Sep 9, 2017

Cowichan Wood

Breath deeply.
Ahh … the smell of Autumn is in the air.
It’s only a couple of weeks away.

A couple of months ago I ordered a chord of firewood. It came from a family of loggers who harvest wood on their woodlot. They also have a contract to scavenge logging sites for fallen logs that don’t make the grade for building houses.

A chord should last the winter in our small cottage. We have electric baseboard heaters, but a wood fire is so much cheaper and better. We plan to turn off the heaters and use our wood fire totally this winter.

The wood was delivered on a July day; early for winter, but to season wood properly it needs to sit a few months drying in a woodpile.  Upon delivery, I had to walk the cut wood, piece by piece, up our slope to the open woodshed. There, I stacked it.

There’s a special way to stack a chord of firewood. A chord is 4 feet x 4 feet x 8 feet;
it should be stacked in rows with a space between so the wood can dry successfully. Dry, seasoned, firewood is key to a good fire.

I’ve been reading a wonderful book about harvesting, drying and stacking firewood. “Norwegian Wood” was a best seller a couple of years ago, and it poetically explains the art of managing wood, almost as a vocation or a meditation.

A best seller about wood? There are lots of households around the world that heat with wood, and today with electricity rates being so expensive, some people are looking for alternative ways to heat. A good book about wood is timely. For centuries man’s main source of heat and cooked food has been the wood stove or fireplace. Electricity is recent, so is natural gas. Harvesting, stacking, drying and burning wood is more natural for which we, in today’s world, give credit.

“Norwegian Wood” is written by a Norwegian woodsman/author who aptly marketed his book with the name of one of the Beatles’ songs. Why not? He couldn’t have done it legitimately as a Swede, a Dane or a Canadian.

The book is an excellent source of vital information about firewood, including; the wood (species of trees), tools (axes, saws, chainsaws etc.), stacking, drying, wood stoves, fireplaces, warmth, cozyness, including a few, interesting characters.

Most of our new shipment of wood is Coastal Douglas Fir, a Western, North America species that used to be plentiful on Vancouver Island. Old growth has now been logged to almost extinction. Perhaps I should feel sad about them logging such a resource.  However, I’m sure it will keep us warm next winter.

Now, my sharp axe comes into play as I chop kindling and hack the wood down to a good size for our fireplace.  There are great meditative qualities of staring at a fire in a fireplace with your feet up, relaxing.

“There is no place more delightful than one's own fireplace.” - Marcus T. Cicero

“Though you live near a forest, do not waste firewood.” - Chinese Proverb

“Chop your own firewood and it will warm you twice.” - African Proverb

“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.” Zen Proverb

“Old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read.” - Francis Bacon


Jun 17, 2017

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry died earlier this year. He was 90.

He was known as the King of Rock and Roll and he inspired so many singers, bands and recording artists of his day. And today, many artists recognize him as an inspirational legend. He had the insight to mix rhythm and blues with a harder rock beat, thus inventing rock and roll.

I first heard of Chuck Berry when the Beatles recorded a couple of his songs; “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Rock and Roll Music.” Then came his tour of England. This was in 1964 and I was 15. None of my friends knew about him, but I wanted to see this revered living legend. So I took myself to the theatre.

Chuck was the headliner, with the warm-up act being the Animals. The Animals were a new group, and as they played through their catalogue of songs, they stopped to introduce their latest recording,  "House of the Rising Sun."

Wow. This song became such a huge, world-wide hit. I felt privileged to be a part of an audience hearing this song for the first time.

Then came Chuck. His hit at the time was, ”No Particular Place to Go,” a great song that bounced along with beat, melody and humour.

"Riding along in my automobile, my baby beside me at the wheel."

He jumped on stage and out came a plethora of memorable songs that I knew;
“Johnny B Good,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Maybelline,” “Rock and Roll Music” and many more. And here he bounced around doing his duck walk across the stage and casting his wide-eyed stare at individual audience members.

Then came his latest hit, "No Particular Place to Go.” And he looked at me. I had a good seat, mid-theatre and I had residual stage lights shinning on me. I guess I was an easy target. He stared at me eye-to-eye, for the longest time, through his hit song and through a couple more, until he found someone else to stare at.

