Archive for the ‘Youth Experiences’ Category

Humour (and yes, that is the proper spelling) is subjective. I grew up in a household that appreciated dry British humour. In fact, it was my father who suggested we what the first episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus after seeing an ad in TV Guide. The first sketch I recall was that of the flying sheep – I was hooked, and so were most of my friends. It was smart, quick, absurd and most of all – silly. There was a regular discussion about the week’s episode and lines of Python dialogue quickly became part of our regular lexicon. When the CBC failed to pick up one of the new series, we dashed off a 500+ name petition – that three of us spent several hours making up the names for.

Not only did we absorb everything Python, the show had some interesting unintended funny moments for us. When the first movie, And Now For Something Completely Different, came out, we went as a group to see it. As most of us had just passed the age where we could legally imbibe, we went for a few (or for some, more than a few) before the movie. We got to the theatre and settled in as the movie started when one of our group loudly announced that he had to go to the bathroom. We told him to go, but then he started to protest saying he would miss part of the movie. In the next instant he had come up with a solution. Movie theatres are sloped so he would just go down the aisle. On reflection, this did not seem to be the most appropriate action and we voiced our disapproval. Nevertheless, he started the process which then required three of us to drag him to the bathroom. All in the name of Python.

The second one I remember is going to see Monty Python and the Holy Grail with another group of friends. For some unknown reason, there was a short film in front of Python about these poor South Sea Islanders who were forced to leave their homes for a good part of the year to find food to feed their families. Absolutely the worst choice for a short before Holy Grail. The audience were laughing at all the serious bits and making snide comments about the plight of these poor people. It would have been a buzzkill of epic proportions if the audience had not been primed for Python. Before the feature started, one of the group offered to go and get snacks for all. We knew he had come back when we heard this loud call of ‘Albatross‘ as he was walking back down the aisle towards us. While he actually didn’t have any albatross, he did manage to sell most of the snacks to other patrons before he reached our seats – which of course necessitated another trip to the concession. Only at a Python flick.

Finally, I was at the university bookstore during my undergraduate years when I spotted a new Monty Python book on the shelves.

The Monty Python Bok

The Monty Python Bok

The first giggle was that book was spelled incorrectly. But the cover had dirty fingerprints on it so I started to go through the stock to find a clean one. Only to find that each book had the same fingerprints printed on the cover. Another funny – this is looking good. I took the book up to the front with several other books and gave them to the cashier. The elderly cashier went through each book and entered the price into the cash register until she got to the Python book. She stopped and said this is a library book – you don’t need to pay for this. I hadn’t noticed that there actually was a library card fixed to the inside front page – a library card that listed Sammy Davis Jr. and Margaret Thatcher as people who had borrowed the book.

The 'library' card

The ‘library’ card

I thought she was joking so I laughed and said that, no I really did want to pay for it. She smiled back and insisted it was a library book and I didn’t have to pay for it. I think I realized at this point she was serious, so I insisted again that it was not a library book. Afterwards I figured out that the price sticker was white on white (this being before the days of bar codes) and she probably never saw it (you can see the sticker scars on the upper left part of the dust jacket). I tried one more time and again she told me I didn’t have to pay. At this point, the line was getting restless behind me and I figured I had given it three tries, so I agreed and put the book into my bag. It seemed a very appropriate way of acquiring a Python book.

And after all these years, Monty Python still makes me laugh – thanks boys!


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I have spent time this week preparing to teach an undergraduate earth science lab at one of our local universities. My background includes a two-year diploma in adult education, so it is enjoyable to be getting back into the education world. A friend and I were discussing the concept of ‘teachable moments’ last week and our conversation brought to mind one of the more striking examples I experienced over the years.

I was taking a first aid course as part of my job requirements. The instructor was an ex-military gentleman. You immediately got the sense that firstly, he knew his subject and secondly, he took the matter seriously. This was a re-certification course for me so I was expecting the standard approach to the subject – they show the movie where “Johnny is anxious to get his new table saw going …”, and you guess the inevitable outcome.

