Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Monday, December 25, 2023

A Christmas Trek Tradition

Christmas is great when you're a kid. This morning I thought about my favourite memories. Quickly I nailed one: 1970.

(After reading that, pretend you have a faulty memory. This is more correct: "He posted about the Christmas of nineteen-ninety.")

My favourite present that year was the AMT "Star Trek U.S.S. Enterprise Space Ship Model Kit".

(Star Trek was sparking hot. The series had finished its NBC network run only eighteen months earlier. Toronto television station CFTO was running/stripping the episodes at 5pm on weekdays.)

It was not a simple plastic model kit as it was "lighted". Small light bulbs, included in the box, could be inserted into the top and bottom of the primary hull (the saucer-shaped portion) and at the front-ends of the engine nacelles (those long tubes). The former were capped by green-tinted discs, and the latter were topped-off by amber-tinted domes. My mother helped me with the wiring and the insertion of the lamps' power source: a D-cell, not included with the kit, sat in the secondary hull (the bottom tube-like section).

Building a model kit is fun, but seeing the completed AMT U.S.S. Enterprise suspended from my bedroom ceiling was a trip, and it looked great with the bedroom light off.

I remember something else from Christmas Day 1970. My dad was in the process of carving the turkey when he looked over at the Zenith television: "I'm surprised this is on today." (The episode was "The Return of the Archons".)

Fond Christmas memories.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Notes from a Brat: Christmas Eve in West Germany

Having a father in the Canadian Armed Forces plopped me down into a slightly different culture: West Germany ― the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany). While listening to the radio a few years ago I heard a piece about whether or not it's cool to let the little ones open their gifts the night before Christmas. This brought back memories: some bright, some dark.

As is the tradition in that great nation, opening the boxes and wrappings is done the night before. A then little one, me, not only did not complain but decided then that Germany is one great nation. I remember well one Christmas where our landlord and his wife came up to say hi and to present us with presents. I remember mine: a Matchbox toy of an early 20th century automobile.

Roll back a few years to my first Christmas in Germany. Santa Claus back in 1960s Deutschland was not a big thing ― if you'll pardon the expression. Saint Nick, however, was. Well, let me tell you what that man did to this then five year old. One evening my parents summoned me to our apartment's entrance. Standing inside the door was a tall figure, a woman (probably a teenager), dressed up in full Saint Nick attire. My mother said "look dear" as she pointed at my shoes which were parked neatly on the mat. I saw it, an inanimate thing in one of my shoes... a lump of coal. ("Noooo!")

I, dressed fashionably in what some crude folk might refer to as a "wife-beater shirt", held both hands up to my face and started crying. My parents laughed. It was not funny.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Majel Barrett ― Number One

Majel Barrett's first appearance in Star Trek was in "The Cage", the first pilot show. Here, playing Number One, she was billed as "M. Leigh Hudec", which was her real name ("M", short for "Majel", of course). 

For the series proper, the actress, now "Majel Barrett", played Nurse Christine Chapel. The frame below is from the first-season episode "The Naked Time".

As illustrated in that early episode, and later in "What Are Little Girls Made Of?", Ms Barrett was a fine actress ― perhaps Nurse Chapel was underused.


Majel Leigh Hudec

February 23, 1932 - December 18, 2008

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Article: Chuck the Security Guard & The All-Night Show

There are markers in our lives that we remember more often than not with fondness. Memories of the entertainment world make for some strong pull-backs later in life. Popular music, films, and, especially, television programs are pencilled into a mnemonic diary, allowing us to get all warm and fuzzy years or decades later when someone at a dinner party states with gleeful nostalgia: "I never missed The Six Million Dollar Man. Eight O'clock on Sunday nights was my special time."

Television programs we watch in our youth and childhood are with us forever, whether we like it or not. ("Gilligan's Island? Never heard of it. I don't know what you're talking about.") However, what often happens is that when we later dip our toes into those same waters, we find the sensation less pleasing or satisfying than what our memories of the experience suggested. Times change and time moves, all but destroying sentimentality in their paths.

