Keys to a problem

Upright pianos, such as this one, often get relegated to back walls, basements or worse...

Upright pianos, such as this one, often get relegated to back walls, basements or worse…

First, we got some experts to separate into manageable pieces. Next, we sought advice about how to move its heaviest parts. Then, I rented a cube van to move all the pieces. But we left the toughest challenge to the last – how we were going to move its huge sounding board down a set of stairs, across a floor, onto the front porch of our rental apartment and into the back of the cube van.

We actually found a set of heavy ropes and pillows to try to ease the heart of our upright piano – its the massive interior sounding board – down the stairs gently. Problem was, none of us could keep the hundreds of pounds of Baldwin piano sounding board from rumbling down the stairs. And when it got away on us, it slid down the stairs out of control, until it hit the wall at the base of the staircase with a thundering crash.

“Baaaannnng!” rattled the sounding board. And it resonated in that wall for a good minute after the collision. [more…]

A privilege thrown away

hwy401_overhead_signIt baffles me to this day. It was rush hour. I was eastbound on Hwy. 401, just entering the city limits of Toronto. All the digital signs hanging over the highway were flashing a warning. A collision had blocked two lanes of the Collectors. There was only one way to avoid getting stuck in traffic.

“Express Moving Well,” the overhead sign said.

But it didn’t matter. As many drivers as were entering the Express lanes to dodge the delay, were entering the Collectors where straight ahead of them the traffic was snarled beyond belief. Despite all the warnings, they were travelling headlong into gridlock. I couldn’t get that image out of my head of lemmings following each other blindly over the edge of the cliff. Then it hit me. It wasn’t a death wish or that they didn’t care. It was that they hadn’t bothered to read the signs. They just didn’t read! [more…]

Men not machines

Logan Carswell remembers his brother during Highway of Heroes LAV Monument unveiling.

Logan Carswell remembers his brother during Highway of Heroes LAV Monument unveiling.

He was the fifth person to speak at the ceremony last Saturday. He followed the MC, the mayor, the military commander, and one of the sponsors of the event. But Logan Caswell’s story about his big brother, Darryl, stopped the audience in its tracks. Logan remembered his 12th birthday. That day, June 11, 2007, Darryl Caswell was going to call from overseas with special birthday greetings. The phone rang at the Caswell’s home in Bowmanville, Ont., that day, but it wasn’t his brother on the line.

“They told us Darryl had been killed by an IED while on a supply convoy north of Kandahar City,” Logan Caswell said. [more…]

The good, the bad and the ugly of Celebrity

Phil Kessel had no intentions of promoting his visit to Toronto Sick Kids Hospital with the Stanley Cup, but hospital staff tweeted out pictures and praise.

Phil Kessel had no intentions of promoting his visit to Toronto Sick Kids Hospital with the Stanley Cup, but hospital staff tweeted out pictures and praise.

He wore a baseball cap that had no team emblem and a T-shirt with no sign of his number 81 on it. He smiled for several of the private photographs taken that day; and that was a bit out of the ordinary. Otherwise his visit to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children went unnoticed even when he opened up a case and revealed – for the children and staff at the hospital only – the Stanley Cup, the one he and his fellow Pittsburgh Penguins had won last spring. And his visit would have gone unnoticed, but for a hospital staffer who tweeted:

“SickKids was buzzing with #StanleyCup fever today! Thx for visiting our patients & families @PKessel81 #NHL.” [more…]

Precarious or preferred?

1930 Lewis Hine photograph depicting "skywalkers," steelworkers atop Empire State Building, is often used to symbolize "precarious work."

1930 Lewis Hine photograph – depicting “skywalkers,” steelworkers atop Empire State Building – is often used to symbolize “precarious work.”

We hadn’t seen each other in awhile. We stopped to catch up. My friend told me it had been a tough summer. His father had passed. He’d had to put a favourite pet down. So, his work as an artist had suffered. We’re about the same age and we talked about whether the idea of stopping work or even retirement had entered his thinking. He pointed out, while it might be appropriate and healthy to slow down or even retire, that it wasn’t feasible.

“I can’t just decide to stop working,” he said. “Working artists can’t afford to do that.”

