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Poet George Bowering talks baseball

Paul Grant
Nov 2nd, 2011

Bowering in the bleachers behind home plate at Nat Bailey

Long before he was a writer, a university professor and Canada’s first poet-laureate, George Bowering was a baseball player. 

He grew up in a small town called Oliver, in the little pocket desert at the southern end of BC’s Okanagan Valley.  Oliver is now known as the Wine Capital of BC, and boutique wineries are thick on the ground.  In the 1950s, though, Oliver was just a small orchard town without an art gallery or much else in the way of what are now called cultural amenities. But there was baseball.

Bowering at bat 

“The other sports were basketball,” Bowering said with a smile.  He’s been playing baseball almost ever since, for the Kosmic League, the Twilight League – any league that could use a lanky second baseman who could also play short. 

He finally hung up the spikes in 2004.

“I was lured out of retirement, played a couple of games and retired again.  Officially.”

Literary stars sparkle at Vancouver International Writers Festival

Paul Grant
Oct 18th, 2011

Progress is our most important product

When I was a kid and the world was still in black and white, Ronald Reagan was a pitch-man for General Electric.  This was between his careers as a Hollywood actor and the president of the United States.  Anyway, at the end of the GE commercial, Reagan would give us that avuncular smile and say:  “Remember, at General Electric, Progress is our most important product.”

That seems to be the case with the powers-that-be in Michael V. Smith’s new novel Progress.  In this case, progress includes bulldozing houses and even graveyards to make way for a hydroelectric project near a small town.  So when prodigal son Robbie returns to his childhood home, he finds his sister paralyzed with indecision as the clock ticks on a demolition order for the family home.

Thanksgiving special: talking turkey

Paul Grant
Oct 3rd, 2011

Bright and beautiful?

 

“As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

So said Arthur Carlson when his radio station WKRP dropped live turkeys from a helicopter in a Thanksgiving publicity stunt that went terribly wrong.  The hapless birds, according to newsman Les Nesman, hit the ground "...like bags of wet cement."  The TV sitcom was based on the Turkey Trot Festival in Yellville, Arkansas, which ran for more than 40 years and included tossing live turkeys out of a low-flying airplane until animal rights activists put a stop to it in 1989.

Turkeys may have (delicious) wings, but they really can’t fly.  At least, not domestic turkeys.  They belong to the order of galliformes -- ground-dwelling birds such as pheasants, quail and partridges.  Wild turkeys are capable of short flights – more fluttering hops than anything else.  But domestic turkeys can scarcley trot.  

Rain City

Paul Grant
Sep 26th, 2011

 

Rain.  Showers.  Drizzle.  Gullywasher.  Liquid sunshine.  Monsoon.   Scotch mist.   Spate.  Sprinkle.  Sunshower.  Drencher.

There are almost as many synonyms for rain as there are rainy days in a Vancouver year, which on average is 166.   That’s five and a half months of gray days that swallow mountains, and cloud even the sunniest disposish.  Seasonal Affective Disorder sends people to tanning salons and other sources of UV rays.  Everyone wears black, as if in mourning for the lost light.

Vancouver gets about 44 inches of rain a year – almost four feet.  But this isn’t the wettest city in the world by a long shot.  In fact we don't even crack the top ten.   Henderson Lake, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, clocks in at Number Eight, with 256 inches a year.  And Cherrapunji, on the Bangladeshi border north of Dhaka, is awash in almost 500 inches a year. 

 

Kid full of dreams forty years on

Paul Grant
Sep 13th, 2011

Roy Forbes  in a photo by Suzannah Forbes

 Betsy, she's singin' just like Patsy Cline                                       

Sendin’ shivers chasin' each other up and down my spine...

Roy Forbes is banging that battered old Gurian guitar and almost dancing as he taps his feet to the music.  He’s crowding 60, but the kid can still rock.

    The smoke haze is risin', the liquor goes down                                  The feet start tappin’,  let's order a round

What is the blackberry?

Paul Grant
Sep 6th, 2011

Ripe for the picking

 

Google “blackberry” and the first several pages of hits refer to the handy little device made in Canada by Research in Motion.  Even Wikipedia’s first reference is to the electronic device.  Now that’s a good algorithm.  