Some programs are exempted, of course. For me, one of these survivors is a short-lived live-to-air production by the name of The All-Night Show, which ran from September of 1980 to August of 1981 on originating station CFMT (“MTV”, or "Multilingual Television"), UHF channel 47. Having sampled some bits recently―bits are all that survive―I was more than surprised at how reputable my memories of the show were.

Chuck the Security Guard was the host of TANS. The premise was that the station's dependable night-shift security staff of one had the run of the station in the wee hours, the all hours, of the night. The guard with video-switching abilities would run episodes of old television series' like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone (they were just 15 years old then), industrial films from some years past, Betty Boop cartoons, old movie trailers, and independent shorts. Having time to kill between the programmed materials, Chuck joked around with the off-screen, never to be seen, Ryerson the Cameraman, and with him staged gags or bits that U.S. late night host David Letterman would popularize coast-to-coast in the following years. There was one bit I remember where the guys trekked from the studio proper to the building's roof. From there they aimed the television camera at a phone booth that was on the opposite side of the street below. Guess what they did....

In reality, Chuck was played by Toronto-based actor, writer, and comedian Chas Lawther. Although reserved in real life (in the interviews I've seen him in), Lawther was having the time of his life while in front of the TANS camera. In his sporty but standard duty uniform and white sneakers, Chuck now bears some resemblance to Pee-Wee Herman. No doubt his slightly lanky build furnishes some of the visual similarities, but, unlike Pee-Wee, Chuck is an adult while still exhibiting some child-like mannerisms and enthusiasms. Watching TANS today convinces me that this way of playing the character was the right one. After all, don't we like it when someone looks as though they are enjoying themselves? The byproduct is we, the viewers, enjoy ourselves.

Occasionally he would be asked, usually through a letter he read on camera, to say hi to someone such as a faithful viewer. To oblige he would stand, take on a professional security guard pose, point, and yell “hey, you”. Chuck's always welcomed call of "hey, you!" quickly became the signature piece, for both the character and the show.

Speaking of characters, the guest stars of Paul Del Stud and Fran the Nurse were always a special treat. You never knew when one of them was going to show up to visit with friend Chuck. Fran seemed to be forever knitting and Paul was perpetually shooting off his mouth about 'this is how it is'. Great stuff for a teenage viewer.

This was the tone of a typical evening with the dynamic security guard and his all night show. Unfortunately, it all came to a crashing halt after one season. The show we slowly but surely discovered and grew quickly to love deeply was canned by the suits at "Chuck's" station, CFMT-MTV. I remember an interview with one of the head honchos soon after he cut the strings. He spoke words of finality I shall never forget: "This station has to start thinking about making money." From a financial standpoint the decision made some sense, perhaps. The fact is that even though we saw only Chuck, and heard only Ryerson, there was a crew in the control room and studio.

I do understand these words, the order in which they are assembled, and what they mean―they are straight to the point, without subtext, and are non elusive or evasive―but I also understand that when you have a 'hit' like TANS, it can end up paying dividends to the producing company. In fact, media ratings systems at the time pointed out that Chuck was bringing 'em in. The problem for CFMT was that franchise companies, like Pizza Pizza, weren't sure they wanted to buy late-late night advertising slots. For the duration of the show's existence there were lots of commercials for small businesses, which are great and valued customers but they don't pay the big dollars. The All-Night Show needed a little more time to build a strong advertising base, stocked with at least one big customer. “Chuck's” solid viewership numbers certainly would have allowed the station's sales department to charge commensurate ad rates, but it was not to be.

CFMT continued to promote the show after the cuts, but without Chuck at the switcher it was not the same. It could not be saved with a line of 'Hey, don't fret, you can still watch your favourite oldies on CFMT's The All-Night Show!'. Like many Chuck fans, I tuned into the new version and saw the opening title card; an old series or short came on; I pressed the 'off' button.



We dedicated viewers loved the show's original format. It was a major part of its appeal. It was live!

And it still lives.


Note: A much "electronically simplified" version of the above piece premiered in Toronto-based writer Greg Woods's print publication The Eclectic Screening Room, issue 21.

