North Sea Gas

Three gentlemen from Edinburgh, Scotland – one in his thirties and the other two probably in their sixties – strode onto the stage.  After a few songs, the young guy said “If you like our music, ask us back … [glances at his companions] … but don’t wait too long!”  And such is the spirit of North Sea Gas.

Guitar, fiddle, banjo, brilliant vocal harmonies, and outrageous humour – what a recipe for audience fun.  There was just no way these fellows were going to let us have a ho hum evening.

Mr. Banjo introduced a song written by a great Scottish poet named Tannahill.  “Unfortunately he was overshadowed by the brilliance of Robert Burns.”  To which Mr. Guitar sighed “I know a thing or two about that.”  Right on cue, Mark, the lighting and sound guy, dimmed the lights.  We laughed and laughed.

Then there was the tender ballad I Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore.  “Now when the wife and I dance, we look away from each other … sort of cheek to cheek.”  Or how about the song about a fellow whom the women cuddled when he was a baby, but not so much anymore.  No more rubbing the chest or rolling in the clover.  Ahh, the elusive male self-esteem.

“How many of you have been to Scotland?”  >  About four hands go up  >  “And why exactly did you come back?”

“Now we’re going to sing … [Mr. Banjo starts choking up]
“Now we’re going to sing … [more wringing of the hands] an English song”
[Mr. Fiddle hurries off stage in a huff.  We cajole him back]

North Sea Gas are on a six-week tour of North America.  After a few days back home, they head off for a month in Germany.  They are marvelous instrumentalists and the blending of their voices is otherworldly but the deepest joy comes from their fun.  They’re not politicians, spiritual leaders or musical superstars … but they are teachers.  Their simple message?

Lighten up, folks

Day Two: Some More

This afternoon I wandered around downtown Vancouver. Turning onto Denman Street, a lovely stretch of restaurants and cool shops, I came upon a street party. “West End Car Free Day.” Huge trucks blocked the entrance, and past that Vancouverites and I walked down the centre of things. Flowing banners, kiosks selling clothes and jewellery, and info about bike routes embraced the crowd. Families everywhere, lovers in each other’s arms, kids in strollers, folks chewing on corn on the cob, one guy carrying a cactus … Denman had it all.

And then the music. The Phonics blasted us with the most danceable stuff. First my muscles twitched and then the arms got going. After that it was a full-out flurry of body parts. When the band did “Jump!” I raised my game. Right beside me a mom and her 5-year-old daughter were moving and grooving. The older one flashed me a big smile. The road was vibrating and so were my innards.

***

At the end of Denman sits English Bay Beach, with the freighters lying serenely in the harbour. Thirty-two years ago, Jody and I were sitting against one of the huge logs when suddenly the man unit got to his feet and then down on one knee.

“Will you marry me?”

My dear pre-wife said yes. Today I sat in that approximate spot and told two young bikini-clad women our story. I believe they were moved. I was.

Such a big thing, this life.

Ordinary Freedom

I showed up at school yesterday morning, not realizing that it was Crazy Hair Day.  And I was wearing my usual short grey persona.  Hmm … this won’t do.  Who am I to miss out on a celebration?  Kids were getting off the buses with all sorts of designs atop their noggins.

To the secretary I went, with thoughts of alligator paper clips in mind.  She had lots of the black ones, and I started arranging them on my tresses.  Okay, this is better.  I’m fitting in now.

Off to the Grade 5/6 class for more clips.  Jayne had a good supply of my preferred accessories.  “Why don’t you have some kids help you?” she suggested.  Immediately there were five girls ready to lend a hand.  I was clipped here and also there.  One girl grabbed an elastic and proceeded to tie the world’s smallest ponytail in my upper greyness.  Felt like it was a half inch tall.  And here comes a small sponge inserted into a forest of metal at the back.  Jayne too was busy.  She had cut a swath of 2″ wide red ribbon and finished me off with a tidy bow.  Gosh, I looked good!

Now the freedom part:

1.  I pranced from classroom to classroom, from principal’s office to gym, showing off my new look and admiring the creations of the short people.  Lots of laughs pinging off the walls.

