Mike Scott and Wings

19 06 2016

Yeah, yeah, I know Wings was Paul McCartney’s band and you’ve likely no idea who Mike Scott is, but bear with me.

So last night I went to see Lloyd Cole play live in Vancouver with First Born and Mrs. E.

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Now there’s a bit of a story to this. Back in the early 80’s I was at university in Durham and foolishly forewent the opportunity to go and see the upstart Lloyd Cole and the Commotions when they played nearby. Likely Newcastle. I don’t recall… it was after all 30+ years ago! Many years later, in the late 90’s he was still pumping out some great – if somewhat melancholy – music. His style suits my own perfectly, and I’ve always appreciated his deep insightful lyrics… and easily recognise his slight pretensions within myself (not everyone can fit “Simone de Beauvoir” into a song lyric).

I was delighted to learn he was to do a show in Northampton which was an easy drive from Milton Keynes where I lived at the time. I was totally gutted when it was cancelled at the last moment. Years later I even had a brief Twitter exchange with the great man who was kind enough to explain the circumstances.

2016-06-19 (2)

Anyway, this time, it all went smoothly. First Born had to collect her ticket at the venue (thanks Ticketmaster… another example of your stellar service that you charge unreasonable amounts to not provide!) so we got there early. The venue didn’t have a separate “Will Call” window so we ended up in the normal queue for entrance and therefore happily close to the front.

The venue is normally a cinema so we ended up with primo comfy seats in the centre and only a couple of rows back from the stage. We had to wait an hour or so for Mr Cole to make an appearance but that was fine. When he first briefly appeared, it was to set up his own gear (plainly a low budget affair… as hinted at by the venue itself). He does not portray “rock star” at all. More “bored dad”, I’d say. He’d definitely benefit from a stylist though… denim jackets went out with Cool Hand Luke. He’s a few years older than me, but looked fit and well… and in possession of a full head of greying hair. Pretty much the same style as back in the 80’s – kudos.

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Lloyd Cole does his own tuning and sound check

The show was in support of a retrospective boxed set of his music covering 1983-1996 so I was anticipating singing along to every song – highly familiar as I am with his entire catalogue. I was slightly perplexed when he came on to perform, picked up one of his two guitars (freshly tuned) and launched into a song I’d never heard. He has a dour face at the best of times, and had not spoken a word. This did not bode well…

Thankfully he then identified the tune as a Prince song. He’d been listening to much of his music of late (no pun intended) and had realised the chord progression was similar to one of his own songs (Loveless) from the setlist. He said it was not originally on the setlist, but I see he played it at the previous gig in Portland, so I think that was a white lie. I’m not familiar with much of Prince’s work, but I identified the song as “Sometimes It Snows In April” and not “Tracy” as listed for Portland.

Decide for yourself with the help of Youtube:

He soon got into his stride and verged almost on the chatty between songs. After playing Butterfly he told a story of playing at a concert with Mike Scott (lead singer of The Waterboys) and finding his music dark and moody. Darker and moodier than anyone else’s. He claimed he’d re-examined his own material and not played Butterfly for a decade after the concert! I’m not sure many in the audience knew who Mike Scott even was, but the point was well made.

He joked about his age and needing to wear reading glasses over his contact lenses for fine work (like tuning his guitar), and admitted to maintaining some small portion of vanity. He laughed and said when he removed his specs, he was sometimes left with “wings” due to his still ample hair, and asked the audience to let him know if this was the case.

Naturally – being an audience full of ageing hipsters – “Wings!” was called out at various times for the rest of the evening. Lloyd seemed to genuinely enjoy his reception and smiled when he got a Canadian “you’re welcome” to his rock star “thank-you” at the end of each song.

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Lloyd Cole getting all emotional… honest

His guitar work was excellent, and I was impressed that he re-tuned his guitars occasionally, “because I care” as he explained. At one point a member of the audience ambled up to the stage and delivered a pint of beer. Something I myself have done to support particularly good pub bands… but I’ve never seen it at a “proper concert”! Oh Canada… you’re so, er, Canadian!