Greg's blog: The Eclectic Screening Room

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

A Book About 2001: A Space Odyssey

In 2018 the book Space Odyssey - Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece was published. Writer Michael Benson tells an absorbing tale of how one of the greatest motion pictures came to be ― its birth and life, and continuing life. Kubrick's masterpiece refuses to give easy answers. For me, thinking about 2001: A Space Odyssey is as pleasurable and natural as watching and listening to it.

2001 is magnificent, something I've 'known' since I first saw it at the age of ten. That screening is perhaps the most profound movie-going experience of my life to this point in time and space. (From what I can gather, there are no threats on the horizon). And it resonated with me to such a degree that it stayed with me for weeks; months. Of course being so young did not exactly help me understand the film from a thematic perspective. I saw the flick at CFB Borden's Terra Theatre with my next door neighbour and friend, Glen. We were shuttled home by his older brother who gave us the rundown as to what we had just seen and not entirely understood. Our chauffeur had read Arthur C. Clarke's book version, which functioned, and still does, as published footnotes for its celluloid brother. (A few months later I grabbed the book from the Ontario Science Centre bookstore during a school trip. So eager was I to assimilate the code-book that I started reading it on the bus ride back to the base.)

Every screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey renews my love and respect for one of my favourite pictures (a picture of art). And more is revealed.

Mr Benson's Space Odyssey gave me a much greater understanding of how the cosmic mind work was conceived, developed, and constructed: a special universe built by many talented people. That story is a page turner.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Thursday, December 7, 2023

A Trek Back to December 7th, 1979

I was reminded this morning that today's date is December 7th. What is it about this day, besides the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941?

On December 7th, 1979, I stood in line with friends for some movie that ended up disappointing many people ― even though it went on to make a lot of money ― but became the favourite film 'in the series' for some.

Star Trek - The Motion Picture was, and still is, a polarizing piece of celluloid. "We get it, you hate this movie." (The dirty little secret is a lot of fans do not like ST: TMP for the simple reason that there are virtually no "starship battles". Boo. Hoo.)

One thing's for sure, it is still the biggest budget Trek of the bunch, the only one given "A-picture" status by Paramount Pictures ― not that it means anything outside of trivia circles. However, the studio was not entirely happy with the box office results; even though the film brought in the bucks it was not highly "profitable", which is proportion of money made compared to money put in. While touted as soaking up 42 million production dollars, its real cost was about 28 million. (In its zeal to promote TMP as being epic in cash outlays, Paramount included the costs of the aborted Treks: the motion picture of a planned 1976 release, and a return to television scheduled for 1977.)

More importantly, that great cast was back, even if their magical chemistry was seemingly put on hold for 132 minutes. One hundred and thirty-two minutes.

What do I think of the picture now? Well, the last time I saw TMP, years ago, I liked it... more.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

CD: Saturday People (Prozzäk)

Saturday People




There before me, in a nice pretty little row on the long work table, sat 30 to 40 1-inch videotapes, resting, waiting for this video tech to run them. My boss briefed me: a gentleman was requesting we compile music videos for a 'music video jukebox'. Fine, even if my professional brain knew that I might not be able to do the entire set on my shift; after all, there were other 'jobs' on the board. And music videos, one on each 1-inch master tape, hardly a pop-and-play format, would require constant attention due to the average running-time of 3 to 4 minutes each.

"Labour intensive", as we say.

Mike, the gentleman client, came by briefly to introduce himself. Nice guy, and very knowledegable about videotape formats. We talked about the beauty of 2-inch "Quad", and, of course, 1-inch... our tape format for the night.

I warmed up the Ampex VTR and started the job of compiling exciting music videos. The process was straightforward, just requiring those waveform and audio-channel adjustments at the beginning of each tape run, as per the normal procedure, and the manual starting and stopping of the destination Betacam SP recorder.

A few songs in, as I slouched at my desk, with my back to the machine-rack monitors, a tune caught my ear. I reacted the way any fan of Tchaikovsky's music would:

"That's 'Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy'!"

I spun in my chair to take note of what video it was that pulled me away from filling out my latest entry in the 'run sheet'.

A week or two later I bought the Prozzäk album Saturday People, expressly for that song that made me sit up: "It's Not Me It's You!"

