Saturday, 25 July 2015

Reminiscences of a Military Brat, Part 14, Living in Residence and Military Training

The 2nd and 3rd windows down from the centre door are my room
So at the end of my last post, I had finally been accepted into the Regular Officer Training Program (ROTP) as a future Logistics officer. In January 1975, I moved out my brother's PMQ and down to residence at University College. I was to share a room in Whitney Hall, Cody House on St George Street. The picture above is the view of the quadrangle. Cody House is the 3 stories to the right of the central door; men on the ground floor and ladies on the 2nd and 3rd floor. Mulock House was further down to the right and the other two houses were Fraser and Ferguson, both to the left of the central entrance. You could also enter from St George Street. To get to our rooms, you passed by the porter's office, managed by two older gentlemen.

My side of the room, my desk, quadraphonic stereo, records, tapes and books
My room, which I shared with Chris Bradford for two years, was the first on the right past the porter's office. Everyone made me feel very welcome even though I arrived in the middle of the term. Cody House was a great place and I had 2 1/2 good years there; the first two sharing with Chris.

My future flatmate, Allan Harris
3rd year I moved across the hall into a single room and 4th year, I moved into an apartment off campus and shared with a science student, Al Harris. But for my first 5 months in residence, I got used to a new life style. I will readily admit, that I began to party a bit and *ahem* drink a bit.

My room and Chris' became a bit of a gathering place, as you can see, but we just as happy sitting down in the hallway, chatting, having a drink and letting people step around us as they headed to their rooms.

University Gothic; our wonderful Dons
We were well cared for. Each house had 2 dons. Ben lived on our floor and looked after we guys and Rachel lived upstairs and looked after the ladies. It was a very homey place. Off the hallways was a small lobby and then a large sitting room with comfy couches and chairs and even a piano. There was also a study hall with 3 or 4 desks if you wanted some piece and quiet to study, especially if you shared a room. Onward and into a kitchen where you could keep food in the fridges and also cook meals if you wanted. Continue on towards Mulock House via the kitchen and before you hit their rooms, there was a TV lounge.

The patio
As you can see from the first picture, Whitney Hall was basically a C- shaped building with a nice quadrangle for throwing around a baseball or Frisbee. We were lucky in that there was a little deck off the lounge, through French doors. I spent many days out there studying... well, studying is a loose term, but enjoying the sun anyway.

The Dining Hall was down the path towards the UC bookstore. You could get lunch and supper there (I don't think they served breakfast, but you could get that at many other places on campus, or just keep milk and cereal in the kitchen.) and it was a good meeting place.

Cody House regularly hosted dances in the lounge; probably once every two or three months. We'd set up the study hall as our bar, keep the beer and wine cold in the kitchen fridges and move the furniture around in the lounge so you had a nice big dance floor. I volunteered my stereo; really probably a pretty cheap kit, but my pride and joy. It was a quadraphonic, 8-track stereo with record player. So besides serving at the bar and squeezing in a few dances, I was also the DJ. The dances were always very popular, folks from all over the university. It did mean I had to improve my record collection to provide sufficient dance music. There were a few record stores that I frequented; Round Records on Bloor Street and down on Yonge Street, there was Sam the Record Man and A&M Records. I did like my stereo; there were a few nights after imbibing a bit too much that I fell asleep with an 8-track in play, which played on a continuous loop until I woke up in the morning. Ooooops.

Visiting the folks
I did still get home for Spring Break and Easter, either taking the bus up or driving up with Rick and Heather. My folks still lived on Moffatt Crescent at that time. By now, Dad was retired from the military and now working as a mail carrier. Mom still worked at the Base Post Office. John was either in Grade 6 or Grade 7.

Anyway, I will get back more to living at University and my activities in future post(s). To finish off this entry, I enjoyed my first experience living in residence and still managed to pass my 1st year courses. Summer was approaching and that meant Basic Training with the military. This will be the subject of my next entry. Can't wait, eh?

Thursday, 23 July 2015

New Books

Just a quickie post here. I've received a couple of books that I recently ordered from The Book Depository and bought one at Nearly New Books, yesterday so I thought I'd just provide an update.

First, from Nearly New Books, I purchased Winston Graham's first Poldark book, Ross Poldark. The recent series has been on PBS and even though Jo and I missed the first two or three episodes, I finally broke down and watched one two weeks ago and found myself enjoying it. We watched the next one this past Sunday and once again, I enjoyed very much. When I saw the book at the book store, I figured I should pick it up. The book was first published in 1945. The series consisted of five books, with the others being, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark, Warleggan and The Black Moon. The synopsis of the first reads as follows -
"Cornwall in the 1780s... County of mine-masters, wreckers - and turbulent passions. Back to this land, his own land, comes Ross Poldark. Ross looked across at Francis. "I've interrupted a party. Is it in celebration of the peace or in honour of the next war?" "No," said Francis. "I-er-the position is-" "We are celebrating something far different," said Charles, motioning for his glass to be filled. "Francis is to be married." "To be married," said Ross. "Well, well; and who -" "To Elizabeth," said Mrs. Chynoweth. There was silence. Ross put down his knife...'

I purchased two more books of historical fiction, this time via the auspices of The Book Depository. The first book was originally published in 1796, The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis, a book of murder, incest and the excesses of the Spanish Inquisition. "Set in a sinister Capuchin monastery in Madrid, the ever-more horrifying narrative recounts the experiences of a lustful and devious abbot, who forgoes his monastic vows in the face of temptation and sexual obsessions. Seduced by an evil woman and intoxicated by desire, he assaults an innocent young girl and - to conceal his guilt - murders her mother. For these and other unholy offences, he is apprehended and imprisoned, where he is subjected to unpleasant treatment at the hands of the ecclesiastical authorities. In order to escape, he sells his soul to the devil, discovering in the aftermath the grim consequences of his horrifying acts."

