Sunday, September 29, 2013


John Cleese is dying. So he's doing a series of shows, to give all of us an opportunity to see him before his demise. The show is entitled Last Chance To See Me Before I Die

Not that he has some fatal disease, he's not dying right away ... but he is dying. Eventually. Some day. And perhaps there will be another chance to see him. He may do another show some day. Eventually. But still, he will die .. eventually .. so we went to see him

For someone who is dying (eventually) he looked, as he may say say "rather splendid". Alone on the stage with a projection screen hanging behind him, Cleese spent two hours regaling us with stories of his remarkable life in that concise, precise, perfectly modulated deliver that makes him One of the Funniest People on Earth

Cleese, as he informed us several times, is a writer. His entrance into show business was through his writing for comedy reviews while studying "maths" at Cambridge university. He wrote for David Frost's early comedy shows in Britain, he wrote of great deal of the Python stuff, he co-wrote Fawlty Towers, he wrote A Fish Called Wanda ...

All very impressive indeed. But none of that allays the fact that John Cleese walking through a door can make me fall down on my face giggling like an idiot .. which he once did on a British skit show from the 80's; the actors were doing some kind of Elizabethan sketch and Cleese walked on to the set, stood there in a door way, ate most of an apple then turned and walked away. To this day, one of the funniest things I've ever seen

OK maybe I have issues, like this should be a shock to anyone

Cleese's writing skills are certainly of an extremely high level. He talked extensively about "black humour" and humour that breaks taboos and crosses boundries. His experiences of 1950's England was that of an extremely conservative society whose focus was to never be seen to be controversial. He recalls seeing the Beyond the Fringe comedy troupe with Dudley Moore and Spike Milligan and feeling the liberation of satire, something Cleese would himself come to master.

He searched for the origins of his own fondness for dark humour. His mother was a self obsessed, perpetually depressed person who would list her fears and worries and go through them with her son point by point. Cleese noted that his mother lived through the entire 20th century and has witnessed both world wars, the Great Depression, the arms race, the space age ... and really didn't note any of it.

One of the times his mom was intoning her oft heard phrase "Maybe I should just die" Cleese suggested that he would call a "little man" in Fulton who he knew and the chap would come and kill his mom ... upon hearing this his mom paused for a long moment then broke out in laughter. From that point on when his mom got carried away with her moaning he would simply intone the the Little Man in Fulton and they would both break out laughing. He learned, from this, that making fun of the serious was the best way to survive it

Cleese liked to downplay his abilities as an actor. He talked about meeting Peter Sellers, who Cleese claimed to be the greatest comic actor he'd ever known, and described Seller's ability to mimic, not just mimic to become someone else. Cleese stated that when he tried to mimic someone it always sounded as if "that person was actually mimicing me"

But there is not doubt that Cleese not only possesses a talent for accents but has some of the best comic timing of anyone I've ever said. Coupled with his precise, clipped way of speaking, it makes him able to evoke laughter without seeming to try at all.

He also talked about the importance of luck in his career. He told the story about how Monty Python got to have their TV series. All of them had worked together in Cambridge then gone their separate ways. Graham Chapman and Cleese were working for David Frost along with Marty Feldman. Feldman was a writer on the show and Cleese told Frost that Marty should be on the show, as an actor. Frost's reply was "Put Marty on TV? Have you seen the way he looks?"


At that time the other Pythons, Eric Idle and Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones were all working on a kids' TV show. Graham and Cleese decided they should all reunite and pitch their own skit comedy show to the BBC. Everyone agreed and off they went to see the man Cleese describes as the "god of BBC Light Entertainment" They all knew they were funny, they all had some idea of the kind of show they wanted to make but what they did not know was what the show would be about.

They were asked: "Will the show have sketches"
"Oh yes, sketches, lovely idea, we'll have sketches"
"Will there be music?"
"Music? Oh yes, well certainly, yes there will be music .. of some kind"
Cleese thought they were done for. They couldn't even describe what kind of show they would make or give one salient idea of what would be in it. But the "god" waved his hand and told them "Fine, we'll give you 13 episodes" And with the wave of a hand, the first show about nothing, and something completely different, was born

A good deal of the show was dedicated to discussing A Fish Called Wanda, a movie that Cleese not only wrote but starred in and, in my opinion, one of the funniest movies ever made. One thing I never knew about Cleese is besides doing "math" in college he also read for law at Cambridge, which probably explains his character in Wanda, a solicitor.