Trivia: If I still had the "Sam's" sales receipt, it would be dated September 10, 2001.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Book: Douglas Adams (Adams)

Douglas Adams
- The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -
Five Novels in One Outrageous Volume

Ballantine Books
May 2002

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-Württemberg, 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!


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".

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Halloween Post: A Nightmare on Elm Street

The Astral Theatre in CFB Borden, Ontario, was a veritable movie funhouse of eclectic and varied flicks, old and new. In essence it was a rep cinema. Most new and big releases, and anything of prestige, were on the other side of the base at the mighty Terra Theatre.

One of many films I saw in or about my thirteen year had a very special trailer. A preview which ended up haunting me: Triple Avalanche of Terror

The hook was a certain sustained shot that was more important to me, ultimately, than the variety of quickly cut clips that followed. This affecting scene―shot in a mental institution, apparently―was the real keeper. While substantial image grain danced before our eyes, an ominous voice-over explained that 'this man watched Triple Avalanche of Terror and went insane'. (Really? Seriously.)

A straight-jacketed wretch squirmed as two attendants hovered over, comforting him as he did the bit of business taught in acting school when one wants to evoke "crazy". "No!... No!!...."

As advertised, in order to watch the film one had to accept an insurance policy before entering the theatre. Cool. It's not something I'd want to have to cash in, but cool.

I bought it, the preview, that is, so much so that I knew I had to see the film, even though it was to be a midnight presentation. Oh, no.

As we left the theatre after watching the now forgotten feature presentation, my friends and I discussed the trailer, that spooky trailer. One friend, Glen Scott, seemed to know that we'd been had:

"It's a publicity stunt!

"It's a publicity stunt!", he reiterated as the rest of us, in his eyes, were overly concerned that we too would go insane.

But, we all agreed: Must see movie.

This is where trouble followed.

The next day I raved enthusiastically to my mother about the nerve-splitting trailer I had seen, and in the process I let it out that the anticipated movie itself was to be shown as a late-late show. She wasted no time in saying "no". When the day got closer, I asked again:


Mum, I wanna see Triple Avalanche of Terror!

I told you, you're not seeing it.

Why not?!

Because...I don't want you prancing about at all hours of the night.
Now that's final.

("I guess I'm not going to be seeing Triple Avalanche of Terror.")

I wish I had possessed the verbal wit of Family Guy's "Stewie": "How dare you deprive me of some devilishly gruesome entertainment. I shall be forever stunted by your absolute malicious disregard for my personal development!"

I didn't get my mother's reasoning. Geographically speaking, the Astral was not far from Elm Street, our street. The route consisted of a quick walk to School Street, then along Maple Drive; up a little further was the palace of dreams.

How was the Terrible Avalanche, you ask? The next day I asked Glen what he thought. After all, he and the gang were allowed to walk about at all hours of the previous night.

"It wasn't very good."

Of course, to a pre-teen, that was code for: "It was awesome!" Either that, or I was becoming concerned for Glen's sanity.

"Carry On Camping is on this Saturday?" I was allowed to see that one, however. Not a lot makes sense when you're a kid. (Those of you who have seen that British comedy classic, or just about any Carry On movie, for that matter, will know what I'm getting at.) Now I know why Camping was acceptable fare: It was shown during regular business hours, which now reaffirms my mother's concern at the time. The prevailing issue wasn't so much one of content. Actually, she never objected to the films' theme.

The Astral, along with all the PMQs (houses) on Elm, School, Hemlock, and Maple Drive, is now gone as that part of CFB Borden was razed a few years ago, but my memories of that special dream-maker always remain strong ― even if a certain title is missing.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Picturing: Calling Moonbase Alpha

I stepped outside at about 6:25 this evening and saw a bright disc just above the skyline. At first I thought it was a lighting globe. After closer naked-eye inspection I realized it was the moon. And was it big! "Is the moon hurtling towards us?"

Out came my trusty Canon and its magnificent 40x zoom capability, although I didn't go that far in... out.

Had I shot that buttery moon 'raw', I would have captured a white circle, so I closed the aperture a couple of notches.