And then I thought about my afternoon, to be spent out in the world doing cool things.  Should I retain my adornments for the community or ditch the whole thing in the spirit of normality?  Some kids said “Take that stuff off.”  Others smiled and offered “Go for it!”

I’ve never been really big on normality, so let’s continue the list:

2.  Went to my bike shop.  Ta-pocketa was ready to support me in life, having been tweaked for the mountains of the summer.  My bicycle guy and gal had lots to tell me and grinned considerably between explanations.  Sadly there were no other customers in the store.  I wanted to flaunt my newfound beauty.

3.  To the gym.  One last day on the elliptical before testing the roads of life.  Lots of v-shaped men sporting maximum muscles.  I wondered if my red bow would fit in.  I was nervous.  I quelled the pain by initiating conversations with guys who were starting to stare.  I’d laugh and I guess they felt obligated to join in.  Later I figured out that my proactive words were a way to protect myself so I stopped doing that.  I walked around silently from then on, watching a few frowns appear, and quite a few smiles.  I survived nicely.

4.  How about supper?  I jaunted over to one of my fave restaurants – Mai’s Café.  Lots of folks inside.  I gulped a bit and opened the door, marching up to my favourite server and asking her if it was okay to come in looking like this.  She laughed and said “No problem.”  And there was chuckling from most of the tables too.  See?  I’m still alive.

5.  Walked back to my car past evening strollers.  There were a few averted faces but also some nodding and mini-cheering.  Cool.

6.  Why not go to a movie?  Sure.  The story was forgettable but I loved being stared at – before, after and probably during.

After walking in the door at home, I disassembled.  Here were the contents of my head:

20 black alligator clips
1 red alligator clip
1 maroon alligator clip
1 green alligator clip
1 elastic band
1 small sponge
1 lovely red ribbon

What a pretty boy

As I headed to bed, I got thinking.  Despite some initial qualms, the whole “Look at me!” adventure was no big deal.  Yes, I felt free, but it seemed so … ordinary.  Who cares if some folks frown?  Who cares that sometimes I was the centre of attention?  As you no doubt can tell, I like that.  And who cares if I journeyed outside the box of expected public presentation?

There are infinitely larger challenges to address in life
Will I be brave enough to do so?

Eighty Women and Me

A few nights ago, I went to the Quarter Auction at the Belmont Arena.  I learned about this event weeks ago and asked around about how to get a ticket.  A couple of women I approached smiled slyly and said that the auction was pretty much a women’s event.  You bring a ton of quarters and bid on items that would enhance your kitchen, bathroom and bedroom.

“You’d be the only man!”

Well, there’s a challenge for you, Bruce.  I don’t mind at all putting myself into unusual situations.  In general, I love going to Belmont events because I want to meet people and move deeper into the community.  So I kept searching for a ticket.  And a lovely Belmontonian found one for me.

Up the steps to the meeting room in the arena, throwing a comment or two towards the women who were walking near me:

“I love being the token male.”

“Do you think they’ll be any sports equipment on offer?”

“All these women and me.  What an opportunity!”

Some of the ladies smiled little smiles.  Some seemed to turn away from me.  One girl just laughed.  I was on my way.

I gave the hostess my ticket and strolled into the room.  Faces followed me.  (I love this!)  How did this painfully shy teenager turn into a 60-something who loves being the centre of attention?  Ha!  Ha!  I don’t know and I don’t care.

I saw my friend “Melody”.  She had invited me to sit with her and her daughters and so I did.  They all seemed happy to meet me and were chuckling a bit about my presence in a sea of femininity.  They taught me how to do the auction thing, raising my number 46 paddle high when I was bidding on a treasure.  There was an orange plastic bowl in the middle of the table, ready for the descent of our quarters.  Each item would have a value – anywhere from one to four coins.

There were probably twenty vendors and we did four rounds – about 80 items, of which I had interest in maybe two.  That didn’t matter.  I told myself I’d give away anything I won.  The evening was about fun, not the addition of one more material possession to my home.