Finally, I first heard of this book when I was following one of my Goodreads friend's reading challenges. I only ever thought of Bram Stoker as the author of Dracula. But, obviously, he wrote other novels, including this book, The Jewel of the Seven Sisters, which was originally released in 1903. "Someone has seized the fabled Jewel of Seven Stars from the mummy's grip, and the ancient Egyptian queen Tera has risen from her tomb to take it back - at any cost! This thrilling tale of adventure and ritual magic recounts a supernatural struggle in which archaeologists, grave robbers, and anyone else who attempts to possess the jewel meet a mysterious, violent fate."

So there you go, any of them interest you?

Reminiscences of a Military Brat - Part 13 - University of Toronto

In September of 1974, I began my four year university career, commuting from my brother's PMQ at CFB Downsview. His place was unique as for the most part, the military housing was on the complete other side of the base. He lived in duplex off of an open field on Sheppard Avenue. Besides his house, there was a small house for the Padre and then the Base Commander's house. Other than that, it was just empty fields. As well, it was closer to the Yonge Street subway than the rest of the housing units.

University College Campus.
I went to University of Toronto's downtown campus and was part of University College. If you ever watch the original Black Christmas or the Class of '44, for the most part they were filmed in this area of the university. It was a lovely campus and when I eventually moved into university lodgings, my rooms were just behind and to the left of the Campus building.

But for the first 3 months, until I finally heard from the military about my ROTP scholarship, I commuted daily. My schedule wasn't too hectic. I planned on majoring in Political Science. For my first year, I took to Pol Sci courses; Intro to Canadian Politics and Intro to Political Philosophy. I also took an Intro to Economics course and an Accounting course and as my 'bird' course, I took a Spanish course. I figured it would be my easy course as I had been taking it all through high school. Wrong!! I generally started my day at the cafeteria in the basement of the University campus building and then was off to class. My most strenuous period was when I had to dash from one course on St George Street and try to get into my Political Philosophy class across Queen's Park in time. It rarely happened.

I didn't mind the commute, except it meant that I didn't really partake in the activities on campus. My commute was usually about an hour each way, so if I wanted to get back home early enough, I tended to leave early. Canadian Politics was interesting, not outstanding. Political Philosophy was interesting; mainly because our prof, Allan Bloom, made us read his book for the class. He was the expert after all. He was funny, intelligent and interesting. However, it was still Philosophy. Economics was basically boring. I skipped one week of classes in my second term and that was the one week we were taught a formula for microeconomics. Needless to say, I didn't do very well on that test, eh?

Accounting and I were not good friends. When I thought I understood it, I did poorly and when I hadn't a clue, I got great marks. I didn't continue with Accounting, as you can well imagine. And, when it came to my 'bird' course, well, let's just say, while I might have thought I had a pretty good grasp of the language, I was quite wrong. I passed the course, but over the course of the year, I kind of stopped attending my tutorials and just went to classes, but started feeling guilty about not attending tutorials and my classroom attendance also became somewhat haphazard.

I enjoyed the university experience. Classes were interesting and the campus was lovely for the most part. There was a mix of old and new buildings. The Robart's Library was designed like a sailing ship, most interesting. I spent many hours there, not only searching for books but also using the typing room to finalise my essays. (Yes, this was in the days before laptop computers when we actually wrote our essays by hand and then typed them for submission)

Do you remember this from Black Christmas?
From the new to the old, was Hart House, which was a sort of community building, consisting of pubs, restaurants, gymnasium facilities and other rooms. A beautiful building, just in behind the University College building.

The best newspaper on campus was The Toike Oike, the Engineering student's paper, basically a paper full of jokes against Artsies, Med students, jocks, etc. It was a nice counterpoint to the more sedate, The Varsity.

So I plodded along, commuting to my courses and spending my evenings and weekends with Rick and Heather. But as the year went on, I was getting nervous about ROTP and whether I would actually receive an offer. In November or December, I decided that if I wasn't going to get my offer, I would quit university and just enter the military as a Direct Entry Officer. One afternoon I went to the Recruiting Centre and asked if I could join in this fashion. At the time, the only careers with vacancies were Armour, Artillery or Infantry. I gulped, went home to think about it and within a couple of days, called and said that I would like to join up. Now, I'm told that the only career with vacancies was Artillery. Egads! I'm now thinking. I didn't think I really had a choice, so I accepted. The Recruiting Centre then advised that I would go to CFB Downsview in the next week for my medical and then fill out the necessary paperwork and lo and behold, I would now be a recruit in the Canadian Armed Forces as a potential Artillery Officer.

With some trepidation, I accepted this offer and went back to school to finish off my last few weeks. One day, shortly after, as I sat in my Canadian Politics class, a class with some 100+ students in it, the professor walked in, looked around and asked if there was a Mr. Dumoulin present. I thought, 'now what have I done?'. I'd barely talked with this professor and he's asking for me. I raised my hand and advised that I was Mr. Dumoulin. He looked at me and told me that there was a phone call for me in his office. Now I'm astounded and flabbergasted as I could not for the life of me think who might know I was in this class, know who my professor was and call him. So away I go, wandering around the building where the class was held and find his office and pick up the phone.

It was the Recruiting Centre, asking if I still wanted to be accepted in ROTP! After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I indicated that I was still interested. The Recruiting centre individual indicated that it was an easy process. I just needed to make an appointment for a medical, to which I told him, I already had one scheduled for next Wednesday. OK, then, well, I just needed to come down to fill out the necessary paperwork. I said ok, I already had an appointment for that. So that was that. I don't know how it happened, maybe by trying to enrol as direct entry, it tweaked the system to remind them I had an ROTP application in. Maybe some god somewhere was terrified of me being anywhere near a cannon as an artillery officer. Whatever it was, I was now accepted into ROTP. My brother Rick went to the Recruiting centre to swear me in (there is a picture of that somewhere and if I can find it, I'll post it here). I went to the Base to clear into the military. The cashier said that my entry would be back-dated to the beginning of the school year and proceeded to give me nearly $1,000.00 in twenty dollar bills. I went to Base Supply (where Rick worked) and picked up my new bottle green uniforms. I was told that I got one pair of shoes and one of boots and then I could choose a second of boots or of shoes. Shoes I picked. What did I know? I also realised that as I had been clearing into the base, that I had given the wrong Social Insurance Number, a nine digit sequence, and I'd mixed up the last six. So I had to go around all over and get that corrected.