He explained that when he decided to make the movie he approached old school Brit film director Charles Crichton (Cleese also has co director credit on the film). When Crichton asked him what the film would be about, Cleese admitted that the only thing he had in mind was a scene that someone with a terrible stutter would have to tell someone else, something terribly important. Crichton said "Fine, as long as we have a scene where someone is squashed by a steamroller" And that was how one of the funniest movies of all time was born

He used Wanda as an example of his black humour. As they were making the movie a few concerns were raised: Would people rebel against using someone with a stutter as a focus of laughter (he explained that Michael Palin based his character's stutter on his own father) and the killing of the little dogs. After a test screening which Cleese was not allowed to be in the theatre, an old woman marched up to him and announced "The stuttering was bloody funny. And you should have killed more dogs"

Cleese told his stories, with the aid of clips from TV and movies,  for two hours which was quite shocking to us, it barely seemed half that time. When I first read that Cleese was appearing in Toronto as part of a six city tour my first reaction was "I wonder why he's doing this." No, that's a total lie, my first reaction was "Holy crap, I'm going to get to see the funniest man alive!" But I still wondered why he was doing the tour. Cleese provided the answer with one word "Alimony. My ex wife got a settlement of 22 million dollars. I have two million left to go" And he glowered at us. I damn near threw money up on to the stage

So we sat through two hours, laughing to the verge of tears, as a dead man told us his life story. Thank you John Cleese. Long may you die

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


The book or the reading of the book.

The word or the discussion of the book.

The book fair or the literary event

Collette and I have attended the Toronto version of Word on the Street for may years, many years. I remember when it was held on Queen St W, down by Much Music. It's been held at Queen's Park Circle for several years now and generally the location suits it well

There is more space in the Circle (a park basically) to accomadate tents for readings, author signings, presentations etc. And therein is a bit of a problem. I appreciate that Word is a place for all things literary, you can probably find an author you like and hear them read, there are many performances aimed at kids, from books for said kids. There have always been booths where authors give you the chance to talk to them and discuss their work

That is the Literary Event part of Word on the Street and even if  don't always participate, I appreciate it. And I have been able to connect with authors and their work who otherwise may have remained a mystery to me

But there is another part to the festival; the book fair part of it. Collette and I used to pack several bags with us and pack them up, stuffing them with dozens of books got for extremely low prices. Big book stores and publishers would come and offer up hardcovers for a few bucks a pop; a great way to try books and authors unknown to you with very little risk

That part of Word on the Street has almost vanished. None of the big books stores bring their wares or if they do, they bring very little. Only one publisher brought deeply discounted books and not surprisingly, it was the most popular booth there

Word has always had a focus on kids, Collette used to stock her classroom with books for the year. Well, now it's hard to find a good selection of adult books and for all the kids books, most of them were only 10 or 20 % off .. which Collette can often find on Amazon

This year we barely filled one pack with books. I got some good deals on some graphic novels, Collette found a few things for her nieces and nephews but not much for her classroom; the prices matched what she could order through the Board with no need to transport. I ventured into the one cheap publisher book and came away with a few 3 dollar books but I swear I have bruises from the experiences

So the Literary Event lives and that's great. But the Book Fair is dying, so our annual fall trip to Word may well be expiring as well

At any rate, here's a little video

Friday, September 20, 2013


Your tragedy is being packaged.

We'll let you know it's tragic. We'll create a rolling background of select images, images that we've selected, letting you know what your eyes should concentrate upon; don't worry, you require no effort, we've done this work for you.

We'll create a name key for the tragedy, just so you know what it is, and by creating this name what we've actually done is label it, so instead of just saying "The latest report on the bus crash near Ottawa" we'll call it OTTAWA BUS DISASTER ... we can't have you thinking about what may have happened here, our label will spare you that effort. Don't worry, not thinking required.

Every ad needs some music of course. Wait, did I say ad? Um, I meant news report, that's right, news report ... With a music behind it, nice dramatic music to catch your attention then tailing down to lush strings so you know you should be sad. We understand you may not know how to react to things so we'll do that work for you as well. This is a DISASTER this is a TRAGEDY so you are to feel SAD

There, isn't that easy?

We know you have a lot on your mind, other things may be happening in your life. But those things don't help us at all, we can't package those things and attract sponsorship. So we will keep this TRAGEDY foremost on your mind and we'll do that by playing our ad (and you know I really mean news story right) over and over; there may be nothing new to report on the story but market saturation is very important for a news story (you know I mean ad right)

Just sit back and stay tuned and wait for that first musical note, for the animated swirl of images as the package unfolds. Don't think about what the purpose of all this is, don't ponder upon how this is supposed to inform us or why a news story needs to hit more emotions than facts

That's our job. We'll do that for you

And don't worry about what other news may be happening. When it's worth your while, we'll let you know.

We have packages for that too

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Life is hard, we all need a break.

An escape from the stress and routine of our daily lives. Here in Canada there is a long standing tradition of taking advantage of the wilderness that often lays close to our door, offering us some sense of tranquility and even peace, shedding our drudgery for sunlight and water and the wind in the evergreens.