He politely accepted the pint (perhaps in fear of opening the door to a steady stream of further offerings) but said he’d save it until later, explaining he’d once tried Karaoke when drunk in Japan, and realised too late that “We will rock you” actually had verses! Assuring us of his relative success with the chorus, he launched quickly into the next song.

He actually fluffed the words in one song, stopped with an annoyed “dammit”, apologised for the tongue-twister words (hey – come on Lloyd, YOU wrote them!) and continued to a note-perfect ending. It was very human and didn’t detract one iota from the performance. During the intro to another song, he hit a bum note and explained his little finger now had a groove in it due to all the concerts and he sometimes found it hard to hold the string down properly. He restarted and played note perfect for the entire thing. So very dad-like.

After Charlotte Street, he explained he’d written it while living in London. He claimed it actually related to events he’d experienced on Upper Street (the A1), but figured Charlotte Street (off the famous Oxford Street) sounded better. He then poked fun at Big Audio Dynamite, saying someone should have told them Upping St. was a bad name for a record. As far as I can tell, Upping St. doesn’t actually exist.

The night seemed to be over in a blink, but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. Apart from the unexpected Prince homage, I knew all the songs and heartily sang along to most. Thankfully it was dark. Just sayin’.

He saved Perfect Skin and Forest Fire until the encore and was rewarded with stand up ovations – well deserved! I certainly hope he includes Vancouver in the tour for the next boxed set.

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World’s longest held erection

5 06 2016

Every day, I’m supposed to take a little blue pill. It’s actually for my heart and is a low dose Aspirin. I hear however that other gentlemen sometimes make use of another little blue pill by Pfizer. This pill is intended to help them become more upstanding citizens than they might otherwise be able to be. One potential side-effect that is reported is that the upstandingness can last rather longer than required. Or is comfortable. Imagine then holding this stance for a full fifteen years!

As the city of Chicago recovered from its great fire and grew from strength to strength, the river traffic up the north arm of the Chicago river was finding it harder and harder to negotiate the swing bridges then in use. The following potted history of the Kinzie St railway bridge can be read in more detail at Wikipedia.

By 1907 construction started on a new bascule bridge that would allow more space for larger boats to pass on the river. Designed to carry two rail tracks, the foundations of the pivot were required to sit on the bedrock, a full 29m below the river bed.  By the time the bridge opened on September 19, 1908 an alternative scheme was already under way that led to the closure of Wells Street Station and its replacement with a new terminal on the west bank of the river. When the Ogilvie Transportation Center opened in 1911, Kinzie Street railroad bridge was left to handle only freight traffic.

During the second half of the 20th century the number of companies using the railroad for shipping on Chicago’s near north side declined severely. The construction of the Columbus Drive Bridge in 1982 wiped out part of the right of way and the spur to Navy Pier was abandoned. Service to the Tribune Tower also ended in the 1980s, and by the 1990s traffic along the remaining section of the spur served only one customer, the Chicago Sun-Times, with only one train per day. The newspaper moved their printing plant out of downtown Chicago in early 2001 and now shares the Herald Tribune printing plant, leaving no traffic across the bridge and it has since been permanently raised in the open position.

Kinzie St. Bridge

Kinzie St. Bridge, Chicago

Kinzie St. Railroad Bridge

Kinzie St. Railroad Bridge

Printing Plant

Printing Plant





Who was Peggy Helms?

18 04 2016

Yesterday was hot and sunny in the Lower Mainland. Like mid-summer hot and sunny. I gather there was a sprinkling of snow up in Whistler, but that was not where I was!