This time, however, the instructor had a person come to the front and lay on a table. He then carefully positioned the person and described the scene; “You have come across this person. They have a serious wound to the head which is bleeding profusely. Their arm is not pointing in the right direction and their is blood seeping through their pants at the knee. What do you do?” He invited a person from the class to come to the front and explain how they would deal with the situation. The volunteer came up and started assessing the area, saying that they would attend to the bleeding by applying pressure to the wounds. The instructor didn’t say much as the person laid out their plan. At the end, the instructor asked, “are you satisfied with your approach?”. The person said, after reflecting for a couple of seconds, “yes”. The instructor then asked, “Is the patient breathing?”. The responder went a little pale and the instructor continued, “in fact, they haven’t been breathing since you arrived and the person is probably dead”. Wow … heads all over the room nodded and you could see the point had been made.

The instructor then asked for another volunteer patient and again positioned the person on the table. This time, the new responder began with checking the breathing and then continued the assessment. While the student was going over the patient’s injuries, the instructor took two large hardcover books. He quietly went behind the responder and then with a god almighty bang, slapped the books together. The responder jumped, as did the rest of us, and the responder choked out, “What?!”. The instructor just looked at him for a second and then quietly said, “You’re dead. Your patient is lying on a live 600 volt power line.”.

I have never forgot that one.

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There were a number of articles this week about Voyager 1. Launched in 1977, along with its twin Voyager 2, the primary mission of this tiny piece of technology was to fly by and image the outer planets. From the articles I have read, it was never really expected to last this long, but just in case it did, the designers equipped the Voyagers with power and instruments to continue transmitting data back to Earth long after they left the outer planets.

The real-time clock on the Voyager web site indicates the spacecraft is now over 18 Billion kilometres from Earth. 18 Billion!

The question is when will know that Voyager 1 has finally left the influence of the Sun (the solar system)? Articles published in Science magazine last week indicate the instruments are seeing a sharp decline in the solar wind and an increase in cosmic rays. What hasn’t changed – and this was the theory – is the magnetic field surrounding the space craft is still orientated towards the Sun, which would tend to indicate there is still some influence from the Sun where Voyager 1 is.

Voyager 1 at the edge of the solar system - News @ NASA

Voyager 1 at the edge of the solar system – News @ NASA

I am not a physicist or astronomer, but I guess I am a child of the space age. When I was not yet 10 years old, a friend of my Dad’s brought his home-made telescope to the house. It was truly amazing to see a close-up view of the Moon, the rings of Saturn and galaxies. I remember the first satellites being placed into Earth orbit. I remember the Mercury astronauts and the excitement around their flights. I stayed up with friends to watch a grainy black and white television image of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon in 1969. I grew up reading historical accounts of previous encounters with Halley’s comet and I looked forward to 1986 when it would be back. Unfortunately, it was not the spectacle that it had been in the past but went out in a winter’s night anyway to catch a glimpse. And I read about space and science and science fiction. When I was in the 7th grade, I was kicked out of the school library because when they asked why I wasn’t taking out any books, I told them I had read all the ones that interested me. My teacher made me take out one ‘classic’ (Dickens, Shakespeare, etc) a week – which were dutifully placed in my bedroom for the week and returned unread the following week. I had gone through all the science and science fiction books in the library by that time and the rest weren’t of interest.

This is a sort of long-winded explanation of why I feel emotional when I think of that tiny ship sailing through the void. The fact that we can still get data and make amazing discoveries is mind-boggling to me. That it is out there at all is somewhat comforting and exciting at the same time. There is a purity about searching for the sake of searching … not for glory, not for profit, not for fame. Just to see what is beyond the next hill. We need that sense of wonder – makes us humble, which in the context of where we are in the universe, is appropriate.

And finally, a shot of the International Space Station travelling over Edmonton from my Flickr page.

