Thursday, November 23, 2023

Doctor Who Premiered on the BBC 60 Years Ago Today


I was just three years of age at the time, but I carry vivid memories of watching the first 'Daleks' story on the CBC in... 1965.

We Canadians were lucky: In this country, the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) premiered Doctor Who's first story in January of 1965. According to my research, the network never repeated the series' first-season episodes, and this bit of trivia allowed me to peg my earliest DW memories to February of 1965: "The Daleks", Who's second story, scared me somewhat silly but my mother was there to change the channel on the Admiral television set whenever I yelled: "Mum!" ("I wish you'd make up your mind, dear. I can't keep changing the channel for you.")

Absolutely brilliant.

I will soon upload a "Doctor Who and Me" piece.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Memories of Iffezheim, Baden-W├╝rttemberg, Germany


Thunder & Lightning

Perhaps it's due to a more temperate climate that Germany gets bigger storms than we do here in southern Ontario, Canada. Our German landlord more than once had to replace roof tiles on our Iffezheim apartment building. The wind was something. The thunder & lightning was something else. I remember my pals and I being dropped off one day by the school bus right into a lightning storm. For some reason the atmospheric tumultuousness encouraged me to run for it ― friends called from behind. Off I went, my six or seven year old legs a blur, propelling me at warp speed down the sidewalk. Not long after my sudden acceleration everything became a bright white. A super flash. I mean everything in my field of vision; there were no shades of gray. The first thing that crossed my mind: I was missed by that much. Now I've modified it to: I almost met Big Sparky himself.

(Something about after-school storms.)

Cut to a year or two later.

After a long day at CFB Baden-Soellingen my sister and I departed the school bus at the usual place, right near Iffezheim's Roman Catholic church, St. Birgitta, and we made our uneventful way home. Suddenly the lightning started, quickly followed by the thunder. As we reached our apartment door, CRACK! My normally sedate sister emitted an awful scream. ("It's just thunder!") The scream was probably more a Penny Robinson scream than one as chilling as what I perceived at the time, but the point was made.

We came back to Canada and the thunder & lightning seemed less energetic.

In a way, I missed Germany.


June Bugs

"The skies were black!"

"You're exaggerating."

"Perhaps I am, a little bit. Okay, there were strips of black against blue sky. I've never again seen anything like that in my life."

My strongest such memory is of me sitting in the back parking lot of our Iffezheim apartment building. On a beautiful mid evening the darkening skies were blue, except where there were those "strips of black": mass flights of June bugs. As I sat on a concrete block I looked up at the dramatic aerial display above. Occasionally, the pretty brown little insects would drop about the ground around my outstretched feet. Mid-air collisions, perhaps. The bugs buzzed and rattled as they ended up on their backs, little feet outstretched. Of course, when one is young one looks with boundless fascination at nature; and its occasional random acts about. (As one gets older, one gets grossed-out.)

My return to Canada taught me something about nature: Canada, southern Ontario, at least, lacks June skies of certain bugs.

The skies were black!


Wasps

At the back of the bus I heard a kid start to cry; he was sitting on the very end seat as he reached around to his backside. He had been stung by a wasp. He was seated waiting for the parked bus to finish loading up more schoolmates after a day at CFB Baden-Soellingen Elementary School, and that's what he gets for being a good and well behaved young man. I turned back to face the front and took in the sight of marshalling school kids. Not that I remember what I was thinking at that time but no doubt it was about wasps and how those buggers, even after even a modicum of human diligence and intelligence, would get you in the end... and sometimes in the end.

Wasps would build nests anywhere, it seemed. I seem to remember my German landlord having to constantly (and carefully!) remove nests from around the apartment building exterior during the summers I lived there. If there's a corner, there's room for an outpost or base of operations. I'm sure my then young brain would sometimes ask the big question:

"Is West Germany all about the wasp?"

I never got it in the end. Not in West Germany, and certainly not here:

"Where are the wasps?! I mean, did they stay in West Germany?"



Thursday, November 16, 2023

Leon Trotsky on Creativity

"Artists and writers are all familiar with the semi-trance state, half-sleeping, half-conscious, where the mind is not quite under control and memories and fantasies can reach consciousness. It is a warm comfortable place, free from self-censorship and good behaviour. It is a door to the unconscious mind and fertile ground for artistic production."

I would agree on all points.



Friday, November 10, 2023

Remembrance Day 2023: A Call to Duty

A few years ago I watched a fine feature-length documentary on WWII. Produced by the National Geographic Channel, "Inside WWII" overviews, in the hyper-speed mode so typical of info-dump docs made these days, the 20th century's largest conflict.

Some of the interview subjects explain why they joined the war. I remember the day in 1984 when I finally got around to asking my own father why he enlisted and why he chose RAF Bomber Command:

"I was pissed off. I was doing poorly in school and my mind was on the war overseas."

