Monday, December 30, 2013


Many political commentators predicted that Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to counter the growing popularity of Justin Trudeau, would this year unleash a charm offensive. Harper's charm had gone, so far, undetected, but political pundits said this would be the year. Less paunch, more charm.

Didn't happen.

Nor did he get his two Christmases wishes: (1) to have hair like Justin's; (2) to stop feeling like a character in "Law and Order" being cross-examined by Tom Mulcair.

But now Conservative insiders report that Harper plans to start 2014 with a big splash: the Prime Minister, wearing maple leaf trunks, nose plugs and hair net, will jet across the country, taking part in Polar Bear Swims from Newfoundland to Victoria.

Theme song by Bobby Darin.  (Stand well back.)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Consider the Box

Boxing Day, yes, but we're not going to talk about Boxing Day sales, scenes of significant mayhem, or the origins of Boxing Day, which stretch back to 1690; we are instead going to talk about the box itself, and its place in legend and literature.

But first, the word: Box--derived from the Late Latin "buxis."

In 1936, Rex Stout published a Nero Wolfe mystery he called "The Red Box"--not the most memorable in the Wolfe-Archie Goodwin series, but entertaining. The jacket copy tells us that the gargantuan New York sleuth was "in line for the supreme insult of his career--a murder in his own home. The only clue was an odd red box--and that had disappeared!"

The phrase "in the wrong box" means being out of one's element or in the wrong position. In 1889, Robert Louis Stevenson, in collaboration with Lloyd Osbourne, wrote "The Wrong Box." Rudyard Kipling said he "laughed dementedly over it." Seventy-seven years later, "The Wrong Box" was filmed, with a cast including Peter Sellers, Tony Hancock, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. If you can find a copy, prepare to laugh dementedly. (As we often do, for no reason at all.)

Finally, the most famous box in legend and literature: Pandora's. Pandora, first woman on earth, was given a beautiful sealed box (actually an urn) by Zeus, but warned to never open it. But curiosity won, as it so often does. Pan pried open the lid and released all the evils that would afflict the world. She was, as one might expect, distressed, and tried to stuff the nasty things back in. But to no avail. However, one item remained in the box: the spirit of hope.

And so we hope for a good 2014. Pope Francis, fix it.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Jack's Christmas Eve

Even though Jack Madison was, by this time, the voice of CSYM's flagship program, he drew the Christmas Eve shift, because he was the one unmarried announcer on staff.

That afternoon, he had been in the studio to introduce and talk around the program he and his team had recorded the week before at an orphanage. It had become an annual event--they took fruit and candy and a sack of small gifts, some musicians from Jack's show came to entertain, and Jack talked to as many children as they could fit in the two hours.

It was both a happy and sad time for the children, many with drawn and grey faces. On the drive back, Jack said, "I felt we were in a room full of Tiny Tims." "Or," said Leo, the engineer, "a lot of future Scrooges."

Crunching snow underfoot, Jack thought of the Christmas day show he would play tomorrow. As usual, it would be the CSYM staff party, at which all members were required to perform. Jack had the least embarrassing job, introducing performers and getting them off, and he could count on Gavin Stone to hide drinks under plants around the mezzanine for the crew packing up.

Twenty minutes to seven. He had time to stop at a house he had come to know well. The light inside was soft and mellow, and Jane met him at the door. She wore a deep burgundy sweater and a pencil-slim grey skirt and somewhere in the background a choir was singing. He wouldn't see her again until after Christmas; the next day she and her parents would travel the city, visiting her many aunts and uncles and cousins.

"It's almost five to seven," he said. "I know," she said. "I'll be listening. But I wish you didn't have to go."

And Jack felt the same. But it would be all right. They would spend the next sixty Christmases together.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

No Letter Today

"No letter today-I hope and I pray--the postman goes by--no letter today."

The old lament soon will be heard across the land, as Canada Post abandons door-to-door delivery in favor of community mailboxes (a feature applauded by break-in artists) and raises the price of individual postage stamps to one dollar (a move applauded by Jacquie Lawson).

The plan now is for aircraft to drop bundles of mail in open fields. Citizens will then be encouraged to dive into the pile to retrieve whatever they can find--love letters, cheques, rejection slips, medical test reports, chain letters, ransom notes, etc.

Essential mail will be handled differently, and receive priority treatment. This will include pizza coupons, Chinese restaurant take-out menus, real estate flyers, and letters from your Member of Parliament.

That's the plan for 2014. In 2015, Canada Post will move to smoke signals.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Peter O'Toole

When Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, his acceptance speech began with these words: "No writer who knows the great writers who did not receive the prize can accept it other than with humility." Although he did not name those writers, certainly Proust and Joyce would have been among them.

We thought of this today on learning that Peter O'Toole had died. O'Toole was nominated eight times as Best Actor by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. He won not once.

In all of those nominations, the performance for which he most clearly deserved the Oscar was in "Lawrence of Arabia." By not winning, he joined a most distinguished list of players who should have won--Peter Sellers, for "Dr. Strangelove," Jean Hagen for "Singin' in the Rain," Richard Jaeckel for "Sometimes a Great Notion," Paul Newman for "The Verdict."

 O'Toole finally was given an honorary Oscar, one of those lifetime achievement things, and Newman was given a best actor Oscar for "The Color of Money" as a kind of apology for messing up on "The Verdict," but really, one wishes the voters would get things right at the right time.

Tonight on our small screen, O'Toole and Omar Sharif will meet again, riding camels across the Arabian sands.

Happy Surprises

Okay, so maybe 2013 hasn't been a great year, but there were still a few happy surprises. Here are three of them:

1. The much feared new coach of the Vancouver Canucks, John Tortorella, turning out to be a very likable guy.

2. Now that the CFL season is over, Vaughn Palmer's "Voice of BC" becoming the most interesting TV show on the air.

3. The agenda of Pope Francis, which, whatever one's faith or politics, or lack thereof, is proving a blessing for us all.

And now we say, along with ever optimistic sports teams, no matter how 2013 went, wait 'til next year.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Faire P.S.

Since posting our viewing-reading-listening recommendations for Christmas, all tested in the Pointless Digressions kitchens, others have jumped into the snowball fight with their own Yuletide choices, some of which, we have to say, are okay. And we have remembered one or two worthy runners-up ourselves, so here goes:

Additional Christmas listening: "England's Carol" by the Modern Jazz Quartet, as cool and pristine and perfect as an early morning at a frozen pond. Which then reminds us of the MJQ's equally elegant "Skating in Central Park." And, if you can find it, "Away in a Manger," a lovely duet channeling Brahms by George Shearing and Don Thompson. There is a rousing Christmas gospel number by Nina Simone, the Nefertiti of jazz singers, and essential to the season must be Louis Armstrong's "Zat You, Santy Claus?"

More Christmas viewing: "Love, Actually," a film by Richard Curtis, who gave us "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill," and "The Tall Guy," which deserves to be much better known. In his spare time, Curtis also created "The Vicar of Dibley." "Love, Actually," an ensemble piece, tells a number of Yuletide tales which suggest the pathways of love are about as predictable as the workings of a pinball machine. It involves such engaging actors as Hugh Grant, playing a Tony Blair-style prime minister, Billy Bob Thornton, playing a George W.-style president, and Bill Nighy playing (and singing) an aging rock star. And then, there is "The Bishop's Wife," with Cary Grant as a harp-playing angel who takes Loretta Young (the bishop's wife) ice skating. David Niven plays the bishop with a very stiff upper lip, held in place by his moustache and his clerical collar.

And that's it for now. Off to dip more sugar plums.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Dressing Up for Christmas

A Vancouver bus driver who was told by his employers he could not wear a Santa Claus suit while behind the wheel has now been given an okay. His superiors, caught in a reindeer stampede of public outrage, relented. "Okay, fella," they said, "go ahead and wear your (expletive) Santa outfit. Ho (bleeping) ho."

Emboldened by this, several other drivers have announced their plans to wear costumes. Farley Dingleby says, "I'm going to go as Batman. I've got my cape and mask all ready. And I'll wheel that bus through the streets like the Batmobile."

Melba Lepoole says, "As soon as the warm weather comes, I'm wearing a bikini. And maybe have mai tais in my Thermos."

Finally, Jethro Muldoon will be driving his route in a "Star Trek" costume. "And," says Muldoon, "all the on-board directions will be delivered in Klingon."


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Yuletide Fare (or Faire)

We worked once at a radio station that had a fast rule regarding Christmas music: none to be aired until December 15. And we attended a church where the priest was stricter than that--no carols until midnight mass, when Christmas Eve turned into Christmas Day.

With those thoughts in mind, we move on to this department's not-so-strict recommendations for pre-Christmas (i.e., Advent) reading, viewing and listening.

It wouldn't seem proper to go thru the season without re-reading "A Christmas Carol." There is a handsome Modern Library edition containing this and two less familiar Dickens Christmas stories: "The Chimes" and "The Haunted Man." It carries an introduction by John Irving, who tells us that Dickens, in a preface to the 1843 edition, wrote "I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me."

Other choices for bedtime reading, neither well-known, but greatly rewarding: "A Likely Story," by Donald Westlake, about a hack writer attempting to produce the ultimate Christmas coffee table book, and Somerset Maugham's "Christmas Holiday," set in Paris, and truly conjuring an emotionally bleak midwinter.

Christmas listening (unless you have rules about this): Bach's "Christmas Oratorio," of course--but also "Sleighride" by an Art Pepper-Richie Cole quintet, with Roger Kellaway on the keys. The saxophonists take their sleigh on some very crazy but happy leaps. And, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Dexter Gordon--not as poignant as the Garland original, but a cheerier, lightly swinging version, the audio equivalent of a mug of mulled wine.

And finally, viewing. Only two choices for us--the Alastair Sim film of "A Christmas Carol " (which John Irving remembers watching in northwest India while traveling with the Great Royal Circus) and Bill Murray's "Scrooged," which offers, among other Christmas treats, Miles Davis busking as a street musician.   "A Christmas Carol" and "Scrooged"--bookends.

And now, thinking of mulled wine...

Friday, December 6, 2013

Private Eye on the Weather

Business has been slow for hard-boiled private detectives since Hammett, Chandler and Macdonald checked out. Now Elmore Leonard is gone too, and Lawrence Block says he's breaking the pencil, leaving Matt Scudder out in the cold.

So several of the private eyes--aging and unable to take as many slugs on the head as they used to, packing walkers instead of gats--have moved into broadcasting. Let's tune in and hear Philip Marlowe, who works now as a weather forecaster.

"It's colder than a grifter's heart out there. Sunny, yeah. Beautiful. Beautiful and cold, like a dame I knew. And that wind--goes into you like a shiv's ice pick.

