Monday, April 25, 2016

A Memory from the RAF Museum London, England

My posting from Friday on the Bomber Museum of Canada's restored Lancaster bomber reminded me of an experience I had years ago while visiting the Royal Air Force Museum London.

The Bomber Command Association was selling raffle tickets and I figured I would chat up the two veterans sitting at the table, and buy a couple of tickets while I was at it.

During our conversation I mentioned to one of the gents that I live in Toronto and since Hamilton is not far away I've seen the Lanc close up and in person.

His response was a mild shake of the head. He could see that I looked a little confused, so he added an explanation: "They fly that too often."

Fantastic museum, by the way, if you want to see many great military aeroplanes from the past, close up and in person. "There's a (Heinkel) one-eleven! .... a Junkers (88) ! ... a (Hawker) Typhoon! ... a Spitfire! ... a (English Electric) Lightning! I can't take this! This can't be happening. Hello...."

If you're into historical aviation you will in all probability have a reaction much like mine. You may fare worse, however; it was my Vulcan-like discipline which allowed me to survive. "I am in control of my emotions."

(I didn't win the draw, but the point was the money went to a good cause -- I think so.)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Tips For French Press Coffee

My favourite coffee shop, of the franchise kind, has to be Second Cup.

I stopped by my local SC store yesterday to grab a half pound of ground Colombian medium roast coffee. After the order was filled by the worker lady she handed me the bag of gold, and a piece of paper; on it were some handwritten notes:

Tips for French press coffee;

1. Steep coffee in water for 6 to 8 minutes

2. Wrap French press in a tea towel while brewing to preserve warmth

3. When ready to press; do so Gently & Slowly

4. Immediately pour your coffee out after pressing

I was impressed. What service!

The "tea towel" advice is good. I find that the coffee cools quickly after brewing; if I let it sit in the press for any length of time I'm racing to empty my mug.

Coffee from a French Press is pretty fine. Which reminds me....

Friday, April 22, 2016

Go, Lancaster Engine Start 2016

As I've mentioned a few times on this blog my father was an aerial gunner on "Lancs" during World War II. He did not often talk about his experiences, but what stories he did offer were very interesting: "I could swear my back teeth rattled out of my mouth" ... "I just kept firing" ... "I thought we were finished."

To celebrate the Avro Lancaster's first flight, which took place 75 years ago, the Bomber Command Museum of Canada will ignite its restored Lanc's four engines. This turning-of-the-propellers takes place tomorrow and it will be the first such event of the year for Hamilton's prized machine. has a story on the special occasion, here.

One correction to the linked article: The writer says the aircraft's Hercules engines will run up. While Malton-built Lancasters were fitted with Hercules engines, the museum's own example is powered by the more common Rolls-Royce type.

Just about every summer, here in Toronto: "I hear Merlins!" Look up. Here it comes....

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Starlost DVD Set Liner Notes

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into outer space, here comes the 1973-74 Canadian-produced science-fiction television series, The Starlost.

To be honest, the tales of the Earthship Ark hit video stores back in November of 2008. A friend contacted me one day to ask if The Starlost is one of those television shows I know way too much about. Yes, I do. Once we got that out of the way, and agreed on basic terms, he told me that a company was scheduled to release the much-maligned show to DVD and suggested I contact them to offer any help. He knew I would be interested.

Through a little research I discovered that the company in question was VCI Entertainment, a U.S.-based (Tulsa, Oklahoma) home video distributor of cult films and television. (I use the term loosely as some may argue that many VCI titles would not fit comfortably into that category. But as I've been known to say at times, "you know what I mean".)

As I'm not one to be left out of the picture I contacted the distributor via their main email address and left a short bio on me and a note about my continuing efforts to research Canadian television programs. The Starlost is but one that has fallen into the folder. (My journalistic endeavours had me interview several people who were involved with this show: Writer Harlan Ellison, actors John Colicos and Gay Rowan, producer William Davidson, story editor Norman Klenman, designer Jack McAdam, writers Martin Lager and Doug Hall, and a few other Starlost production personnel.)