His rationale for joining the bomber force as a gunner was expedient:

"You got overseas quickly that way . . . It was an eight-week air gunners' course in Montreal."

(He knew that flying as "aircrew" in Bomber Command was dangerous work. Many young men, men too young, got "The Chop".)

As was the norm at the time in this neck of the woods my dad was sent to the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) grounds for dispersal. From that famous Canadian site began the process of getting "shipped overseas", but as this was wartime it wasn't quite that easy. German U-boats prowled the North Atlantic in search of prey, and a steamer loaded with fresh faces was a prime and highly-prized target.

I will stop here: The above bits and pieces are stressful enough, never mind the few combat stories my dad did let out over the years. (While on one of my trips to England, as part of my ongoing research on RAF Bomber Command I spoke with historian Martin Middlebrook and he gave me some sage advice which I understood too well: "Don't ask your father. He won't tell you anything.")

A few years after the war ended he reenlisted with the RCAF and enjoyed a long career with Canada's finest service.

I left the best for last; the big "and" part of my dad's explanation for wanting to see action overseas:

"... And I wanted to get the Germans."

(A childhood friend did not come home; he died when his bomber was shot down over France. Kinda sobering, ain't it?)

Passions of the time, those were.

My father loved Germany and the Germans. We moved to West Germany in October of 1966, just twenty-one years after he flew in a Lancaster bomber doing a job he felt he must do.


Royal Air Force No. 626 Squadron - May 1945

Remembrance Day 2023: Of Poppies and People

With Remembrance Day almost upon us, I thought about a story of my own regarding that special day; and its special symbol: The poppy.

In early November in the late 1980s (I'm thinking 1989), I hopped onto a TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) subway train car. With the seats being all but fully occupied I took the famous door position as the doors closed behind me. Sitting on the other side of the car, with his poppy box resting on his lap, and looking sharp in his uniform, was a veteran.

Immediately I remembered that a few minutes earlier I had shoved a two dollar bill (remember those?) into my shirt pocket. I approached the vet as I drew out the money. He got up from his seat and carefully pinned the poppy to my coat's lapel. I thanked him and went back to my first position. Then, all of a sudden, and in the style of an over-directed film, several other riders popped open their purses and pulled out their wallets.


Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Notes from a Brat: The Dyte Hall Gang Strikes Again!

It's easier to come clean when forty-nine years have passed:

Dyte Hall was our local hockey rink when my family lived at CFB Borden. Along with Andy Anderson Arena, the Hall, a large brown-brick-faced structure, one which may or may not have been a purpose-built building, was the place where my ice hockey career began and ended. It was there where I scored my few goals and let in more than a few goals (my team was a bad one). On weekends I would often saunter over and catch whatever ice hockey action was on tap; at times my favourite sport was not on the schedule ("Broomball? No!").

One of my strongest memories of the hall, besides Nancy Getty blowing a puck by me as we attempted to thwart a girls' team, is of schoolmate Mike Walker skating across the ice between the face off circles in front of my goal and delivering one of his wicked slap shots: I caught the puck in the fore of my right arm, right at the joint, effectively doing my job; unfortunately, the disc of smokin' vulcanized rubber struck the seam in my protective equipment, rendering my catchers' mitt useless as it dangled beneath my now powerless arm. ("Systems Failure!") However, by shifting my hips I could get some life out of the glove. Thankfully the power loss lasted just a few seconds. A most memorable Sunday afternoon.

The most powerful memory for me of Dyte Hall did not happen on the ice:

The Base Borden Minor Hockey Association held a fundraiser one lovely weekend; one could buy a series pass in order to take in all the games, or single tickets. Since one of my friends had a pass, I decided there was an effective way to maximize its potential. My friends and I gathered in front of Dyte Hall and I, on the spot, hatched a plan:

"Okay guys, this is what we'll do.... (inaudible)."

Fade to black.

As 'author' I initiated the devious cycle. With pass in hand I somewhat apprehensively and self consciously approached the ticket table. There was no problem in executing my plan; the pleasant ladies smiled and said "thank you". Once safely through the checkpoint I made for the mens' room and passed the pass through the opened window to one of my waiting buddies outside.

Repeat once, then:

Norman was next in line; as per the by now perfected routine he entered the special transfer room and proceeded to hand off the pass. Guess who decided to relieve himself at that moment....you guessed it: Norm's dad! A man born and bred in England could only say one thing after quickly figuring out what sneaky and reprehensible act played out before him:

(Something like) "You little bastard."

Needless to say I "heard" about it all afterwards, and Norm, being the son of a Brit in the Canadian Armed Forces, no doubt "got it" afterwards.

You must not forget, dear reader, that although the punchline did not involve me directly, I was the little fellow who drew up the plan. To borrow a phrase from Leave it to Beaver's Wally Cleaver, I was the "little creep".