"Watch out for flurries of snow--naw, not that kind of snow, the legit stuff. And in the morning, these mean streets could be layered in black ice like a floozy's pancake makeup, slick and tricky as a con artist's spiel.

"Okay, that's the weather, chumps. Stay tuned for my amigo Sam Spade with the sports news. Sam's still after the falcon. But this time, it's the Atlantic Falcons. Sam, baby, you'll do better putting your bucks on another bird--the Seattle Seahawks."

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

TransLink Polar Express

We boarded a TransLink bus the other day and found it festooned with glittering tinsel and ribbons. The driver was wearing a Santa Claus toque, and seemed to be channeling Tom Hanks in "The Polar Express."

And there was music playing--all the Yuletide favorites, from "O Little Town of Bethlehem" to "Santa's Comin' On a Boogie-Woogie Choo-Choo Train." I would like to report that the passengers joined in and sang along, but that didn't happen. Maybe it will closer to Christmas, after the driver passes around the egg nog.

It was a pleasant, almost magical journey thru the frosted streets, and after the bus pulled away, and the driver doffed his toque and wished us a "Merry Christmas!" I thought--perhaps that really was Tom Hanks. I mean, he was in Regina for the Grey Cup, so why not?

Stand at a bus stop, and watch for it: the garlanded vehicle playing "Santa's Comin' On a Boogie-Woogie Choo-Choo TransLink Bus."

Saturday, November 30, 2013

I'll Get Around to It. Sometime.

Here it is December, and I haven't finished with October. October 1989.

As many know, I have raised procrastination to an art form. I have pink telephone message slips going back to 1972. Here's one that says "Please call at once! Urgent!" And I intend to do that, sometime.

There are many deep psychological reasons for chronic procrastination, and I will go into those. Another day.

It's said that Marilyn Monroe was invariably late for rehearsals. One day, a wise director said to her, "Marilyn, if you can't be on time, be early."

And from then on, she always was.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Famous Marketing Miscues

Okay, who was the marketing genius who thought this day should be designated Black Friday?

Black Friday--conjures images of stock market meltdown, bank closings, Wall Street brokers on window ledges.

It was probably the same guy who came up with these:

"This St. Valentine's Day, we massacre prices!"

"Time to take a titanic cruise!"

"Winter Doldrums? Fly with us and crash in Florida!"

And all you people who did not make Denny Boyd's Grey Cup pot roast in coffee: good luck getting his recipe for Blotto Salmon.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Denny (not Denny's) cooks the Grey Cup roast

As Grey Cup day approaches, we turn for guidance to Denny Boyd's "Man On the Range," published in 1973 and improving, like cellared Bordeaux, every year. Here's what he writes:

"Having been a jock writer for some twenty years, I have had my allotment of Grey Cup weeks. Been to some parties we could have been sent up for. Played all the popular Grey Cup week games, like Naked in the Elevator, Mattress Out the Window, and Chug-a-Lug-a-Jug.

"Having paid my dues in the Grey Cup Club, I have become a member-at-large. You could almost make that an out-patient. So, I stay at home, by the TV.

"I keep something on the stove, as all Grey Cup revelers are in heavy need of strong stimulants, like black coffee, and nourishing food. For Grey Cup day, I most heartily endorse pot roast cooked in--wait for it--coffee.

"Yes. Pot roast in coffee. Would I lie? It can be carved easily with the wrong side of a knife, it is that tender. And the gravy is almost black and hisses with vigor, thick, fragrant, oozing thickly over mashed potatoes.

"It's pretty easy, as long as you start Saturday. You take a four- or five-pound pot roast--bottom round, boned, rolled rib or rump--and you put it in a deep casserole dish, then marinate it for twenty-four hours in vinegar and a sprinkle of peppercorns.

"On game day, sometime before noon, drain off the marinade, pat the roast dry with paper towels, and sear it in the same casserole dish until it is dark, dark brown.

"Then add two cups of double-strength coffee, bring the liquid to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer very gently for five or six hours while you watch the game.

"All very easy. All very splendid. And, you may save a Grey Cup life."

Stolen, with thanks, from Denny Boyd's "Man On the Range." If you can find a copy somewhere you will learn also how to make Kiniski's Hammerlock Onions and Mrs. Stoochnoff's Mother-in-Law's Borscht.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Drinks Are on Frank

News that the Jack Daniel's Lynchburg, Tennessee distillery plans to name one of its high octane products for Frank Sinatra, who often was seen on stage with glass in hand, has given Canadian potable producers an idea. A company of vintners bottling a sparkling wine will name it for Michael Buble. The label will read "Bubbly Buble."

Meanwhile, for country music fans, there will be "Ry Cooder Rye," and the classical crowd can still get Bach Hock and Meyerbeer Beer.

As Frank frequently invited us in the song "Angel Eyes," "Drink up, all of you people."

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Moustache Cup

Eastern and Western CFL Finals concluded, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and hometown Saskatchewan Roughriders go into Regina for the 101st Grey Cup game November 24. Could Saskatchewan Tourism and Regina hoteliers and restaurateurs be any happier?

Meanwhile, what may have been overlooked in the snowy flurry of gridiron excitement is the great Movember moustache competition. Every November, athletes sprout foliage on their upper lips to draw attention to prostate cancer. Do not ask how there can be a connection.

And who this year among CFL players takes the cup for best 'stache? Eskimo QB Mike Reilly, who endured much bruising, but maintained a winning performance despite a losing team, and despite all those sacks kept a stiff upper lip and a splendid moustache on it.

Grey Cup next Sunday. Advice to the players: to paraphrase Napoleon's message to Josephine--"don't shave."

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Unpredictions

We are into the white-knuckle phase of football for CFL coaches (those who are still standing). Sunday will see both the Eastern and Western Finals, deciding which teams will meet in the Grey Cup. Sports prognosticators (don't you love that word?) have made their informed predictions, but none will issue here, for fear of jinxing the teams.

And in the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster, a bishop is to be elected November 30. We have made our private guess on the voting, but won't reveal it. The last time we made some cautious public comment on the probable outcome of an electoral synod, a peace-loving priest, known for his warm, pastoral care, offered to punch our lights out.

So looking forward to action on the gridiron and in the pews, but no predictions. (Maybe the odd private wager.)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Transit Etiquette

One of the pleasant surprises in an era in which manners and civility are said to be diminishing is the custom of many transit users to call out "Thank you" when disembarking. And sometimes the driver responds, with "You're welcome" or "'Bye now" or even "Have a nice day."

Two acts of modest kindness witnessed the other day: A driver parking his bus and waiting, sensing that a young man on crutches, a half-block away and hobbling as fast as he could, wanted to board. And, in place of the usual disembodied voice announcing the next stop, the driver himself, in full, rich baritone, calling out not only the stops, but also shops and restaurants and connections to other buses.

Hearing the driver's splendid delivery, topping many voices on today's airwaves, we remembered that Peter Mansbridge had been discovered while working in an airport, speaking on the public address system. A producer heard him and thought, "Maybe this guy has a future in radio."

If we were still working in radio, we would have hired that bus driver.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Necktie Scandal

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford today said, "Okay, so maybe I did smoke crack cocaine. Who knows what they stick in your mouth when you're blitzed? But I did not lie to youse media guys. Like they say on Jeopardy, you did not phrase your questions correctly."

Loyal Torontonians were grateful and relieved, although one still had concerns, saying, "The Mayor did not apologize for the necktie he was wearing, which was a far graver offence."

All of this publicity appears to be a plus for the Jenny Craig diet company, which is working on a dating show teaming Mayor Ford with Kirstie Alley.

Friday, November 1, 2013

On the Scene with the Conservatives in Calgary

Our senior political reporter, Ainsley Duntz, sends this early news from the Conservative Party convention in Calgary:

"Prime Minister Stephen Harper brought the audience to their feet--well, those who could stand--with his impassioned rendition of 'You Can't Always Get What You Want.' Then, the Toronto delegation thrilled delegates with 'Pass That Peace Pipe.'"

That's it for now, PD viewers. More to come. Unless we're shut down.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hallowe'en Tale #3: Change of Address

Mike Davies heard sirens, woke up, looked around. The place felt comfortable, if, in some way, unfamiliar. But Mike had been drinking a lot lately and had slept in a lot of places, so it wasn't disturbing. And he had a vague memory of moving into this apartment six months ago. July, perhaps.

He walked into the kitchen in tee shirt and boxers, and brewed a pot of French roast. He looked for a paper at the door, but it  hadn't been delivered. Still early, he thought. He went back to bed and turned on the radio. Everything seemed old news, more suicide bombers, more street demonstrations, more hostages. I've heard all this before, he thought. He turned to a station playing Latin jazz, sipped coffee, and watched the sun rise.

At 5:45, he heard the thump of a newspaper at the door, and padded out to get it. When he opened the door and reached for the paper, he saw a woman leaving an apartment down the hall. She looked as though she recognized him, but Mike couldn't place her. Probably she'd seen him on TV. Then she seemed to vanish into the elevator. An optical illusion, he thought. Or too much gin last night.

Mike had breakfast--a Bloody Mary, some anchovy paste (the Gentleman's Relish) on toast--and then walked around the grounds, waiting for the pub to open. On the path, he met a man leading a dog, who, he realized, had been his high school Latin teacher. The man, not the dog. Wearing the same grey pin-stripe suit. The man, not the dog. "Mr. Allen," he said, "quo vadis?"

"Oh, I've lived here quite awhile, Mickey. But I guess no one calls you that any more. That's a good show you do."

Mike began to say something, pat the dog, perhaps, but they were gone. Misty morning, low visibility.

That evening, after mixing a shaker of martinis, he heard a sound in the hall. He turned down the music and opened the door. In the hall was the woman he'd seen that morning--weary, sore-footed--lugging bags of groceries into her apartment. Her eyes were clouded with drudge-work fatigue, but when they met his, they gleamed red, like eyes in a photograph when the flash has been too fast.

"Could I help you?" said Mike.

"No thanks," she said. "I don't need any help from you."

Mike, back in his apartment, listening to Paul Desmond, began to think the woman looked like someone with whom he had gone through a brief, fiery, ultimately dangerous romance, now twenty years older. Shelley, he thought. Or Sherry. One of those. Well, he thought, one often sees similarities; after all, as an artist friend once told him, there are only six basic facial types.

The next morning he called the television station where his afternoon talk show was produced. He had missed shows in the past, but Phil Bailey was always there to fill in, and you could get away with a few repeats. Still, he thought, I'd better check in, call my producer, see what's on for the week.

"CWL TV," said the woman who answered. Nancy, thought Mike, that's her name.

