Saturday, December 31, 2011

Year End Round Up

It's nearing 6pm here and I'm on a push to finish this post...otherwise the title would be rendered invalid.

For those that don't know this, St. John's is the first city on the North American continent to celebrate New Years. The time difference makes it a bit awkward to watch Dick Clark (whoa, he's 82 now!) and such New Years eve shows on the TV. The ball drops in the Big Apple at 1:30am our time. I've taken out my false teeth and used my walker to make my way to bed long before that.

We've enjoyed the neighbourhood Christmas lights the past few weeks but they will soon be coming down. Except for those who leave them up all year round. My favourite (again) this year is the large display of muted green, blue and purple lights in the trees along the busy boulevard from our provincial parliament buildings to the university. My pet peeve is the dozens of ladders on the sides of homes with fake elves perched on the rungs. Also on that list are inflatable candy canes that light up and those inflatable clear balls with blowing snow and a Santa trapped inside. They remind me of the display at St. Patrick's Church back in London. The big fella and his crozier are proudly displayed on its front lawn encased in a clear plastic cylinder. He seems a bit excluded from the general public, but at least he's protected from snakes.

Where was I...yes, Christmas displays that leave me scratching my head. You see a lot of homes here with those little electric lights sitting on the sills of all the front windows. They look like little menorahs except there are fewer lights involved and they're made of plastic. I'm not sure if they are symbolic of something. Does anybody out there know? Please enlighten me. Finally, have you seen those lit-up deer all over the place. You know the ones...a light metal frame in the general shape of a deer with small, white lights strung all over it. I think they sell them at Costco. Probably every where else as well, going by the number that can be found grazing on the front lawns of houses in this area. I did see a photo of one deer display that showed great humour and a lot of originality. The gutted deer in the picture to the left was hanging from an arbour SOMEWHERE in North America. There's a lot of hunters living here and I'm sure the trend will catch on for NEXT year.

I watched a couple of really good independent movies on IFC this holiday season. The first was a comedy-drama called 'The Station Agent' (2003). It's about a young man with achondroplastic dwarfism who inherits from a friend a small train station in Newfoundland, New Jersey (yeah, that's the's just a coincidence...honest). Fin (an amazing performance by Peter Dinklage) seeks a life of solitude, shying from human interaction. However his neighbours find ways to insinuate themselves into his life. This tale of friendship and lonliness was written and directed by Thomas McCarthy and is well worth your time should you see it in the TV listings (or chose to rent it).

Another thoughtful movie is 'Saint Ralph' (2005), written and directed by Michael McGowan. This story begins in Hamilton, Ontario in 1953 and is about a boy whose mother is in failing condition in hospital. This young man, played with tons of charm by Adam Butcher, is a social outcast and attends a Catholic school. He decides the only way she can be helped is with a miracle and he sets out to train for the upcoming Boston Marathon. The cynical and dismissive headmaster is played with uncharacteristic malice by Newfoundland's Gordon Pinsent. This is a good one to lift one's spirits and has a lot of laughs.

This year has seen me mainly unproductive in the writing world. Even the frequency of blogging has fallen off the past couple of months. It's now 3 hours until midnight. I'd make a resolution to do better if I believed in that sort of thing. I'm of the mind that if one wants to improve they should work on it at any time of the year, not just January the first. I'd like to wish you all the best for 2012. May health and happiness be the order of the day for you and yours, my friends.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mummering: What's Old is New

Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Upon moving here to Newfoundland in 2006 I quickly observed that 'The Rock' was unlike any other location in Canada. A little-known Christmas tradition that has gained a resurgence in popularity in recent years is mummering.

It is believed that mummering found its way to Newfoundland from England nearly 200 years ago. The tradition involves a group of people disguising themselves in costumes and visiting homes within their community. They will entertain their hosts by singing and dancing and perhaps telling jokes. The hosts will supply them with snacks and 'liquid refreshments' and try to guess the identities of the visitors. This is not easy as everyone has their faces covered and men are often disguised as women and women as men. This tradition was made popular in "The Mummers Song" by Newfoundland folk duo Simani in 1982. Play the 3 1/2 minute video, first aired on the CBC program 'Land and Sea',  for a feel for what a visit from mummers was like for those living 'round the bay'.

And...below THIS is a link to a two minute video from last Saturday's Mummer's Parade here is St. John's.

The mummering tradition has been noticed by the US satirical new organization The Onion and featured/lampooned in a recent video. You can see that two minuted video below.

Traveling Group Of Medieval Mummers Is America's Top Pick For Holiday Entertainment

So there you have it...all you wanted to know about mummering. And a bit more. Holiday wishes to you all...whatever it is you may be celebrating this time of the year. And finally a feel-good story...the little puffin who found his way home. In a case of 'misdirection', a 6 month old puffin somehow got lost and flew from the Atlantic Ocean to downtown Montreal (mon dieu!). He was flown back (courtesy of Air Canada) to St. John's last night and will spend a couple of weeks R&R at a bird sanctuary before being released back into the 'wilds'. Now there's a happy ending. You can link to that story here.

