The Twelve Days of Christmas

Double the Christmas gift.

As I wrote last column, welcoming a baby grandson into the world was truly a gift. That was the First Day of Christmas. On the Second Day of Christmas, I went looking for a gift for my sister. I searched and then I found a photograph, taken of the two of us about 1972. So, I went to a local photo place and the guy said he could duplicate it, but that he didn’t normally adjust for contrast and brightness.

“But in the spirit of the season,” young Michael said, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Thoughtful, I’d say. Unexpected gifts are the best.

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.’”

Water, water everywhere. Not.

Hosing water around at the worst of times.
Hosing water around at the worst of times.

I saw a man in Toronto, the other day, doing the most decadent thing you can imagine. He was washing a bunch of leaves down the street with water from his garden hose. Spraying the water, full blast, onto the asphalt!

“Where’s your head?” I almost shouted at him, but didn’t. “Up your… hose?”

Mother Corp on my mind

The old CBC Radio building on Jarvis Street in Toronto was home to a different generation of broadcasters.
The old CBC Radio building on Jarvis Street in Toronto was home to broadcasters with a different set of priorities and ethical standards.

I’ve been asked the question a lot over the years. It’s an issue some of friends feel compelled to put to me whenever it comes up. And I feel compelled to respond. But friends and peers have asked it of me repeatedly these past months, in particular, this past week.

“What’s with all this rottenness at the CBC?” people ask.

Getting involved

Columbine High School shooting survivor, Craig Scott, talks about the cultural issue facing his generation of 20-somethngs. Photo Reading Eagle.

The other night after my teammates and I finished our hockey game up at the arena, several of us changed and gathered at the bar for a Christmas drink. It’s that once-a-year moment when most of us, who have little to do with each other except share Sunday night adult recreational hockey, sit down in the lead up to Dec. 25. We hadn’t been sitting more than a few minutes when the talk shifted to the topic that’s been on everybody’s mind all week.

“Unbelievable, eh, that shooting in Connecticut,” one of the guys said.

Cuts more than skin deep

Parks Canada guide, Sylvie, greeted our tour group to Beaumont-Hamel, this past spring.

As we arrived, she emerged from the information pavilion. She wore her identifiable green uniform, complete with department identification and Maple Leaf insignia. She offered a warm welcome and explained she would be our guide for the next half-hour. She was a long way from home, but made us feel as if we had never left Canada.

“Welcome to the Beaumont-Hamel National Historic Site,” the young woman said. I learned later her name was Sylvie, a student from Winnipeg, and that she was employed for several months by Parks Canada to guide visitors around the site.

Weathering Vimy then and now

Students from Uxbridge Secondary School display their Vimy 95th anniversary banner at precisely the spot where Canadian troops made first contact with German soldiers on the morning of April 9, 1917.

It had rained all day. The sun had tried to poke some light through the low-lying clouds and mist of the ridge. But the strong westerly wind – that seemed to cut right through you – quickly erased every attempt. It was not a day to be outside. And yet, people came by the thousand. In particular, the young Canadians – about 5,000 high school students – paraded with banners, cheers and a resolve that was characteristic of their forefathers. One of their teachers summed up the scene.

“They’re wet and chilled to the bone,” she said. “But they realize it’s not right to complain. They’ll get through it.”

Cannot tell a book…

When I met CBC Commissionaire Don Nelson, I had no idea he had been a commando (much like these Canadian troops) during the Korean War.

The first time I went to the local chiropractor’s office, I arrived early and got caught up on some National Geographic stories. Then it was time for my session and I prepared myself with excuses. I expected a barrage of questions, such as, how long had my shoulder been bothering me, what previous treatment had I undergone, and why had I waited so long to deal with it. But that wasn’t the first thing Dr. Peter Begg asked me.

“Where did you get all your research for that Vimy book of yours?” he said.

Trusted anchor

CTV News anchor Lloyd Robertson speaking at Centennial College in 2006.
CTV News anchor Lloyd Robertson speaking at Centennial College in 2006.

It seems commonplace now, but for a long time those working in the media were not considered able, nor in some cases were they allowed, to do two things at the same time. Today it’s called multi-tasking. Thirty-five years ago, it was considered a violation of the working agreement between workers and managers in the media. The first person to break that barrier in Canadian news media will leave his revered spot on the air later this week.

“Unions were so powerful [when I worked] at the CBC,” Lloyd Robertson told a group of journalists a few years ago. “As an announcer there, all I was allowed to do was pick up news copy and read it on the air.”

Citizen Jack

Jack Layton (left) in a media scrum during the 2006 federal election.
Jack Layton (left) in a media scrum during the 2006 federal election. Toronto Observer photo.

Jack Layton gave me and my teaching colleagues a gift we shall always cherish. It was a political gift, yes. It actually took place in front of news cameras – during the 2006 federal election – so it was also a public gift. It was a gift that probably wasn’t appreciated by the mainstream media reporters present that day. That’s because, for a few moments, he ignored the big-name reporters from CTV, CBC and Global Television in Toronto in favour of the lesser known, less experienced and less jaded reporters – some of our first-year journalism students.

“I’ll take questions first from the Centennial College journalists,” Jack Layton said during the press conference that day.