Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bean, It Is

At this point, with hundreds more still to comment (lol), the Bean moniker seems to be much preferred over the Daub possibility. I haven't received much in the way of other suggestions, so it's Bean for now anyway.

Meanwhile, I can't help reflect that Bean is already getting less attention than Smudge did at this point. You see, that image (of yesterday's post) was with us for a week before I got it scanned and blogged. It wasn't just me but Mother Thesha as well. She didn't get around to asking me to scan it, and it took me a week to remember to volunteer. So, whether it's our own immediate offspring or those of our children, the second child seems to get fewer photos ops.

That's the way it was with our second, Aldee. She simply didn't get the same number of photos taken — early on anyway. Oh she got her share; she wasn't exactly sat in a corner and forgotten. It was simply that everything was more familiar the second time around, and, as a result, we didn't rush quite so madly for the camera. It's certainly not that the second was (or is) loved any less (or more) than the first; it's just that everything was less novel.

So, welcome into existence Bean, and don't be offended if, once you get here, your Grandma only takes fifty pictures per day rather than the one hundred that Smudge gets.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bean or Daub?

Here we go again! It was just about two years ago that Thesha told us that Smudge was on the way. It had been a long process to get her in the oven, but it has been oh so worth it!

Then, just a few weeks ago, we were notified that Miracle #2 had occurred, this time almost spawned itself as it were. Once Smudge cleared the path, it was almost as though Bean was conceived without thought or effort. Ho hum.

Although we've known for some weeks, of course, we have been obliged to keep it quiet until the magical twelve-week checkup and ultrasound could be completed. And here is Bean's first photo. Cute, eh?

Seems to waving a hand at us. But do I also detect a sticking-out of the tongue?

Since the Smudge moniker has been taken, Bean seems to be the nickname for grand #2, although I am playing around with Daub as an alternative. We expect to hear Bean or Daub's first wail early in February.

Any thoughts on the nickname? Which do you prefer, or do you have any other suggestions?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sitting by the Dock

... Kicking and Splashing

Friday afternoon found us taking the Bonnie Wee One to the park, the park to walk in by the river as opposed to the playground from which it is difficult to extricate the munchkin. As we wandered in, we stooped (or rather, I stooped, while she stood) to gaze at a nearby gaggle of Canada geese. And didn't these feisty creatures make a beeline to us, and wasn't the leader hissing confrontationally, and didn't we, therefore, forthwith beat a hasty retreat? One doesn't fool around with a Canada Goose in a temper, not when one has a baby in tow anyway.

We wandered down to the little dock where Niks insisted on getting her feet in. So, Grampa held on as tightly as possible while she did her thing.

She splashed long and hard, and we both got wet, but it was fun.

Cuppa has posted a short video clip of the same event.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Grampa Gets a Hairdo

Ah, the things we do for love. I even let The Bonnie Wee One brush my hair, by which I really mean that I permitted her to bang on my head with the brush. I also had to fend off the occasional attack on my ears as she is quite drawn to my hearing aids.

A Most Definite but Gentle Reminder

It happened just now (I am writing this on Friday evening to post on Saturday) for the second time ever. This time I got right up in expectation, and so did he. And we went downstairs together, and I poured some cat milk in a dish, and he received it contentedly because the universe was at that point unfolding precisely as it should.

I had been at my computer, just like the other time it happened. As I concentrated on reading a blog, I was distantly aware of the cat rubbing lovingly up against my foot. Well, he does that a lot, so I paid him no mind in my state of distraction. At most times, I would expect him to do what he does best and have a nap. However, this was a nine o'clock rubbing, just about the time that he might expect the nightly offering of cat milk before he and Cuppa and, sometimes but not often I so early, I settle down for the night.

After a few moments of this wonderful feline rubbing, the cat brought me sharply but also gently to the present with a little nip to my ankle. That's when I stood up expectantly in good humour, because it had happened once before, and even a moronic human such as I can be trained. I sauntered to the door of my den, and just as I expected, he pranced along, at first beside me and then ahead of me as I descended to the kitchen.

He was very patient whilst I ambled my clumsy, human form downstairs, found the appropriate dish, opened the fridge, poured the milk, returned the container to the fridge, and finally lowered the dish onto the floor.

Very patient. Good kitty.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Foto Friday

Not having the greatest back in the world, I should perform certain stretches every day. Sadly, I don't, but I did remember to do them yesterday. Naturally, Nikki Dee decided that I would be both lonely and unguided doing them myself, so ...

Down we go Grampa. Stretch. Hold it for three.

That's three long ones Grampa. Let's get it right. Eh?

Gramma, he's just lying there when he should be stretching. What are we going to do with him?

Thanks for the post-stretch massage, Niks. Can you work it a bit lower now?