As I was chatting with my table friends, I’d sometimes look up, usually to see a woman from afar checking me out and then quickly averting her eyes.  Gosh, I was such an oddity.  Sometimes I’d walk over to the bar to get a pop and some potato chips.  Mostly that was to flaunt my maleness in front of the assembled masses.  Some people smiled.  Some just stared.  Both reactions were okay with me.  As the evening proceeded, my scientific analysis suggested that the smiles were climbing and the frowns diminishing.

I decided to have some fun with my tablemates.  My pile of quarters lay before me.  After a vendor had described some apparently essential item, I’d pick up ten or so quarters and plunk them into the bowl.  “But the cost is only two quarters,” someone intoned.  I grinned silently.  Mouths twitched in wonderment.

Another cool thing to do is drop quarters into the containers of my neighbours when they were looking over their shoulder at a vendor’s presentation.  Ho, ho, ho!  Mostly, my sneaky contributions weren’t discovered but other folks at the table guffawed to see my deception bear fruit.  I never knew I had such a talent for being devious.

The evening’s MC often referred to the “ladies” in attendance and usually added “and gentleman”.  The first time she mentioned me I jumped up and threw my arms to the sky, in preparation for the multiple marriage proposals that would undoubtedly come my way.

I kept hoping that the number 46 would be picked for some prize.  I would again jump up, this time yelling “Yes!”  But it never happened.  (Sigh)

None of the results stuff matters.  I had a blast.  My table friends seemed to enjoy my contribution to the evening.  And eighty women were left to contemplate further the question:

What is a man?

 

Cabin Fever Reliever

It was play day at school on Thursday … all afternoon.  Kids from JK to Grade 6 had eight activities to choose from, and they got to pick three of them.  What a marvelous thing for the school staff to create.

I decided to roam around the various rooms to see what tickled my fancy.  And “Minute To Win It” was my fave.  First there was “Elephant March”.  Imagine a pair of panty hose with a tennis ball bulging from one foot.  The waist band goes over your head, with the ball hanging in front of you.  Then the trick is to knock over two rows of plastic cups and water bottles.  If your elephant trunk swings are gentle, you can do it.  Too much oomph, however, and you get wildly out of control – about a zero chance of  upsetting anything.  It was hilarious.  Tiny kindergarten kids and confident Grade 6’s – it didn’t matter.  Everyone looked silly and laughter filled the room.

If impersonating a huge mammal isn’t your style, how about “Junk In The Trunk”?  Strap an empty Kleenex box just above your butt, fill it with eight ping pong balls and try to get them all dislodged in a minute.  Good luck!  Kids were upside down, right side up, jumping up and down, twisting and shouting.  Fun, fun, fun till the clock said 60.

I’m a pretty good spectator, but it was time for action.  My task was to keep three balloons aloft for the minute.  “I can do this.  I’ll pile the balloons on top of each other and then throw them straight up.  They’ll therefore be close to my body as they descend and it’ll be no sweat to send them vertical again.”  Ahh … the delusions of seniorhood.  How long did I last, you ask?  Three seconds.

Not everything was indoors.  The scavenger hunt covered the snowy schoolyard.  125 painted stones littered the landscape, apparently stuffed inside the bodies of deteriorating snowmen, hidden at the base of a climber, tucked into a little hollow – everywhere!

I told Jayne, the Grade 5/6 teacher, that I was on a mission to find one of those stones.  An hour before, I had watched a group of kids refine their search skills, and I vaguely looked around to locate my own personal treasure.  But I didn’t find anything.  Now, refreshed with preventing balloons from touching the earth, I knew this was my moment.

I told a gaggle of wandering children about my quest.  Immediately, I was deluged with:

“I know where there’s one, Mr. Kerr.”

“Come over here.  Look right there!”

“Let’s find one together, Mr. Kerr.”

So I was out and about with this short human being, then that one, and somebody else again.  Following speedy legs to all sorts of destinations.  But I still hadn’t located a stone on my own.  As the bell rang, signalling the end of the session, I trudged back towards the school, happy about my time with the kids, but sad with my empty hands.  And there, steps from the tarmac, sat a little snow drift, with a spot of yellow peeking out.  I too am a successful treasure hunter!

It was a smiley afternoon – for me, 15 adults and 200 young’uns.  Good for us.

Dancing

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve left a lot of life’s goodies behind.  “Sure I did this in my 20’s but not anymore.”  To which I say “Why not?”  Take dancing for instance.