After a shaky start to the day which involved doing a bit more of the family tax returns, we were finally ready for offsky just after lunchtime. Master E. wanted to borrow my car for some odd reason (perhaps coupled to the fact that his own seemed to be totally bereft of petrol…), so Mrs E. and I headed off up the valley in his charabanc… on an adventure. We realised as we headed over the Golden Ears bridge that we hadn’t actually eaten (such is the danger of lying in at the weekend and having late breakfast), and so a brief stop at Timmy’s was felt to be prudent. I treated myself to an Ice Capp made with chocolate milk, and all was good with the world. Well – once the brain freeze had subsided a little.

Around 3pm, we arrived at the Malcolm Knapp UBC Research Forest in Maple Ridge. The weather was gorgeous and there were only a few cars in the car-park. It’s been a few years since we were last here and so we headed off to the information panels to pick up a map and see what’s what. Needless to say all the maps had gone and apart from a sign telling us not to pick mushrooms, there wasn’t a lot to be learnt from the notice boards. Noting from a sign on the office that the park closed at 8pm, we ambled off in the general direction our memories told us the trails began.

The trailhead was obvious enough and followed the usual convention of coloured blocks to mark out several trails. Unfortunately though, there was no map, so though the intent was clear enough, there was nothing to illustrate what the various trails might entail. No matter – there were apparently 3 (it later turned out there was a fourth, but that’s another story), and since the tree had all three colours, we couldn’t really go wrong.

Ted Lowe woz 'ere

Ted Lowe woz ‘ere

So, off we pootled on the very clear and well-used trail. This was a stroll rather than a hike, so neither of us were wearing boots, carrying water, waterproofs or any of the usual things I’d normally have in a small rucksack. After a few minutes we came to a decision point where one way had a blue square and the other had red and yellow. Personally, I’d have gone for the twofer (to double the chances), but Mrs E. thought the blue looked pretty and off we went into the unknown. The going remained excellent and we came to a little bridge over a bubbling beck.

The sound of fairies laughing

The sound of fairies laughing

Eventually we popped out on a logging road and as we entered the other side there was a map showing how the area was split into various test zones. To the casual eye the whole place was one large forest, but in fact each sector was testing one or other forestry technique. One area was testing for quality on a 50 year cycle, others for cost effectiveness.

You are here! But why are you here?

You are here! But why are you here?

Though the signs had a rough map, the worrying thing was that the blue route was basically shown running south to north over the mapped area… no hint of a loop. I joked that knowing our luck we’d end up popping out in Haney with a sign hoping we’d had a nice hike. Yes – this was now officially a hike. It was still only about 3:30pm and we had good daylight until around 7:30pm or even later. No hint of rain in the sky and still warm. No need to panic yet. We decided on a “turn around” time and decided to press on. The trail was very well marked and well travelled, though weirdly we’d not met a single person (or bear).

Spring was definitely here in the valley and we saw lots of fiddle-heads as the ferns were unravelling. I thought they looked like seahorses suspended in the foliage, but maybe I’d inhaled some botanicals along the way.

Sea-horses grow on bushes

Sea-horses grow on bushes

Eventually we found a “proper” map. Now this was both good and bad news. Good in that it confirmed what had hitherto only been a hope – that it was a loop trail! Bad in that we weren’t even half way around and the last 40%+ was deemed a “rough” trail.

Having the trail map as a photo in my iPhone was a boon. Right up until the battery faded...

Having the trail map as a photo in my iPhone was a boon. Right up until the battery faded…

Still – we had plenty of time, and there was no need to turn back. You may just be able to see a purple triangle at the very top of the map which is the viewpoint on a spur of the blue trail. We were already on the supposedly “rough trail”, and frankly I’ve seen worse A roads in the UK. This was still very good walking. Without really meaning to, we headed off on the spur and after a short climb we came to a little shelter tucked away in the brush. A plaque near the entrance declared that it was in memory of a Peggy Helms who had died in 1987.

In loving memory Peggy Helms who died accidentally June 2, 1987 Delta BC.