Of Quotes and Easy Posting

I don't usually look at it, and I suppose you don't either, but I have a Quote of the Day widget in my sidebar. I happened to look at it after publishing yesterday's post:

Nothing will work unless you do.
Maya Angelou

It would have fit right in with my Inspiration and Perspiration post the other day. But then I wouldn't have been able to find such an easy way for posting a whole separate entry.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Of Apathy and Garbage

AC is very apathetic this week: about writing, cooking, just about everything — even eating and that is just too alarmingly startling for words. I think it's the first time in 60 years, through sickness and health, that I've been off my feed.

But there's always something to contemplate. Since it's Pickup Day here, I got to cogitating why the recycling truck is manned by only one guy and the garbage truck by two. After all, the recycler has to do it all himself, and that takes time because he has to sort every bin. Couldn't he use some help? Garbage pickup goes quickly, however, but they have two guys — one to drive and one to pickup. Isn't that overkill?

Then I thought maybe that's exactly why; with pickup going so quickly it would be a problem for one guy to empty the container and then hop in and drive to the next house. What a time-waster that would be just getting in and out behind the wheel. By the same token, if the recycling truck had two guys one would sit idle for a long time while the other sorted, and two couldn't really sort because they would get in each other's way.

Phew! Speaking of sorting, I'm so relieved that that's sorted in my tiny little mind, and I'll bet you're also relieved to uncover these important mysteries of modern, urban life.

However, I'm a little less sanguine about the other puzzle of the week. The drain cleaning truck came by, and it took three guys: one to drive the truck and maneuver the hose and the other to place the hose accurately and fasten it so the suction could begin.

Now, the astute among you will have counted to two and will wonder where the heck the third guy fits. Well ... he's the one who lifts the drain cover and then puts it back when the cleaning is completed. That's all he does. He drives a separate truck for this little job and keeps just a little ahead of the cleaning truck. My guess is that he works for the city and is authorized to lift covers but the other guys are contracted and are not permitted — or some such. Now, I don't really understand why it has to be that way, but I am guessing that's the logic (and I use the word lightly).

So ... that's all I have for today ... and at this rate maybe even for this whole week. Sad, isn't it?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Inspiration and Perspiration

Perhaps I should be like some energetic bloggers who maintain more than one blog (although I must confess to kept a separate blog, Rambling and Roving, on Wordpress for our trip to Vancouver last year). Trips aside, in everyday life I suppose I could use one blog for photos, another for thoughts, and yet another for memoirs. But that's too much more my feeble brain to manage, so I just maintain this one where everything gets jumbled up together, and I get gaps between blogs which really should run consecutively. I had been blogging about tennis, bowling, chess and trophies and such, but got sidetracked by music festivals and baby pictures, but I have another thought or two from my chess mentoring days to add before dis here dog is willing to let go of dis here bone.

As I've mentioned previously, I've had all sorts of types of students in my chess club, from very bright kids, which is what one might expect, to pretty regular guys and gals. There was one genius or someone pretty close to that level who played with us for several years. I first knew that something special was up when I looked up from my desk one lunch hour when the club was in session and saw PJ helping Sandra with her homework. The thing is that Sandra was a honour student and a year older than PJ.

So, you'd think that PJ would be an incredible chess player, and he was, in point of fact, very good. If memory serves, he was the top player in the league for at least one year and possibly two. But he wasn't as good as he could have been because he played so fast. I suppose that he was used to things coming so easily that he did his mental calculations quickly and probably didn't bother double-check his conclusions. I, however, was always a slow and deliberate player to the point where if the kids wanted to be sure to win against me they'd just challenge me to a game of speed chess. They'd get their win and be happy, but it never bothered me because I didn't consider it to be real chess.

I guess PJ played a form a speed chess even when it wasn't called for, and he was certainly very good at it. But when I played him, I'd just take my sweet time and win more than I lost. Although he was undoubtedly the brightest student that I ever played, he was not the one who gave me the most difficulty. Perhaps it was because my slow play drove him to distraction; I don't know.

There's a lesson a sorts in my experience with PJ. For me, it has to do with attitude and perseverance. We're not all gifted, but with hard work we can still accomplish a lot. Someone has said that "success is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration," and I think there's a lot of truth in that. While we have no control over the gifts that we have been given, we do have everything to say about how we use what we have. It's called character, I believe. While I can surely appreciate giftedness, it is dedication, application and perseverance that I admire more deeply.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Friday, July 18, 2008

Foto Friday

Above, Niks was looking out of the window from her change table. There may have been a bird out there. There is also the occasional bunny to be seen, and a ground hog put in an appearance this week. There's an undeveloped brush area out back, which no doubt accounts for the wildlife (although neither bunnies nor ground hogs seem terribly intimidated by humans.