We all wore green back in 1974, the middle one.
But for all of that, I was now an Officer Cadet, a future Logistics officer, in the Canadian Armed Forces. This meant that I could now afford to continue with my University education. My tuition was paid for, my book purchases reimbursed and I got a monthly salary to cover my living expenses. My tuition at the time was around $600 per year. In 2013, an Officer Cadet received about $1600 per month. Back in 1974, I'm sure it was more like $400 per month and when I moved into residence, which I did in January 1975, was $1,300.00 approximately per year. This included enough meal cards to get you through until about March if you ate every meal a day starting in September.

Whitney Hall, University College, U of T.
But that was nothing to worry about. I was still at university and I was in the military. I checked with the University College Registrar and was told that I could get room at Cody House, one of four houses in Whitney Hall.

My roommate, Chris Bradford
I thanked Rick and Heather for putting up with me for the past 4 months and in January, after the Christmas holidays, I moved into residence. This is what greeted me. Chris Bradford, a loud, brash, but great guy was to be my first roommate. More to follow.. :0)

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Reminiscences of a Military Brat - Part 12 - Moving on to University and the Military

In my last entry on this subject I opined about my final years of High school and my life in North Bay. The summer of 1974 was an important one for me as I had to sort out where I would go to university and if I would join the Regular Officer Training Program (ROTP) or try to fund my own way through university. While I sorted this out, I spent the summer or '74 working and enjoying myself. I managed to get two jobs through the job centre. I first got a temporary job stripping and waxing the floors of a special school in North Bay. It was only supposed to be for a couple of weeks but when I finished, the temporary job, they kept me on for the rest of the summer, doing after school cleaning and general duties. I would show up around 3:30 Mon through Fri, just as all the students were being picked up by their parents, then spend the next couple of hours, cleaning the classrooms and bathrooms and buffing the floors. Not to strenuous but it was a job nonetheless. After this I'd head home for dinner and then a couple of nights a week, back to the base for the intersection fastball league as this was my last year playing for the teens.
This used to be the Continental Hotel
Luckily for me, the job centre offered me another job opportunity as a night clerk at the Continental Hotel (I'm sure that's the name of the place. It's now called Cecil's Eatery). I showed up in the afternoon one day, the owner was having lunch and a meeting in the dining room and she showed me the cash register and how to use it and then tried me out for an hour. She was pleased with how I worked and hired me. I worked 3 or 4 nights a week, the midnight shift and the Sunday afternoon shift. On my first night there, a Friday night, as I nervously walked up to the front door, the bouncer was in the process of throwing out some rowdy fella. I approached the glass door just as the bouncer was pushing this guys face up against it and then guiding him through. It wasn't a fancy hotel, as you can tell, mainly busy on Friday nights when they would have live music (I'm sure that one of the bands that played there was Heart, when they were first starting out, but it could have just been a band fronted by two other attractive ladies.)

Anyway, that was my summer, at times tedious, but I earned some money and started planning my future. I had applied to University of Toronto, Carleton University and on a whim, University of BC. I also went to the Recruiting Centre to look in to the ROTP. They had me fill out a bunch of paperwork, do some tests and then go up to the Base and have a full medical. I remember the doctor, as I was going through this medical. He started of by saying, ah, you wear glasses, I hope you don't plan on being a pilot. I replied in the negative. Then we did the colour vision test, which I failed and he then said, ah, I hope you don't want to be an Air Traffic Controller, to which I once again replied in the negative. Then the almost crushing blow to my potential military career, before it even started. "Did you know you have a heart murmur?". Cautiously, I replied, 'No, I didn't, what does that mean". Well, it could have been strike 3, I'm out, but for some reason, he let it pass.

Now the application I filled out gave two options on the bottom of the page; military college or civilian university. I checked off civilian university, as I had already applied for my civilian universities. In fact, I was accepted by University of Toronto, maybe Carleton as well, but my preference was U of T, especially as my brother Rick, who was stationed there and living in Military housing, said I could live with him and, his wife, Heather, while I got started. It all looked pretty good. I just needed to hear from the military about ROTP.

Royal Roads
Well, I did hear from them. I got a phone call one day and was told that I had been accepted into Royal Military College on Vancouver Island. Now this was a twist I hadn't anticipated. I thought about it for a few days or maybe just hours and was intrigued about going out West and getting to wear that fancy red and blue uniform and having a salary and my university costs all covered. But, on the negative half of the page, I was a bit sick and tired of school and wondered if I wanted to spend 40 hours a week in classes and then the rest of my spare time, doing compulsory military and other activities. So I was definitely leaning towards U of T and I phoned the Recruiting officer back and asked what would happen if I turned down Royal Roads, as I had been accepted by a civilian university. He said that it shouldn't be a problem.

So the summer moves on and I still haven't heard anything else from the Recruiting Centre and I'm getting a mite worried. I call back and the Recruiter who answers tells me, "Well, you turned down the best (meaning military college, of course), why would we pay for you to go through civilian university." Now I'm panicking and I tell him that if that's the case, then please let me go to military college. Of course, now it's too late to go to Royal Roads or Royal Military College, as the vacancies are all filled up. The only slim possibility is maybe if they didn't fill the Francophone quota at College Militaire at St Jean, Quebec, they might be able to give me a vacancy there. I ask them to check into that, please, but, of course, this also falls through.

So I'm back to square one. I'm going to University of Toronto, can afford to pay my tuition for one year and I can stay with Rick and Heather and their dog and I can hope that eventually the ROTP offer might come through. Now I don't remember thinking that I could also get a job while I'm in Toronto to help pay my expenses. I have this habit of flying by the seat of my pants and hoping that things will work out. Oddly enough, quite often in my experience, that has been the case.

At my very finest
So it's September 1974 and Rick and Heather and their dog, Nasha, have come to North Bay to pick me up and deliver me to University of Toronto. I say an emotional good-bye to my parents and younger brother. Mom was working at the Post Office, so we stopped there to say good-bye to her. There were tears shed, by me anyway; crying isn't really a Dumoulin trait. I now began my big adventure at University of Toronto, University College, entered in a Bachelor of Arts program.