Live (at 6:27pm), from Toronto....

Another (It Happens)

She dumped me.

"I'm leaving you for another man."

I was crushed.

"Just kidding!"

I felt much better.

"I'm leaving you for another woman."

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Book: Fantastic Television (Gerani & Schulman)

- A Pictorial History of Sci-fi, The Unusual and the Fantastic -
From Captain Video to the Star Trek Phenomenon and Beyond

Gary Gerani
Paul H. Schulman

Harmony Books

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Picturing: Behind the Mitchell II

Shooting at 23 FPS's "Studio 2" here in Toronto. That Mitchell Mk II 35mm camera was owned by Film Opticals of Canada. Great camera.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Situation Satiated

I am not a nutritionist. But I am aware of my own gastronomic and gastric requirements. Vegan dishes are regarded by some as lacking in essential ingredients: meat. A few years ago I met a young vegan lady through a mutual friend. Little did I know when I was introduced to Caroline that she would almost change my dinner plate.

It was bound to happen. After she slipped me some publications on the wonderful world of veganism I decided to give the culinary component a shot ― with her guidance, of course.

Caroline cooked up a storm, and during the event, she gave me notes on what it was she was doing with what food items and ingredients, and what each and every one contributed to the nutritional indexes.

What a fabulous meal, that was; quite possibly the greatest I've ever experienced. This was the best part: When I awoke the next morning I was not compelled to run for an emergency food source. My metabolism is such that even if I chow down on something based around meat the night before, by the next morning I am more than a little peckish. Caroline's vegan plate somehow convinced my brain that I was not starving, even hours later.

After I recounted the story to another vegan friend he told me why I had felt so satiated: "She probably packed it with nutrients."

For some reason I've not been able to go off meat completely, even if it continues to be a small portion of my dinner plate. The issue of animal abuse is something that bothers me. What will it take to convince me to go over? No doubt I'm not alone in facing that dilemma.


Monday, October 23, 2023

A Forever Question: Of a Mind

“Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question."

Sir. Tun Katzen denken auf Deutsch?

Thursday, October 19, 2023

The Difference Between Dogs and Cats

This morning, while doing some work here at home, I realized something very important... something that ethologists may want to consider as being important to their research.

The difference between dogs and cats:

With a dog, his or her personality is dictated by the breed.

With a cat, his or her personality is dictated by the cat.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

A Forever Question: Hey, It Happens

“Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question."

Sir. When cats accidentally bury us do they look at it as an honest mistake?

Friday, October 13, 2023

500,000 Hits on this Website

This morning I reviewed my website's traffic: 500,000 'all time' hits. What timing. While I had known my counter was about to roll to a half-million, it was still a surprise. Hitting such a milestone, certainly for a small potato like me, makes my efforts to feed this blog/site all the more rewarding.

No doubt a good chunk of those 'discrete hits' are from bots of some kind, but it would be humans, and, hopefully, and even better, internet-surfing house cats that have enjoyed reading what meanderings I've spun on the spur of the moment, or have pre-filed to the memories bank, in order to serve the great blog machine. (Leaving the site abandoned after a few postings, or just one, was not to be a part of the original plan.) For the most part I've kept that creature's immense appetite satiated over the years. Though I started this site in 2009, all but about 4,000 of that mighty 500,000 have come since April of 2016, for that is when I pulled out the writers' stoking shovel.

How apt a metaphor.

Now, what shall I write about today?....

Thank you, all!

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Picturing: An Aviation Nut Takes a Special Flight

Photo description: Me in the summer of 1995 visiting the Toronto Island Airport (now Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport) and an Air Canada vintage Lockheed L-10A "Electra" (The machine was acquired in 1937 by Trans-Canada Airlines ― now Air Canada.)

The special occasion was a series of charity flights by Air Canada. If I remember correctly, the $100.00 donation, which would buy you a seat, went to children in need. A great cause.

The flight path took us along the Lake Ontario shoreline to Hamilton, then back again. While over Toronto we flew around the downtown core.

I knocked off a few pictures during the flight. They've flown off somewhere, but I shall seek....