Last night woke me up.  I went to hear Angelique Kidjo sing.  She’s a dynamic songstress from Benin in Africa.  She strode out onstage with a huge smile, wearing traditional garb – a red, yellow and white “sari” and a headdress that matched.  I know that “sari” isn’t the right word but it’s all I know.

Angelique belted out all these fast African songs, each with a great beat.  And she danced!  Throwing her head back and zooming all over the stage, arms and legs moving every whichway.  And she was so happy!  I marvelled at the expressions of a full human being.

And then … towards the end of the concert, Angelique invited us all up on the stage to dance with her and her band!  1100 of us.  About 100 human beings took her up on it.  And there I was, boogieing my butt off in close quarters with dancers of all ages (including one 7-year-old girl, a whirl of limbs).  The music blasted, the audience wowed.  I looked out from the stage and took in all of Koerner Hall … such beauty in the walls, on the ceiling, in the seats.  And I too was happy.  I remembered other dancing times and smiled beneath the sweat:

1. Jody and I at an evening street dance in Vieux Fort, a tiny town in St. Lucia. We all were so packed in at that intersection that the only place to move was up and down.  So I bounced!

2. A staff Christmas party at a fancy restaurant in downtown London.  Jody later told me that people stared as I vibrated all body parts at a frantic pace in some skewed version of dancing.

3. Last summer in London’s Victoria Park, I threw everything around with hundreds of others to the music of Five Alarm Funk at Sunfest, our world music festival.  I looked around at a lot of 20-somethings, and precious few 60-somethings.  Too bad for those who missed out.

The truth is … I don’t want to miss out!  I want to dance.  If I’m to be with a lovely woman again, may she love to move and groove.  And if no such blithe spirit comes my way, I’ll dance alone through my remaining years on the planet.

So there.

Slip Slidin’ Away

I went on a class trip today with the Grade 5/6’s.

“In 1973, the Ska-Nah-Doht Village, located within Longwoods Road Conservation Area, was constructed.  It features a village reflective of the Native settlements found along the river close to 1,000 years ago.  This village, created with the information gathered by archaeologists and First Nation peoples, offers tours, workshops and an opportunity to see how First Nations people once lived.”

We made and decorated bowls from clay, sat in a longhouse, listened to our tour guide describe how important deer were to the native people, and saw the trees that these folks used so well.  Very cool.

But the best was being out and about with the kids.  On a break, I followed about fifteen of them along a road.  Down a little trail, we spied a pedestrian bridge spanning a shallow ravine.  The sign said “Maximum 40 adults”.  No sweat.  Soon we were all on the bridge, with the wood bouncing under our feet.  Great fun!

And then the question … Should I have allowed the kids to walk onto the bridge?  My answer – a resounding “yes”.  They had great fun and it was safe.  And the smiles were huge.

Later in the day, there was another opportunity to explore.  Maybe 20 kids this time.  A trail wandered through the sparse woods and soon we were at another hanging bridge, this one twice as long as the first.  Sadly, no bouncibility this time.  Five kids asked to climb down some steps towards a pond.  I said yes and watched their progress from the bridge, along with the remaining children.  One girl had found a 10-foot branch on the ground and recommended I use it as a walking stick.  So I awkwardly did, to the amusement of many.

A few folks wanted to break off some pieces of ice from the bridge and toss them into the ravine below.  I had them make sure there were no beings down there and then said “Go for it!”  More fun.  The kids who were near the pond climbed the hill beyond and joined us at the far end of the bridge.  Then it was time to go back.

Should I have been more cautious?  Should I have kept them off the bridge?  Should I have said no to the group who wanted to go near the pond?  Should I have said no to plummeting lumps of ice?  Well … I said yes.  Fun.  Safe.  I was watching.

And then the day ended.  We were back at the school with about 15 minutes to home time.  I was supervising 10 kids on the schoolyard.  Behind the Grade 5/6 portable was a circular patch of ice, about 40 feet in diameter.  The kids wanted to slide.  My answer was to head gingerly onto the ice and start floating along.  Right away, there was a line of 12-year-olds, soon zooming over the glassy surface.  Squeals of delight.  Bodies flopped every which way on the ice.  I loved it!