More to follow.. :)

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Small Town Books

On Jul 14th, I will head down to my local book store, The Laughing Oyster, and pick up the copy of Go Set a Watchman, the sequel to Harper Lee's masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird, the book she released in 1960, 55 years ago. I have to say, I'm very nervous about this as Mockingbird has long been my favourite book and also movie. From what I've read Mockingbird actually formed part of Go Set a Watchman, sort of a sequence of flashbacks within the story and her publisher suggested she pull out the flashbacks to make Mockingbird. Genius if that story is true. Go Set a Watchman follows Scout, now a woman and living in New York, as she begins a journey back to her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama. I think if this book is even half as good as Mockingbird, then I'll be very happy. Will I start reading it right away? Good question, but I might just do that. Screw my challenges.. lol

Last night on PBS, they had a special feature on Harper Lee; interviews with other authors, with Harper's sister, discussions about racism and the possible impact of the book, discussions about the characters and how they related to Harper's life. It was very interesting and sometimes emotional for me as this book always strikes a deep chord with me. Seeing scenes from the movie and hearing parts of the book read out loud got me quite choked up. I say it strikes a chord with, but I'm not quite sure why. Life in rural Alabama in the 1930's isn't something I can relate to at all, maybe it's that it has to do with growing up, with family and is just a great emotional story.

It did get me thinking of other similar types of stories, difficult to label, but I'm going to call them 'small town' stories', stories for the most part set in small towns, or close areas and stories involving family life.  Once again, I don't necessarily relate my growing up to these scenes as I was a military brat. In a way, living on a military base can be similar to small town living, in that it's a closed, small  community. The big difference is that you don't necessarily grow up with the same people as you are always on the move and starting life in a new, small, close community. Maybe that is what strikes a chord with me, the  people in these stories grow up with each other, their lives are affected by these people and their families. It's a life I haven't really lived and at times am envious of.

Anyway, this isn't really a top ten list, but the stories below have struck a chord with me and have many similarities. See what you think of these 'Small Town' stories.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) - This is the book that's started this discussion. I've written Blog entries about it before, particularly when I went through my All - Top Ten favourite books. It's been my favourite for many years and will always be my favourite book. I don't know when I first read it, it may have been for school, was at least a library book that I signed out. I've read it 3 or 4 times over the years and I've seen the movie at least as many times if not more. It's a beautifully written book, touching, emotional and a story that draws you in. It's a story told from the perspective of Scout, daughter of one Atticus Finch, and is about her family relationships, with her father, her brother Jem, their maid, Calpurnia and her neighbours and friends. It's about how these relationships affect her life and help her grow up. It's also about much bigger things, large in scope, racism in the South, relationships between blacks and whites, about heroism and civilisation. It's a simple story, but one that even today, 55 years later, still strikes a chord.

2. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (1940) - Oddly enough this book also fits into my All-time Top Ten list and is also set in the South, this time in Georgia. There are obvious differences between this and Mockingbird. For one, the focus is on a deaf man, Mr. Singer, but having said that, one of the people he meets and who affects his life is Mick, a tomboyish girl, whose parents own the rooming house where Mr. Singer resides. Mick is one of the characters around whom the story revolves, her fears, her desires and how they are impacted by Mr. Singer, by her family's poverty and the other characters that infiltrate Mr. Singer's life. Once again, it deals with other bigger issues, racism, poverty, treatment of handicapped. It features life in this smallish southern town, the relationships of the people who live there and how they all impact each others lives and futures. This book was also made into a movie, starring Alan Arkin as Mr. Singer and Sondra Locke as Mick, another movie that treated the book and story with respect and love and was just as good.

3. Peyton Place by Grace Metalious (1956) - Once again, a small town story, this time set in the US Northeast, but of a much bigger scope time-framewise than the first two. The children in this book grow up, some move away and come back. It is a fascinating story of secrets that affect the lives of the people of this small town. Everybody has one or two and as the story unfolds, these secrets affect lives, futures, even to a drastic degree. The people are drawn in a manner that you can see them, know them. I don't know if it's odd or appropriate that these first three stories were written by women, but they are and each is an expert craftsman, describing the people, the lives, the towns with care and skillful technique. Each book was also the first released by either author and in some cases, as in Lee's, she never wrote another book (until now) and in Metalious', she wrote a few others, but never achieved the success of Peyton Place. McCullers did achieve success with other novels, but I can see the difficulty of matching a book that is so instantaneously successful, with another.

4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943) - Now wait just a darn-tootin' minute, I hear you growl. Since when is Brooklyn a small town! You're quite right, Brooklyn isn't a small town, but hear me out. This is the story of 11-year old Francie Nolan, who lives in a Brooklyn tenement house with her brother, Neely, and her family. Their life revolves around their street, their 'small town'. It focuses on Francie's dreams, dreams of going to a good school. It deals with so many issues, poverty, of course, the family's struggle to make ends meet on their mother's earnings because the father is a drunk and a layabout dreamer. It's a series of vignettes, portrayed with care and attention by Betty Smith and it's about growing up, trying to attain your dreams. A lovingly, caring story and once again, another great movie. Funny how these movie producers find such excellent books to make great movies out of.

5. Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O. Mitchell (1947) - I first heard of this book and read it while taking a Canadian Literature course at University of Toronto. It is set in the Prairies of Saskatchewan in the 1930s and tells the story or the growing up of young Bryan O'Connal in a prairie community. It's a story of family, of life and death, told in vignettes in a touching, wonderful way. This book was also made into a movie, starring Gorden Pinsent and Helen Shaver and it's a slow-paced, lovely story and there are scenes that never fail to make me laugh or cry.

6. The Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy (1945) - A French Canadian classic, the story is set in the slums of Montreal, Quebec. The characters are a bit older than those in the other stories. The focus is Florentine Lacasse, a young woman who works in the local five-and-dime store, supporting her family. But the themes are similar, she had dreams, desires to improve her situation and move onto better things, but finds herself dealing with family poverty and supporting her family with her earnings. This story also covers bigger issues, it is set during the war and covers relationships between the French Quebecers and their English compatriots. A profound, unsettling, strong story.