"Nancy," he said, "it's Mike. Is Chet in yet/"

There was a moment of silence, like ice fog hanging in the air. Then, "Who did you say this is?

"Come on, Nancy, it's Mike Davies."

"That's not funny," she said. And hung up.

Mike shrugged, drank his coffee, tried morning TV, gave up and went for a walk. In the elevator was a man reading The New York Times. When the man lowered the paper and looked up, Mike saw the long, pale face and realized it was Max Vogel. Mike swallowed hard, shook his head, and said, "Max, wonderful to see you. Somebody told me--well, there was a story going around--that you..uh..were no longer with us."

Max laughed. "Funny things happen, Mike."

"Listen, Max, we have to get together, have a drink."

"Sounds good. Call me. I'm in 1402." And Max left the elevator.

Did that door open? thought Mike. Must have.

Strolling through the grounds surrounding the apartment complex, Mike noted a few squirrels, black and grey, a gorgeous red-crested woodpecker, and a skeletal grey cat. Then, on a far path, he saw two people who looked exactly like his Uncle Frank and Aunt Ethel. They waved and kept walking. Whatever altered state I'm in, thought Mike, it's taking me longer than usual to get over it.

Mike had lunch at a neighborhood bistro--Bombay Sapphire martini, shrimp and papaya salad, bottle of 2002 Saturna Semillon. Jean-Luc himself brought the wine to the table. "So good to see you again, Monsieur Davies," he said.

"Yeah, great to see you, Jean-Luc. I thought--well, I didn't expect to see you again."

"So many things happen we don't expect," said Jean-Luc. He poured a taste of the wine, waited for Mike's nod of approval, filled the glass, and left the table.

Mike went to the liquor store next door, bought a bottle of Jack Daniel's, went back to his apartment and watched old movies on the Golden Classics channel. He sat through Cagney in "White Heat" and Rita Hayworth in "Gilda." Then Bogart and Bergman came on. And even though Mike could recite most of the dialogue, he thought, how many times can you watch "Casablanca" and not get bored? Then he fell asleep.

The next morning, Mike heard a newspaper hit the door. I can wait, he thought. He brewed his first two cups of coffee, showered and shaved, dressed in one of his favorite casual outfits--burgundy turtleneck, grey Chinos, Ferragamo loafers, and went to get the paper.

Has to be some mistake, he thought. This paper is six months old. It was dated July 13, 2012. Even so, he unfolded it, and began to read. Then, below the fold, he saw his picture, and a headline that read:

                              Talk Show Host Dies in Traffic Accident

And the story continued: Michael (Mike) Davies, host of CWL TV's top-rated talk show "Mike on Mike," died yesterday in a vehicle accident on the Port Mann Bridge. Police say Davies's car, traveling west at 2:15 a.m., was moving erratically, sideswiped a truck, and crashed into a concrete barrier. "Speed was certainly a factor," said RCMP Sgt. Vern Olynyk. "I don't want to ay anything about alcohol." Davies's silver 560SL Mercedes-Benz was sheared in half. The truck driver was not injured.

"Mike was a hell of a broadcaster," said Chet Dustan, his producer, "Always surprised you. But he lived his life right up to the top. You couldn't tell him there was anything he couldn't do."

Davies, 56, is survived by his children, Sandra and Matthew, his former wife, Jacqueline Parrish, and, said Dustan, "a lot of loyal viewers." Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

There was more, but Mike dropped the newspaper, walked to a mirror, and stared at himself. He looked the same as ever. He looked away, and turned back. Now his face was smashed and bloodied, there was a deep depression in his forehead, one eye seemed gone, and his nose was spread across his face. He closed his eyes, and looked again. There was no image.

I wonder, thought Mike, what I was doing on the Port Mann Bridge.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hallowe'en Madness on Sussex Drive

Scene: The underground laboratory at 24 Sussex Drive. Agitated female enters.

Female: Dr. Frankenharper--it's 3:00 a.m.! (Gasp) What is that you're working on?

Dr. F: Don't interrupt, Laureen, my great experiment is almost complete. Igor, hand me that blowtorch.

J. Baird: Yes, Master. Look, look--the creature is moving!

Female: Dr. Frankenharper, you can't do this!

Dr. F: Ah, but I have done it! I have created the first of a series of near lifelike figures with which I will populate the Senate. Bah ha ha ha ha!

Female: But suppose, Dr. Frankenharper, these creatures turn against you?

Dr. F: That will never happen. Igor, give this creature an expense account and send him out into the world.

Female: This is madness!

Dr. F: That's what they said about all the great minds. You wait, Laureen, this will make history.

Monster: Where's the nearest bar?

Curtain falls to the sound of crazed laughter.

Monday, October 28, 2013


As Hallowe'en approaches, and we try to decide our costume--Frankenstein's monster or Mike Duffy?--it is time to once again declare our Spookiest List.

Spookiest music: Many might pick the bone-crunching theme from "Jaws" or the piercing shrieks Bernard Hermann wrote for "Psycho," but our choice remains Miklos Rozsa's dream sequence music for Hitchcock's "Spellbound," with that eerie, ghostly theremin.

Spookiest movie: We have a friend who still shivers when he thinks of 1932's "The Mummy," and "The Shining" and "Rosemary's Baby" can set goose bumps in motion, but our choice for best in this category is still "The Uninvited." Think of Ray Milland carrying a candelabra up the stairs into the icy darkness...

Spookiest book: M.R. James's "Collected Ghost Stories," given us by an elderly archbishop, is fine Hallowe'en reading, and Saki's tales always raise a chill, but the best of all ghost stories, for this edge-of-the-seat reader, remains "The Green Man," by Kingsley Amis.

Wait a minute...what's that noise behind us? Where did that black cat come from? Why is that shadow coming closer..and closer..and---

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fog bound

The heavy fog that has enshrouded us of late brought to this foggy mind many foggy thoughts,

First, there was a very clever film, circa 1955, called "Footsteps in the Fog," and for a 1966 film, "The Deadly Affair," Quincy Jones wrote a fine score, including "Don't Fly When it's Foggy." Some will remember Burl "Big Daddy" Ives singing "Foggy Dew," and that Mel Torme was dubbed the Velvet Fog, a sobriquet he detested.

But what one remembers best, and is pleased to still often hear, is the Gershwin brothers' song "A Foggy Day." It was written for a 1937 production called "A Damsel in Distress," and it was sung first by Fred Astaire. In his memoir, "Lyrics on Several Occasions," Ira Gershwin wrote that it was early that year, they were in Beverly Hills, and had finished three or four songs. "One night," he wrote, "I was in the living room, reading. About 1:00 a.m., George returned from a party, took off his dinner jacket, sat down at the piano, and said, 'How about some work?' Got any ideas?'"

Ira said, "There's one spot we might do something about a fog. How about 'A Foggy Day in London' or 'A Foggy day in London Town'?" "Sounds good," said George. "I like it better with 'Town.'"

"And," wrote Ira, "he was off immediately on the melody. We finished the refrain, words and music, in less than an hour.

"Next day the song still sounded good." Uh-huh.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Harper in for Munro

Stockholm, October 17 (AP): The Swedish Academy says Nobel literature prize winner Alice Munro won't travel to Stockholm to collect her award because of poor health. It's not clear who will represent her at the December 10 ceremony.

Stockholm, December 10: "Good evening, your Majesty and Academy members. My name is Stephen Harper, here on behalf of Ms. Munro and all Canadians, proud that Alice, if I may speak familiarly, received this award under a Conservative administration. I know that you were expecting Justin Bieber to be here, but at the last moment, we had his passport cancelled.

"Let me say first of all that I love your meatballs. And, I have often watched Henrik and Daniel Sedin in action. Which brings me to this book of mine, a work I offer for your consideration next time the jury is in. (Ha ha.) It's a book about hockey, which has taken a great deal of work. I have had to prorogue Parliament a number of times to allow me time to complete it.

"Now, I know there is no precedent for a book on sport to receive the Nobel Prize, but look what the award to Ms. Munro has done for the short story. I submit that if the Academy were to recognize the literary merit of this work of mine, there would be a golden renaissance for sports writing.

"I have here a few dozen copies of my book which I would like to pass around, and I'll be available for signing, wearing my old Maple Leafs jersey, once we get through the rest of this stuff.

"Thank you. See you at the smorgasbord."

Sunday, October 13, 2013

To Make a Long Story Short...

One of the ripple effects of the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Alice Munro is the discovery of the short story.

Suddenly people are writing about the art of the short story as though until now, no one had been aware of it. But there always have been great short story writers. Among other Nobel laureates, there are Hemingway, Faulkner and Kipling. Hemingway's best work may be in his short stories ("The Snows of Kilimanjaro," "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," and scores more). Faulkner wrote many short stories, including "The Bear" and "Barn Burning." And John Huston thought Kipling's "The Man Who Would be King" the best story ever written.

The New Yorker was for decades home to three of the best short story writers, all named John: O'Hara, Cheever and Updike. And then there was Thurber, whose classic "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is about to be filmed again, this time with Sean Penn, which is very promising indeed.

Add to the list Ellen Gilchrist, whose short story collections include "Drunk with Love" and "In the Land of Dreamy Dreams," Irwin Shaw ("The Girls in their Summer Dresses," "The 80-Yard Run," "Tip On a Dead Jockey") Deborah Eisenberg, and W.R. Burnett, whose "Dressing Up" should be a movie, and almost was, by film maker Phil Surguy.

And how about Ring Lardner, Dorothy Parker and Salinger?

Now that the short story has been discovered (ironically, at a time when the market for short stories has almost disappeared) there may be hope for the novella and the essay.

Keeping our 2/HB pencils crossed.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bickering and the Nobel

A friend announced that she is observing this as Alice Munro Day. And that seems to be the euphoric and triumphant mood of many.

Meanwhile, thinking of the Nobel Prize for Literature, we looked at an article in The Daily Beast, a U.S. on-line magazine. It listed seventeen writers who coulda been, and perhaps were, contendas.
Most of the expected names, well known in the English-speaking world, were there--Tolstoy, Joyce, Woolf, Borges, Updike, Nabokov--but there were some surprising inclusions (Willa Cather, Edith Wharton--not that they weren't worthy), some surprising omissions (Proust, Graham Greene), and some names perhaps unfamiliar to many readers--Kobo Abe, Chinua Achebe, Lu Xun.

Among current writers whose names seem never to come up on the Nobel short list is Philip Roth. Scott Raab, in an interview with Roth in Esquire, said, "After they've made awards to every possible political constituency across the globe, your day may come."

Roth replied, "After the Trobriand Islanders."

