The road taken

A once-in-a-lifetime Paul McCartney concert

A once-in-a-lifetime Paul McCartney concert (courtesy

An acquaintance of mine told me about the night he met up with a music legend. For weeks, before Paul McCartney’s most recent concert stop in Toronto, my acquaintance and his partner debated whether they should part with the cash required to get into the Air Canada Centre to see and hear the former Beatle. My friend said they vacillated over the expense. Then, realizing they might miss an opportunity to see and hear the creator of such landmark songs as “Yesterday,” “Hey Jude” and “Live and Let Die,” the couple gathered as much cash as they could, dashed to the ACC, but arrived after the concert had begun.

“The scalpers were there with a few last tickets,” my acquaintance said. “But with the concert already underway, I guess they figured they’d better unload the tickets.” [more…]

Their chance to lead

Plan Canada "Because I am a girl" advertisement

Plan Canada “Because I am a girl” advertisement

You’ve seen the advertisement on TV in the past few weeks. The two swaddled infants appear lying on a multi-coloured mat. The babies seem contented and comfortable as they lie there. One is cooing; the other has a partial smile. As I looked at the ad, it never occurred to me to ask what gender the infants were. But then we’re told…

“Both of them could be head of a class… could lead a nation,” the voice-over announcer said. “Yet one of them won’t even be given a chance, simply because she’s a girl.” [more…]

Learning to save daylight

Making the most of sunshine is a year-round proposition.

Making the most of sunshine is a year-round proposition.

For some of us, Sunday morning holds a ritual that’s nearly religious. I’m talking about my oldtimers’ hockey league. But what with people away on holidays and a flu bug going around, attendance last Sunday wasn’t what it should be. One of my teammates arrived just before the first game, at 7 a.m., and was surprised how few of us were there.

“There were hardly any cars in the parking lot when I came in,” he said. “It’s as if it was Daylight Saving and everybody forgot to reset their clocks.” [more…]

Tunnel in a teapot

Toronto Police Services' Mark Saunders addresses media about tunnel discovery (courtesy CBC).

Toronto Police Services’ Mark Saunders addresses media about tunnel discovery (courtesy CBC).

Radio, television, the newspapers and most of social media were all buzzing, Monday night, because Toronto Police had found a tunnel a stone’s throw from an indoor tennis court facility in northwest Toronto. It wasn’t just any tennis court. It wasn’t just any tunnel. The tunnel was big enough to live in and apparently pointed in the direction of the Toronto Pan-American Games tennis venue – the Rexall Centre. But when asked at a press conference if he thought the tunnel was part of a terrorist plot, Deputy Chief Mark Saunders had a simple response:

“There’s no criminal offence for digging a hole,” he said. [more…]

What giving 110 per cent really means

Olli Jokinen at first Leafs' press conference

Olli Jokinen at first Leafs’ presser (Toronto Maple Leafs)

I read the newspapers over the weekend. I expected to see news about a trade involving the Maple Leafs. And there it was on the front page of Monday’s Toronto Star sports section. Defenceman Cody Franson is gone. So is perhaps the hardest working forward on the team, Mike Santorelli. Then, Tuesday online, I caught a bit of the reporter scrum involving Toronto’s newest acquisition in the deal, 36-year-old Nashville Predator Olli Jokinen responding to the question: “Are you surprised?”

“Yeah, absolutely,” he told the Star. “Why wouldn’t I be?” [more…]

Gotta versus oughta

17th century historian and writer James Howell

17th century historian and writer James Howell

As I do fairly regularly, I ran into the mayor enjoying a cup of coffee with friends last weekend. As we regularly do, we exchanged greetings. I asked her if she’d taken in a movie that everybody was talking about. She said, what with lack of time and the amount of work on her plate, that she hadn’t. I mentioned that I’d had the same problem trying to get some of my own writing done versus marking the writing of my students. I came up with what I thought was a constructive solution.

“Maybe if we gave half of the time we have available to do half of what we have to do… and then devote the other half of the time we have available to do what we want to do,” I said, “that might be more satisfying.” [more…]

The urge to DIY

Even just knocking down an old garage took somebody who knew what he was doing - not me.

Even just knocking down an old garage took somebody who knew what he was doing – not me.

A good friend of mine – a designer by profession – has decided to take on something new in his life. It’s really only a slight turn in his career. He’s created masterful book designs for Canadian publishers for years. But when he and I recently put our heads together in front of a computer to work on my latest book design, he told me he’d bought a property in a neighbouring community, an older house, one we used to refer to as “a fixer-upper.”

“And I’m doing most of the interior renovations myself,” he said. “I just thought I’d like to try my hand at it.”

“You’re a better man than I,” I told him. And I meant it. [more…]

Liberation not a moment too soon

Ninety-nine percent of the time Larry Mann performed in studio, on camera for voice-over to make us laugh.

Ninety-nine percent of the time Larry Mann performed in studio, on camera for voice-over to make us laugh.

Most of the time, Larry D. Mann was a comedian. In the 1950s, when I met him, Larry would warm up audiences for my father’s television show, The Barris Beat, on CBC. He also appeared in comic sketches on the show. His perfect delivery of punch lines, his deadpan facial expressions and his huge guffaws broke up every audience he ever met. Once, however, Larry Mann made me cry. He described a day in the spring of 1945.

“We weren’t prepared for what we saw when we arrived at the concentration camp,” he said. “We couldn’t get in the front gate because there were bodies, hundreds of bodies, piled up like cordwood. We hadn’t seen the pits yet…” [more…]

Canadian Enigma connection

IMITATION_GAME_POSTERSeventy years ago, Europeans sensed the end of the Second World War was near. VE Day arrived May 8, 1945. A generation later, historians and moviemakers are still discovering how Victory in Europe was achieved. At Bletchley Park, an estate just two hours from London, England, details of the Allied intelligence victory continue to emerge. Last year, the movie The Imitation Game depicted the secret world of Enigma, Alan Turing and war work at Bletchley.

In the March 2015 edition of Zoomer magazine, read Ted Barris’s account of the Canadian angle on the code-breakers who hastened victory. [more…]

The plastic brain

Dr. Norman Doidge

Dr. Norman Doidge

At Centennial College where I work in Toronto, this past week, I faced new students, people with different destinations than my students last fall. As I asked them about their aspirations for the course I was about to teach, one asked about what I do. In passing, I mentioned I’d be interviewing a doctor who believes the human brain can change, adapt, and even heal itself. Curious, I asked the class if anyone had ever had a traumatic brain experience.

“When I was young, I had a stroke,” one student said. “It took away my speech. I couldn’t talk.”

I nodded that her current speech suggested a full recovery. “What happened? How did your speech come back?”

“They taught me Italian,” she said. “I didn’t know a word of it. But in learning the Italian I got my English speech back.” [more…]