There are many other Canadian authors that dealt successfully and powerfully with these small-town lives and stories. To name a couple, there is Margaret Laurence, one of the major figures in Canadian literature. Her books have been successfully translated to the big screen, especially The Stone Angel, starring Ellen Burstyn and A Jest of God, which was translated to a movie under the title Rachel, Rachel starring Joanne Woodward.  The other author I wanted to mention was Alice Munro and especially her book of short stories, Lives of Girls and Women, which chronicle the life of Del Jordan as she grows up in the small southern Ontario town of Jubilee.

Well, there you have it, definitely an incomplete list, but a starting point if you're looking for this type of story. Every one is a joy to read and will enhance your reading experience and maybe even your life perspective.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

New Books - Update

Just a quick post to update on a few books I purchased yesterday while the missus and I were wandering about 5th Street in Courtenay. It's been a hot, dry month but it felt nice just to get out for a couple of hours. We checked out a couple of our favourite local stores; Home & Garden Gate, where Jo bought some soaps, a new handbag and a couple of other items; and Tab Imports,  where we made note of a couple of furnishings, for future reference. Of course, they weren't the only shops we visited as it's a nice little local High Street. I left Jo for a brief time and headed to the two books stores; The Laughing Oyster and  Second Page Used Books and managed to find a couple of books in each. On the way home we picked up a bucket of yummy ice cream at Benino Gelato in Comox. All in all, it was a lovely afternoon out. But of course, my purpose in writing this is to let you know what books I bought; 3 from Second Page and 2 from The Laughing Oyster.

Second Page Books finds - I was checking out some of the series I'm reading and trying to find the first books for them most part. But I also fleshed out a couple.

1. The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie (originally published in1930, the first Miss Marple mystery) - It came as no great shock when Colonel Protheroe was found shot to death. The Colonel had earned the hatred of almost everyone in the village. The question was: Who had gotten to him first? The police relaxed when their first suspect confessed. They became uneasy when their second followed suit. By the third confession, they were tied up in knots - and only the sure hand of the remarkable Miss Marple could unravel the tangled skein of deception spun by a maddeningly elusive murderer.

2. Summer Knight by Jim Butcher (Dresden Files #4, originally published in 2002) - Ever since his girlfriend left town to deal with her newly acquired taste for blood, Harry Dresden has been down and out in Chicago. He can't pay his rent. He's alienating his friends. he can't even recall the last time he took a shower. The only professional wizard in the phone book has become a desperate man. And just when it seems things can't get any worse, in saunters the Winter Queen of Faerie. She has an offer harry can't refuse if he wants to free himself of the supernatural hold his faerie godmother has over him - and hopefully end his run of bad luck. All he has to do is find out who murdered the Summer Queen's right-hand man, the Summer Knight, and clear the Winter Queen's name. It seems simple enough, but Harry knows better than to get caught in the middle of faerie politics. Until he finds out that the fate of the entire world rests on his solving the case. No pressure or anything...

3. Death Times Three by Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe short stories republished in 1985). I haven't read any Nero Wolfe stories yet, but he's a character that I've started to take an interest in. I've acquired a couple of his books and hope to give him a try sometime this year. This books contains 3 earlier short stories; Bitter End, originally published in 1940, Framed-Up for Murder, originally published in 1958 and Assault on a Brownstone, originally published in 1961.

The Laughing Oyster pearls -  I went in to The Laughing Oyster to check on the status of my order of the Harper Lee sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, which I pre-ordered (Jul 14th at the moment) and while I was there found a couple of other books. I also ordered the first book in the Backstrom series, a series by Swedish writer Leif GW Persson, the book being The Linda Murder Case.

But now to the two book I found -

1.  The Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette (originally published in France in 1981) - Martin Terrier is a hired killer who wants out of the game, so he can settle down and marry his childhood sweetheart. But the Organisation won't let go: they have other plans for him. In a violent tale that shatters as many illusions as bodies, Jean-Patrick Manchette, the master of French noir, subjects Terrier and the reader alike to a fierce exercise in style: a tightly plotted, corrosive parody of "the successful story."

2. After You with the Pistol by Kryil Bonfiglioli ( Charlie Mortdecai mystery #2, originally published in 1979). One thing I can say about The Laughing Oyster is that they do often have books I've never heard of or seen before. This is the second book in an interesting looking series. "Charlie Mortdecai - degenerate aristocrat and victim of his own larceny and licentiousness - has no idea. Until it is made clear to him that he must marry the beautiful, sex-crazed and very , very rich Johanna Krampf. The fly in the ointment is that Johanna thinks nothing of involving poor Charlie in her life-threatening schemes, such as monarch-assassination, heroin smuggling and - worst of all - survival training at a college of feminist spies. Perhaps, it's all in a good cause - if only Charlie can live long enough to find out."

So there you have. Must dash now as the missus has made bacon and egg sandwiches for brunch.. :)

Reminiscences of a Military Brat - Part 11 - Finishing High School

Widdifield Secondary School, North Bay Ontario
In my previous entry, I talked about the families move back to North Bay, my Dad's last posting in the Canadian Forces. As I recall, there was no house-hunting trips back then as there are nowadays. For the most part, families moved from military housing on one base to military housing on the the next. Buying homes off-base was the rarity, not the norm as it is now. So when we arrived in North Bay in the summer of 1972, we already had been allocated a PMQ and just had to wait for our furniture to arrive so we could move in. While we waited, my parents had to find a high school for me to attend. Schooling wasn't a problem for my younger brother, John, as he was still young enough to attend the Junior school on the base. The Canadian Forces still had public schools at all of their major bases and students who weren't going to High School would still attend the base school.

I was in a different situation. When we got to North Bay, I still had two years of High School left before I went to university or just finished with school and started working. I did plan to attend university but didn't really know what I wanted to take there, so I was hedging my bets somewhat. I wanted to continue with languages, so we started off checking out the local high schools that taught as many languages as possible. The first place we went was Scollard Hall, the Catholic Secondary School, an all-boys school, taught by the Catholic brothers. It turns out the only language it taught was French, so needless to say, I was somewhat disappointed. Besides, I don't know that I wanted to go to an all-boys school. (Having said that, John later attended Scollard when he hit High School age and I think he enjoyed it).