According to Michael Specter, writing in The New Yorker, "Bickering is common [among the six people on the selection committee] and the battles that kept the Nobel from Jorge Luis Borges, Graham Greene and Anthony Burgess were intense."

But no battles here, for this is Alice Munro Day.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland, indeed. That is how Alice Munro must feel after being named the 2013 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Growing up in the 1930s as Alice Laidlaw in rural southwestern Ontario, a trip to Stockholm was probably not in her expectations.

Celebrations throughout Canada's literary community--although a non-celebrant may be David Gilmour, the writer and University of Toronto professor who said "I'm not interested in teaching books by women. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. If you want women writers, go down the hall." This reckless statement may not only mean problems in the classroom for Gilmour; it may mean he never gets another date.

Meanwhile, Champagne corks will pop at the top of the Park Plaza and in other writers' hangouts for Ms. Munro. And for Canada at large, it is clearly the greatest international triumph since Paul Henderson scored the winning goal in the 1972 Summit Series.

Monday, October 7, 2013

New Corporate Slogan Unveiled

We all know how important slogans are in the corporate world. Think of McDonald's "I'm Lovin' It," Home Hardware's "Homeowners Helping Homeowners," Wendy's "Now That's Better." And now, this on-line service unveils its new corporate slogan--a few words, pithy, profound and poetic, that express the essence of Pointless Digressions.

We must confess that the words did not originate with our team. In fact, they were found on an abandoned appliance, left on a suburban curb. Even so, we knew instantly that the words encapsulate a deep truth. Here they are, proudly revealed for the first time:

                         Cracked, but Still Working Perfectly

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Great Turkey Escape

'Twas a week 'til Thanksgiving,
  and down on the farm
The turkeys knew someone
  was planning them harm.

Their courageous leader,
  Gobbler McQueen,
Said "We're getting out--
  we're blowing his scene.

"Tonight at twelve,
  we're making a break.
When Thanksgiving comes,
  let them eat steak."

Clouds covered the moon
  that October night
When two hundred turkeys
  prepared for their flight.

But problems arose,
  when one said with a sigh,
"It ain't gonna work--
  we forgot how to fly."

Gobbler McQueen said
  "I've got a new plan--
a way to escape
  that sizzling pan.

"We'll steal the farmer's
  old pickup truck
and head for the hills,
  with a bit of good luck."

"But Gobbler," said one,
  "do you know how to drive?
"Who cares?" said Gobbler.
  "We'll still be alive."

And Gobbler cried out,
  as the truck sped away,
"Enjoy your Kraft Dinner
  on Thanksgiving Day."

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Endangered Species Revisited

With Eskimo quarterback Mike Reilly now seeing stars, the number of first string QBs in the Canadian Football League has been reduced to two.

Anthony Calvillo, Ricky Ray, Travis Lulay--all sidelined. The Roughriders' Darian Durant is back in action, but has he returned to his first of season fitness? The only one in the group standing fast is the apparently indestructible Henry Burris. With six games to go.

We are reminded of a famous Agatha Christie novel: "And Then There Were None."

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Weekend Sweepout

Bits and pieces from the week:

This Sunday has been designated International Coffee Day. For those of us accustomed to fourteen cups daily, including four double espressos, every day is International Coffee Day. With the possible exception of Martini Monday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he won't accept a negative answer to the proposal for the Keystone XL pipeline. He may now be adding to his repertoire a song made famous by Danish tenor Lauritz Melchior: "Please Don't Say No, Say Maybe."

In Washington, the split widens between moderate and extreme Republicans. It is believed the extremists may break away to form a new party: The United Lemmings.

Finally, the highly rated television series "Breaking Bad" is coming to a conclusion. Before it goes, we just want to say that we had a chemistry teacher who was way scarier than Walt White.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Yakuza Newsa

The Columbia Journalism Review reports that Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan's number one yakuza syndicate, has become the publisher of a magazine. Its contents include satirical haiku and tips on fishing.

This may lead to a number of like-minded organizations publishing magazines. We look forward to "Hell's Angels Home Decorating" and "Russian Mafia Gourmet Cuisine."

Meanwhile, the Vancouver Canucks are said to be considering a newsletter. Proposed title: "Re: Torts."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in New York, but the UN General Assembly has rejected his offer to appear and sing "With a Little Help from My Friends." Instead, the PM has been spotted in an East Village saloon singing "I Get Along Without You Very Well."

Finally, Royal Canadian Mounted Police headquarters in Regina have brought forth a Barbie doll in full RCMP dress uniform. Constable Barbie's first act: she busted Ken.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Pass me my Mrs. Doubtfire wig

There is a New Yorker cartoon that shows a dog at a computer saying to another dog, "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog." No one knows your gender, either, and this is why I believe i can start selling pieces to an on-line magazine that publishes only stories by women over the age of sixty.

How hard can it be to impersonate someone of the opposite sex? Think of Dustin Hoffman in "Tootsie." Robin Williams as "Mrs. Doubtfire." Ray Bolger as "Charlie's Aunt." Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in "Some Like it Hot."

I have my first story ready to go. It's a tell-all about my dangerous attractiveness to young men. Here's how it begins:

"I have always," Justin Bieber told me, "been strangely attracted to mature women."

My pen name: Mama Gaga.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Endangered Species: Quarterbacks

The latest species to appear on the endangered list is CFL quarterbacks. Of the eight starting QBs in the  Canadian Football League, four have been put out of action--temporarily, one hopes, but who knows?

Meanwhile, the BC Lions have re-signed QB Buck Pierce, a player who has an injury category all his own and who seems to have embraced masochism as a lifestyle. In Edmonton, Eskimo QB Mike Reilly appears to be indestructible, but how long can a player withstand the  full-out impact of a trio of tacklers, weighing a total of roughly nine hundred pounds, on every play?

Our advice to young football players thinking of becoming quarterbacks: Go into a less dangerous line of work. Like interplanetary exploration.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


Documents revealing that BC Hydro rates could increase by as much as twenty-six percent have meant good news for the kerosene lamp industry. Virgil Mulluch, spokesman for the industry, said, "This is turning into our biggest year since 1890!" Similar soaring sales are expected for coal stoves, hand-held fans and ice boxes.

Prime Minister Harper is sending his A-team of cabinet ministers into northern British Columbia to persuade First Nations communities that they are sensitive to the concerns of indigenous peoples and that the proposed Enbridge pipeline would be of benefit to them. However, there has been negative reaction to the government slogan "Pipeline Means Big Wampum."

BC NDP leader Adrian Dix has indicated he wishes to remain in that position, despite many calls for a new leader. This led to the morning paper's terse headline: "Dix: 'Nix!' Sticks." Some observers believe party president Moe Sihota may counter with another headline: "Moe: 'No.' Go!"

Finally, Vladimir Putin's success with an opinion piece on the editorial page of the New York Times has encouraged the Russian leader to venture into other areas of journalism. It has been reported he will soon have regular columns in Rolling Stone, Cosmopolitan, and the Hockey News. It is also said he is looking at acquiring a blog, and..."Silence! This is Vladimir Putin, new voice of Pointless Digressions. From now on, it is I who will be addressing you, so pay attention. Previous decadent western writer of blog is now on way to polar bear sanctuary in Siberia."

Monday, September 9, 2013

Spiders Do It

"Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it...." So wrote Cole Porter in "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)." But in his list of animals' amatory pursuits, which ranged from "Argentines without means"  to "goldfish in the privacy of bowls," he did not include spiders.

And this is a pity, for now it is their time for romance. Yes, dear reader, it is mating season for spiders. In British Columbia, one entomologist estimates, there are eighteen species of spider. Or maybe it's eighteen hundred. A lot, anyway, from teeny-weeny to the Aquarium's South American imports, the size of dinner plates.

So if you spy a spider, or, more probably, a pair of spiders, please allow them their special moment.

And arachnophobiacs--you might want to leave town for the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Open Line Table Fan

A friend of this department, battle-weary from another 3-Day Novel siege, staggered in, covered with split infinitives and dangling participles, to reveal something very strange: "My table fan," he said, "is picking up open line radio shows."

The fan, he told us, "functions as every other ordinary fan when turned on. But turned off, it is not only not silent, it distinctly emits the far-off sound of old radio programs. I'm sure I heard Pat Burns the other day."

Curious, indeed. But not an isolated phenomenon. We have heard of people who received radio transmissions through the fillings in their teeth. And we ourselves have a whistling tea kettle that likes to whistle along with the arias on "Saturday Afternoon at the Opera."

We are now carting up a 1935 icebox from storage to see if it might bring back other old radio programs--"Amos and Andy," "The Green Hornet," "Ma Perkins," "The Happy Gang."

Our friend with the fan said, "This gives me a great idea for the next 3-Day Novel contest! I'm going to write my novel in the voice of my table fan!"

Better yet, he could let the fan write the novel.

Monday, August 26, 2013

3-Day Madness Approaches

The International 3-Day Novel Contest is about to be let loose for the umpteenth time since 1977. This is the event of the year for literary masochists. While the rest of the country relaxes and enjoys a long holiday weekend, writers scrunch down at their screens and pound out the words, attempting to write a complete novel in 72 hours.

Some choose to write in odd places--tree houses, bus depots, shop windows--but most simply lock themselves away in their studies with a Thermos of coffee or a jug of Jack Daniel's, and ignore the frantic pleas of their families.

One misses the cheerleading of Melissa Edwards, who for years kept the 3-Day event moving (she said she took the job to keep from ever entering the contest again) but we'll forge forward nonetheless. And here is a word of encouragement from Leonard Bernstein:

"To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not enough time."

Friday, August 23, 2013

Political Flashes from All Over

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Parka Boy of the Month, has announced that Nunavut may be given provincial status. Apparently the people of Nunavut gave the Conservative leader an offer he couldn't refuse: "Make us a province and we won't put you out on an ice floe."

National Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, who has more hair than all the other party leaders combined, has revealed that he has smoked marijuana. "However," he said,"I never claimed it as a business expense."

And finally, Ted Cruz, junior US Senator from Texas, has renounced his Canadian citizenship, even though born in Calgary. Not only that, he will no longer eat Canadian bacon or maple syrup, and he is giving away all his Neil Young recordings. This is the most serious blow to Canada since Conrad Black gave up his citizenship.

Today's specials in the Senate dining room:  Wallinburgers and Duffy Dogs.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Not all that pointless

Words by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, from the Jule Styne song "Make Someone Happy":

"When you've found her, build your world around her;
  Make someone happy--make just one someone happy--
  And you will be happy too."

Good night.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Elmore Leonard, Final Chapter

Elmore Leonard, 87 years, 46 novels, innumerable short stories, has departed this world for wherever good writers go.

Someone once asked us if we were the guy "who turned the whole town on to Elmore Leonard." If we were, we consider it our public service.