In loving memory
Peggy Helms
who died accidentally
June 2, 1987
Delta BC.

We had a quick look at the picnic bench overlooking the valley (lovely spot to have your sandwiches… if you have them!) and headed back on the trail. One patch was a little confusing as it was actually on the forest road for a couple of hundred metres but the markers implied you were to go into the wood. Eventually we figured it out and had a spot of excitement balancing on a log to cross the stream. The rest of the trail was pretty much downhill and after 2 hours 20 minutes we arrived back at the office and the old steam mule – a remnant of the area’s old logging history.

Steam mule

Steam mule

Arriving home, I did a quick search for Ms Helms but having passed away pre-Internet, she left very little in the way of clues. Her widower though – Robert – didn’t die until 2014, and so we find from the digital archives of Vancouver’s The Province:

Robert Helms
Obituary

Robert Helms July 16, 1922 – August 26, 2014

Bob passed away peacefully at the age of 92. He was predeceased by his wife Peggy in 1987 and is survived by his children Juliette ( Rick), Paul (Pat), Anita (Steve), 5 grandchildren, 8 great grandchildren and 1 great great grandchild. Born in Gludsted, Denmark, he immigrated with Peggy to Canada in 1953, settling first in Vancouver and moving to North Delta in 1957. Bob loved living in North Delta and throughout his 57 years there remained involved in community projects and politics. A celebration of Bob’s life will be held at Juliette and Rick’s home on October 5 at 2:00.

So that’s all the Internet will divulge for now – that she was Danish, had 3 kids and was outlived by her husband by nearly 30 years. How she died accidentally, why there’s a shelter in her memory, these are questions that remain opaque.





Betty’s home from home

26 03 2016

Some considerable time ago, Mrs E read in a magazine – unfortunately which specific one is lost to the mists of time – about a place called Clayburn Tea Shop. Not too surprisingly this tea shop is in Clayburn, not much more than a small collection of homes just outside Abbotsford in BC’s Fraser Valley. The long weekend (and the absence of son and heir at a week-long training camp) gave us an excuse for a small road trip, and off we went in search of said “cup of tea shop”, nominally to check out their tea and sticky buns. We knew nothing about it except a vague memory from Mrs E that it was worth a visit (allegedly) and it was in Clayburn. As I mentioned, Clayburn is little more than a hamlet, and my Garmin denied such a place even existed. It did however admit to Clayburn Road’s existence, so off we went, adventure in the air and the prospect of a new tea shop in the offing.

Needless to say, Clayburn Road turned out to be one of those annoying roads that stops and starts as it makes its way across the map. Cartographers in BC were so unimaginative and would keep re-using the same road name if it was roughly in line with some other stretch of road, even if there was no way to get from hither to thither.

Having successfully navigated to Garmin’s admitted location of Clayburn Road, we discovered that this particular part of it was only a few hundred metres long. Thankfully I am Old School enough to also travel with paper maps and a quick shufti gave us a much more likely length of Clayburn Road to target, and we were off again. Ten minutes later, we were parking opposite the tea shop. It was also once the general store, and its unassuming frontage hides a deep building going back from the main (I use the word loosely) road.

Clayburn Tea Shop

Clayburn Tea Shop

Take a Google street view look yourself here.

As we crossed the road and got closer, I was surprised – in a good way – to read on the window that they sold tea from Taylors of Harrogate. Now if you’re not from God’s Own County, the magnitude of this discovery would mean nothing. Taylors you see is the brand of tea from Betty’s of Harrogate.

If you still need convincing about Brewtopia or the Hanging Gardens of Put’kettleon, check out the TV ad…

And sure enough, like walking into Mr Benn’s changing room, Alice’s rabbit hole or some other magical portal… we found ourselves transported to Harrogate. Here was a pioneer version of Betty’s Tea Shop.