Below, Niks loves to dance, or for me to dance her one might say. She snuggles right in and will stay that way for as long as I'm willing to dance. In fact, I can never seem to keep at it long enough to satisfy the wee one. When I stop it breaks her heart, which breaks mine in turn. But backs get a lot sorer than they used to, so three or four songs are just about my limit. As you will see if you play the clip, I am no dancer, but she is a most excellent follower. She is okay with whatever step I choose to make or whatever directions I choose to take.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Musical Memories and Reflections

In a random gather of two dozen adults, you would probably find two dozen different tastes in music. I developed a liking for roots/folk/Celtic music rather early, and it stuck.

We didn't get our first television until I was ten years old, or close to it. It was black and white, of course, and we could pull in one English channel in Montreal. On Friday nights, Country Hoedown came on, and since it was the only show in town (so to speak) we would find ourselves watching it. Come summer, however, they replaced it with Don Messer's Jubilee, a program with fiddling and more of a folk/Celtic sound. I found myself enjoying the music much more than the country music which I had heard during the regular season.

As I grew up, I was diverted elsewhere, and programs and music such as the above were definitely uncool. But I don't think I ever settled firmly on any other musical genre, and when I was exposed to The Rankins several decades later, I felt that I had come back to my roots, and I have continued to appreciate that genre ever since. I never expected to try to fiddle (and I do emphasize the word, try) but I have even gone that far into this type of music.

Who knows why I appreciate it so much as it's not exactly mainstream. I sometimes wonder if there's some genetic coding involved, for I do have some Irish roots. In fact, I may actually be one-quarter to one-third Irish. And most of the rest of my roots are country England, which I'm sure had its own traditional music. On top of that who would have thought that I would settle in an area that retains much of the traditional music that I like so much?

Now, let's back up to Country Hoedown again for another sound that is not your typical country music fare. I remember them having a folk group called The Travellers on, and I liked them and their upbeat tempo a whole lot. In fact, one of my first LP's was of them, probably a gift from my parents. They are perhaps best known for singing the Canadian version of This Land is My Land, This Land is our Land. In fact I didn't even know that there was an American version until years later.

One of their songs on both Country Hoedown and their LP was Black Fly. On the weekend at Celtfest, I limited myself to video recording only four numbers. One doesn't want to spend the afternoon behind a camera after all, and the battery was low anyway. When I decided to tape The Riverthieves, wasn't I shocked that they sang Black Fly, a song which I have heard very seldom since I heard The Travellers do it about fifty years ago, so I've posted it below. As a further bonus this uptempo folk song also has a fiddling breakdown embedded within — at about eighty seconds in.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Learning My ABC's

When I first started trying to learn how to play the fiddle, I had tons of sheet music but little knowledge of how to make it work, so when I wanted to learn how to play a piece, I would sometimes search the internet. While I couldn't always find an actual recording, I often came across midi files, especially in conjunction with ABC files. I think most of us understand that a midi file is computer generated music, but what on earth is an ABC file (or ABC notation)?

It's a small text file that looks like this.

X: 1
T:Boys of Bluehill
K:D Major
dB|BAFA DAFA|BA (3Bcd e2de|fagf egfe|dfed B2dB|!
BAFA DAFA|BA (3Bcd e2de|fagf egfe|d2dc d2:|!
fg|afdf a2gf|gfga b2ag|fagf egfe|dfed B2dB|!
BAFA DAFA|BA (3Bcd e2de|fagf egfe|d2dc d2:|!
I obtained the above file by going to this ABC Search Engine where I typed in "Boys of Bluehill" and was presented with a list of 178 iterations of the tune. Many of these would be the identical, but some would be slightly different, and others (if I were to go the trouble of seriously checking) might vary more significantly.

You'd be forgiven for wondering about the value of the above information. What does |BAFA DAFA| mean, for example? Well, that cryptic information can automatically be converted to sheet music as below where |BAFA DAFA| is the first full measure.

Well, that's somewhat useful, but wait there's more! A midi file is also generated in case you want to hear the notes. Of course, it won't distinguish amongst jig, hornpipe and reel rhythms, but it can still prove useful, especially if I already have a piece of music that you'd like to hear before trying to play.

Sometimes, I can't quite find a variation that matches what I already have in a book. In that case, I can copy the ABC's that they give me at the Tune Finder Site, go from there to the ABC Converter site, paste the ABC information, make my own adjustments for my particular variation, click Submit, and generate a new midi file as well as sheet music if I need it.

It's really quite wonderful what they can do with a tiny text file. It would require a ton of drive space to archive the actual sheet music and midi files for so many tunes, but by using this method of storing a tiny text file and converting it as needed it's easy to compile and share tunes. Whoever thought of it was pretty darn clever. I don't know if there is much beyond traditional tunes that has been put into this format, but feel free to explore the ABC Search Engine to your heart's content.

If you are interested in looking into the nuts and bolts of ABC notation, just go to this tutorial at LeSession.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Reel

Since I've recently made an attempt to describe jigs and hornpipes, I may as well deal with The Reel as well. But I'm going to take the easy way out by relying on Wikipedia and YouTube. I post it because it completes a train of thought, and there might be a few who would like to know.