The first of his novels to catch our eye was "Ryan's Rules" (later re-issued under the tile "Swag"). We found it at Mike's Newsstand on Jasper Avenue in Edmonton, the magazine shop with possibly the best neon sign in Canada. It was 1978.

After that, we grabbed all the Leonard titles as soon as they came out.  Of all those books, here are the ones we would happily read for the third or fifth time: "Unknown Man No. 89," "Fifty-two Pickup." "La Brava," "Killshot," "Gold Coast," "The Switch," "Pagan Babies," "Cuba Libre," "Out of Sight" and, back where we started, "Ryan's Rules."

Those are novels. Then there is a terrific short story collection: "When the Women Come Out to Dance."

At least a dozen films have been made from Elmore Leonard books, and he undoubtedly ended up making a lot more money than he made writing truck copy for a Detroit ad agency. Even so, Leonard (whose nickname was Dutch, after a long ago baseball player) had just one extravagance: Kangol caps in all the colors.

Okay, everybody out of here, and go read some Elmore Leonard.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Saving Room for Dessert

News that Dame Kiri Te Kanawa will impersonate Dame Nelly Melba on "Downton Abbey" made us think not of Australian opera divas, but of the culinary creations named for Dame Nelly: Melba toast and the infinitely more interesting Peach Melba.

Both these were creations of the legendary Auguste Escoffier, whose reputation tops that of a whole roomful of Iron Chefs. Melba toast is the thin, dry number once favored by dieters, while Peach Melba is an elegant arrangement of peach slices, vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce. (This dish should not be confused with Peaches Melba, the exotic dancer, and a dish herself.)

Melba (whose real name was Helen Porter Mitchell--Melba was a play on Melbourne, her birthplace) was not the only music world notable to have a now classic recipe created for her. Another was  composer Gioachino Rossini. Thanks to him and his gourmandizing we have Tournedos Rossini: filet mignon sauteed in butter, topped with foie gras and truffle, served on a crouton, and laced with Madeira sauce. This was created by Marie-Antoine Careme. In Vancouver, it was prepared to a fine touch by Roland Stephan at Le Petit Montmartre.

Also in Vancouver, there was Flaming Peach Bellman at the Sir Walter Raleigh. This was created to honor broadcaster Bill Bellman, who told us he really didn't care much for the dish, but felt compelled to eat it anyway, every time went to dine at Ruben Kopp's restaurant.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Name, Please

It has been reported that courts and government offices have the power to prevent parents naming their children as they wish, if the proposed names are considered a cause for confusion, embarrassment, or are "on any other grounds objectionable."

Among names recently rejected by authorities: Grammophon, Lucifer, Metallica, Ikea, Q, Anus (whoo!) and our favorite, Tulula Does the Hula.

Then there were names for twins turned down (the names turned down, not the twins). These included Benson and Hedges and Fish and Chips. No word on Cash and Carry, Sweet and Lovely, Sturm und Drang, or Hot and Humid.

We are reminded of the paterfamilias somewhere in the American south who wanted all his children--about nine of them, whether boys or girls--named after him. And so each had the same name, which was something like Lemuel. This might have caused confusion in the household, but the mother solved the problem by addressing the children as numbers--Lem One, Lem Two, and so on.

Apparently, no law against that. Yet.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Let Us Now Praise Famous Women

Yet another woman of note departed this planet the past week. She was Karen Black, the slightly quirky actress one remembers from "Five Easy Pieces," Robert Altman's "Nashville," and a bizarre Satanic drama called "The Pyx," filmed in Montreal, and probably the only picture in which Christopher Plummer is seen in his jockey shorts.

But the roles we remember with most pleasure were in "Drive, He Said," in which she lounges in her bath tub listening to Billie Holiday; Hitchcock's "Family Plot," a black Black comedy with her as the femme fatale; and, best of all, Henry Jaglom's 1983 "Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?", subtitled "An Odd Romance," which indeed it was.

If there were any DVD shops left, we would urge you to run out and find these. But alas, most of the DVD outlets--like the charmingly offbeat Karen Black--are gone.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Adieu, Eydie

The passing of Eydie Gorme, sweet songstress of the Bronx, deserves note.

The petite brunette with the electrifying high range was not a classic jazz singer, but her work was at the highest standard of pop, and her ornamentation was always on the edge of jazz. We remember, still with a degree of awe, her early recordings of "I'll Take Romance,""Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of the Week" (she was a lifelong Sinatra worshipper) and "Be Careful, It's My Heart."

Eydie Gorme was one of the singers who gained wide attention first on Steve Allen's "Tonight show," along with Steve Lawrence (whom she was to marry) and Mark Murphy (who sang Allen's best song, "This Could Be the Start of Something Big").

The Allen show was the start of big things for a lot of people, but this is a day to remember Eydie Gorme. She died six days short of her eighty-fifth birthday, Lawrence by her side. Sentimental fans everywhere will be saying be careful, it's our heart.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Your Serve, Minister

It is just us, or have others noted the uncanny resemblance of Milos Raonic and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird?

The similarity doesn't end there. Raonic is noted for his blistering serve on the tennis court (155.3 mph), and who hasn't been blown away or flattened by Baird's verbal serves (160 mph of rage and invective)  in Parliament?

We hope someday to see them at work together--the all-Canadian Batman and Robin.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Penalty for Cheekiness

Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish, after scoring his fourth touchdown in the recent Stampeders-Roughriders game (which the Stamps won, to the distress of watermelon-wearing Saskatchewan fans), handed the ball to a Roughriders defensive back who had failed to prevent him crossing the goal line. This playful action resulted in a ten-yard penalty for Cornish's team.

What, a penalty for cheekiness? We can imagine the official scolding Cornish: "Did you see the tears welling up in that man's eyes? How could you be so insensitive? Ten yards, and don't let it happen again."

One might think this an isolated incident, but no--for some time, CFL officials have been penalizing players for actions which they deem disrespectful. Emmanuel Arceneaux, the BC Lions large-handed wide receiver, drew a fine from the league for pretending to play golf with the ball and an end zone pylon. League official: "Shame on you, Arceneaux! That was disrespectful to the football, the game of golf, and possibly Tiger Woods."

This reminds us of the Monty Python sketch in which gangsters were terrorizing their victims by using sarcasm. This may be what CFL officials fear--a reign of gridiron terror marked by high jinx in the end zone.

We can only hope that when the CFL Commissioner presents the Grey Cup this November at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, no one on the winning team makes a joke. They might take the Cup back.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Happy Trails

Our Branson, Missouri correspondent reports that the Roy Rogers Museum has closed, with, presumably, the curators riding off into the sunset, singing "Happy Trails to You."

What happened to all the spurs, boots, guitars, sequined cowboy shirts and other memorabilia? All sold at auction. A pair of spurs went for $10,625. Two BB guns brought $3,730. Roy and Dale's family Bible sold for $8,750--the gospel truth, we are not making this up. Roy's hat netted $17,500.

There was also a fine collection of baseball treasures, which, for some reason, went for relatively low prices. A baseball signed by Don "Perfect Game" Larsen sold for $2,500. Bats signed by Yogi Berra, Bob Feller and Enos Slaughter brought $2,750--almost $8,000 less than a pair of spurs.

But the big question we know is on your mind: what did Trigger sell for? The answer: $266,500.

Imagine the reaction of the buyer's wife when he came home and said, "Look, Honey--I just bought us a stuffed horse!"

It will look great in their living room.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Bringing Up Baby

It was the eminent philosopher W.H. Phillips who observed that becoming a parent is "Like conducting Beethoven's Fifth in front of a full house at Royal Albert Hall while reading the score for the first time."

As one parent who was raised by his children, this writer concurs, so we can offer little advice to new parents Will and Kate. Is "The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care" still in use?  Millions if not zillions of babies, now with children and grandchildren of their own, were reared by the precepts of Dr. Benjamin Spock, but today, everyone under sixty thinks Spock is a Vulcan with pointy ears. (And there were some parents who disagreed with Dr. Spock--"What, we shouldn't flog our kids?")

There is undoubtedly a market for a new guide--"Parenting for Dummies"--but it has yet to appear. So Will and Kate, you're on your own...bringing up baby.

P.S.: "Bringing Up Baby" is a classic 1940s comedy with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. The baby in this case is a leopard. Much easier to deal with.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Name This Child

His Royal Infant Highness now has a name--three names, in fact: George Alexander Louis. Those of you who were betting on Zeppo or Brad, tough luck. Barbara Hershey named an infant son Free Seagull, and one of Frank Zappa's offspring is Dweezil, but while Ms. Hershey and the Mothers of Invention are great favorites around the palace, neither "Free Seagull" or "Dweezil" was given serious consideration.

Some have speculated that should the tiny royal someday be crowned king, he could become George the Eighth (Prince Charles already has dibs on George the Seventh). Or, he could be the 21st century Alexander the Great. Or possibly go for Louis, in homage to Lord Louis Mountbatten (or Louis Armstrong, or even Louis Prima, in which case the national anthem could become "Louie Louie.")

But then, as Shakespeare wrote ("Romeo and Juliet," Act 2, Scene 2) "What's in a name?'

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

His Royal Infant Highness

The third in line to the British throne made his first appearance today, and slept through it with regal calm. He was greeted by the salute of sixty-two soothers.

Prince William has not been seen handing out cigars, but we're sure that will follow. Meanwhile, the Duchess of Cambridge has said, "We won't be needing a nanny. We have Harry."

The features of His Royal Infant Highness have yet to be clearly viewed, but Winston Churchill once correctly remarked, "All babies look like me."

Among the gifts being showered upon the royal arrival: a musical rattle that plays "Rule Britannia," an Aston-Martin stroller, and a year's supply of diapers with, on the bottoms, a photo of the head of the Anti-Monarchy League.

Prince William has said, "We're still working on a name," which means the bookies will be kept busy a while longer. "Rocco," "Vinnie" and "Elvis" are considered long shots.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Dick & Steve--or: Nixon Redux

Many have felt for some time that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been channeling Richard Nixon. The revelation that the Harper government has compiled an "enemies list" has added to the belief that Harper is this country's Nixon. The Prime Minister's Office, however, was quick to point out that the similarity stops there. "Prime Minister Harper," said a spokesperson, "does not have five o'clock shadow."

And further to this, was it Richard Nixon who said "Hey, even paranoiacs have real enemies"?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

76 Years Later...

"They say George Gershwin is dead, but I don't have to believe it if I don't want to."

John O'Hara wrote that. Wrote that about the composer called by some the greatest writer of songs since Schubert. There is a story, probably apocryphal, about the young Duke Ellington sitting at a piano in a New York club playing "Prelude to a Kiss." When he came to the bridge, a man passing by said, "I wish I'd written that." Ellington said, "Who the hell was that?" And he was told "That was Geoge Gershwin."

