16 October 2017

Nova Scotia Road Trip

“Let’s drive the Cabot Trail for the fall colours,” chirped Susan, “and ‘swing by’ Peggy’s Cove, as I’ve never been there before!” No matter that Peggy’s Cove is 400kms west of the Cabot Trail, I mused silently and smiled.
I hastily researched accommodation and discovered that the world and his wife had had a similar notion. Eventually I booked the last room at the Aberdeen Motel in Whycocomagh, Cape Breton, 700km from Charlottetown, via The Confederation Bridge, New Brunswick and Peggy’s Cove, NS!
The weather gods smiled benevolently on us as we headed south, stopping at an Irving Big Stop for breakfast. Half a day later and we were negotiating the remarkable rocky outcrop that is Peggy’s Cove, scene of the tragic 1998 Swiss Air disaster. Coach loads of cruise ship tourists from Halifax joined hundreds of car visitors in filling the narrow, twisting lanes of this attractive yet rugged fishing village. We clambered up the rocks on which the surprisingly small lighthouse stands and admired the natural beauty. We ventured further, onto the flat, blackish slabs. In rough weather these become perilous and many unwary sightseers have been swept into the surging waters never to return. Today the sea was smooth.
We planned a brief trip to Costco at Beyers Lake then spent a frustrating forty-five minutes negotiating a loop of edge-of-town highways, link roads and junctions around Halifax, which afforded brief and distant glimpses of our target before they were snatched repeatedly and cruelly away. Eventually I found the correct lanes, exits, slip roads and ramps and we dashed in to pick up a couple of quick items before joining the queues behind overflowing carts.
With time racing by, the sun fat and low behind us and Whycocomagh still a distant prospect on the map of Cape Breton, we headed east at pace; a brief stop for Subway fare, then ever onwards in fading light, and finally two hours in darkness with oncoming headlights and impatient truckers behind.
Saturday morning dawned grey and cool but the daylight revealed what yesterday's night time drive had not, rolling hills and splendid autumnal shades. We ate at a little coffee shop and diner full of old world charm, local preserves and a range of second hand books. Suitably refreshed we hit the road.
The Cabot Trail is a 285km road encircling Cape Breton Island, its undulating route repeatedly climbing hundreds of feet then dropping again to sea level. To call it a scenic drive is an understatement of epic proportions. Every turn brings fresh vistas that make you gasp and shake your head. How can so much natural wonder be concentrated in one area. The hills are steep and high, clad in mostly broadleaf trees and ablaze with fall colours. Our day was overcast and at times spitting with rain but even this could not diminish the views. We would climb through towering stands of beech and maple, a riot of orange and scarlet and yellow, stop at breath-taking lookouts then rush downhill towards craggy coastlines and rolling white breakers.
The culture of Cape Breton is a curious blend of Scottish, French and Native American resulting in quaint roadside views of tartan, bagpipes, Acadian flags and trinket shacks and barely pronounceable place names. We completed the loop and spent a second night in our old but comfortable motel.
Next morning we set off on a 200km journey westward for the small port of Caribou to board the ferry back to our Island, where the seventy-five minute crossing is free in the homeward direction. We sat up on deck in the late autumn sun watching the waves slip by, never totally out of sight of land. A relaxing end to a wonderful long weekend.

There are a few more photos here.

13 June 2017

Feeding the birds - selectively.

Small birds, which are the intended beneficiaries of my feeders, have lately been chased away by the ever greedy Blue Jays and Common Grackles. Susan and I discussed alternative options to my readily accessible feeders and she came up with a great suggestion. Now, much to my surprise, here it is as a fantastic early Father's Day gift! The outer cage admits small birds to the feeding tube but excludes large bullies. Already the Jays have been round to investigate and, after examining the globe from top to bottom, I'm happy to say they fly off.

The little grey car just leaving is Susan in her new 2017 Nissan Micra on her way to work!

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…