I offered VCI my services as Resident Geek. That line must have been the clincher: Minutes later someone responded and asked me if I would like to write something up for the DVD boxed set's insert booklet; the "liner notes". The only catch was they had to be finished and ready for production by Friday at the latest.

(Oh....did I not say I sent the first-contact email on Tuesday?)

There was another restriction: Keep my essay to within 1,300 words. Anyone who knows me can tell you that 10,000 would be a more realistic limit for a 'chatty' guy like me. (Anything less would force me to act like some kind of professional.)

After soaking in the invitation I telephoned VCI and spoke with a very pleasant chap. I had not misread the parameters for the liner notes. Like a regular Jim Phelps, I accepted the assignment.

Somehow I came through, even with the rigors of my day job involved, and the deadline was met. My contact at VCI was very happy, which made the whole race worthwhile: "This is wonderful !!"

Last year I re-read my piece for the first time since the set had been delivered to me in November of 2008. I didn't wince too often, but like any self-proclaimed writer I would love to rewrite. I won't blame the three days; I'd even take three more.

As I state in the liner notes, The Starlost is not that bad, at least it's not to me. But it's definitely not great and could have been much better.

However, there is one big thing my studious "television production" research has taught me: It's really hard, really blinking hard, to make any television series, period, never mind one that works splendidly as a dramatic presentation and manages to win a substantial enough audience to keep it on the air.

Any attempt to make a show where most pieces of the puzzle come together in a harmonious way is an act best left, perhaps, to the gods. Few mortals posses such gifts. If more could find the magic potion, then we wouldn't have so many crappy (and overrated) drama shows on the airwaves at any one time. Very often, the best drama is what went on behind the scenes.

On those terms, The Starlost is just another television product.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Picture Cutter

An editor friend of mine, Jean-Denis Rouette, sent me a picture of his editorial assistant.

J.D. called this photo, "Make the wrong edit, get the claw". As much as I love cats I'm the first to admit it hardly takes a "wrong edit" to "get the claw". (A lack of food in the bowl often does the trick.)

Yes, in front of every editor is a good cat.

Dario, A.C.E.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Ron Hobbs: Storyboard Artist & Artist - Toronto

Note: I know Ron, and have for years -- occasionally we get together to talk all things film -- but I am not his agent, so I present the following artwork simply out of respect for his talents.

I'll let the artwork speak for itself:



A Short Graphic Story Based on the Screenplay Called:

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Apollo 13 - 46 Years Ago Now

Iffezheim, West Germany - April 14, 1970
"Simon, wake up....Apollo Thirteen's in trouble; they're coming back."

Quickly I awoke and began to process startling data inputted before my internal processors were at peak efficiency.

Over the course of getting ready for school I learned exactly what was known at that point from listening to the CFB Baden-Soellingen radio news. There had been an explosion on-board the Apollo 13 spacecraft's Service Module nullifying any chance of carrying out the latest mission to land two men on the moon. Now it was a matter of survival as electrical and environmental systems were quickly depleting. The third manned moon landing would have to wait.

When I arrived at the base's elementary school the talk on the playground was, no surprise, about the top news story. We were all space-race/moonshot kids so any developments of importance, especially those regarding the now troubled Apollo 13 mission, were a big deal.

Into Mrs. Quance's classroom: Through some process of elimination I was picked to stand before the class and update eager and smiling kids on the morning's most current affair. For valid reasons, I'm sure, I was considered to be the resident Jules Bergman: The red cue light came on and the floor director gave me the big signal. ("This is fun.")

The following few days were tense. We all 'prayed' for the safe return of American astronauts James Lovell, John "Jack" Swigert, and Fred Haise to the protective wrap of Earth.

In an age when the moniker of "hero" is thrown about constantly and unconsciously, for me real heroes are guys like the above. (Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard would be at the top of my space-traveller-as-hero list.)