I felt good and satisfied at witnessing a memorable show. I even lined up back stage to get Chuck’s autograph. This, I treasure in my old autograph book.

Through the years, this legendary figure has become even more solidified in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Recently, I was watching a YouTube video of Chuck giving Keith Richards hell for not playing his guitar riff correctly. In a later video, Keith talks about the day Chuck socked him in the eye for picking up his guitar and playing it.

The legend lives on.  Thank you, Chuck Berry.

May 20, 2017

Just Moved In

So it’s stopped raining and the sunbeams are shining through the clouds like Jacob’s Ladder. If I peak through the trees I can glimpse the waters of the bay, as long as I mentally block the view of the small, housing estate meandering down the slope from our ridge. 

Pine trees and spruce trees tower over our cottage and gently wave in the breeze, while the nearby mountains on Salt Spring Island lift into the low clouds. It’s a lovely vista. Water surrounds, but to really see it we need to walk or drive down the hill into town. There fishing boats, houseboats, gift stores, restaurants and a pub built out upon the wharf greet the visitor. There is a wonderful bakery filled with some of the most delicious, oven-baked bread I have ever tasted and a fish and chip shop to remind us of England. This is Cowichan Bay, or ‘Cow Bay’ as the locals call it.

Behind our property, on the top of the ridge, the lush, green, farm fields are teaming with large birds; Canada geese, ravens, Trumpeter swans, Seagulls, and the odd Bald Eagle watching intently as each finds food among the abundant, fresh scatterings. There are cows; black, white, brown, tan and others, and as many wineries and a cider brewery to excite the taste buds. We could ride our bikes to a couple of the wineries. One of my favourite wines is a deep, rich, ruby-red from the nearest winery sold by a Spanish owner who looks like a transplanted onion seller from Spain, complete with his tilted black beret. We went sketching among the rows of grapes there last year.

Cowichan Bay is country, ocean, mountains and fresh air. The bay itself is the outlet for the Cowichan and Koksilah rivers that stream from Cowichan Lake and the nearby mountains that surround the farm-rich Cowichan Valley. This Vancouver Island valley was so named by the native peoples as “Warm Land.” E. J. Hughes, one of the many local artists, once said, “I have painted in the Cowichan Valley for fifty years and it is the most beautiful place on earth.” It is also Canada’s only Maritime-Mediterranean climate, resulting in the mildest year round temperature in the country.

Mowing grass and chopping fire-wood is going to keep me busy and possibly fit, and one day we have plans to paint the outside of our cottage. We’ll outshine the neighbourhood yet. We have christened our little cottage “Hygge House.” Hygge, pronounced hoo-guh, is a Danish word meaning coziness, pleasure and peace. It seems there is always a word in another language to fit the bill.

I have always wanted a home by the sea, in the country, near the mountains. What could be better than to live in such a wonderful place along with our pet cat, art, good music, sail boats, a glass of red wine, a wood burning fireplace and love? And in our garden hummingbirds come to visit. As long as we don’t miss garbage day or forget to pay our taxes, we have found our little bit of heaven.

Apr 7, 2017

790 Bay Street

Take a walk by 790 Bay Street in Toronto and you’ll see why most people would never give it a second look. There's nothing distinctive about it, nothing to draw your interest, excitement or imagination. In fact, it's rather utilitarian and sad, nondescript, ordinary, featureless.

It's a mid-century modern-style building from the late 1950s, and it was built as the Canadian offices of the Continental Can Company. Then, it was sold and refurbished to make money from tenanting.

It's a drab, eleven-story building situated on a standard, street corner and there's nothing special about it. Not in architecture, styling, location or presence. Today, it's a simple medical building that exudes nothing in character, history, culture or elegance. It just is.

Yet, this building is a-part of Toronto's history and it is a major part of Canada's storytelling legacy. For this building housed the creative offices of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation during the 1970s and ‘80s, until the new CBC Broadcast Centre was built on Front Street.

The CBC offices at 790 Bay Street became the nucleus of television production in Canada. Here, television drama was created, current affairs and documentary programs were innovated, television specials were instigated, and crews were sent out all over the world to bring back stories and footage from everywhere. It was here that the productions were edited and post-produced, ready for broadcast to the nation.