We talked a while about what retirement might look like for him. He sensed that he might do more work of his own choosing, as opposed to the work that customers needed or wanted done. But ultimately we came back to the kind of work life he experiences.

“Freelance work never stops,” he said. [more…]

Make it awkward

Mother Canada sculpture at Vimy Memorial.

Mother Canada sculpture at Vimy Memorial.

The man sat at the back of the audience area through most of my presentation. I spoke, as I usually do in those situations, walking among those in the audience, in this case 30 people seated at about eight tables. My topic was the Battle at Vimy Ridge coming up to the 100th anniversary next year. And I was speaking at a small Ontario fair last weekend. I could see the man was reacting to what I had to say. He frowned a lot and when I’d finished he put up his hand.

“Is it true that all the French-Canadian troops threw their rifles overboard on the way over to France?” he asked.

I paused a second, wondering where he was going with the question. I didn’t want to think there was prejudice involved. “No. I don’t think that’s true, since one of the key regiments at Vimy was the Royal 22nd from Quebec.” [more…]

The martial art of teaching

Entering a Dojo requires adhering to specific protocols.

Entering a Dojo requires adhering to specific protocols.

It’s a little like entering that ride on the midway, you know, the one that’s as dark as the inside of your hat. You can barely make out shapes or forms, but that’s all they are. And it stays that way until you’ve made your way all the way through. I felt a little like that the day I entered what’s known as a dojo in Windsor, Ontario. Not that it was the least bit threatening, just slightly intimidating.

“Welcome to Aikido Canada,” the man in the martial arts robe said. “I’m Kevin Blok.”

“Oh, Chief Instructor Blok?” I confirmed.

“Yes,” he continued. “Take off your shoes and join us.” [more…]

A house that was a home

My neighbour's house comes down piece by piece.

My neighbour’s house comes down piece by piece.

The demolition had been going on for over an hour. Layers of roofing, above the second floor were now caving in. Rafters that hadn’t seen the light of day for over a century and the walls that could tell stories of many of those years came cascading down. It was all quite controlled. With the precision of a surgeon, the excavator operator was bringing my neighbour’s house down piece by piece.

Murray Huntington spots an important clue.

Murray Huntington spots an important clue.

But suddenly the excavator shovel – Murray Huntington’s industrial scalpel – powered down. Huntington opened the excavator door, stepped out of the cab and climbed over the debris that had been the second floor.

“What’ve you got?” I called out to him from ground level.

“Maybe you can use this,” Huntington said.

And he gently tugged at a few of the floorboards atop the pile of rubble to reveal some paper. He’d spotted it in the debris, brought it down and handed it to me. It was a newspaper. [more…]

Backyard stories for the universe

Reading room as a broadcast studio.

Reading room as a broadcast studio.

We sat down on a couple of plain chairs at a wooden table. We both splayed reference papers and notes across the table in front of us. The setting could easily have been his or my summer kitchen. Then, after some casual conversation, he hit the start button on a pocket-sized audio recorder in the middle of the table.

“It’s a warm sunny day,” he started. “I’m seated in a reading room in Port Perry Library overlooking Lake Scugog…”

I couldn’t resist. “… And under normal circumstances, we should be down at the lake enjoying the water,” I interrupted.

“But we’re not,” he continued. “This is the inaugural podcast of ‘Durham Past and Present.’” [more…]

Mid-summer’s day dreaming

When I wasn't napping, here's what dawn at a friend's cottage looked like.

When I wasn’t napping, here’s what dawn at a friend’s cottage looked like.

It kind of snuck up on me. Caught me off guard. My wife and I had taken a few days off from a relatively hectic few weeks of work. We’d joined some friends for an extended weekend up North at a cottage on a lake, whose name I’ve forgotten. To feel less guilty about abandoning projects that needed attention back at my office, in fact, I’d even brought along my laptop and some files. Then, somewhere between transcribing an interview and writing a letter to a publisher, it happened.

I moved from my impromptu desktop – a table and chair in a screened-in porch – to a summer couch in a quiet corner of the cottage to read … and I fell fast asleep. [more…]