A description of the reel from Wikipedia

Reel music is transcribed in 4/4, 2/2, or 2/4 time signature. All reels have the same structure, consisting largely of quaver movement with an accent on the first and third beats of the bar. A reel is distinguished from a hornpipe by consisting primarily of even beats. Reels usually have two parts (A and B); in most reels each part is repeated (AABB), but in others it is not (ABAB). Each part (A and B) typically has eight bars, which in turn are divisible into four-bar and two-bar phrases. The structure follows a scheme of question-answer, where the first phrase is the "question" and the second is the "answer." The group of thirty-two bars (four times eight) is itself repeated three or four times before a second reel is introduced. The grouping of two or more tunes in medleys or "sets" is typical in Celtic dance music. Today many Irish reels are supplemented with new compositions and by tunes from other traditions which are easily adapted as reels. It is the most popular tune-type within the Irish dance music tradition.

Reels are popular in the folk music of South West England. It crossed the Atlantic ocean with Irish and British immigration and thus entered the musical tradition of Atlantic and French-speaking Canada including that of Quebecers and Acadians. Reels are featured in many pieces of Quebec singers and bands; for example: La Bolduc, La Bottine Souriante and even the more modern néo-trad group Les Cowboys Fringants (like the song Mon Pays suivi du Reel des aristocrates).

A sample of the music and dance from YouTube

Seven Hours of Joy ...

... on a hillside at Celtfest

It would have been eight hours but for the rain that kept Cuppa and me at home for an extra hour, but Sunday marked our third annual trip to Celtfest in Almonte. This free (but of course one makes a donation) event is truly remarkable. The music goes from noon until whenever, about eight o'clock this year, and it seems to get better every year.

Performers get about a half hour or so to do their thing although the bigger acts toward the end take a little more time. There is a ton of fiddling but lots of singing too. The talent in this area is remarkable, not just for the traditional sound that represents the core of this festival but for blues, folk, rock and what have you. I said to Cuppa on Sunday during the concert that if you were to shoot a fine fiddler another one would simply pop up and keep the music going.

New to me this year were two groups within range of the local area: Rivertheives and Hadrian's Wall (music samples on their websites). They were both wonderful additions, which I certainly hope to see again. I include a clip of Hadrian's Wall below. They were the final act and worth waiting for. The sound quality in the clip is not the best, but you do what you can with a little point and shoot camera.

At about 80 seconds in, you will hear the band go into a kind of fiddling/Celtic interlude. Celtic-style groups often do this when they are singing a song that does not have a particularly Celtic sound to it. The fiddler was very good, and the red-haired guy next to him on the guitar was even better if possible. He also played the tin whistle, the flute, and the harmonica. They did one piece which featured the whistle and the fiddle which was stunning. They'd speed up a little on each round, and just when I thought they couldn't possibly go any faster they did.

Sad to say, Celtfest is over for another year; needless to say, I'm looking forward to next year already.

I hope to post a clip of the Riverthieves tomorrow, and I think Cuppa will post one with fiddling and step dancing.

Monday, July 14, 2008

My "Sort Of" Trophy

It's odd how a single post about Wimbledon has got me onto a Memoir track that I hadn't intended to travel. I like to do that sometimes though — write about my past. It was Ginnie at Goldendaze-ginnie who first put me onto this possible use of blog space. That was her primary purpose in starting her blog — to record moments of her life and times for the benefit of her family ... and others. Although Ginnie has had a much more varied and interesting life than I, I do like the idea of recording my past, some of the time anyway, for posterity.

That's my way of telling Dear Reader that I am not quite done with recollections of my brief sorties into the world of competition. I do understand that eyes will glaze over at this point and that most will click onto the next blog. Just as long as y'all come back, eh?

In my last post, I mentioned that I would win a trophy ... sort of ... or of sorts ... or however exactly I phrased it then. It was to come from a very unexpected win at chess of all things. Now, I am required to back up and set the stage, but I'll try to give you the quick version.

For many years, I had mentored the school chess club and team. The club would meet in my room in almost every lunch hour. Some years, despite the silly notion of chess players being uncool, nerdish wimps, we had quite a full house with an assortment of students. Over the years, I've had tough guys, football players, hockey players, and track champions in the club and on the team, so the nerd image doesn't necessarily hold up, or didn't in my club.

I would often play against the kids at noon and frequently was quite successful. I'd play the best players and usually give a good account of myself, winning more than losing. There came a point when I wondered how I would fare against good, adult competition, so on one cold, winter evening, I showed up at the city chess club. Just in time for a round robin tournament. Yikes!

After a shaky start which involved getting used to the deeper level of play, I eventually managed to tie for first place after about two months of round robin play (one match per evening one night a week). The achievement was not as glorious as it sounds, for they referred to this tournament as their amateur tournament which the two best players sat out in order to give the rest of us a fighting chance. Nevertheless, the competition was still good: for the most part better than what I had been used to in the quicker lunch hour matches with the kids.