Gershwin wrote so many songs, so many Broadway shows, so many film scores, so many piano and chamber pieces, so many orchestral works, plus two operas, that his output is beyond counting.

He was in Hollywood, working on the Astaire-Rogers film "Shall We Dance," when he said to his brother, "Ira, I have the most terrible headache." His last two songs were "Love Walked In" and "Our Love is Here to Stay." He died July 11, 1937. He was thirty-eight years old.

George Gershwin said, "Life is a lot like jazz--it's best when you improvise."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Umbrellas Under the Stars

Okay, we don't mean to jinx the season, but we all know it sometimes rains in Vancouver. Theatre Under the Stars has begun its 2013 season, with, as usual, two shows running back to back: this year, "Legally Blonde" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."

The first TUTS performances were staged in Stanley Park in 1940, and they were "As You Like It," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and "The Geisha." The what? "The Geisha"--a musical comedy that was the hit of 1896.

Among the performers we remember on stage at Malkin Bowl are Fran Gregory, then Mrs. Jack Wasserman, who sang "Take Back Your Mink" in "Guys and Dolls," and Brad Keene, the hip sportscaster, who played Big Julie in the same show.

An early lead at TUTS, before he broke through in "Camelot," was Robert Goulet. His career followed the classic show biz path, from "Who's Robert Goulet?" to "Get me a Robert Goulet type" to "Who was Robert Goulet?"

Have fun at Theatre Under the Stars. Take a cushion. And a Thermos.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Every Good Blog Deserves Friends

There have been many mnenomic devices invented to help young pianists remember the notes on lines of the treble clef--E G B D F--among the best are "Elephants Go Bouncing Down Freeways," "Elvis's Guitar Broke Down Friday," "Ernie Gave Bert Dead Flies," and "Even George Bush Drives Fast."

Tom Stoppard ("Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," "Shakespeare in Love," et al.) and Andre Previn created a musical play called "Every Good Boy Deserves Favor." It was given its premiere performance in 1977 as part of the Queen's Silver Jubilee celebrations. The cast and company included Ian McKellen, John Wood, Patrick Stewart, and the London Symphony Orchestra.

Recently, pianist Jeremy Denk wrote a New Yorker piece called "Every Good Boy Does Fine," subtitled "A Life in Piano Lessons." Now Random House has invited him to expand the article into a book. It is expected to be published in 2015 or 2016; meanwhile, the pianist-author will continue his blog: Think Denk.

The best-known line using the EGBDF formula is "Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge." It reminds us of our piano teacher--Miss Ethel Holtham--who always made several kinds of fudge for her students as a treat at the end of recital evenings.

We all got some, whether we deserved fudge or not.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Glorious Fourth of July

Oh, say can you see...yes, it is the glorious Fourth of July, a holiday celebrated throughout the United States, although with less enthusiasm in the Lone Star State, where Texans are still not sure how they feel about Union.

Three notable musicians were born (or said they were born) on this date. One who really was born on July 4 was Stephen Foster, composer of almost 200 songs in a very short life, among them "O! Susanna":

"It rained all night the day I left, the weather it was dry;
Sun so hot, I froze to death--Susanna, don't you cry."

And "Camptown Races":

"Bet my money on a bobtail nag,
Somebody bet on de bay."

Louis Armstrong didn't exactly know what day he was born, but thought July 4 was as good as any, and took that. Louis, rightly called Pops, may not have been the father of jazz, but he was certainly one of the music's major antecedents. Wynton Marsalis said no trumpeter played anything Louis hadn't played first, which may have been an exaggeration, but showed the proper homage.

The composer most often thought of today is George M. Cohan, who was born July 3, thought that was close enough for jazz, and wrote this rousing number:

"I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy,
Yankee Doodle do or die.
A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam,
Born on the Fourth of July.
I've a Yankee Doodle sweetheart,
She's my Yankee Doodle joy.
Yankee Doodle went to London
Riding on a pony--
I am that Yankee Doodle boy!"

Start the fireworks! (With a special wave of the flag for all residents of and from Bad Axe, Michigan.)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What's That on Your Plate?

In a mall the other day, we spotted a license plate holder that read "Exotic, Erotic and a Little Psychotic." Sounded like several people we have known.

There was a time when bumper stickers were a fad. The most famous was "Mary Poppins is a Junkie." we were commissioned by a radio station--LG-73, then under Don Hamilton's management--to write a series of fifty bumper stickers. The stickers would carry the station logo and a line--the most popular of which was "Simon Fraser was a Dropout."

There are still drivers who order vanity plates--Terry Garner guessed they were all ordered after three-martini lunches. But probably not in the case of an elderly lady we know, a veteran of the Bletchley Park Enigma code-breaking group, who christened her vintage auto "Agatha."

Finally, some of us remember when an LG deejay--was it Jolly John Tanner?--was chastised for reading obscene license plates on the air. Today, of course, he'd be promoted in prime time.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Don Juan of Saskatchewan

In a late-day salute to Canada Day, and in homage to Marty Robbins's classic "El Paso," we offer this ballad of the windswept Prairies. Note: it is essential to employ the standard Saskatchewan pronunciation of place names.

I was sittin' mighty pretty
In Star City
When a gal from Esterhazy
Drove me right crazy.
I'd seen no one cutah
In Sintaluta,
No one as chic
In Maple Creek.
She was the sweetest I'd set eyes on
Since I left Horizon.

Her name was Lorraine,
Rode the train from Belle Plaine.
I won her away from a brute
From Pilot Butte,
And we made a date
To meet in Bien Fait.

But along crawled a snake
From Old Wives Lake,
Wooed her under the moon
In Saskatoon.
I was a little gun shy
From a fight in Punnichy
But no one's quicker on the trigger
Than the Kid from Biggar,
And I was ready to meet
At high noon on some dusty street.
Sigh--he was faster on the draw
In Ogema.
So long, pardners, I'm long gone--
Don Juan of Saskatchewan.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Turn Up the Heat!

We once worked at a radio station that had a number of gifted music programmers, but had also, for a time, a sales manager who liked to drift back into the record library and offer suggestions. Like this: "Why don't you do a show all about rivers? Play all the great river songs--'Old Man...,' 'Cruising Down the...,' ''Up the Lazy...,' 'Cry Me a...'." The librarian rolled her eyes and the sales manager went back to his office.

He has long since departed for the Great Sales Meeting in the Sky ("Shall We Gather at the...") but in his memory, we offer a selection of songs suitable for this week's weather forecast, all best enjoyed while sipping gin and tonic in your hammock:

"We're Having a Heat Wave"(Irving Berlin)
"Too Darn Hot" (Cole Porter)
"Harlem Air Shaft" (Duke Ellington.)
"Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer" (C. Tobias-H. Carste)
And our #1 choice: "Ain't It Awful, the Heat?" (Kurt Weill-Maxwell Anderson)

And when it gets too much, and heat hallucinations begin, switch to "Baby, It's Cold Outside" (Frank Loesser).

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Rite of Igor

The Times Literary Supplement always arrives with at least one surprise, and the surprise this week is the cover artist: Igor Stravinsky. The illustration is a pencil sketch, done on a music sheet, in 1923, of the composer's first wife, Ekaterina.

The story that follows, written by Robert Craft, longtime chronicler of all things Igor, tells us that early on Stravinsky had not decided whether he would be a composer or a painter.  And there is a photograph--the only one extant--of Stravinsky with Nijinsky and Diaghilev, all wearing straw boaters.  

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the premiere of Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring," famous for, among other things, provoking a riot in Paris, causing the composer--it is said--to escape through a washroom window.

So we will spend the weekend listening to "The Rite," and also to "The Firebird," remembering Judith Jamison's brilliant performance in the title role with Alvin Ailey's American Dance Theatre. And perhaps watching again the film "Coco and Igor."

Monday, June 24, 2013

The 60-Words-a-Minute Man

Thanks to an item in "The Writer's Almanac," we learn that the typewriter was patented June 24, 1868, by Christopher Sholes of Milwaukee. There had been attempts at something like this since the early eighteenth century, but Sholes's typewriter was the first one to actually work. It was brought on the market in 1874 by Remington, and in 1875 Mark Twain wrote to his brother, "I am trying to get the hang of this newfangled writing machine."

Alas, no longer newfangled, the typewriter is now on its way to the Obsolescence Museum, to join hand-cranked telephones and nickel jukeboxes. Soon we may see people lugging their ancient Olivettis and Remingtons and Smith-Coronas to the Antiques Roadshow.

Many honors have been paid to the typewriter. Leroy Anderson even wrote a tune he called "The Typewriter Song," based on the cheery ping! of the bell at the end of a line. And more than one veteran reporter and PR man has insisted his typewriter be prominently displayed at his memorial service.

For this final note, we are again indebted to "The Writer's Almanac": Larry McMurtry, receiving a Golden Globe award for best screenplay, thanked his Hermes 3000--"a noble instrument of European genius."


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Ghost Song Busters

We had a vision of Songwriters Heaven, and saw several illustrious ghosts, most of them registering complaints. First up was Johnny Mercer, who said, "What are women doing singing 'One For My Baby'? That's a guy song. Women aren't hanging around in bars at a quarter to three, when there's no one in the joint except Joe and me.  Come on!"

Steve Allen, somewhat more reserved, said, "I would like to have a word with Mark Murphy, whose first success, I might say, was with my song 'This Could Be the Start of Something.' But in a recent recording he has changed the lyrics from 'declining a Charlotte Russe, accepting a fig' to 'declining that rich French food.' Really, Mark. Come on."

Billie Holiday said, "I just want all those ofay females copyin' my style to give it up." "That's right, Lady Day." said the ghost of Elvis, "#$*&&%+! imitators."

"Listen, kid," said the ghost of Sinatra, "you know how many putzsters are out there tryin' to be me ?"

Bob Smith, legendary host of CBC's "Hot Air," might have had a word about the parlous state of current CBC jazz programming, but he was always too benign for that. Instead, he would say, as always, "God bless jazz fans everywhere."

Friday, June 21, 2013

Sumer is icumen in

With the arrival of the new season, it's time to join in the chorus of the oldest known English song:

Sumer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu!
Growth sed and bloweth med
And springs be wde nu.
Sing cuccu!
Murie sing cuccu!

Lovely! You handled the Middle English beautifully!

When December comes, we'll be ready for Ezra Pound's cold weather parody: "Winter is icumen in."