The small voice inside my head urged me to be aware of liability, school rules, angry parents.  Be careful.  The big voice retorted with fun, smiles and joy.  Be out there!  I voted for door number two.  The kids deserved it.

 

Hairstyling

I was walking by the junior kindergarten door on my way to volunteering with the Grade 6’s.  There seemed to be a flurry of activity inside.  I wandered into the comings and goings of short people and saw that the class was having a spa day … hair makeovers and pretty nails.

A 5-year-old hairstylist invited me to take part.  I was ushered to a tiny chair and covered with a tiny plastic apron.  Then the clothes pins.  At least ten of them were artfully placed through my short grey hair.  After much debate, my two stylists declared that I was ready for the world.  Except for the nails.

Across the classroom I floated to the nail salon.  A palette of colours was presented to me by a young esthetician.  “I’ll take pink.”  That would go well with my glasses and fitness tracker.  Soon a brush laden with water-based paint descended towards my digits.  A few minutes later and I was as pretty as punch.

An assistant walked me to the floor fan, where my fingers dried.  Gosh, I looked good.  I really should go the spa more often.

I traipsed over to the Grade 6 classroom, where eyes widened upon my approach.  A couple of guys said, “That looks really good, Mr. Kerr.”  I wasn’t totally convinced of their sincerity, but there were lots of laughs too.

It was time to head home from school.  I was scheduled to visit a 92-year-old resident of a seniors residence with her niece, my friend Pat.  I asked a few 12-year-olds if I should lose the accessories and got a mixed response.  A few said dump it all, some said yes to one and no to the other and a couple of adventurous souls thought I should show her the whole enchilada.  So a full meal deal it was.  Was Thelma going to have a heart attack?  I’d soon find out.

On my way to London, I dropped into the Belmont Diner, my favourite haunt.  It pretty much came down to women laughing and men staring.  Not to be thwarted, I approached a few guys, telling them that they too could look like me.  All of them declined.

I was walking towards the front door of the home when I saw a woman sitting in a wheelchair.  I asked her if I looked good.  She said something fun and positive.  And I went off looking for Pat.  It turns out that the woman was Thelma.  I hadn’t seen her for 45 years.

The three of us sat in the lobby, enjoying coffee and tea (and cookies!).   Residents and staff came by, for some reason looking at my hairstyle.  I got many compliments and smiles.  I told them that it was the latest style from Paris.  I’m sort of a cutting edge guy, you know.

So … no heart attacks and lots of happiness.  I should see my young stylist more often.

Back in Belmont, I had a ticket to a community dinner in my hot little hand.  It was at the arena, at the far south end of town.  I’m at the north end, about a 25 minute walk away.  So again the question was yes or no.  I voted yes.

The walk southward was uneventful, just a few quizzical looks from passersby.  The real test was my entrance to the arena’s meeting room.  There must have been 150 folks chowing down when I walked through the door.  (Actually the door was open).  Immediately there was a mélange of raised heads and icy stares.  A few giggles.  I went over to my friend Rosemary to tell her my story.  She knows me well so I don’t think my coiffure was any big surprise.  Later she told me that several people had come up to her to see if she knew that man.  I’m pretty sure she didn’t disavow all knowledge of the human.

I saw a lot of men with arms crossed as they no doubt contemplated my sanity.  Women don’t seem to cross their arms so much but they too were curious.  I explained myself to my tablemates and really enjoyed heading out on the dance floor to get more baked beans or another glass of orange drink.  Hey, if you’ve got it, flaunt it!

Finally, I started visiting the residents of other tables, and the warm-ometer needle gradually rose.  After hearing me yap away about JK kids, I guess the adults realized I was a benign character.

So there’s my adventure.  It could be that a hundred people laughed at me.  Not a bad day’s work.

 

 

A Little Adventure

Why not create moments of oomph in my life?  And why not do it every day?

On Wednesday, I got an idea.  My neighbours Borot and Petra were about to leave on a 12-day Caribbean cruise.  They’d be spending a few days on the road before walking up the gangplank and they were so excited about it all.  Borot told me that they’d be setting off this morning sometime between 5:00 and 6:00.