The above picture was taken by my Film Opticals of Canada coworker, Ian Elliott.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Film Opticals of Canada Ltd. in Business Card Form

Film Opticals of Canada Ltd. closed its doors in 2005, but it lives on for me in business card form. During my years there we produced titles and optical effects for films such as The Sweet Hereafter (1997), American Psycho (2000), and Ararat (2002).

I was one of two optical printer/camera operators. Those days! And late nights.

Of course, what "Film Ops" did then we can now do on a computer in our basement. Faster, cheaper (a lot cheaper), and with a heck of a lot less (potential) stress.

Side note: my name is emblazoned via my least favourite font. My own ego would have demanded nothing less than "Arial".

Some film and television people of note who popped by the Film Opticals facility during my days there: Kiefer Sutherland; Saul Rubinek; Jason Priestley; and Atom Egoyan. Messrs Sutherland and Priestley were super-nice guys, apparently: polite and courteous. I say "apparently" since, in both instances, I missed them by minutes. (Pardon the apparent name-dropping, but I had no other association with those gents.)

I worked on a full-time freelance basis at my favourite Toronto-based optical house from 1994 to 2000, returning a few times after that term to do some relief shooting . The company was on Fraser Avenue when I started there, but moved to Carlaw Avenue in late 1999. In my opinion the move was not a good one for the company ― this change of location was beyond their control.

Mike Smith, the main guy at Film Opticals of Canada, was full of wisdom and knowledge regarding the film business. I learned so much from him.

Monday, October 9, 2023

It's a Special Day: Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!

I give thanks for having been born to this great nation. As much as I loved living in Germany, and,  enjoyed visiting more than a half-dozen other countries, including the good ol' US of A, my heart and soul belongs to Canada.

We Canadians are a blessed bunch.

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!

Friday, October 6, 2023

A Forever Question: Minus the Claws

“Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question."

Sir. Do cats give paws?

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Space: 1999 Days ― Space: 1999, Cancelled: 1977

To be honest, I don't remember hearing that Space: 1999 had been cancelled. It probably just fell by the wayside as we geeks went on to something more interesting. The second season ended and the third season never arrived. (No doubt TV Guide's end-of-book yellow 'teletype' page made note of the show's axing. In late 1975 it was that page that announced Space's renewal for another television season of twenty-four shows.)

Clipping from Starlog Magazine, number 5.
(click on picture to blow up)

Space: 1999 was cancelled ― or left adrift ― in early 1977, or as some pundits have put it: Space: 1999, Cancelled: 1977. After two bumpy seasons of meteor storms, face-paint aliens, two-dimensional characterizations, soap bubbles, and even worse, disappointing viewer numbers, the colourful SF/horror UK-import television series finished its run of metaphysical mumbo jumbo and simple creatures not-so-great, ending up discarded mid-Atlantic. (The show never really caught on here in North America). Sir Lew Grade's, and ATV's, initiative to leave cathode ray marks through its own solar-deficient star-fields, while valiant, and not without conviction, was not to meet a successful syndication package. Forty-eight films was not enough linear celluloid to make for lucrative "stripping" (Monday to Friday at 5pm, kind of thing). If a commitment had been made to produce another twenty-four shows, more people reading this might have an idea as to what a "space nineteen ninety-nine" is. However, history has made its judgement, cheating me out of a potential conversation with someone, even someone my own age, about a "remember that show?" and leaving me with a dialogue-killing "I don't think I know that one".

It's possible that Space: 1999 was simply ill-conceived, getting off to the worst possible start, cutting itself off at the landing pads, leaving itself with enough leverage to break the Earth's moon out of Earth orbit, and sending it straight to oblivion instead of planets of interest. Going through a black hole (or a "Black Sun", in Space's case) knocked the series even further from what the audience expected. Audience expectation should never be overrated. In fact, it's important for the bottom line; the return on investment. It's a business. Introducing the viewer to something a little off the beaten astro path is fine, but any such re-education program is doomed to fail if that new way of looking at space phenomena is too obtuse, and worse, transparent. The remote channel-changer was becoming more commonplace in the mid-seventies. Treating its controllers to almost static forward narratives in the first few minutes of an episode will leave that "ep" prone to being abandoned for a mindless sitcom, and television station schedulers moving the series to a less prime time slot, or dropping it altogether midrun.