Then came the sort of trophy. The club presented me with a huge trophy that just about required a truck to transport to my house. I was to have it for a time and then pass it onto the co-winner. Since I hadn't won a trophy up to that point in my life, Cuppa had the trophy shop make me a small, permanent reminder of this slight achievement. And that's the sort of part because I really had to make my own. Sheesh!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Still No Trophy

I have confessed to not being a tremendous athlete although I have recently blogged about a modicum of success at two racket/paddle sports — tennis and table tennis. Although I won a crest for the tennis victory that I recounted in my last post, I still had never won a trophy of any kind for any reason. In point of fact, I've never won much of anything. For example: in all those yearly play (or field) days that kids are forced to enjoy/endure (take your pick) in elementary school, I only ever managed to win one ribbon and that was for third place. It was a race over gym benches that were set up like hurdles. I don't know how I even won that because I was neither fleet nor a good jumper. Nevertheless ...

Let's face it, one ribbon plus one crest do not represent standout lifetime achievement, and I couldn't even remedy my lot when I joined the teachers bowling league. I only played for two years before tiring of the game, but I am still bitter (just kidding) over not being given a trophy in my second year.

In my first year, I hadn't bowled for a while, so it took me a while to get my average up, and I sure didn't qualify for the trophies which they awarded to the five players with the best averages. But lo and behold, did I not attain the fifth best average in my second year and was I not in line for a trophy? Alas, no! No trophy for AC. Due to budget constraints, the league only awarded trophies to the top three players that year. No wonder I quit in a huff, eh? (more kidding)

Eventually, I did win a trophy of sorts, but that account will have to wait.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Shades ...

... of the past

Mom loved to fly on my feet when she was a wee one. Aldee loved it not at all, nope, not a little bit. So why do I keep calling her Aldee?


The thing is that it was easier on the old guy back then, mostly because I wasn't as old a guy.

A Nod of the Head

.. to Doris

I have mentioned my friend, Doris, more than once in the past: for example in this post. She is both an excellent photographer and a friend to animals. She's been known to rescue homeless and distressed cats and to care much about animal issues. I even recall Nelson and I going to SPCA meeting with her when we were kids.

Doris sometimes has photos published by pro animal groups, either online or in the traditional print media. The fox in the following banner on the Furbearers' Activist website is from one of her pictures.

When she emails me, she usually attaches one or two of her photos. These two are from her last email. Nice eh?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Foto Friday

Hat's Off ... and On

It's been quite a while since I posted a Foto Friday. Not that I haven't posted a bunch of Nikki Dee pics on other days, but ...

I put one her hats on the other day, and that led us into the hat game. Apparently, she was unimpressed with how it looked on me, so she would snatch it back and place it upon her head.

Not for long though as she'd take it off as almost as soon as she'd put it on. So, I had to hold it there long enough for Cuppa to take a photo.

Or two.

She must have won the game and decided that I needed a conciliatory hug. We are getting lots of hugs these days. I don't mind it at all.

Shoes Too ... Mine This Time

I keep a very (as in very, very, extraordinarily) cheap sandals at Thesha's. They serve primarily as indoor shoe-slippers. Let's face, the kids is ridiculously fascinated by them. A day for her seems not to be complete unless and until she has a rendezvous with my sandals. Sometimes, they are taken off my feet, put back, taken off ... and so on ... and on.

Sometimes she tries them on her own feet.

But there are so many distractions, particularly by that Elmo character.

One on and one to go.

Hang on. I have to take another peek at Elmo.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

After the Match

Althegal reads our blogs regularly, but she seldom comments: never on the blog and very rarely in any other way. It's just the way it is. But she happened to be emailing Cuppa the other day after my tennis blog, and she expressed great surprise that I missed the most important aspect of the whole tennis thing: The Super Big Gulp! Her exacrt words: "And, tell Dad that I can't believe he got through an entire post about tennis with Mike and didn't once mention Big Gulps! They were so integral to the game ritual."

So here's the scoop.

After our matches Mike and I would almost always stop at 7/11 for one of those humongous drinks. They went down so well after a few hours of straining and sweating. In fact, we probably could have probably consumed two each.

He usually drove, and when he pulled into my driveway to let me off, he'd start a countdown: 10 - 9 -8 ... And wouldn't Aldee come flying out the door before he reached zero and grab the remainder of my drink from me.

She was a darn cute kid. Still is. Here's to you, kid.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

AC, Champion

... but no Spark Plug

Without great speed or endurance or balance I am certainly not a gifted athlete. However, I seem to possess one ability that has helped me to scrape through — decent (note that I don't say great) hand-eye coordination. That's why I could be moderately successful at tennis in my group of peers: an untrained middle-aged guy playing with other untrained middle-aged guys.