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Noah's Flood

Or, as the early 15th century Chester mystery play spelled it, "Noye's Fludde," which was also the title taken by Benjamin Britten for his 1958 children's opera. Our friend Art Hives was pleased that he was drafted for a Vancouver Festival performance to play the voice of God.

Pelting rain caused us to begin thinking of Noah's flood, although not to the extent of building an ark out of Popsicle sticks and tongue depressors.

The story of Noah may date from the tenth century BCE, but there is an account in the Mesopotamian "Epic of Gilgamesh" that is 1500 years older.

We may all claim Noah as an ancestor, as all the people on earth are said to be his descendants, through his sons, Ham, Shem and Japheth. Noah's sons made the forty-day voyage, but maybe not Noah's wife. In the Chester mystery play, Mrs. Noah says, "Forget it. I'm not getting on that thing."

Noah is credited with planting grapevines on the slope of Mount Ararat, leading to the creation of wine. It is appropriate, then, that many pubs are called Noah's Ark.

We're going out to find one right now.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Jolly Pops

Recently, in an odd recognition of Father's Day,  a writer published a list of "bad dads" in literature, ranging from Humbert Humbert in "Lolita" ("worst step-dad ever") to "Daddy" in the famously black Sylvia Plath poem (but, strangely, not including Huckleberry Finn's Pap). This corner decided it was time to balance the scale with a list of "good dads"" in literature. Here they come:

1. Nick Carraway's father in "The Great Gatsby," who does not appear in the story, but has given Nick some good advice, which opens the novel: "In my younger and more vulnerable years," Carraway remembers, "my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. 'Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,' he told me, 'just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.'"

2. Stanley Banks, stressed out hero of Edward Streeter's "Father of the Bride," portrayed on screen by Spencer Tracy and Steve Martin. Despite being hit by massive seismic tremors, emotional and financial, Banks comes through and plays his role in classic paternal style.

3. Bob Cratchit in Dickens's "A Christmas Carol."  Could there be anyone better natured than Scrooge's downtrodden clerk, cheerful and loving with Tiny Tim and the rest of his large brood?

4. The father in "My Old Man," Hemingway's story about an American jockey and his son scrambling for wins on the Paris tracks.

5. Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." He's sicker than he knows, he has to put up with Big Mama and Goober and the little no-neck monsters, and he can't abide mendacity, but he does have Brick and Maggie the Cat.

A happy Father's Day to all!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Doonesbury and Mc LL

Followers of the comic strip "Doonesbury" may be wondering anxiously what happened to Alex.  Alex, daughter of central character Mike Doonesbury, had just received her doctoral degree at MIT when she went into labor--with twins! Classmates crowded around her, calling, "Is there a real doctor in the house?"

We won't know until September.  Garry (Garretson Beekman) Trudeau, author of "Doonesbury," is spending the summer working on another project.  Doonesbury fans--and Alex--hold your breath.

And today is the seventy-fifth birthday of Canada's premier jazz trombonist, Ian McDougall, longtime Boss Brass heavyweight, head of U-Vic's jazz program, and found most often in the company of guitarist Oliver Gannon and pianist Ron Johnston. To guide people in the spelling of his name, the trombonist wrote a number, available on the album "The Warmth of the Horn," titled "Mc, not Mac, and Two Ls."

As the great Bob Smith, of CBC's "Hot Air" used to say "God bless jazz fans everywhere."

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Politics: The Art of the Incomprehensible

Newly elected and re-elected Members of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia were sworn in (and sometimes at) in Victoria today. Members of the NDP caucus arrived wearing orange boutonnieres. Black armbands would have been more appropriate.

The People's Radio Network, in its relentless effort to dumb down Canadian broadcasting, announced that Radio Canada, the French arm (or bras), would henceforth be known simply as "Ici." Massive protests followed, causing Hubert LaCroix's crew to back down. "I'm just glad," said the Chairman, "that we didn't go with 'Voila'."

A video now making the rounds shows Prime Minister Stephen Harper giving imitations of notable Conservatives, among them John Diefenbaker, Joe Clark and Preston Manning. He was taken off stage before he got to Kim Campbell.

Now in London, for a private audience with Queen Elizabeth, Harper was prepared to repeat his performance for Her Majesty. As a windup, he said, "Wanta hear me do G-G-G-George the Sixth?'

"Wanta hear me do Queen Victoria?" said the Monarch. "We are not amused. Take him to the Tower!"

"Wait!" cried Steve, as they dragged him away. "You haven't heard my Margaret Thatcher!"

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Get Thee to the Church On Time!

The traditional month of weddings is upon us, and if June is not exactly bustin' out all over, it certainly will be exerting pressure on those for whom summer nuptials are in their schedules.

On behalf of readers who may be anticipating the chime of wedding bells, we have consulted the ultimate etiquette authority: "Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior," by Judith (Miss Manners) Martin.

Several persons asked Miss Manners' advice on matters matrimonial. Here are their questions and her answers:

Q: Is it necessary to buy my fiancee an engagement ring?
A: No. Nowadays, it isn't even necessary to marry her.

Q: When a young man asks a woman to marry him, what should his parents do?
A: What the bridegroom's parents have to do is comparatively easy; it is what they have to refrain from doing that is difficult.

Q: I heard that I shouldn't put "and family" on my wedding invitations. How else do I let them know everybody is invited?
A: Using "and family" on an invitation is its own punishment. You cannot then complain if your sister-in-law's dog disturbs the ceremony and you don't know where to seat your bridegroom's best friend's stepgrandfather's new friend.

Q: June used to be the traditional time for weddings. Is there any preferred date for weddings in modern life?
A:  It is preferable to hold them after the divorce and before the birth of the baby.

Finally, Miss Manners confronts the tricky problem of calling off a wedding. What should one say when breaking an engagement? Miss Manners: "I don't know, I just don't feel like" it will do.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Here's That Rainy Day

"We were sitting in a room at the Berglund...rain beat very hard against the windows."

Those are opening lines from Raymond Chandler's 1934 short story "Killer in the Rain." We've been thinking a lot about rain this week--who hasn't?--and remembering rain in songs and stories and films. There is Somerset Maugham's famous short story called simply "Rain," and the clever 1954 play "The Rainmaker," and the 1939 film "The Rains Came," with a turbaned Tyrone Power swept up in torrents meteorological and emotional.

Among the great rain songs is "Right as the Rain," by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. (The expression "right as the rain" dates from 1894, coined by farmers happy that drought had ended. In the dust bowl years of the 1930s, they sang "It ain't gonna rain no more, no more/It ain't gonna rain no more/How in the heck can I wash my neck/When it ain't gonna rain no more?")

"Soon It's Gonna Rain" is from "The Fantasticks," by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt. Irving Berlin wrote "Isn't It a lovely Day to be Caught in the Rain?" and "I'm Just a Fella with an Umbrella." "Here's That Rainy Day," perhaps the best of the rain songs, was written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke for a forgotten show called "Carnival in Flanders." But who can forget Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain"?

And if all this rain is getting to be too much for you, here's the antidote: re-read "The Sun Also Rises." By Mark Madryga.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Yes, We Have No Bananas

Bemoaning, each day, the parlous state of popular music, we began thinking of songs with lyrics that actually made sense. There was a time when pop musicians, e.g., the Beatles, the Stones, could write lyrics--"I Don't Get No Satisfaction," "Eleanor Rigby"--but the current group, among them an increasing number of Canadians who should never have been allowed out of the garage, are recording songs that have a single line, repeated over and over and over and over. And the line is usually some tattered old adage--"You always hurt the one you love." "A stitch in time saves nine." "Beggars can't be choosers."

Made us think, happily, of the satirical song Guy Marks wrote for the Guy Lombardo band. We know, one doesn't usually associate Guy Lombardo with satire. But this worked. The Lombardo band used always to include a medley of pop tunes. The Marks medley had "Your Red Scarf Matches Your Eyes," "Close Cover Before Striking," "Papa Had the Shipfitter Blues" and "Loving You Has Made Me Bananas."

Okay, we no longer have Cole Porter, or Johnny Mercer, or Ira Gershwin, or Yip Harburg, or Frank Loesser or Alan Jay Lerner, but is it too much to ask that the people who presume to perform and record songs show some degree of acquaintance with the language?


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Please--enough politics, already!

According to post-election tallies, only 52.25 per cent of British Columbia's eligible voters exerted themselves to mark an X on a ballot Tuesday. This indicates that 47.75 per cent of British Columbians don't care what kind of government they have. They now have two years to wait before they can not bother to vote in a federal election.

Meanwhile, in Ottawa, the current hit song is Senator Mike Duffy's "Brother, Can you Spare 90,000 Bucks?"

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Here's to the Losers

The week's big losers:

The Toronto Maple Leafs--in the final eleven minutes.

The BC NDP--in the final twelve hours.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Election: Correction or Dejection?

As mercifully we enter the last day of campaigning in the British Columbia election, NDP leader Adrian Dix is set to pull what may be the ultimate all-nighter: a swing through the province that will see him holding rallies at 2:00, 4:00, 5:00 and 7:00 a.m. Those attending will be given double-strength coffee and aides will be on hand with electric cattle prods.

Meanwhile, it is not too late to consider some of the lesser-known alternative political parties, which may be fielding candidates in your riding and therefore are worthy of your consideration. Among these:

* The Party Hearty Party
* The Rent Party
* The Party of the Second Part Party
* The Innocent Party Party
* The It's My Party I'll Cry if I Want to Party

Many crowds are swinging to Mr. Dix's All-Night Party Party. In other camps, however, they're working on "The Party's Over."

Thursday, May 9, 2013

You Know What?

"You know what" are the three words most often spoken by BC Premier (for now) Christy Clark. You may have thought they were "Curse Adrian Dix," but no, Ms. Clark appears to preface her answers to all questions with "You know what?" We sent our archivist in search of the origin of this catch phrase, and learned that it goes back as far as the late 17th century. You know what? That was a heck of a century.

Okay, sports fans:  How come, in a baseball game, the coaches, players and manager can all get in the umpire's face demanding to know how he could have made such a bonehead call, while in a hockey game, if the coach merely raises an eyebrow after a referee's call he gets hit with a bench penalty? Just asking. Gary Bettman, get back to us.

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting (there still are some) are concerned that the Conservative government has inserted a section in its budget, already the size of "War and Peace," that would give the federal government unprecedented control over the people's network. Many believe they are doing this for political reasons, but we have it on good authority that Stephen Harper just wants to make sure they play his Elton John covers.

Finally, this from the campaign trail: Christy Clark stormed out of an Interior hotel today when she discovered she had been given Room 801.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How You Play the Game

It was Grantland Rice, a legendary phrase maker among sportswriters, who wrote "It doesn't matter whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game."