The next school we checked with was Widdifield Secondary School, located at the bottom of Airport Hill, on Ski Club Road. At Brookfield Secondary School, in Grade 11, I had taken English, French, Spanish and German. Widdifield, unfortunately, didn't offer German, but it did offer Spanish. So even though I was disappointed, it seemed the best solution and I was registered there.

Class 12B - My First year at Widdifield
So I was now prepared for Grade 12, my second last year of High School. Once again I found myself in this strange situation of entering a school in the middle, in a classroom of people who, for the most part, had gone through public school and the early years of high school together and, so were familiar with each other and comfortable with the school. I won't say they weren't friendly and that they didn't make me feel immediately at home, but I often found myself wandering around in sort of a twilight zone, a stranger in a strange and, so to speak.

The rest of the class
Each day started off the same; I'd get on the bus at the base (a service contracted by the military for those kids who went to school off-base), head down to Widdifield with the base kids who attended Widdifield. (There were other high schools they could have attended, of course, Scollard or its counterpart St Joseph's for the girls, Chippewa or Ecole Algonquin, if you wanted a French - based education). Then I'd go to my locker, get my books for the morning, put my bag lunch in my locker and meet my classmates in the lunchroom, while we awaited the bell for home room. There was a group of us that hung about together; Robin Harkness, Mike Larochelle, Doug Meikle, Alain Normand, etc. We didn't necessarily take all the same classes throughout the day, but the day started off in homeroom. Our homeroom teacher and English teacher was Mrs. Fahlgren and even though I loved reading, English was never a favourite subject of mine. I liked to read, not necessarily talk and write about the books I read. (Remember this statement when I get to my university courses.)

Mrs Fahlgren in top right, as is Mr Southcott, Grade 13 English
 I enjoyed Grade 12 and my follow-on year as well. I took the basics, English, French, Spanish, Phys Ed, Chemistry (I think I had that as my science class in Grade 12), a Math Course. I had a full course load of 8 subjects, but I can't remember the others. Maybe that was the year I took Man in Society and Business Finance. I do remember visiting a local business as part of one of my courses; in fact, it was the local funeral parlour (I think I thought it would be shocking). There were no bodies on display for me, but the degree program I was told about interested me for about an hour or so.

My main school activity in Grade 12 was the curling team. We won the North Bay schoolboy title and got to represent North Bay in the Northern Ontario Secondary School Association (NOSSA) championships, which were held in Espanola that year. Mr Morton, our chemistry teacher, was the team's coach. As you can see, we made the local newspaper, especially noted was the shot of the year made by our skip, Paul Hector. We did not win the NOSSA tournament, had we done so, we would have represented NOSSA in the national championships.

Grade 13 - Final year!!!
Needless to say, I did graduate from Grade 12 with honours and after a summer of fastball and helping Dad at the base theatre, I moved on to Grade 13. Ontario was the only province which had a Grade 13. The rest, with some twists by Quebec and Newfoundland, basically only went as high as Grade 12. Grade 13 was a bit like a preparatory 1st year university. (As a point, Ontario has joined the rest of the country in recent years by stopping Grade 13). There was a credit program throughout high school and depending on how many courses you took in the first 4 years, it gave you options on how many classes you needed to take in Grade 13. Because I had taken a full course load each year in the previous 4 years, I technically only had to take 6 classes in Grade 13. But once again, I was hedging my bets because I had no idea what I wanted to take in university. I was pulled in two directions (neither which I ultimately followed), one being taking Pharmacy, the other taking Languages. So in Grade 13, I took English Lit, French Lit, Spanish, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics and Phys Ed.

Mr Wilson, Spanish and M. Perron, Fr Lit
Our home room teacher and English Lit teacher was a ball of fire by the name of Mr. Southcott. He loved English and loved teaching and his students, whether they liked English or not, were bound to feel his passion and want to do well. I actually enjoyed my last year of English very much, still remember buying an album of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung music due to his influence and still remember a couple lines of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock due to his enthusiasm. Consider his quality of teaching at one level of a scale and I'd lump in Mr Wilson, my Spanish teacher, and M. Perron, my Fr Lit teacher, in that group, with Mr Stickle at the bottom end. I don't know how many times he wasn't there to teach Biology, unless we were dissecting a foetal pig or a yellowish rat, but instead just told us to read so many pages. It was hilarious. While I enjoyed chemistry, my lack of interest in Biology and Physics lead me to a pretty quick decision that Pharmacy wasn't going to be the program for me at university. I only passed Physics because all of the exams were open book and we could write all of the formulae in the inside pages and also because before each test, we practised with the last year's test. :0)

Once again I was on the Widdifield team that participated in the local schoolboy championships. Unfortunately, our arch-enemies, Chippewa won the local tournament but because two teams from each district got to go to the NOSSA finals, we were still able to move on to the championships, that year held in Sudbury. It was a huge curling club and we played beside teams that were competing the Northern Ontario Seniors championships. Once again, we didn't advance beyond this competition, but it was still a great experience.

Once a nerd, always a nerd. :)
One of the nice things about being a Grade 13 student was that we had our own break lounge where we could relax away from the unwashed masses of junior students. Just kidding, I think most them were washed. I enjoyed my two years at Widdifield, it was a nice way to finish off high school. As you can see, I tricked them into giving my good enough marks to be considered an Ontario Scholar.  One of the nice things was getting a cheque for $100 as a reward. (I'm sure I spent it pretty quickly on books and records)
So my High School years were finished and I had some decisions to make. During my final year I had visited Ottawa, as part of a Professional Development week, checking out Carleton University and also the Department of External Affairs as I thought if I continued taking languages at university, it might stand me in good stead if I applied at External Affairs. The thought of working at Canadian embassies was appealing. I was somewhat discouraged by my appointment at External Affairs as he wasn't at all encouraging about job opportunities.

