decay. Several sunny mornings from 5AM onwards should do the trick. I will need to photograph some facades from the west though, which will require the light of evening expeditions.

Audio books continue to be a big source of entertainment. Lately I’ve listened to books that I had read before and found I took more from them this time round, especially those I had previously read aloud. Reading aloud requires more looking ahead than one might imagine and while you’re checking the remaining path of the sentence you don’t listen to yourself reading the first half. You hear but don’t listen. Authors narrating their own work brings a nice personal touch but isn’t always the best idea. Jon Krakauer reads his firsthand account of the 1996 Everest tragedy at breakneck speed, while Alice Sebold reads Lucky and The Lovely Bones in a dull monotone. I’m currently listening to The Secret Life of Bees. I enjoyed the story a few years ago but the narrator Jenna Lamia breathes new life into it, positively owning the first person character Lily, a true ‘performance.’

28 February 2012

a wintry chill

Sliding back the living room blinds revealed a thick and swirling snowstorm and the radio declared a “snow day” for the island. I peered out of the girls’ bedroom window down into the parking lot and saw, wonder of wonders, it had been ploughed, although a fresh cover was accumulating.

I could set aside taking care of the girls for the morning as Michelle was off work. Firstly I called the Royal Mail in London to query an error on their website which was preventing me from ordering stamps. The agent was able to replicate the error and said it was a big problem that would have to be addressed at a higher level. Their newly revised site won’t recognise any two letter State or Province codes for Canada or the USA. I placed an order for some miniature sheets by phone this time.

I phoned the gym at Stratford and listened to a recorded message confirming the gym was open today so I slipped into running gear and trotted down to the car. Minus ten felt like minus twenty in a strong northerly wind. I pulled the snow brush from the car and hurriedly began sweeping four inches off the roof, bonnet and boot (note the sensible English terms).

The snow crunched under my wheels as I nosed the car round the apartment building, guided by the deep frozen tyre ruts as if on rails. Once on the main road I realized the lack of traffic flow on this “snow day” had left the roads particularly dangerous. I braked gently and early everywhere. Fine snow drift was whipping off roofs. After a thirty minute drive that usually takes twenty I pulled into the Stratford Recreation Centre and slithered the small Kia to a halt between two menacing trucks.

Only a handful of brave souls had made the determined trek to the gym so I had my pick of the equipment. I spent twenty minutes on the elliptical cross trainer, settling into a rhythm and watching my heart rate climb to one hundred and forty-five. Today’s sparse attendance meant scant opportunity for people-watching but soon one newcomer arrived. I saw her study some wall charts then do a few stretches before setting off round the track at a jog. Shock, horror – the wrong way! Walkers use the inside lane and runners the outside but in opposite directions. It’s safer to see a faster person approaching from in front than behind.

The elliptical beeped an announcement that my session had ended and after spraying and wiping the surfaces clean I sauntered towards the track. I stopped at the barrier to stretch and waited for our newcomer to pass. She was a tall, leggy blond with a giraffe-like gait. I caught her eye and motioned to speak to her. She slowed and pointing to the direction instructions I gently suggested that today we were running clockwise. Most apologetically she turned gracefully on her toes and headed off the other way. Naturally this encounter was conducted with all the tact and diplomacy befitting an Englishman.

I dialled in a new album by Delta Spirit on my iPod and set off after the giraffe. Within a few laps I had closed in on her. I ran thirty-one and a half laps which is precisely two and a half miles and passed her three times in the process. My foot was beginning to twinge so I peeled off and sat for a few moments, sweating liberally. I remounted the elliptical and completed another twenty minutes before calling it a day.

An hour and a half of thaw with rising temperatures made the return journey less tricky. I sank gratefully into a hot bath and emerged pink and sparkling to find Michelle dishing up fried eggs on toast for lunch - a much needed energy boost.

02 February 2012

the days of our lives

look back, what life will you see?
a fleeing pinpoint of violent light,
shrinking into eternity,
the sum of your efforts amounting to nil.

when bone and lust are laid to dust
under some fated reaper’s gaze,
is your mark in bold relief or just
the faintest murmur of a trace?

glittering exploits will not matter
today’s fat sun is the golden prize.
seize grief and love with equal might
for these are the days of our lives.