A great line, and undoubtedly true, but perhaps small comfort today to the Vancouver Canucks. While many are dissecting the team--players, coach, management--looking for faults, and some predictably are calling for dismissals, this corner simply feels sorry for them, as they put away their pads, get out their golf clubs, and wonder where they'll be next season.

We feel sorry for the gritty Kesler, back from a seemingly endless string of injuries, and playing with huge heart; for the gentlemanly Sedins and the elegant Burr; for Luongo, who conducted himself with dignity through a most difficult time; for Bieksa, who may sometimes say a bit too much, but is always entertaining; and certainly for the amiable Alain Vigneault, who, despite his record, may be wondering where he put that suitcase. In sports, as almost everywhere else, but especially sports, the operative line is "What've you done for me lately?"

So to quote Seth Macfarlane, here's to the losers--perhaps the greatest hockey team to never win the Stanley Cup.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Do Re Mi

May 6 has been designated "Music Monday" in Canada as a tribute to music educators and music education--something in good health in certain areas, including Vancouver, thanks to the Toveys, but failing where the arts are usually the first item to be chopped from government funding. A highlight of the day was Commander Chris Hadfield leading a singalong from space. Somewhere Mitch Miller was smiling.

Some of us remember when basic music education was part of school curricula, for even very young students. In Grade Two, we were drawing staffs and penciling notes. Half-notes and quarter-notes danced in our heads.

Thinking of this recalled a story Louie Bellson told Whitney Balliett, retold in Balliett's book "Barney, Bradley, and Max." Here it is, our contribution to "Music Monday," as recounted by Bellson, for a time the drummer in Duke Ellington's band:

"Duke wrote all the time. Once, on a plane trip, he turned around and asked me if I had any manuscript paper, and I said, 'Sorry, it's packed." He took off his coat and drew five lines on one sleeve and wrote out the notes he had in his head. Tizol scored the melody when we got to the gig, and we played it that night."

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

No Letter Today

"No Letter Today" was the title of a once popular country and western lament. And that's what they're singing now at Canada Post. With the arrival of e-mail, texting, and other modes of instant electronic communication, the lovely old-fashioned custom of writing letters, sealing them in envelopes, adding stamps, and sending them by post may be following the flight plan of the dodo.

And this is a shame. On our shelves we have the collected letters of Hemingway, Steinbeck, Cheever, O'Hara, Thurber, Ogden Nash, Edna St. Vincent Millay, et al. And there is one wonderful book called "The World's Great Letters" that deserves the title, containing between its covers letters of, among others, Alexander the Great, Columbus, Leonardo Da Vinci, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Napoleon, Beethoven, Poe, Lincoln, Byron, Darwin, and Sarah Bernhardt. There are also tributes to letters: William James said "As long as there are postmen, life will have zest."

So we have all these wonderful letters of the past, but who is going to collect e-mail correspondence? Okay, Steve Martin has published a collection of his tweets, but that has to be an anomaly. So while we brood on the vanishing art of letter writing, I know what I'm going to do: taking Fats Waller's advice, "I'm Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter."

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Bow to the Bard

Peter Togni, on CBC Radio 2's "Choral Concert," has declared this Bach Month, and while we're all for that, sitting here whistling Air on the G String, we also must note that this is Shakespeare Month. As Cole Porter advised in "Kiss Me Kate," "Brush Up Your Shakespeare."

Richard Burton, performing in "Hamlet," was disconcerted to find an elderly party in the front row reciting the soliloquies with him, word for word, line for line. He couldn't, peering into the darkness, see this person, but he could hear the rumbling voice, which sounded somehow familiar.

Post-performance, sitting in his dressing room, Burton was informed that a member of the audience wished to see him. Hearing the voice outside the door, the actor knew it was his front row mimic. "Send him in," said Burton, prepared to vent his outrage.

But he didn't. For when the door was opened, in stepped, in a cloud of cigar smoke, Sir Winston Churchill.  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Dix and Clark Show

Provincial NDP leader Adrian Dix has suggested that his government, if elected, might sell BC Place. Not only that, Pointless Digressions has learned, he might also sell BC's Legislative Buildings. "They'd make a charmingly quaint B&B," said Mr. Dix, "with a lovely view of the harbor and a few ghosts of premiers past. A wonderful tourist attraction." And to show there were no post-election hard feelings, he said, "We'd bring in Christy as concierge."

Meanwhile, Premier-for-now Christy Clark has shown herself ever ready to don hard hat and safety vest and operate everything from a nail gun to a forklift. It is rumored that for Monday's all-leader television debate she may bring a jackhammer. "And," said Ms. Clark, "you know who I'd like to hammer."

"That's 'whom'," said Mr. Dix.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

St. George, St. Will, St. Vlad, St. Roy

April 23: St. George's Day. Take a dragon to lunch.

Also the birthday of William Shakespeare, Vladimir Nabokov and Roy Orbison.

Now let's get this straight: Roy Orbison wrote "Hamlet" ("To be or not to be, ol' fella, that there is the dang question"), Shakespeare wrote "Pretty Woman" (originally "Pretty Dark Lady") and Nabokov toured with the Traveling Wilburys (penning their number one hit, "Lolita, My Nymphet Sweeta").

Tonight's special for St. George's Day: Dragon Stew flambe (courtesy of the fiery dragon).

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Septuagenarian Superman

Superman turned 75 last week.

Yes, it was 1938 when the Man of Steel arrived from the planet Krypton to battle evil (with a little help from two teenage cartoonists named Siegel and Shuster).

Our Roving Reporter thought it was time to check in with Septuagenarian Superguy. Portions of the interview follow.

R.R.: So, Soup--is it okay if I call you that?--how has life changed for you now that you're into your senior years?

S'man:  Well, the X-ray vision isn't what it used to be. I'm now wearing trifocals and carrying a very large magnifying glass.

R.R.: But you're still out there foiling evildoers, right?

S'man: I am, but a little slower off the mark. Takes me longer to find a telephone booth to change in. Ever try changing in a cell phone?

R.R.: Would be tough. Unless you have the right app.

S'man: ..and I've had to have my tights let out. Put on a bit of weight.

R.R.: Happens to us all.

S'man: ..and a couple of times I've been picked up by the police for disrobing in a telephone booth.

R.R.: But I bet Lois Lane still finds you a most attractive guy.

S'man: Lois who? Could you speak into my good ear? Oh yeah, Lois--she's joined a group called the Angry Grannies. And things aren't quite the same for Clark Kent since Rupert Murdoch bought the Daily Planet. Poor old Clark is now in Classified Ads.

R.R.: Just one more question, Superguy. Are you..

S'man; Hold on, young fella--got a call that I'm needed on the other side of town. Could you give me a shove, to get me aloft?

And soon, astonished spectators called out:

"Look--up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It's an old guy with a cape and a walker!"

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Steve and Bibi Show

It was reported that following the service for Baroness Thatcher, Israel's Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu and Canada's Stephen Harper were to meet for a private lunch. This may have been their conversation:

BY: Wonderful service, eh, Steve? All those great guys there--Cheney, Kissinger.

SH: Yeah. (sigh) I'll never get one like that.

BY: Don't worry, Stevie. Remember what Josh Logan told Eli Wallach.

SH: And that was?

BY: We'll paper the house. Listen, let's order. I think I'll have the PLO.

SH: The what?

BY: The PLO. Parsley Lentil Omelet. And a bottle of California Shiraz. Steve, how about you?

SH: Maybe just a Velveeta sandwich. On white bread. Lite mayo. And a Diet Pepsi.

BY: I see you took a swing at young Trudeau for posing with his shirt off for the Lung Association.

SH: Indeed. I will never be seen with my shirt off.

BY: Wise move. So, it's the end of an era. I'll miss Margaret Thatcher.

SH: Me too.

BY: I used to dream of dating her. Well, on to today. Pity Mitt didn't get elected president.

SH: You're right, Benjamin. Obama comes to Ottawa, he gets more cheers than I do. Is that right?

BY: Romney, I could have done business with. Obama,  he drives me meshugana.

SH: How about this North Korea thing?

BY: I gotta say, that Kim Jong-un needs a new barber. And if he messes with the US, he may get one. They'd turn him into chopped liver. Speaking of which, how about we order some more? I could go a few cheese blintzes, maybe some schmaltz herring, more Shiraz...

Server: Another blini, Bini?

BY: That's Bibi, but sure.

SH: I think--well, what the heck! Let's go for it! I'll have another Diet Pepsi!

BY: You know how to live, Steve. Listen, I thought we might go to a synagogue later. Do you have a yarmulke?

SH: No, but I do have my cub scout beanie.

BY: Mazel tov, Steve.

SH: Have a nice day, Bibi.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Oh no--not more politics

The BC Liberals (or, as they like to be known, "Today's Liberals") aired a 30-minute infomercial on television Sunday evening. It did well in audience ratings, placing just slightly behind "Family Guy" and "All-Star Bowling." The part of Premier Christy Clark was played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

The federal NDP convention voted to eliminate the dreaded word "socialism" from its constitution, apparently under the belief that people actually read it. In any event, the S word will be uttered no more.

Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau has taken leadership of the federal Liberals, and is looking forward to the 2015 election, "so I can get my old room at 24 Sussex Drive back."

In his acceptance speech, Trudeau vowed there would be no negative campaigning, no attack ads coming from the Liberals. British Columbia's NDP leader, Adrian Dix, has declared the same thing, promising only positive, respectful advertising. Hearing this, John Baird lamented, "It's a sad day for democracy. Without distortions, character assassination, and spewings of virulent hatred, where would politics be?"

Friday, April 12, 2013

Further Political Persuasion

The Royal Bank of Canada today ran full-page, nation-wide advertisements apologizing for outsourcing jobs to Pago Pago and Ulan Bator. Executives of Canada's largest bank were said to have panicked at the threat of Marvin Freeble of Horsefly, BC, to withdraw his full $14.10 from his savings account.

Television commercials placed by groups presumed to be opposed to British Columbia's long-running (twelve years) Liberal government have shown both humor and subtlety. The commercial aired by BC teachers, for example, mentions neither the Liberals or NDP, or any other political party, but the message is quite clear. Advertising by the "Concerned Citizens for BC", meanwhile, shows neither humor nor subtlety. But then, the Concerned Citizens are said to be led by a former CEO of Finning International, and we all know that tractors seldom display humor or subtlety.

Finally, this item from the wonderful world of real estate: a waterfront dwelling in North Vancouver is up for sale at a price of $3,388,000. We were interested to note that this home is described as having "all the amenities of the Dollarton area." This reminded us that Malcolm Lowry once lived in a squatter's shack on the Dollarton flats, enjoying all the amenities of the Dollarton area. Cost him less than $3,388,000.