Success came after much difficult work, which included constant calculations and recalculations, by the brilliant men and women at NASA and beyond, and by the astronauts themselves. The Apollo 13 Command Module (the capsule) splashed down onto the South Pacific Ocean on April 17th, 1970.

A couple of months ago I watched a documentary that did a fine job of retelling the tale, and after being refreshed by details and personal reminiscences from those involved with the near-tragic flight, I was moved by archival footage of the space capsule hanging from its cluster of three parachutes. Maybe part of the effect was from being taken back to a memorable moment of my childhood.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Creative Writing Class

When I was going to high school, many and still-classified years ago, there was a push afoot to open up the curriculum and introduce programs not just "three Rs". One I took was Mr. Kelly's terrific "Creative Writing" class. It was a challenging but comfortable affair which nurtured the writing soul in me, and the souls of my fellow future Flauberts. ("Floberts? Doesn't he play for the Leafs? If he does he can't be very good.")

At the end of the year Mr. Kelly organized an "Academy Awards" for best writing in various categories. Over the course of a week or so we were to go through our classmates' writing files, which were open for all to see and review, and then make nomination lists. Mr. Kelly showed us an example of the trophy itself, a modified liqueur bottle. ("I want that bottle.")

One day I could hear a group of huddled students laughing and whispering. "This is so funny! He's hilarious!" Once I overheard this I sniffed and went back to my own writing, looking for just the right word.

Days later was Awards Day.

The air was tense with multiple categories.

"The Award for Best Male Humourist goes to....Simon!"

"Who, me?!" (Of course.)

I walked rather self-unconsciously to the front of the class to accept the award. I had been building, cultivating, a reputation for being 'out there', so I thought that since my fellow award winners thus far were self-consciously accepting their well-deserved trophies but not saying anything outside and above of "thanks", I should put my own spin on the festivities:

Once the prize was securely in my hands, I said, half-seriously: "I have no one to was just me."

The class laughed, so too did Mr. Kelly, and immediately I thought, "Gee, I guess I'm not just funny looking".

It was a good class; a good bunch; good times.

Post Script, and "as a comic, in all seriousness", as Bobby Bittman was prone to say: Brian Kelly was one of the outstanding teachers in my years of schooling.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

An F-35 Lighting II Strike in Letters

Yesterday I posted a piece about a letter of mine that was published in the Toronto Sun "Letters" page back in 2009. I was excited when it was printed and I'm excited now even thinking about it.

The excitement continues: Some folk in Ottawa and the RCAF want the Lockheed Martin F-35 "Lightning II" fighter jet really badly; so much so that they're willing to pay for it. "Pay" is about it. This military aviation enthusiast, one who admits he has not actually flown the aircraft, thinks the ever escalating price-tag is insane and that Canada should pull out of the F-35 program. (Keep in mind that whatever quantity of aircraft Canada may settle on in the end does not mean those machines will all be up and running at any one time. Key term: "Hangar Queens." Yeah, kinda like that smartphone you bought that one time. Except this one flies a little better.)

To validate my feelings on the matter, here is a letter I had published in the National Post back on April 13th, 2012.

Cue the jug band. And don't forget to pass the hat around....

Re: Good Aircraft Are Worth The Cost, letter to the editor, April 11.

While I appreciate Major Charles Hooker’s opinion on the subject of Canada possibly acquiring the F-35, I have a big question: How do we know the F-35 is “the best aircraft available (in the procurement time frame)”?

The fact is, the F-35 is unproven. Give me a wad of cash and some dice and I’ll decide for you — the difference being, I won’t charge to toss the dice. Huge savings, guaranteed.

Simon St. Laurent, Toronto.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Letter to the Editor: Toronto Sun

I can't believe it was seven years ago that I had the following letter published in the "Letters" page of the Toronto Sun (March 24th, 2009). The years know only Warp Factor 9; there's no other setting, apparently.