Yeh, life is hard, especially for Miss Terra, so much stress that is derived from so many decisions that need to be made, like: Which bed should I take a nap on, or which stuffie needs to be tossed around the house and which ball (the orange and blue one or the blue and orange one) should I drop in somebody's life .. Damn, the pressure. A girl needs to escape it and get up to Springhaven Lodge on the Georgian Bay and let the wind flow through her fur and the water splash across her whiskers

Miss Terra is, of course, from a very high and rarified society. Much like the blue bloods (or more accurately wannabe blue bloods) who lounge in the million dollar mansions that command the islands which dot the Bay, this border collie concerns herself with the most erudite of social activities
Such as, Olympic javelin:

Or a rousing game of tennis:

A highly charged soccer match:

The new hybrid sport of soccer and water polo called Water Polo or in the vernacular: I'm gonna drown this soccer ball

And one must always make time for a rousing game of: Find the amphibian

One, of course, can not over concern oneself with all this physical activity, that would simply be boorish. One must take some time to be still and enjoy all of nature's bounty ...

... or one could simply obsess over one's frisbee, border collie style

And if you have concluded that the sole purpose of this post was to post more pics and videos of Terra playing up north .. well .. the proper blue blood response to that would have to be ... duh

Friday, September 6, 2013


If day one of our sojourn to the CNE was all about pogo's and acrobats, this second day was concerned with man made thunder, sunlight flaring off of wings and the "oooohs and aaaahs" of people as they crane their necks towards the sky

This was another addition of the CNE International Air Show where the US would be flying no military jets due to "budget" concerns .... or something. No matter. Jets were well represented by the well known CF-18 Hornet, a perennial visitor at this air show

Jets also came in the form of some privately owned former military jets that performed demonstrations. OK most guys during their mid life crisis may dye their hair and buy a Porshe .. but a jet? Yeh, that's a crisis of a whole new level. Like the guy who brought a former Soviet jet called the L-39 Albatross to the show

I don't know a guy named Art Nails. He's a pilot, former British military. I'm not sure how old he is or what his personal story may be. But if we are judging a man's mid life crisis by the toys he buys, Art's crisis is clearly epic. Art, you see, went and bought himself a Harrier. You know, the VTOL hover and shoot your ass over jump jet .. dude owns his own freaking Harrier. Really nothing else to say

If you are indeed suffering from some feelings of male inadequacy one of the traditional ways to work past it is to find a male who may be worse off than you and challenge him to a fight. So we had a couple of dog fights, one with two Cold War era jets that billed themselves as Red Star and the Dragon; the jets were cool, the flying impressive but honestly, do we need to dredge up some tire old natinalism to increase the entertainment value?

The story of men, during their middle age crisis competing with other men to reprove their virility (yeh I said "reprove" live with it) is not just a contemporary phenonenon, it goes back a long way. With airplanes, it goes right back to the First World War, where dudes could point to their biwing with macho pride .. until they saw the German feller with his triplane. Yeh that's right, mine is bigger than yours ...

The Air Show was  not all about flexing of muscles, though Mike Wiskus has some kind of muscle to flex; he flies a biwing too, but it's a custom built overpowered acrobatic biplane that he flies with what appears to be reckless abandon ... spinning out of high stalls, doing a front somersault, straffing the surface of Lake Ontario .. but in actuality is a display of incredible skill

More skill with prop planes was displayed by the Trojan Horsemen (and yeh, half of that name can fall into the whole "show me yours and I'll show you mine analogy but let's leave that be) who fly six T-28 Trojan, a piston-engined trainer used the American military. They did some nice close quarter formation flying as well as individual maneuvers

All these planes fly fast, they all fly high and their pilots love to make them do things that seem impossible. It must be, for the passengers, a bit scary. How else would you explain their desire to jump out of a perfectly serviceable airplane

The Tutor trainer jets flown by the Snow Birds can accomodate guests but they never do so during the air show. Even if they did, I don't think anyone is jumping out of one of these planes. Even if their stunts may want you to do so

After the show we flew back to the midway .. ok, not flew, after 4 hours sitting on our bums these old bones don't exactly fly ... for one final gander around the CNE grounds. Midway lights after dark, people zipping down the zipline, sand sculptures, the clang of the midway ...

Here's the video

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Clouds scud across a partially opaque sky

Wind sways reeds that look like quills, trying to write upon that sky

Water is gently ruffled by the wind that pushes the clouds and the reeds, reflecting the sky that moves the water

Nares Inlet, Georgian Bay, Ontario

Sun breaks through the clouds, the light caught in tiny glittering barbs on the crenelated surface of the moving water. Beneath the clear surface of the water the sand is rippled, as if a material reflection of the water's movement

Water and wind marks the land as well as the water. The bay ebbs and flows, leaving its mark on the sand, an organic tattoo that is not permanent, that will change and fade with the next rain or hard high gust of wind

We can use the water, enjoy it, benefit from it, take food from it, make a living from it but we can never really control it. Dams and levees burst, docks get swamped, boats sink. Even when we try to outwit the weather, eventually, it will take possession

There is so much here, even when it's quiet, especially when it seems empty and you hear the wind and the birds and the sussurus of the water. So much to see. So much upon which to reflect
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