Betty's of Harrogate

Betty’s of Harrogate

The young ladies serving weren’t wearing the Victorian black and white of Betty’s, but apart from that and a few “New World substitutions” in the furniture and decor, we could definitely have been in a transported version of Betty’s!

There were shelves of Farrah’s toffees (also hailing from Harrogate), Black Jacks and other tooth-rotting glories in a sweet shop section next to the café/restaurant and a proper “general store” with yummy comestibles to peruse later, towards the back of the shop. Suddenly weak at the knees, we found a table and were brought a menu of unbelievable goodies…

Le Menu

Le Menu

Having hunted high and low on a recent trip to the UK to get Ploughman’s Lunch, here it was on the outskirts of Abbotsford! They even had Cornish Pasties and Melton Mowbray pork pies! The puddings were like blasts of memory with things like Sticky Toffee Pudding and scones with Devonshire cream.

Naturally I had a pot of Yorkshire tea – they wouldn’t serve a gallon bucket as was my preference. I did manage to squeeze 4 cups out of it nevertheless. I did indeed opt for the Ploughman’s Lunch and was a little disappointed that it contained neither an apple nor any pork pie. It did have three different slabs of cheese and I have to say the inclusion of genuine Branston Pickle and the Hayward’s pickled onion made up for it. The scone and cream – with local raspberry jam – was warm and a nice closure to the experience.

Bill paid, we perused the rest of the store and ended up buying a packet of Frazzles, a packet of Twiglets, some Elkes Malted Milk biscuits, a Curly Wurly and a Milkybar. Maybe I grew up, or perhaps they all shrank in translation… but I’m sure they were a lot bigger when I was a kid.

Grins a-plenty we left the little café and 10 minutes later had also seen what the rest of the hamlet had to offer. It’s a bit of a trek out there from White Rock, but we’ll definitely be back to sample some more of their Yorkshire treats.

And yes – it’s definitely bigger on the inside.

 





Eliza’s young sister Tay is all grown up… and racist

24 03 2016

Yesterday, Microsoft’s launched an AI experiment on Twitter, called Tay. The bot would instantly respond to your questions, pictures and chatter, no matter how inane and learn to converse on the fly using “public data that’s been anonymised”.

Source: Tay, Microsoft’s social AI for millennials, turns racist within 24 hours | Alphr

Back when I was a student we learnt about Turing’s Test for AIs – basically whether or not a human could tell they were conversing with a real human or a machine. Ex Machina is a neat film based on the premise – as well as a keen allegory about the way men (still) treat women. Eliza was a relatively simple programme written back in 1966 to respond to key words in the offered conversation and gave a pretty realistic response. It (pre-Gleick) demonstrated how chaotic “realistic” language is and that we can be fooled by pretty simplistic patterns that APPEAR real.

The Microsfot experiment is a whole new level of sophistication and attempted to learn from the input what “normal” looks like. Inevitably, in a week where Boaty McBoatface is the Internet’s suggestion for the name of a new research vessel, Tay learnt that “being an arsehole” is the new normal on the Internet! Within 24 hours it allegedly spouted pro-Hitler twaddle and Microsoft took their new toy home to give it a good spanking and teach it some proper manners. We await it’s return…





Late to the celebration of Ms Earley

13 03 2016

So, as I mentioned elsewhere, I recently read an edition of Canada’s History that highlighted some of Canada’s great women. 20? 30? Let’s try closer to HALF THE POPULATION! OK – that would be quite a thick magazine, I suppose.

Anyway, though the 20 that were featured in the magazine had been selected by a group of themselves relatively well known Canadian women, there seemed to be a skewed representation towards authors. Not that they were any less remarkable for that. They opened up the Canadian literary scene to more earthy examinations of inner city issues, feminism (of course) and simply great story telling. One or two I’d heard of. One or two I’d even read – such as Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel.

Of the 20 that were featured though, my “favourite” – if that’s even a valid concept in this context – was Mary Two-Axe Earley. The accompanying illustration was an interpretation of a CP/Toronto Star photograph on the magazine’s website, and she looked like anyone’s kindly nanna. But what a force!