I also won a tennis tournament once — sort of. I wasn't much interested when the club had a tournament. I was happy enough to play whom I played at the friendly level. But a friend had entered and had advanced to the consolation finals before his partner became unavailable. So he asked me to take his partner's place. Being an obliging sort of fellow, I acquiesced against my better judgement. John and I played a pair of kids, and we won handily. I don't think anyone expected that from a substitute player, and I got the impression that the club muckymucks weren't too thrilled with the result. But since they hadn't expected much, they also hadn't objected to my participation and had permitted me to play.

My decent hand-eye coordination worked for me in ping pong (er table tennis) too.

One day, a fellow teacher arranged to have a ping pong table brought into the staff room. With many of us being in our twenties or early thirties, the staff was young back then and took to the game with great enthusiasm. At lunch time we'd bolt our food and queue at the table. After school we'd often hurry to the staff room for a few quick games.

Maybe it was simply because I played more than most, but as time unfolded, I became one of the better players.

After a few years of this, someone had the bright idea of having an actual tournament, and, somehow, I emerged from my side of the draw. In the best-of-seven finals, I faced Don who had a great backhand. In fact, I learned my backhand partly by watching and copying his. He was a good tennis player, and that's where he learned his his technique. It wasn't great table tennis technique, I suppose, but it worked well enough for both him and me at this level.

But he only had an average forehand, so I devised a winning strategy. I decided to play to his strength to some degree. I'd draw him into his backhand with a short ball. You see, he couldn't do much damage with the short ball and it had the advantage of leaving him in bad position for his forehand. I exploited it mercilessly. Shame on me.

The upshot is that I won that match four games to nil and became the champ of the teachers. There were other players who, had they got through the draw, would have given me much stiffer competition, but as it happened, my game was well suited to defeat Don. It's strange that: I would have had more trouble defeating some of the players that he defeated than I did playing him.

But it gave me bragging rights that, not being a braggadocios kind of guy, I didn't actually exercise. However, I was able to mention my past table tennis prowess in my retirement speech more than twenty years later. And again now. :)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Game, Set, Match

Since I blogged about Wimbledon yesterday, I may as well record for posterity my personal experience with playing the game.

Cuppa's sister and boyfriend got into tennis around the mid-seventies, and Cuppa and I decided to try it as well. We bought a couple of cheap rackets — Chemold was the brand name — and used them when we could. There were courts nearby, and we'd sometimes even hit the ball around sans nets and lines on our quiet street. Thesha was still a toddler, but she was a model child in many ways. We could take her to the courts, and she'd amuse herself for as long as necessary, so we were able to play quite a lot.

We didn't play anyone but each other most of the time, but when we got together with Cuppa's sister and her boyfriend, Paul, we'd have a game of doubles. The results were more or less even as I recall. Then, I would play singles against Paul, and, much to his disgust, I usually managed to win. He was certainly more impressive on the court with harder shots and more foot speed, but I seemed to manage to keep the ball inside the lines longer. If I hit it back to him a few times, he would plunk the ball into the net or send it long or wide, and I would win the point and then the game, set and match.

Then came the Althegal years and our withdrawal from the game. Althegal was not the type to amuse herself quietly for long, so we couldn't set her in a corner and hit the ball for an hour.

A few years later, however, I learned that a neighbour of ours, Mike, played, and we got together for a trial game. Fortunately, he proved to be better than I was. I say fortunately because he gave me the opportunity to improve. He wasn't so much better that he couldn't enjoy playing against me, and he never allowed himself to take it easy on poor AC as I continued to lose. We played frequently, sometimes for many days in a row, but it took me quite a while before I even won one set. Once I did win the first one, I was able to be competitive with him on a fairly consistent basis.

We continued to play most days during the next summer as well. We kept a record of our matches, and it was very close over the season, but Mike maintained a slight edge. However, when the third season arrived, I began to win more than lose. He was a more consistent player, so he'd still win if I was not playing up to form, but if I played well, it seemed that I would emerge victorious. We played a lot that spring, and then summer arrived. By summer, I mean that school ended, and I was on the long summer break that teachers enjoy.

However, on the very first day of our long summer vacation, a very unfortunate thing happened in the evening after Mike and I had played a great match in the afternoon. On a very routine movement while warming up with Althegal and her softball team, I badly sprained my ankle. Very badly. So badly that I was forced to spend almost the whole summer sitting in my recliner with my foot up. In fact I was just beginning to be mobile when school started up again in September. (Oddly enough, the ankle that I sprained way back then has come back to bother me these twenty or so years later.)

Mike was forced to find other people to play with that summer, and we never engaged in our private competition very much after that. We'd both still play, mostly doubles with a group of guys who showed up at the club at one o'clock every day, but it was never the same for me. I missed the intensity of our singles matches. Then, after a few years, back, ankles, wrists and elbows began to act up, and I decided to hang up the racket. It was really a very bad back attack — bulging discs — that brought me to a full stop. I missed almost two months of work in late winter and it wise to never try to play tennis again.