Space's second season was aware of what had come before it, and it reorganized its own DNA as best it could without becoming another series all together, and entertained that built-in audience, if leaving those fans who truly believed that the first batch of twenty-four somehow constituted profundity feeling forgotten. While Year Two, on average, was more fun and presented characters at least resembling human beings, it was saddled with that cosmic albatross around its neck: a dusty moon running at indeterminable speeds uncontrollable and, too often, misguided. And stories demanding, but not delivering, enticing drama.

No, I'm not a hater of Space: 1999, to use modern parlance. I was there, after all, to give something new and seemingly exciting, according to the prerelease publicity machine and its materials, a chance, but this then fourteen-year-old knew what constituted good drama and a sense of storytelling. I'll nuke a too-often repeated lie that we Trekkers were hostile to the new kid on the block. To use UK parlance: Rubbish! We were there with bells on! Many of us were kids, and dry sponges ― the fannish protective and reactive baggage was a few years away, at least. Keep in mind that two years earlier my friends and I welcomed The Starlost. If we became quickly disillusioned and disappointed by some strange new space vehicle, it may have been due to a feeling we were being sold VHS box cover "not exactly as advertised" content. (As collectors of physical media will tell you, what's on the covering artwork is often better than the movie itself; like finding one of those binned videotapes marked down: "Was $19.99, now $0.99!") Many of us may have gravitated back to our Star Trek reruns, which were in high rotation in 1975 - 1977, but if we ultimately rejected Space: 1999, we did so because we felt that too much promised cosmic-level quality content had been left in the promotional artwork, and in the heavens, not through any perceived encroachment on our precious star treks.

I was there.

Yes, indeed.

And I remember the fabulous sights, sounds, and, disappointments... all leading to my look back at a television series that could have been so much better, but is now wrapped tidily in nostalgia.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Space: 1999 Days ― Breakaway (Book)

Though not the first Space: 1999 tie-in book, here in Canada that would have been "Breakaway" from Orbit Books, which I discovered sitting on a bookstore shelf in the summer of 1975, this was the first one I bought. That September, shortly after the television series began its two-year run, I grabbed Pocket Books' premiere release in their 1999 line. The cover is emblazoned with the bold title "Breakaway", also the name of the show's premiere episode, but there are three other adaptations in this volume: "Matter of Life and Death", "Ring Around the Moon", and "Black Sun".

I don't know how well these books sold. Having watched the video side of Space: 1999, I can't imagine that many people ran out to collect them ― perhaps they were purchased in good faith, with some hope.

"Breakaway", the adaptations, I read with a charged blast of enthusiasm, and no little reverence, in September of 1975. We young ones welcomed a new space series, and its printed offspring.

SPACE: 1999
- first novel in the spectacular new epic -

E.C. Tubb

Pocket Books
September 1975

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Space: 1999 Days ― Mega Set (DVD)

Why would I want a complete series DVD set of a show that I left behind in my youth, and have vague fond memories of enjoying when its parts were first broadcast? It must have been the agreeable price for all forty-eight Space: 1999 episodes in one box. The exact outlay of cash is lost to fifteen or sixteen years ago.

Scanning the back of the box reminds me of the plethora of extras, special parts that may have decided there's some space on my shelf. There's a seven-minute piece of 16mm film origination from 1976 featuring special effects director Brian Johnson and his boys as they set up and shoot miniatures for Space at Bray Studios. Watching this Johnson-narrated silent footage now reminds me of the appeal to this then fourteen-year-old model maker.

Also on the set: productions stills; Year Two behind-the-scenes featurette; pre-production artwork; a BBC behind-the-scenes segment; vintage interviews with cast and crew, including series designer Keith Wilson.

Three episodes have running commentary: producer Sylvia Anderson's bird's-eye view is very informative, and yes, Robert Culp should have been cast as "John Koenig"; writer Johnny Byrne and writer/script editor Christopher Penfold, two pleasant chaps who talk about the ins and outs of producing a series with its own identity; and Space: 1999 authority Scott Michael Bosco, an error-ridden fanboy take not worth one's time, though he does settle down and offers some intelligent analysis of "Death's Other Dominion", a superior episode.