When I pressed "send" I had a gut feeling the paper would print it, even though the piece is almost 300 words in length -- double what they usually accept.

My letter, along with another writer's, was given its own space away from the pack. Kudos to the Toronto Sun "Letters" editor for keeping it intact, with just a couple of small edits (which I think improved the flow of my piece in those places).

The subject: There was a funny guy by the name of Greg Gutfeld who worked for Fox News. He thought he was being cute by slagging Canada and its outstanding military. I doubt Gutfeld knows much about Canada over and above the stereotypes; he probably thinks we're all Leafs fans up here.

To paraphrase the great Elwy Yost: Dim the houselights, and cue the Rózsa trumpets!


Like many Canadians I am rather disturbed by the ridiculous, caustic, and childish comments from Fox News Red Eye host Greg Gutfeld and his merry band of oblivious panelists.

But when Gutfeld mocks Canadian Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie's name by saying "an unusual name for a man," then you know he is not to be taken seriously. And certainly not as a satirist as he claims to be. U.S. servicemen and women know the score.

While in England a few years ago I was travelling on a train and a group of American F-15 fighter pilots were in the particular car where I was sitting. Almost immediately several of them introduced themselves and welcomed me aboard. One particular pilot and his weapons officer took me under their wing and we struck up a pleasant conversation. I told them my own father was in the Canadian air force and this seemed to give us a connection. The young fly-boy said, "you guys have great pilots ... we fly with you all the time." Another chap, a cool customer who ignored a drunk who tried several times to ruffle his feathers, told me he had recently been on a pilots' exchange program in Goose Bay and had a lot of fun flying with Canadians.

When we disembarked, the Americans helped with my luggage and wished me a pleasant trip.

My point? Well, we Canadians are understood by those who are in the know. Gentlemen like those I met have the utmost respect for our military and what it represents.

It is an argument or concept not understood by Gutfeld and only helps undermine his whole ignorant and feeble rant.


(Our military: Underfunded, under-equipped and just outstanding)

Monday, April 11, 2016

"Play It Safe Again, Sam"

After I posted admissions regarding my lack of activity in the now shuttered Brunswick House, I remembered an odd, though hardly unexpected, experience from The Madison Avenue Pub. (“The Maddy" is a hot spot for local students, not just those from the University of Toronto, and professors and Annexians alike.)

Years ago, when I was a regular occupant of the Maddy, I witnessed a potentially ugly incident. One night as I was leaving the establishment after soaking down with friends of mine, I heard a provocative discussion happening in real (but a bit blurry) time on the stairway leading from near the main entrance up to the second floor:

"Man! Give him his rubbers back!" Again: "Man, give him his rubbers back." And: "Come on, man!"

Remembering that I was carrying several packets of condoms in my left back pocket I made an offer to the swaying young bloke amongst the three who clearly was operating sans "rubbers". My kindly gesture might give the lad a night to remember.

"Hey. These are yours. They should last you the night." While tossing a "Thanks, Man!" he extended his right arm but inexplicably missed my personal space. I helped by intercepting his hand, a dance much in the way a Soyuz-Progress spacecraft might mate with the International Space Station. The cargo had been delivered. "Contact."

My hope was he would not notice the expiry date; that the alcohol had disconnected any primal urge to check the potentially prize-winning numbers on yellowing packaging.

As I took the two steps down to the main floor, I turned and looked up to my grateful pal: "Have fun....but be careful."

I spun a half turn toward the opened exit door but a sweeping voice chased me: "What'd'ya mean, be careful?"

I wasn't so inebriated that I could not walk an uncountable pace. That was all I heard. No more "what?". He had probably already forgotten me.

As I walked north on Madison Avenue, a young man – they all seem young after you've punched a third decade in the head – approached with measurable non-precision and puttered a question to my broadside as he wobbled around me.

"Hey, man. Do you got any rubbers?"

"Funny you should ask. Sorry, Sam, I just gave the last of them away. Have a good night."

