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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…]

Character in comeback

Michelle Obama illustrated the importance of not giving up. csmonitor.com.

Michelle Obama illustrated the importance of not giving up. csmonitor.com.

It’s no wonder she is a model mother. It’s no coincidence she has earned such great respect as the U.S. first lady the past eight years. But if the new leaders of her country – whoever they turn out to be – are wise, they might turn to her often to deliver positive energy and a way through the rhetorical mess that is sinking America. I mean, who paints stronger images than this one?

“I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” Michelle Obama said to the Democratic delegates on Monday, “and I watch my daughters, beautiful, intelligent, black young women – playing with their dogs on the White House lawn…” [more…]

By any other name, it’s still theft

It was a case of: She said – She said.

In 2008, Michelle Obama said, “Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: like you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and that you do what you say.”

This week, Melania Trump said, “My parents impressed on me the values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say.” [more…]

When it’s wrong, say so

The liner St. Louis, loaded with Jewish refugees, was refused entry to Canada in 1939.

The liner St. Louis, loaded with Jewish refugees, was refused entry to Canada in 1939.

As people often do, a colleague of mine sent me what he considered a joke by email, the other day. I read it and I didn’t laugh. It painted a scenario of an immigrant who, through odd circumstances, had a lot of dependents. Eventually, the man of Arabic background requests assistance from the government. The story concludes with this response:

“I’ve arranged to start mailing cheques … as soon as you arrive in Canada,” signed Justin Trudeau. [more…]

A dog’s life

A boy and his first dog.

A boy and his first dog.

Just the other day, I bumped into one of my acquaintances in the park. Of course, the people I meet in the park generally have a companion with them – of the four-legged variety. Anyway, as often happens among dog walkers, we got talking about breeds, dog compatibility and ages of our pets.

“This Kerry’s a bit older than my last dog,” I said to my dog-walking acquaintance.

“Mine too,” he said. “She’s been with us throughout the lives of our kids.” [more…]

A little taste of Canada in London

Canada House on Trafalgar Square - June 2016.

Canada House on Trafalgar Square – June 2016.

It was one of the quickest checkpoint passages I think I’ve ever experienced. Not that the security officer wasn’t thorough. Not at all. First he asked us about the nature of our visit. We said we wanted to visit the Canada Gallery just beyond the checkpoint. Next, he asked to scan my backpack. No problem there. Then, I offered my passport.

“Canadians?” the security guard said.

I nodded and in we went. My wife and I had just gone through the security check at Canada House, in London, England. [more…]

Duty to say nice things

Maud believed in pointing

Maud Montgomery believed in the pointing of duty.

Earlier this week, in the town where I live, there was a little incident on the main street. A car jumped the curb and ended up sideways in front of a few shops. I noticed it because the police were there. I ventured closer and saw a woman, I think the owner of the car, sitting on a storefront step. What intrigued me was that everybody gathering around had the same first reaction.

“Are you OK?” everybody asked the woman.

She appeared shaken, but otherwise all right.

[more…]

Soldiers of secrecy

On her first return visit to Bletchley Park, former teleprinter operator Theo Hopkinson searches for her past.

On her first return visit to Bletchley Park, former wartime teleprinter operator Theo Hopkinson searches for her past.

She strode toward the building with a protective rampart in front of it. As I watched her, I sensed she needed to find something, maybe something tangible from long ago. Once inside this rather plain building, labelled simply Block B, her pace slowed. Inside, she passed glass exhibit cases and along walls laden with images and captions from the past. Then, she spotted it.

“There. That’s not exactly the same thing, but it’s like the one I worked on,” said Theo Hopkinson, now nearly 90.

I asked what she was looking for.

“A teleprinter,” she said. “We used them to key in messages.” [more…]

Love in War

Winston Churchill had to be encouraged by his relatives to propose to Clementine Hozier.

Winston had to be encouraged to propose to Clementine …

The two almost did not meet. The couple nearly didn’t marry and become one of the most famous couples in 20th century Britain. But thanks to the intervention of Winston Churchill’s cousin, the 9th Duke of Marlborough, a visitor to Churchill’s family home – Blenheim Palace in England – Clementine Hozier did meet Winston in August 1908. They took a walk in the garden, dashed for cover during a rain shower and he finally proposed.

“I took two important decisions (at Blenheim),” the great wartime leader of Britain wrote later, “to be born and to marry.” [more…]