I've since replaced this DVD set with the "Complete Series" Blu-ray set.

Why would I want a complete series Blu-ray set of a show....?"

Space: 1999
- 30th Anniversary Edition -


Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Space: 1999 Days ― Destination: Moonbase Alpha (Book)

This 418-page book on the television series Space: 1999 (1975 - 1977) is a mixed bag. The first thing that struck me while reading Destination: Moonbase Alpha, and I can say this due to research I've done on old television programs, was the apparent lack of original research. I got the impression that writer Wood didn't interview enough of those all-important behind-the-scenes people, folk important to production of a science fiction television series, with all its parts and pieces. There are no numbers, numbers drawn when one gets access to production paperwork. These deficits make for far too much conjecture on the writer's part.

The plus: Robert E. Wood is fair and balanced in his episode reviews ― he's Canadian, eh?

Yes, "Journey to Where" is an outstanding episode ― for Space: 1999, at least.

I was surprised he didn't rate "Dragon's Domain" higher given that episode's status among fans.

" 'The Rules of Luton', just four point five? Rubbish!"

Destination: Moonbase Alpha is highly recommended to fans of the series. Part of the appeal of the book is Mr Wood's obvious love for Space: 1999.

Destination: Moonbase Alpha
- The Unofficial and Unauthorized Guide to Space: 1999 -

Robert E. Wood

Telos Publishing Limited

Monday, September 18, 2023

Space: 1999 Days ― Opening Titles: Year Two

While the first season of Space: 1999 was generally disappointing to this then young teen, I harboured some anticipation for its second: "Year Two", as many fans call it.

During the summer of 1976, the CBC ran, in high rotation, an ad campaign for their upcoming 1976-1977 television season. "See the brightest stars on C B C!" sang the enthusiastic women's chorus over cartoony animated stars, then a voiceover promoted alongside a quick succession of clips from upcoming shows. Space: 1999 was looking a little different; still recognizable, but somehow looking enhanced. The imagery was all of a few seconds, but suddenly I couldn't wait.

Saturday, September the 4th, at 5pm... "Breakaway"? Oh, no. I'd seen the series opener a few times. No need to see it again. However, being a full-network presentation, the print was total high-quality 35mm (with the broadcast itself originating from a 2-inch "Quad" video playback).

Okay then. A geek had a hard time waiting, but I understood. The CBC wanted to show the episode that had kicked off the series, and the moon out of Earth's orbit. I'd have to swim through another week of high school. It was going to be a long week.

Saturday, September the 11th, and hello! I really dug that new opening. The most striking change was the theme music. Immediately I loved it. One listen and the tune was embedded. Very catchy space stuff. The beat was wow and now. The images were energetic. Both elements had been recharged and rebooted; dedicated to the concept of a new introductory sequence; a lead-in to a series of necessary alterations.

(As this episode, "The Metamorph", rolled out, I became convinced there was an effort in the production's front office to improve the series.)

As I learned upon watching the end credits, Derek Wadsworth was the composer of Space: 1999's new signature tune, and his work had continued into the episode's next hour.

The episode's underscore supported and enhanced the action onscreen, and, at times, it was pretty and inviting. The storyline carried dark moments, including its hinting at an impending exploding home world, but when called for, composer Wadsworth grooved with the gardens of playful levity in the Grove of Psyche ― before the big bang. (The background music wasn't alienating like it had been in much of Year One. That season's repetitive re-tracking of certain cues made for a viewing experience that could be both dreary and depressing.)

Year Two's opening was a much-needed fresh kickoff to a series-premise that was preposterous, but one that did hold some promise. Mr Wadsworth's amazing Space theme was proof that the right opening title music can set one off in a new and improved direction.


Editorial note: The picture cutter must have enjoyed assembling this title sequence. What exactly is John Koenig firing at? The previous season? (Symbolism that I never noticed until I began to key this in. Credit to my space brain.)