I have learned through that experience, however. As much as you enjoy something, you can move on and get involved with other things. As the old saw goes: when life hands you a lemon, make lemonade. There is really no alternative, not a viable one anyway, but my tennis days were over: game, set and match.

Monday, July 07, 2008

A Magnificent Wimbledon

Back around the mid-seventies, Cuppa and I started to play tennis or play around at tennis, I suppose I should say. And we began to be aware of the sport on TV. When kids came along, particularly the second, we more or less stopped playing for a time, but we never lost touch with the televised spectacle.

When school ended each June, Wimbledon would begin, and the watching of it became a marker of the beginning of summer ease. We began watching in the Jimmy Connors era, and I remember being chuffed when the seemingly arrogant so-and-so lost to Arthur Ashe. Then came the Borg dynasty, followed by the McEnroe years, then Lendl, Edberg, Becker, Sampras and Federer. Some of these players I cheered for; others not too much. I was a McEnroe fan and later a Becker fan, but my preference was to see the others lose. It's not that I disliked any of them as such, but one can grow tired of seeing the same people winning. Besides, it seems to be in my nature to cheer for the underdog unless I have become particularly attached to a certain player as one does to a particular team.

Perhaps that's why I became quite attached to McEnroe — because I endured with him in his titanic struggle to overcome Borg. After five years of seeing Borg hoist the Wimbledon trophy, I was rooting desperately for Mac. So, even after he took over the top spot on the tennis ladder, I was bonded to him in a sense and kept on cheering for him.

For the past five years, we have been treated to the dominance of Roger Federer. In the list of champions that I posted above, he's probably at the top although he might have to share the pinnacle with Borg. Although I have never disliked this classy gentleman, I have certainly got tired of witnessing the ease with which he was defeated almost everyone. Well he has defeated everyone for five years and came within one of making it six straight this year.

A few year after Federer began his awesome dominance, along came a Spaniard, Rafael Nadal, a talented and very likable fellow who seemed to be the only possible challenger to the great Federer. Although he had been able to defeat Roger on clay, Nadal had yet to turn the trick on the Wimbledon grass, and, let's face it, Wimbledon is the ultimate test. They faced each other in the finals for the past two years, and Federer was able to emerge victorious.

Yesterday, after a great start which enabled Nadal to take to two set lead, Federer was able to claw back, and so they went into a fifth set. I figured that Federer was going to do it again — find a way to win. He has the incredible forehand after all and can seem to serve an ace whenever he needs to, but somehow Nadal found a way to prevail almost five hours into the match. Even after all of that time, he was still scrambling around the court as if he were as fresh as a daisy.

I am the first to admit that tennis can ofen be a wee bit boring. When Wimbledon starts, there are 128 men and the same number of women in the draw, and since we don't know most of them, it's hard to get all wrapped up in it. On top of that, they do tend to show the top players with whom we are familiar. The trouble with that, however, is that the top players generally win the early rounds all too easily.

But when it gets to the end and you have two magnificent and arguably equal opponents, it's a different story. Most other sports are played within a defined period of time, but close tennis matches can go on and on. When I see two players slug it out for almost five hours as I did yesterday, I am both amazed and enthralled. I was so into it that I was probably more exhausted than either of the contestants at the end.

So that's Wimbledon for another year, the long-standing, true beginning of summer for Cuppa and I. We even celebrate the event with sttawberries and cream, just like they do over there in Jolly Olde England. Unfortunately, we couldn't find any crumpets yesterday.

Come September, we'll watch the US Open, and it will mark the beginning of autumn, and formerly also the beginning of another year of the teaching grind. In between, we'll watch the lower key Canadian Open, but that's pretty well our tennis diet for the year.

The Hornpipe

The hornpipe is another style of fiddle tune. It's in 4/4 time and is played as shown above where each of the four beats consists of two parts: the first note being 3/4 of the beat (or a 3/16 note) and the second being 1/4 (or a 1/16 note). The rhythm is rather obvious in the above score; you play it just as it's written. However, it's often not written like that.

Instead, you'll see it written as it is below : a string of 1/8 notes with no dots or sixteenths showing. Except for a few minor variations, such as a pickup to begin, the two versions (above and below) are the same. The three bars above are the same as bars 2 - 4 below. You see, a player is expected to know how a hornpipe goes (ie the dotted rhythm) and play it accordingly.

Of course, this beginner fiddler did not always know that and learned to play several songs as written — as equal 1/8 notes. In fact, I have recently discovered that two of the tunes that I know best, I have been playing incorrectly — in other words as written and not as intended. Silly me. Very often, as directly above, the title doesn't even tell you that it's a hornpipe. Oh well.

