Monday, October 30, 2017

Hallowe'en Etiquette

Once again, we call upon the nonpareil Miss Manners for a guide on the correct way to observe this holiday.

She writes: "Trick-or-treat is an exact ritual. It should be performed by small children in costume--a six-footer would be out of place even wearing a Bill Blass patterned sheet--followed at a respectful distance by adults with an interest in their welfare.

"The child must ring the doorbell him or herself, and must be encouraged to return to the doorway after fleeing in stage fright. The child then announces the traditional threat: 'Trick or treat!'

"At this point, the involuntary co-celebrant, who has just answered the door to find a bunch of tiny Darth Vaders, must express surprise and fright. 'Why, Sally Lynn, don't you look adorable" is an inappropriate remark. The correct one is 'Good God! What's that?'

"The host must then decide whether he prefers to treat the visitors or let them trick him. The child who has been treated says, 'You gave her more than you gave me,' followed by 'Thank you'."

And thank you, Miss Manners.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Slap's Wraps

What we have learned over the weekend:

- That the BC Lions, with nothing to lose, can show themselves to be the elite team we always knew was there;

- That the Calgary Stampeders are not invulnerable;

- That if Mike Reilly isn't the best player in the CFL, who is?

- That if you don't have tickets for the Grey Cup game in Ottawa, you're out of luck--unless you connect with your friendly neighbourhood (or on-line) scalper.

Slap Maxwell for PD Sports.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

King Alf in the Kitchen

October 26 is noted in the church calendar as the feast day of King Alfred the Great, although, great as Alf may have been, he gets only a black letter day, not a red.

Alfred was King of Wessex from 871 to 899, and accomplished a number of things justifying the tagline "the great," primarily getting rid of invading Danes, who were poised to take over the Anglo-Saxon island. But what most of us, of a certain age, remember from early school days, is the story of Alfred and the burned cakes.

Here it comes again: Alfred, in flight from a battle going the wrong way, sought refuge in a peasant woman's hut. She said okay, he could stay, if he watched the oven while she went about other farm duties.

But Alf, weary and battle-worn, fell asleep, and, with no functioning smoke alarm in the hut, allowed the small loaves to burn. The peasant woman, on return, was, understandably angry, and Alf was, like the cakes, almost toast. Those of us familiar with kitchen disasters can sympathize.

Somehow he talked his way out of the hut, went on to win the war, and had a glorious reign. We hope he remembered the woman in the hut and either pronounced her a Dame of the Kingdom, or at least sent her a sack of flour.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


Philip Roth has suggested that Donald Trump has a vocabulary of seventy words. Roth was probably being generous. Trump's vocabulary may run to ten words, all of them superlatives, and a handful of phrases.

Among the most used (or abused) words in the Trumpsionary: "Beautiful," as in "This will be a beautiful tax bill;" "Disaster," as in "NAFTA is a disaster;" "Nice," as in "Putin said very nice things about me;" and "Nightmare," as in "The nightmare of Obamacare will soon be over."

Favorite phrases: " the world has never seen;" "..the worst/best deal ever;" "..a major announcement, coming very soon, maybe next week;" "the war on coal is over;" "many people are saying," and, Number One: "Fake news."

Then there the nicknames: "Crooked Hillary," "Lyin' Ted," "Liddle Bob," "Cryin' Chuck." We are offering an award for the best nickname for Donald Trump.  The prize: 48 hours in a Trump-free universe.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Miss Manners on Hallowe'en

Because it is October, and Hallowe'en is soon upon us, and also because we had no ideas of our own, we are once again stealing from "Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behaviour."

A reader has written Miss Manners thus:

"When the neighbourhood children come trick-or-treating, I know who most of them are. But sometimes there's no clue, and I wonder whether it's polite to ask 'Who are you?' to some little thing under a sheet."

Miss Manners replies:

"It is a faux pas to admit to recognizing anyone in a Hallowe'en costume. The polite way to act toward a trick-or-treater is to behave as if he or she were mugging you. Look scared and hand over the goods."