(I should have gone into business for myself. A tall, skinny, well-dressed, in a Metrosexual way, and sober guy is of the sort that must be equipped with condoms-for-sale. It all makes sense.)

A clarification: The above story is a work of creative fiction based on actual events. Not all details are authentic and certain liberties are taken in order to tell an entertaining story; I hope. ("Reality" drifts to the mundane.)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Should the SkyDome Be Given Its Back Name?

There is a petition going around titled "Give us back our SkyDome!" and it's filed on

This initiative reminds me that the name "SkyDome" was not my first choice. A contest had been held in 1987, while the structure was under construction, to come up with an appropriate moniker for this new and impressive soon-to-be stadium; the first one with a "fully retractable roof".

Although I never submitted anything I came up with my own pick very quickly once I heard about the contest: "Trillium." It just happens to be the official provincial flower of Ontario. (Attention, some American readers: Toronto is in the province of Ontario.) In addition, "Trillium" sounds "big"; it does to me at least.

Once the name for Toronto's new stadium was chosen and announced, I was underwhelmed. "SkyDome? That's totally uninspired." (Totally.)

Now I like that name. It's certainly better than "Rogers Centre". To be honest, most Torontonians don't say "Rogers Centre", and rarely do I hear the stadium referred to by that name unless I'm listening to a Sports news reader on the radio. "Live, down at the Rogers Centre....".

No, "SkyDome".

Post Notes: I survived the SkyDome opening ceremonies back in June of 1989. There was a contest at work and I won two tickets, so in turn I took my old school mate Jorge to the promised grand event. It turned out to be an all too tacky affair. More than once during the song-and-dance stuff Jorge and I cracked up laughing. He said to my left ear, "What's with all the Broadway numbers?"

To impress, the dome was then opened. The sky had opened.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Hercules: Magnificent Transporter of the RCAF

For a Canadian Air Force Brat it is not an uncommon privilege to enjoy a trip on a transport aircraft like the Lockheed CC-130 "Hercules". This hitch-a-ride in the RCAF is referred to as a "flip". If there's space beside the cargo a serviceman/servicewoman and their dependents can hop on, but this cannot happen with just any flight, obviously: In the 1970s my dad escorted a cargo of explosives aboard a Herc on an overseas flight to England.

After many years my experiences flying on this machine are still vivid and memorable. "An Air Pocket Over Europe: film at eleven!" Soon.

This past Tuesday a CC-130E Hercules made its final trip after 50 years of service, leaving 8 Wing CFB Trenton for the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa. This story is described in County Live.

My father served with the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force (and the Canadian Armed Forces), and my mother served with the Royal Air Force. I served with no air force. Great.

At least I was a brat.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Deconstruction of the Harper Rights

It happened in one night, through a simple vote tally sum six months ago: On October 19th we Canadians held our most recent federal election, and Canada, as a whole, lost its innocence. Millions of its citizens would henceforth have to live with less.

Game day saw Liberal Party of Canada leader Justin Trudeau and his team beat out sitting bull Prime Minister Stephen J. Harper by a substantial margin, forming a majority government in the feat; and putting Harper and his boys out to pasture, if you'll pardon the expression.

What happened to the Conservative Party of Canada's gastric campaign, anyway? It sure looked to me like someone let the air out of the bag.

The 22nd Prime Minister of Canada was aloof and arrogant, and his obsession with control would have booked Henry II into the nearest retirement home. Harper's demise was written, but his own narcissism would not have permitted him even a morsel of reality.

(The Conservatives still managed to win 99 seats out of 338, but my answer to that is they would have won a lot less had the election not happened so "early". That party was sliding down a seaweed-greasy boat launch slipway the week running up to election day.)

The day after the Canadian citizenry "mistakenly" voted for the wrong Party of Canada, I searched online for a video clip of Harper's concession speech. His manner struck me as being less gracious than what is usually expected of a politician who has been fragmented, but the biggest bit I drew from the shattered man was how bitter he looked. My scanners detected a dash of anger. It must not be forgotten that Harper hates "Justin".