While I'll get into this more in my next entry, over the summer between finishing high school and starting university, I applied at Carleton University, School of International Politics, University of Toronto, the Bachelor of Arts program and I think also at University of British Columbia. I also started the process of applying for the Canadian Forces Regular Officer's Training Program (ROTP). Because of my Ontario scholarship, I could have attended North Bay's Nipissing University with free tuition and lived at home for free, but I was ready to try and experience the world a bit by then. Of course, the other option I considered was taking a year off school and working for awhile. I was burned out from my full course load and thought maybe a year's sabbatical might be a good idea. My fear was that if I took a year off, I wouldn't want to go back to university and that would be the end of my formal education.

So, that summer, I worked as a desk clerk at the Continental Hotel (night shift) and also as a cleaner at a local kid's daycare during the day and awaited my fortune. I bet you can't wait to find out, eh?

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Reminiscences of a Military Brat - Part 10 - Back to the Beginning (Sort of)

During the summer of 1972, we packed up our bags for the last time and moved from Uplands (Ottawa) Ontario, up the highway to North Bay, 22 Wing/ Canadian Forces Base North Bay, for Dad's last transfer. We moved into PMQs until his retirement, living on Market Street, in a big duplex. Oddly enough, this house was just around the corner from where we were living when I was born.

In North Bay, I finished off High School at Widdifield Secondary School. This section might take two posts so more about high school then. These two years were two of my happiest. I enjoyed the life at North Bay; my friends, the activities, just life in general.

North Bay is a small city, on Lake Nipissing, at the time it was about 50,000 people. (I don't think it's much bigger now.) The base is at the top of Airport Hill and coexists with the civilian airport. When we moved up there, we spent some time at a motel on Lakeshore Drive until our furniture arrived. It was shad fly season and when we left for breakfast our first morning, the walls, the sidewalks, everything was coated in a layer of shad flies. They are a useless bug, just blow in off the Lake and stick to anything. Don't park your car under a street light! I seem to recall that Dad had a shad fly appetiser as we walked to breakfast, making the mistake of talking while they were still blowing about.

It didn't take long to settle into life in PMQs once again. I think it was a bit of old home week for my parents, knowing the area, finding out what might have changed. Our home was one of the bigger places we'd ever lived in, three nice size bedrooms upstairs, and a nice kitchen, living room and dining room downstairs.

We were all pretty active. Dad worked with the 414 Black Knight Squadron, but he also continued with his other activities; ice maker at the Base Curling club, manager/ projectionist at the Base Theatre. Mom started working at the Base Post Office, which was located in the same building as the Theatre and gymnasium. John was still just a little one, 8 years old. He went to school on base until
Dad finally retired and we moved off-base. That was during my final year in Widdifield.

I continued with curling, playing in the Base Teens league both years, usually skipping a team in the league. In the summer I played centre field in the Base Intersection fastball league, playing for a Teens team. We had a great time and didn't do too poorly. I also helped Dad running the Base Theatre. I sold tickets for every show, for awhile also cleaned the theatre after the movies and helped him pay for the movies and order them as well. We took at least one trip down to Toronto, visiting Rick, who was stationed there, while we were there and making the rounds of the Movie companies, checking out their lists of available films and booking for the next few months. The films for the week arrived at the base in big film canisters each Monday. We used to have a Saturday matinee for the kids, a Sunday/ Monday film and a Wednesday/ Thursday film, as I recall. Unfortunately, because North Bay had three cinemas of its own and a drive in theatre open in the summer, the base couldn't bring in the new movies so we had to be imaginative to try and attract a reasonable crowd. It was fun anyway.

North Bay had a fair bit of activities as well. As I mentioned, there were three movie cinemas downtown; the Capitol, the Odeon and the Bay. There was a junior hockey team and a big curling rink and another as well. I used to take John to play hockey when he was little, his games were Saturday morning. Of course, that was once I got my driver's licence. :)

It just seemed like there was always something to do, road hockey in the winter, the base swimming pool in the summer (it was an outdoor pool) and the other activities I mentioned. I used to bike or walk downtown, even out onto Lakeshore drive in search of book stores. My favourite place was Allison the Bookman. I still go there now when I visit. He always seemed to have the best selection of used books. There was also a record store on the main drag, just by the Capitol Cinema. 45's for $1.00, which is what I tended to buy.

Base life was great and all in all, finishing high school in North Bay was a happy time. I think Dad retired in November 73, my last year in High School and my parent's bought their first house, on 677 Moffatt. John's school was just down the street and I could walk to Widdifield in 10 minutes. He finished his military career in 1973 and I started mine the following year, upon graduation when I went to University of Toronto on a ROTP scholarship. More to follow on that. Next post I'll try to highlight a bit about Widdifield Secondary School, which coincidentally is having its 50th Anniversary Reunion next spring.

More to follow.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

July 1st 2015 Happy Canada Day!!! and time for my Mid-year Reading Review.

Before I start my mid-year review, I just want to wish all my Canadian friends and family a Happy Canada Day. In the Comox Valley, specifically the town of Courtenay, besides celebrating Canada Day today, the city is also celebrating its 100th Anniversary. I've attached a link to the schedule of activities. 19 Wing Comox is participating as well, not only getting the Freedom of the City as part of the Courtenay celebrations, but also providing flypasts for communities throughout the province of British Columbia as part of their local celebrations. But for me specifically, I plan to relax, read a bit, watch the Blue Jays game against the Red Sox, hoping they can get back on a winning track and maybe even check out the activities in Ottawa at Capital Hill. (Of course, the latter two will be via television, not in person.)

OK, now to get down to my mid-year reading review. First the basics. Over the past six months, I've managed to complete 49 books. This leaves me well on track towards my overall 2015 goal of trying to finish 95 books. I've also read about 16,000 pages in the past six months.

Now for a few other stats -

Authors (Female/ Male)
Male - 31
Female - 18

Thriller - 7
Mystery - 26
Fiction - 3
Non - Fiction - 2
SciFi/ Fantasy - 5
Classics (pre-1900) - 2
Adventure - 3
Poetry -1

5 - star - 7
4 - star - 27
3 - star - 15

2015 Reading Group Challenges

12 + 4 Reading Group Challenge - I completed my first 12 + 4 challenge 3 Jun. Basically with that challenge, I read one book after another and used my other two books to read against other challenges. Of the 16 books, there were 3 five - star reads.