We would enjoy going trick-or-treating with Miss Manners.
Have sheet, will travel.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Too Marvellous for Words

October 16 has been declared Dictionary Day, as it was on this date in 1758 that Noah Webster, America's first lexicographer, was born. Little Noah's first word was "pabulum," which, he went on to say to his astonished parents, "is a noun, related to the Latin panis, or bread, and defined as a solution of nutrients in a state suitable for absorption."

Webster's Dictionary, his masterwork, runs from aardvark ("a large burrowing nocturnal animal of sub-Saharan Africa") to zymosan ("an insoluble largely polysaccharide fraction of yeast cell walls").

There are, of course, many words now in use which were unknown to Noah, from cybernetics to sous vide, and for these, there is a guide called "Word Menu"--although, with the language changing and expanding so rapidly, it may be time for a new edition.

And then there are things that simply cannot be expressed. As Johnny Mercer wrote:

"You're just too much, and just too very very
To ever be in Webster's Dictionary."

Saturday, October 14, 2017

And on this day...

Our political analyst was supposed to write a thoughtful essay today on the American scene in the Age of Trump, but he has locked himself in a dark room with a gallon of Jack Daniel's.

And Slap Maxwell, reviewing a game in which the Hamilton Tiger-Cats pushed the Calgary Stampeders to the edge, was set to do a piece on miscues when the game's on the line (cf. Pete Carroll in the Super Bowl, Dave Dickenson in the Grey Cup), but Slap has been called away to a Hula Hoop Revival Contest.

And so, back here at master control, we resort to pilfering from "A Book of Days for the Literary Year," and find these items for October 14:

On this day in 1822, at the wedding breakfast for Victor Hugo ("Les Miserables") and his bride, Adele Foucher, Eugene, Hugo's elder brother, went violently mad. Must have been even more disconcerting that the best man's toast.

On this day in 1919, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker and Robert Sherwood, forbidden by their employer, "Vanity Fair," to discuss their salaries, walked around the magazine's offices wearing signs around their necks saying how much (or little) they were being paid.

And on this day in 1888, Katherine Mansfield--who abandoned her husband on their wedding night because she hated the pink bedspread--was born in Wellington, New Zealand. Mansfield, writer of memorable short stories, said, "I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was, too. But better to write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all." Reassuring words for writers everywhere.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Turkey Trot

Steve McGobble, legendary leader of the Great Turkey Escape, has succeeded again. Appearing in various guises (e.g., a choreographer training a chorus line for the Broadway production "Turkey Trot") McGobble has saved untold numbers of turkeys from the Thanksgiving board.

Most recently, this feathered Scarlet Pimpernel presented himself at the farm of McGurk's Juicy Turks as a professor of ornithology, conducting a study of turkey slang. He departed with a truck full of free turkeys, leaving McGurk tied to his own rotisserie.

As for turkey slang and its usage, McGobble issued this statement: "Please refrain from referring to the Big Orange and his mob in the White House as 'a bunch of turkeys.' This is disrespectful to a species which has done no one harm. You might consider calling them 'a disturbance of dodos' or 'a cacophony of cowbirds.'"

Thursday, October 5, 2017

An Apple for the Teacher

September 5 has been designated Teachers' Day, causing us to remember notable pedagogues of the past.

There was Miss Madge Martin, running wildly 'round and 'round the room, chalk in hand, to define infinity. There was Mr. Easson, the science teacher who ate bugs and chalk and sat on the window ledge so he could smoke during class. Miss E.G. Pye (the initials, students believed, stood for "Eat Good") who convinced us to make salads of lawn clippings for our parents, and taught students to swim, stretched on a plank in the waterless classroom.

Then there were the French teachers: tiny Miss Irwin, who had the class begin each day reciting the Lord's Prayer in French ("Notre pere, qui es aux cieux...") and Murray Robinson, who also coached football, and liked to enter the classroom singing "Darling, je vous aime beaucoup."

A nod, as well, to L.C. Nelson, the feared math instructor, who wore a shiny black suit daily through the fall and winter terms, switching to a wilted grey for spring and summer."Yes, class," he would announce, "Mr. Nelson does own two suits." It was like seeing the first robin.

So a toast to all teachers, especially those with a true gift, chalk dust in their veins. Apple cider would  make an appropriate toast.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Nathaniel Hawthorne Greets the Month

"There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October."

                          Nathaniel Hawthorne, "American Notebooks."