So I did what any normal human being would do.  I bought a 20-pack of Timbits from my local Tim Hortons coffee shop.  They’re tiny donut balls – majorly yummy.  I went to bed early, setting the alarm for 4:15.  But I was too excited to sleep much.

After a morning shower, I brewed a cup of coffee, grabbed the Timbits, pulled on my winter coat, toque and mitts and sat down on the porch at 4:55.  I couldn’t wait for Petra’s garage door to start climbing.  I was ready to rush over with a Fare Thee Well present.

5:15.  Not a peep from two houses down.  Oh well.  The coffee’s good.  5:30.  The coffee’s cold so I rushed inside to the microwave, somehow believing that I could hear the garage door from my kitchen.  5:33.  Local human being bursts onto his porch, cup in hand.  Walks down the street.  Sees that there aren’t any lights on in Borot’s home.  Gosh, they better start showering soon.

5:45.  Nyet.  Those Timbits start looking good.  Then a possibility hits me: my friends left before 5:00.  Strangely, though I felt a twinge of disappointment at the prospect, I was almost giddily happy.  I’d never sat on my porch at this hour, watching pinkness grow in the east.  I was on a heroic quest but it didn’t seem to matter whether the result was produced.  The journey was lovely.

6:10.  Silence everywhere.  I imagined Petra and Borot zipping down the highway.  I thought of the Grade 6 kids I’d be visiting this afternoon.  I bet they like Timbits.  Twenty-seven children … twenty donut balls.  Oh, we’ll figure something out.

And we did.  Three kids were away.  A couple who were there didn’t want a donut.  The rest lined up in front of me and almost everyone thanked me for their little sphere of pleasure.  Two Timbits were left.  What if all three kids come back tomorrow?  Ahh, we’ll handle that too.

It was a fun day.  Here’s to many more.

 

And I’d Do It Again

It doesn’t make sense to head to Toronto at 5:15 in the afternoon to see a bonfire for two hours and then drive home.  It’s two-and-a-half hours each way, counting the ferry trip to Toronto Island.  But since when is making sense the way to go?

I’ve been to three brunch and concert afternoons at the island church this winter.  Marvelous food, sweet sounds and a bunch of friendly people.  Someone thought I should come on down for the humungous bonfire on March 21 and who am I to disagree?  There are about 800 residents on the island.  These fine locals save up their Christmas trees for the big evening in March.  I stepped off the ferry and followed the train of people and trees to the beach.  And there, past the bushes, was the glow.

As I got closer, embers rose forty feet above me.  Eventually, maybe 200 treegoers circled the flames.  The wind swirled, blowing the sparks this way and that.  Lake Ontario lapped onshore a few metres away.  And beyond the bursts of white and orange, all was dark.  Folks sipped their favourite beverage and chatted away.  Away from the fire, it was darn cold.  A young woman did wonders with a shining, multicoloured hoop.  A well-dressed band beat their drums for the twentieth year or more.  Gosh, it was fun.

I got back to Scarlet at 11:15, savouring the festivities.  I almost felt like an island resident.  A smooth two hours on Highway 401 and I’d be cozy in my bed.  The traffic was light and I was zipping along at 110 kph.  All was well … until Guelph.  Sideways snow jolted me and soon the car ahead was dimming, despite its emergency flashers.  A few kilometres later I could barely see it and 110 was now 20.  Plus I was gaining on the fellow.

As the margins of my world disappeared in whiteness, I imagined getting schmucked by a semi-trailer.  I was scared.  If that car wasn’t out front, I’d have no idea where to go.  “Okay, Bruce, get off this road.  You need to stay alive.”  I could just make out the sign for an off-ramp and I edged to the right.  Here it is, I think.  I could feel the slope of the road bending but were it not for those yellow diamond reflecting signs, I’d have launched into No Man’s Land.  Thank you, dear Ministry of Transportation.  I’d never noticed those suckers before but I’ll watch for them from now on.

I spent an hour at a Tim Horton’s coffee shop, sipping a brew and watching my heartbeat descend.  What exactly was I doing here?  Well, having fun … and there’s lots more of that to come.