Canada’s History: Mary Two-Axe Earley

As I read about her life I was struck by how Canadian history – even relatively recent history – was completely unknown in the UK. Things we might reasonably expect and take for granted have been hard fought for by strong women such as Two-Axe Earley. The world – and in this case Canada in particular – is undeniably a better place for the things women like her have achieved.

Born as a Canadian Mohawk on 4th October 1911, she moved to the US and married an Irish/American engineer – Edward Earley – and had a brace of litte ‘uns. Because Edward was non-Aboriginal, she fell foul of the 1876 Indian Act and lost all her rights along with her Indian status. As well as the loss of the right to live on the land she was brought up on, she couldn’t vote in the reserve’s elections or even be buried in its cemetery. None of this concerned her at the time. She was living in Brooklyn and was very much in love. Then…

A friend of hers died in 1966 and she discovered that her friend had been ordered off her own reserve for marrying a Mohawk from a different reserve. No such penalty was suffered by men, and she was pretty sure the stress had contributed to her friend’s death. Written in the Victorian era, the Indian Act simply reflected the prevalent view at the time that women were basically possessions of their husbands.

Enraged into action, Two-Axe Earley founded Equal Right for Indian Women, which later became Indian Rights for Indian Women. The Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada was established in 1967 and gave a platform to present the case. The commission duly recommended that the relevant clauses of the Indian Act be repealed such that First Nations men and women should have the same rights with respect to property and marriage as any other Canadian. So naturally not a lot happened.

It wasn’t until the 1982 Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms though that her campaign really got the teeth it needed. In 1985 the government finally amended the Indian Act so that it reflected the equality provision in the Charter. As well as returning rights to women who had previously lost them through the archaic clauses in the act and “marrying out”, there were two generations of children from those unions that were now eligible for status. More than 15,000 women were affected by this decision!

When she finally died in 1996, Mary Two-Axe Earley was laid to rest in the cemetery near her birthplace, Kahnawake. A right she had fought long and hard to gain.

If you’d like to learn more about this remarkable lady, check out her bio at Windspeaker.





Ancient & Modern

13 03 2016

As I may have mentioned – though potentially not to you – Mrs E and I marked our 6th wedding anniversary the other week. After 24 years married. The smarter amongst you will figure out how those facts are not mutually exclusive. We went to stay on the west coast of Vancouver Island, at a place called Wickaninnish Inn – a lovely place to go Storm Watching.

Chesterman Beach, Vancouver Island

Anyway, to pass the time on the ferry, I bought a copy of “Canada’s History”. This used to go by the name of “The Beaver” and was originally the Hudson’s Bay Company’s internal magazine. It’s well known for being brimful of Asha Canadiana. This particular edition was celebrating 20 great Canadian women and that was what caught my eye and lured me to part with the $8 required for the privilege to read it.

The very back cover though was also of interest. As is the norm, it was a full page advert. In this case for the Toronto-Dominion Bank . It was advertising the TD Gallery of Inuit Art in Toronto. The image they’d chosen to use was of “Young man with MP3 player” by Pitseolak Qimirpik, a Cape Dorset artist.

There is no denying the skill of the guy, and you can see more of his work at Dorset Fine Arts. The thing that made me pause though was not only the display of traditional carving skill, but the contemporary subject matter. Here was a very contemporary subject (spliff, earbuds and all), but portrayed in a very ancient way. Not with a digital image or some fancy PhotoShop work, but with time, care and skill… in a 17 inch high piece of serpentine with antler and wire. It inspired me to want to learn more. Not just of the work of Qimirpik himself, but of his culture and motivation.

pitseolakqimirpikcopy

Source: Dorset Fine Arts PITSEOLAK QIMIRPIK – YOUING MAN WITH MP3 PLAYER, 2010








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