A short time lapse photo of the International Space Station over Edmonton, Alberta 2009

A short time lapse photo of the International Space Station over Edmonton, Alberta 2009

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My friend Natasha asked me to go with her to a concert of traditional Scottish music on the weekend. It was held in a local church and featured Christine Hanson on cello, Bruce MacGregor on violin and Keri Lynn Zwicker playing the Celtic harp and singing. I am really glad I went. The music was brilliant – these are three very accomplished players. It is a very joyous music and the stories between songs were as much fun as the music. Bruce’s story of his father’s battle with a local solicitor was by itself worth the price of admission.

For me, it was not just the technical aspects of the playing. My Scottish heritage came to the surface. My paternal grandfather emigrated to Canada in 1913 and settled in Saskatchewan before moving to Toronto when the depression hit. I don’t remember my paternal grandmother – she passed away when I was very young. I still have fond memories of Grandpa sitting at the kitchen table listening to the Saturday morning Scottish music program on the local radio. And at that time, I didn’t understand what the attraction was – the music was old and sort of boring. But Grandpa would listen intently, nodding his head to the beat – I really had to be quiet on Saturday mornings when Grandpa’s music was on. Even after Grandpa was gone, I would occasionally find Dad listening to the music as well. It was only later when I first heard Fairport Convention that I began to appreciate the genre.

Grandpa lived to be 96 years old. When I left to come to Alberta in 1975, he was very serious when he gave me advice that I was not to drink from outdoor faucets in the winter time out west. “It’ll be n’ae good for your lips”. I took his advice to heart.

It is very honest music and while I know it isn’t everyone’s cuppa, it is special to me. It was a good time.

I would encourage people who are interested to check out Christine Hanson’s website www.christinehanson.com

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On the heels of my post about Ravi Shankar, another bit of my past surfaced this month. On December 14, PBS showed the Beatles film, Magical Mystery Tour, along with a documentary called “Magical Mystery Tour Revisited” about the making of the film.

The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour Album Cover

The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour Album Cover

Now a lot has been written about the film. My connection is that I saw the film in its only Canadian appearance at the O’Keefe Centre in Toronto in 1969.


Poster for the Toronto showing of Magical Mystery Tour (from http://www.capitol6000.com/posters.html)

I have to confess I don’t even remember the supporting acts but the film did make a big impression. I know the initial reaction to the film was very mixed. But for those of us who had two years of Monty Python under our belts, it seemed pretty normal 🙂 Seeing the film again just reinforced how far ahead it was for its day. Magical Mystery Tour really envisioned the music video long before they became commonplace. And I still found a lot of the film very funny when seen again – it was that dry British wit and nonsense that we grew up with, along with some really good music. It was a real treat to see it again.

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When I heard that Ravi Shankar had passed away last week, it brought back memories for me of 1967 or “The Summer of Love” as the media liked to call it. A couple of years earlier I had started reading about Indian philosophy. I will fully admit it was ‘trendy’ but the more I read, the more I became interested in the concepts. And being interested in music from an early age, I found an album in 1966 called “West Meets East” featuring Yehudi Menuhin, the violinist and Ravi Shankar. I was hooked. One of the great things about the late 60’s was the melding of different genres of music into new shapes.

West Meets East - Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin

West Meets East – Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin

In 1967 I got my chance to see Ravi Shankar perform. He played at the Shakesperian Festival in Stratford Ontario. This was perhaps the perfect venue to hear him. The theatre is in the round and modeled after the original Globe Theatre in England. I was dating my first ‘serious’ girlfriend at the time and we took the train from Toronto to Stratford. It was an amazing event – one that I had never experienced before. It may sound like trite, but I recall listening to his music as being in a dream. The structures were so different from what I had experienced before. Shankar has been quoted that he was concerned about the drug use that became associated with his music – I can tell you that you didn’t need drugs. Closing your eyes and letting the sounds wash over you was all that was required. It truly was a mystical experience.