*sniffs and wipes tear from eye*

Saturday, December 17, 2011

An Encounter in the Woods

Just thought that I'd pop into the blogosphere again for what's quickly turning into a semi-monthly posting schedule. Perhaps my inactivity explains why the number of followers has dropped a couple since my last post. Perhaps that svelte picture of me in my last post offended a couple of people? Too much butt-crack perchance? Hopefully nobody thought that was really ME!

My back pain persists but at least I'm staying away from the hospital. A couple of weeks ago the dog was lying on the floor of my office...looking at me with sad, bloodshot eyes. He has been ailing as well of late. Perhaps some sympathy pains from man's best friend?

I figured that a mid-day walk would be good medicine for us both. It was a bit chilly so I threw the lined coat on our greyhound and leashed him up. As we left the house, Jake the Shih Tzu spied us from the house across the road. He stood on the back of the living room sofa and I'm sure was imagining a big, tasty rat as he vigourously shook his stuffed toy.

We walked down the gravel path into the urban woods, breathing the fresh air and stretching our limbs. Jet eventually forced me to use a poopy bag. Thankfully only one (anyone who's owned a large breed dog knows that a dumpster is a requirement in the back yard). A beagle darted towards us. It had a collar with tags but there was no owner in sight. As it neared its hind end dropped and its tail curled between its hind legs. I tried to lure it towards me but it ran off the path into the stunted pine trees. (On a side my former life as a 'Dog Catcher' only one type of dog ever tried to bite me...a beagle).

A young man came along the path. He looked a bit cold as he wasn't wearing a jacket. He stooped as he grasped the collar of a shepherd-ish looking dog. He explained that the dogs escaped the house when he had the door open. The lived at the end of a nearby busy street. I couldn't loan him my leash as my dog would no doubt run away. With my back in its present state, I was deduced to running the 100 yard dash in over 12 seconds and knew there was no way I would be able to catch the sprinting greyhound.

He explained that the beagle was his step-father's hunting dog. She was normally kept in a pen (Boo!) and naturally ran to the woods after the 'great escape'. He tried carrying the beagle in one arm as he stooped to grasp the collar of the other dog. The beagle squirmed too much so he put her down on the gravel path.

I told him that perhaps he should lead the dog he had home and I would keep the beagle following me in the woods until his return. "Good plan, dude!" he said.

Unfortunately the beagle spied a woman jogging along the nearby busy street and chased after her. "Bella," the young man bellowed after the fleeing beast. The scene in the faux forest had become a bit too surrealistic for my liking. I knew we were only a few sleek bodies and sparkles away from being in a bad Hollywood blockbuster (apologies to Stephenie Meyer).

To make a long story short, the young man soon returned with a leash and Bella the beagle grew tired of chasing the jogger and returned to the woods in search of more challenging game. She hung about Jet and I until she was secured on the leash and returned to her life of drudgery.

The End

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I am a Beetroot

We've quietly slipped into December and now begin the three weeks of madness that lead into the Christmas festivities. Speaking of madness...NaNoWriMo is now complete. My congratulations to those of you who completed the 50K word goal. Maintaining the required pace (of about 1666 words) for 30 days can be really challenging (physically, mentally and maritally).

New topic. I've posted before about the odd assortment of people who have appeared on my doorstep for one reason or another. You may recall my mentioning the man selling fish products door to door from the trunk of his car. Though the list looked tasty enough, I just can't see myself buying food products that have been stored with old beer bottles, jumper cables and a spare tire.

A few years back I had a middle-aged man appear looking for used books in order to make enough money to get the ferry to return home to the mainland. I gave him a few paperbacks and he tucked them into his plastic bag and continued on. The following year he was back again looking for more books. At least this time he didn't spin the story of using the money for ferry fare. I gave him a couple more.

Two years ago I posted about an elderly gentleman selling a book about the (recent) history of Old Perlican, a fishing community on the northern tip of the Avalon Peninsula. There was a story about the old man and how he lost both hands in an electrical accident back in the 70's. I bought a copy of the book for $20. He gingerly pinched the bill between the tines of his right hook and tucked it into his shirt pocket.

We have had charitable fundraisers, security system salesmen, politicians and purveyors of religion appear at the door. Sometimes the traffic has been so heavy it's hard to imagine that we live on an island. I guess that suburban door to door 'visitors' are universal. Perhaps the oddest thing I've seen at the door was the week after Halloween of this year. Supper was on the go in the kitchen and darkness had fallen. The doorbell rang...

The Happy Vegetables.

I opened the door and three young people stood before me, ready to get into their spiel about Oxfam. I have nothing against this fine organization but their people were more than a little creepy showing up at the door, in the dark, dressed as vegetables. Seriously. One was a carrot, another was a celery and the third was a vegetable yet to be named. Note to Oxfam: it may be in the best interest of your fundraisers NOT to show up at people's doors dressed as food items at supper time. Their being a couple days late for Halloween didn't help the oddness of the encounter. I can't help but think of a Barbara Walters interview in this situation. "If you were a vegetable, what type of vegetable would you be?"

What's the oddest person/thing that has appeared at YOUR door?