There stood an unfortunate soul: A ministerial sad sack in an ill-fitting coat; Scurf of the Conservative Party of Canada.

It spoke:

To kickoff his monotone of defeat, Harper manufactured a mechanical wave for his party's crushed supporters, but through quivering lips he managed moans of voluminous profundity. "And friends, in a dangerous world, we have stood consistently for freedom, democracy and justice. This is the Canada we Conservatives have been building since the time of Sir John A. Macdonald, and this is the Canada to which, for the countless generations to come, we will be dedicated."

It sounds to me like the Conservatives hold the trademark on tenets.

Most profound: "But know this for certain: when the next time comes, this party will offer Canadians a strong and clear alternative based on our Conservative values."

"Conservative values"? (Those again.)

Hey, they ain't mine, pally. Besides, I don't go for spreadin' less margarine on my toast.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Jack Dennett, CFRB, and Me

At the age of ten I was already an old man.

My favourite radio station at the time was Toronto's "old person's" CFRB. This past week long time CFRB morning show host Wally Crouter died and this sad news reminded me that every school morning in the early to mid 1970s I would tune my Sanyo portable radio to catch the news and, more importantly, grab the previous night's National Hockey League scores from sports man Jack Dennett.

There I'd be sitting, on a chair with my Molson NHL schedule in hand ready to jot down the final scores as Dennett read them out to me. Like any good radio man, he gave you the impression he was speaking to you directly. I can still "hear" Dennett's relaxed voice: "The Boston Bruins beat the California Golden Seals by a score of seven to one."

Unfortunately this comfortable arrangement all came to an end in August of 1975 when Jack Dennett died of cancer. About this time my interest in the NHL was beginning to wane, anyway, as it does for most young men who start discovering other things: like, movies; and other things. Less than a week after Dennett passed away I was in high school.

Needless to say, CFRB is hardly the radio station it was forty-plus years ago. The market has changed. Times have changed. Now we get lots of pasteurized crap (with a Stretch Cunningham-like I.Q. of "one").

If CFRB were to go back to its olde format and sensibility I'd be ready for them in little more than ten or fifteen years.

Friday, April 1, 2016

To the Brunswick House in Passing (Annex Style)

For citizens of Toronto's "Annex" neighbourhood, the Brunswick House was an important ingredient. I don't think I'd be in the minority to report that it was also a place a local citizen walked by all the time but never, or rarely, stepped into.

I certainly had more than enough time to go there for food and drink, since the establishment opened in 1876. Unfortunately, its doors are now closed -- last night was it.

The last time I entered "The Brunny" was about ten years ago: A friend of mine was a big fan of the band "Melody Ranch", and I met him there one afternoon to take in some tunes and a beer (or was it two?) By the way, that was one loud musical act. My ears were ringing when I left the big house. (It may have been the beers.)

The first time I visited the Brunswick House was on New Years Eve 1984 (?!). I remember the event very well, back in the day when that pub was still the place for students to meet up and partake in some suds: A few tables over from where my school mates and I sat, an older gentleman who clearly had a little too much alcohol intake entertained some young guys who sat in bemusement, listening to the senior drinker ramble on about something and everything. Of course, those "young guys", like me, would now be in their fifties. Equally sobering: That entertaining drinker would no doubt be long gone.

So, no lie, as a "local" I was in the Brunswick House a total of two times in 375 months (31.25 years). I'm a good Annex citizen, albeit an embarrassed citizen.

A footnote: The Brunny structure is going to be turned into a drugstore, which I find kind of odd since there is a big Shoppers Drug Mart store little more than a stone's throw away. Not only that but that particular grand and grossly overpriced Shoppers is being expanded substantially. Will this be some sort of "drug war"?

I'm guessing this new Rexall pharmacy location will not be around for 140 years.