Here's how it sounds if someone competent plays it. Like the jig, there's usually both a part A and a part B that are repeated.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

In Jig Time

or The Jig is Up

or Jiggy Wid It

There are things that fiddlers take for granted that a neophyte doesn't necessarily know. One these things is the various types of fiddling rhythms. While I have yet to figure them all out, I have finally realized what a jig is. Mind you, realizing the structure in my head is not the same things as playing it. Nevertheless ...

For one thing, a jig seems to always be in 6/8 time as in the score of the famous Kesh Jig, below. See also how's there's a repeat at the end of each line (or section)? That's typical of jigs as well: play part A twice and then part B twice.

The thing that I have eventually discovered, is that you don't play a jig in exactly the way it's written. The three bars that I've highlighted in yellow represent a typical jig pattern — two groups of eighth notes per bar. In 6/8 time, one would think that all eighth notes would be equal, but they're not. In each group of three, the first note (highlighted in red) receives greater emphasis than the other two, almost as if it's held longer than an eighth while the other two are shorter. This results in a different sound and feel than what one might deduce by just looking at the music. In fact, I deduced it incorrectly in a number of tunes that I tried to learn by sight-reading before the light switched on in my tiny brain. Perhaps this type of thing is one reason why fiddlers tend to learn and play by ear rather than by note.

Well ... after uploading a scan of Kesh Jig, I can't find the music that I thought I had. But here's a good example of a tune played in jig time. Sorry to disappoint my legion of fans, but it's not me playing Uncle Jimmy's Jig. One could sing the first line with an emphasis on the underlined portions: Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall diddle-dee doodle-dee diddle-dee doodle-dee. It's the diddle-dee doodle-dee that is so typical. It may not always be this pronounced, but it gives the idea.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Give me a C ...

Every now and then, I like to prove that I can actually post something other than pictures of my grand one (see previous post). But pictures we have by the bucketful, so here are a few from the weekend.

The kids brought Nikki Dee by for a while on Sunday, and I tried to get her to march in honour of the upcoming Canada Day.

But her attention was easily diverted, so she put the flag down to attend to other chores.

How we got from walking with Grampa to being transported by Grampa, I'm not sure, but we're doing a special Canada Day cheer here. Give me a C ...

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Of Holidays, Burgers, and Strange Sightings

When I was teaching, there was nothing like a day off. Perhaps the best days were those rare and unexpected snow days when classes were cancelled. The best days were when they actually closed the school because then the teachers could stay home too. Mostly they were loath to do that though because I worked for a very anti-teacher board. No, they'd officially leave the school open, which meant that the kids would stay home and the teachers would have to get there one way or t'other if they wanted to be paid. More than once, I had to drive into the country when it wasn't safe for the buses and then man my empty classroom. Sheesh! That's not what this post is about, however. It sure didn't take me long to digress.

What I am getting to is that, what with Canada Day and all, we just had a five day break from our babysitting gig (although we did babysit twice on two somewhat short ad hoc occasions). While we had thought of traipsing here or there and maybe even staying somewhere overnight, we ended up staying pretty close to home. The energy level wasn't high, and as the weekend wore on, we didn't see the point in just going somewhere for the sake of it.

We have books to read and Wimbledon to watch and some fine weather to enjoy, so time went quickly. Sometimes. it's just nice to have a recuperative break from routine. As much as we love and enjoy Nikki Dee, it has also been very relaxing and restorative to not have to care for her very much for a few days.

We haven't been bored and have found a number of little things to do. For example: last night we took in the Canada Day fireworks in our small town, and today we had lunch at a pub which has an outdoor patio right on the river. However, I'm glad it was a nice day and that we didn't have any pressing engagements because it took the best part of two hours to order, receive and eat standard pub fare — a burger in my case. I have no idea what was going on in the kitchen, and I think that's for the best. Anyway, we had been meaning to eat there overlooking the river for almost three years now, and today was the day when we finally made it. But as I said, I'm sure glad it was a beautiful and lazy day with lots of time to kill.

We did see the strangest site whilst we were waiting our interminable wait. There was a man standing in the river, just standing there, almost up to his shoulders. For some reason he kept his two hands out of the water. As we watched he kept bringing the one hand to his mouth, and it began to dawn on us that he was smoking. After quite a while, he lumbered to the bank and didn't he get another cig, turn around, and immerse himself back up to his chest again. Finally, he was done with his smokes and dunked his head under a few times before heading home. It was very strange let me tell you, but it was a fine diversion while we were waiting for that elusive hamburger.

I'll bet you didn't see anyone just standing in a river for a half hour smoking a cigarette! I would be surprised if I ever see such a thing again.

Mystery Solved

You wonder why it happens, don't you? Apparently, the light was just right to finally capture the mysterious and elusive little head gnome — nefarious little head gnome that he is.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Happy Canada Day!

We're celebrating our 141st birthday today!