1. Zoo Station by David Downing, the first in the John Russell series, set during the run-up to WWII and set in Berlin.

2. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, the first Thursday Next fantasy/ mystery, a fun book with many literary references and just a joy to read.

3. Gallows View by Peter Robinson, the first DCI Banks mystery, set in England. A TV series has been developed based on the series, but the first book seems quite different. Both are very enjoyable.

12 + 4 Reading Challenge (Part Deux)

I have started a second challenge since I had half a year still to go when I completed the first. I've pulled 12 more books that are the start of new series for me and so far have completed two; Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear, a period mystery and From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell, the first Inspector Wexford mystery. Both ended up 4 star ratings. I'm currently working on The Butcher's Boy by Thomas Perry and enjoying so far.

Individual Challenges

I chose a variety of small challenges to try and encourage me to spread out my reading genres a bit and to encourage me to finish my 95 book total this year.

Classics (written before 1900) - I've been trying to expose myself to more of the classics the past couple of years, reading one or two a year. This year, I'm hoping to read one per quarter, at least, and so far, I'm meeting my plan, having finished 2 Classics. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins is considered to be one of the first mysteries and I enjoyed very much, rating it 4 stars. The Mill on the Floss is my second George Eliot selection the past two years and I enjoyed it just as much as Daniel Deronda, giving it a 5 - star rating. Eliot has a wonderful writing style. I plan to start my 3rd Classic this month and at the moment I'm leaning towards. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, written in 1848. I want to read that one because I enjoyed the movie starring Reece Witherspoon as Becky Sharp.

Non-Fiction (History/ Biography/ Travel/ etc) - Once again, I hope to read 4 books for this challenge. So far I've read two, Citizens of London by Lynne Olson and Neither Here nor There by Bill Bryson. I'm not sure what my next choice in this category will be, possibly The King's Speech by Mark Logue.

Science Fiction (including Fantasy/ Alternate History/ SciFi/ Steam Punk, etc) - This is wide-open category, there are so many variations in the SciFi/ Fantasy genre. This is another genre that I've slowly begun to start exploring again. I used to read all the time, but tastes change. I hope to read 6 books in this genre and so far have completed 3 books; Crash by J.G. Ballard (one of the strangest, and more interesting writers of the genre), Blindness by Jose Saramago and Grave Peril by Jim Butcher, one of the Dresden Files books, a series that I've been slowly savouring. As to my next book from this category, it will either be Excession by Iain Banks, a Culture book, or Goliath by Scott Westerfield, the third book in the Leviathan trilogy.

Fiction (written after 1900) - another wide open category, from basic classic fiction to historical adventures. I hope to read 10 books in this genre and so far have completed 5, so right on track. My favourites so far has been Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence, and Peyton Place by Grace Metallious,  both five - star reads. I've also managed to delve more into the Sharpe and Hornblower adventure series, enjoying them very much and finally another book by the excellent story-teller, Nevil Shute. He never lets me down. I'm not sure which book I will read here next, but if I follow my tentative list, it will probably be After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie by Jean Rhys.

Mysteries (ongoing Series) - I have so many series on the go, I really wanted to make a stab at reading another book in one of them this year. I hope to read 25 books in this challenge, but this will be the hardest to accomplish, especially since I added another 12 book challenge. So far, I've finished eight and am reading my ninth. I'm glad I decided on this particular challenge, as I've let many excellent series slip over the past couple of years. One of my favourites is the Jackson Brodie series by Kate Atkinson. I finished One Good Turn early this year and enjoyed as much as Case Histories. I've also enjoyed the 2nd Department Q book by Jussi Adler-Olsen, set in Denmark, the 3 John Madden historical mystery by Rennie Airth, the 7th Anna Pigeon (national park mysteries) by Nevada Barr and others. All excellent series, from historical mysteries to cozy mysteries to forensic mysteries. At the moment I'm reading 3rd Jack Reacher thriller, Tripwire by Lee Child and next on this list will probably be The Palace Tiger, the fourth Joe Sandilands historical mystery by Barbara Cleverly.

Mysteries (Standalones) - There are a number of mystery (mystery/ spy/ thriller) writers that I enjoy who tend to write standalones, even if they might also have specific series on the go as well. I hope to complete 10 books in this challenge. So far I've completed six, so I'm well on the way. My favourite book has been by Canadian writer, Margaret Millar, an author whose books can be hard to find. She has an excellent writing style and The soft talkers was a joy to read. I also caught up with some of my favourites and some new writers; Karin Altvegan, John le Carre, Len Deighton, Alistair MacLean and James Kennaway. Next on my list will either be The Mongolian Conspiracy by Rafael Bernier or The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl.

Rereads (Old Favourites) - I've kept many books over the years that I enjoyed and I think it's time to dust some of them off and see if they are worth keeping. I've limited myself to 5 books in this category and so far have only managed to read one, that being The Borribles by Michael de Larrabeiti, a fantasy adventure. I enjoyed it again, the last time I read it was probably in the 80's in Ottawa. Having rekindled my interest, I found out there was a third book in the series, so I've acquired it recently. I think my next selection in this category might be H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy, but I do have other options.

Freebies (books purchased in 2015) - I wasn't sure what to do with this challenge, but since I find myself regularly restocking my bookshelf with new books, I thought that maybe I'd try and read some of my 2015 purchases in 2015. What a concept! Now the books weren't necessarily written or published in 2015 as I do spend most of my time in used book stores, but there will be a mix. I had identified a quantity of 15 for this challenge and so far I've finished 4. At the moment I'm reading a memoir by Graham Greene, written in 1934 and enjoying very much. It details his journey through Liberia, Africa, at the time a very forbidding location. Well, so it seems anyway, I'll find out more as I get into the book.

So there you go, my look back at the first six months of 2015. I'll update as the year progresses. Maybe some of the books listed will give you ideas of your own.

Now to take the dogs out and see if the Blue Jays can hold this lead.

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