What was even more fascinating was after a break, the musicians came back out and before they began to play, Shankar talked about Indian music and what it was about. He demonstrated various aspects of the sitar and talked about the fact that Indian music did not rely on written music but passed on their traditions using their own language. It was fascinating to watch Shankar speak, what sounded like gibberish, and then have the tabla player, Alla Rakha, essentially play back what Shankar had spoken. Amazing.

When you think about music mirroring society, it is interesting to think how Indian culture developed and gave us such complex and intriguing music. Heaven knows what today’s music says about us.

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I had been thinking about writing this post for awhile. But a passing this week sort of brought it into focus.

Sam (The Record Man) Sniderman passed away in Toronto at the age of 92 on Sunday September 23. While this probably doesn’t mean much to folks outside of Canada, even outside of Toronto, Sam’s store on Yonge Street was an iconic fixture in downtown. It was three floors at 347 Yonge packed with records of every description. When I first started to become interested in music, Sam’s was the place to go. If you had $2 ($1.90 + sales tax), plus bus fare, you could get an album on sale. Boxing Day sales were crazy – wall to wall people with Christmas money looking for deals. And more often than not, Sam himself, with a cigar in hand, was on the floor looking after things. He actively promoted Canadian artists and if it was a local band you were looking for, there was every chance that you could find it at Sam’s.

When I moved to western Canada, I would make a pilgrimage to Sam’s every time I went home. I bought my first CD player in 1985 and for the next few years, when it was not easy to find CDs, Sam’s had the best collection in probably all of Canada. My only encounter with Sam himself was between Christmas and New Year’s when I was looking for classical CDs. They had expanded the store by then and there was an enormous selection of classical music on CD. It was relatively early and there were very few people in the store. I was looking through the racks when Sam came up and asked if I was looking for something particular. I think I was looking for Bach concertos but the choice was so overwhelming that I had no idea what to choose. He said to follow him and he showed a series from Duetsche Grammophon. He said this was well recorded and at that price, you couldn’t go wrong. I was a little in awe of speaking with Sam himself but we chatted for a few minutes and I expressed my appreciation for his help. He just gave me a slap on the back and said, “don’t mention it, you’ll enjoy it.” and he wandered off to talk to someone else. He was in his element. I have a lot of fond memories of shopping there – music blaring on the main floor, the quietness of the second floor where the classical section was and then the best of all, the third floor where all the bargains and deletes were. Which brings me to the other part of my post.

Last night for the neon sign at Sam the Record Man’s (Wikipedia Commons)

I still have my album collection (over 500 the last time I counted) and I am sure a lot were purchased at Sam’s. This Christmas, my second son gave me a USB turntable so I could rip some of the vinyl into digital. The first album I chose was Smith, Perkins, Smith. This is a great record from 1972 featuring Wayne Perkins and the Smith brothers, Steve and Tim. It is very 70s, with a great laid back feel. Their harmonies are really good and the songs are all very listenable. But probably for most people, you have never heard of them.

Smith Perkins Smith
(note the hole in the lower right)

I probably would have never known of them if it wasn’t for one of my colleagues when I was working at campus radio at the University of Alberta in the late 70s. We were in the big campus record store and when he came across the album in the delete bin, he told me that this was good and I should pick it up. Hence the hole punched in the lower right corner.

I started thinking about why this record didn’t get more recognition. And then when I was reading Keith Richard’s autobiography, ‘Life’, I came across the fact that Wayne Perkins had been considered for a spot in the Rolling Stones when Mick Taylor left (apparently Perkins did play on a couple of Stones albums but never got the full time gig). That just blew me away. This was obviously someone with some talent. So, what happened? Timing, personalities, poor representation, substance issues – who knows. And how many other great recordings are out there in the delete bins? Maybe a microcosm of life … sometimes talent isn’t enough. I’ll bet there were many more of these gems in the third floor bins at Sam’s.

The back side of Smith Perkins Smith (1972)

Rest in peace Sam.

AND … after I finished this, I googled Smith Perkins Smith and found an article in the Guardian from earlier this year about the group – just 40 years too late. (The article has a YouTube link – go have a listen.)

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