The blackberry, in fact, is a “...climbing thorny rosaceous shrub...”, according to my Oxford Dictionary, which doesn’t mention RIM’s device at all.  And according to the green thumb bible Botanica, the blackberry is an "... aggregate, consisting of over 2,000 micro-species...".  Blackberry describes the shrub, the fruit and the act of picking. 

The blackberries were late this summer.  They stayed green on the vine well into August.  Eventually they turned a Prada shade of magenta that deepened into irridescent blue-black like Superman’s hair.  Blackberries should slip off the stem into your hand.  Too ripe and they crumble into their constituent little seed pods.  Not ripe enough and they will resist picking, leaving your fingers looking bloody.  

All about beards

Paul Grant
Aug 28th, 2011

Hair today, gone tomorrow

I wasn't surprised when we were arrested for picketing The Skillet Cafe. It's what we hoped would happen. It was the sixties, after all. Vietnam. Ban the Bomb. Protests and pickets were the order of the day. 

This picketing wasn't planned at all. Half a dozen of us had been lounging around a horseshoe banquette with a window looking out onto Granville Street. We’d been there for most of the afternoon, smoking cigarettes, nursing cold coffees and arguing about how to fix the world. They asked us to leave and, having nothing better to do, we asked why. After some hemming and hawing, the manager said it was because were were unshaven. That was true of some of us. But being 16, I could barely raise peach fuzz, and said so. The owner said never mind, he didn't like my beard-like attitude.

Of course we picketed the place. Eventually some of us were arrested and hauled off in a Black Maria to 312 Main where we were relieved of our valuables, fingerprinted, photographed and jailed. They even took our belts and shoelaces, so we wouldn't hang ourselves in despair.  

Up on the roof

Paul Grant
Aug 9th, 2011

  On the roof, it's peaceful as can be. Author's photo of dog's favourite spot.                                                                                                                                  

Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s song rings as true today as it did when the Drifters had a hit with it in 1963.  In the summer we live on our roof.  It’s a little like a cottage, except open to the elements.  It’s not grand.  The decking is basically wooden pallets.  The furniture is rustic.  But the view is terrific – downtown Vancouver and the North Shore mountains.  It’s a great place to start or end the day, and it really is an escape from “...all that rat race noise down in the street.”

The dog likes it up there too.  He lets the sun soak into his old bones for an hour or two, then retires to his cozy corner behind the hydrangea and oleander, where there is shade for most of the day. 

Ukulele zeitgeist sweeping the world and Vancouver International Folk Festival

Paul Grant
Jul 15th, 2011

Two ukes are better than one

I was going to write a piece about my love affair with the ukulele.  What prompted me was word that the Vancouver Folk Music Festival is asking ukulele players to write a song about the festival.  The winner of the contest will be invited to perform their song on the main stage Sunday night.

With that in mind, I planned to write about the ukulele zeitgeist, about the fact that all over the world people are playing the standard ukulele in alarmingly large numbers.  Just Google ukulele and you will get 38 million results in .07 seconds flat.  There are ukulele circles from Nanaimo to New York.  There are on-line tuners, tutorials, tablature tables and shops devoted entirely to the instrument, such as Ukulele Movement in Singapore. 

I would have also drawn your attention to music by people like Nellie McKay, Rani Arbo, Black Gardenia, Ralph Shaw and James Hill.  I’d have pointed out that the uke is ubiquitous these days, and that the two most common TV advertising tropes are golden retrievers and soundtracks with boppy ukuleles playing happy summery music. 

UBC's Crane Library a treasure trove of Braille, digital audio, large print and electronic text

Paul Grant
Jul 7th, 2011

"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library."    -- Jorge Luis Borges


Libraries are one of the saving graces of civilization.  They imply, as Victor Hugo said, an act of faith.  And for people like me, who's knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep, they're a godsend.

As a high school dropout, I patched together my education on the fly, using the library.  As a print journalist and current affairs radio host, I had to absorb a lot of information in a short time, then distil it so it made sense to the reader or listener.   Libraries saved the day more than once.

Now that I’m retired, I continue my scattergun approach to learning by, among other things, narrating books at the Crane Library at UBC.  The library was established in 1968 with a gift of thousands of volumes of Braille books from the estate of Charles Allan Crane.

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