This building housed, not just production offices for writers, producers, directors and staff, but other floors where film camera units were ready for action, editing rooms were assembling shot footage, screening rooms, negative cutting rooms and sound editing rooms were in a huddle creating and finishing programming. There were camera maintenance departments, film evaluation rooms, scheduling offices and travel offices. Throughout the many floors the CBC rented in this office building, there was a total production facility, from script to screen.

This was hub of creative and artistic talent and anyone who was anyone, the Who's Who in Canadian production, walked these unassuming corridors.

And from 1971 to 1986 this building was the epicenter of my career.

Here, I learned how to be an assistant cameraman, a camera operator and a Director of Photography. Here, I learned to be an international cinematographer, sent around the globe, to return with stories within the many cans of film that I shot.

We would be sent to the jungles of the South Pacific, across the iron curtain into the heart of communist countries, across the oceans and continents to hunt out the most interesting of stories, from the wine-making vineyards of California’s Napa Valley to the high speed rail systems of Europe. And each story had it’s own drama, happy moments and sorrow, birth and death. We were sent everywhere across the USA and we explored and documented every inch of our own country of Canada, from sea, to sea to sea. It was a busy world and we were shipped off for months, weeks and days.

Everything that stemmed from 790 Bay Street, for me, was the greatest of education. The subjects were endless and the people I worked with and documented were fascinating.

Here I also learned the essence of drama cinematography, and I would build my resume of television series, TV drama and movies for television.

The building itself was filled with life. When I came home from an assignment, I would sit with the editors who became my friends. I might climb the stairs to the drama department to see what productions were in the works. Sometimes I would get a call from a friend who was producing documentaries or have a coffee with a scheduling clerk. Then, there were the wrap parties and the office Christmas parties, one on each floor. I had a blast at every one. Friendships were made and lost, we loved, we cried, we laughed, we created together. Where are they all now?

In 1985, I left the CBC to become a freelance Director of Photography, but a year later I was asked back to shoot a lawyer-based TV series.

Then, in 1986, I ended my CBC days and never looked back. I had learned what I could, and had traveled the world. It had been a charmed life of adventure, knowledge and creativity. Not long after, the CBC moved out of 790 Bay Street and into their new production facility on Front Street.

Today, nothing remains of the CBC’s involvement with 790 Bay Street except in the minds of the many people who worked and created there.

Much like the workings of a drama where sets are designed and erected to bring a story to life, then they are torn down when the production is finished, 790 Bay Street was discarded and cast away in the same way. It was of its time and nothing more.

It is now a medical building, helping bring wellness to thousands who remain unaware of the history it holds.

So take a walk by 790 Bay Street in Toronto and see a place that, for one shining moment, gave Canada and the world a touch of film magic.

Mar 17, 2017

Who Wrote Shakespeare

Recently I was asked to participate in a debate on the works of William Shakespeare, and who really wrote them.

Having read many articles and listened to many speeches, points-of view and videos on the subject, I felt that I could take either side in the argument. Also, over the years, I have attended at least half of all the plays of Shakespeare, some of them many times, and I know his sonnets and poetry well.

The affirmative side of the argument simply states that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote all the works, plays, stories, sonnets, poems, and any other writings attributed to him.

The counter argument speculates that because there is very little written down or known about Shakespeare, he could not have written these great works. It is stressed that he had very little schooling, didn’t travel, was a country bumpkin and just an actor, a thespian who lacked the culture, knowledge and education to have written the works. On the other hand, Christopher Marlow, a theatre writer and a contemporary of Shakespeare, the Earl of Oxford, a well-educated and well-traveled writer, Sir Francis Bacon, a brilliant philosopher, writer, politician, thinker and futurist, and Ben Johnson, a well-respected playwright, among others, are cited as worthy scholars to have written the works of Shakespeare.

I decided to argue the affirmative; that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon indeed wrote all the writings attributed to him. The problem was, I only had four minutes to make my point. I did this by bringing the whole story down to earth as a simple story about a highly creative individual.

First let's see what we know of the life of Shakespeare.

He was born William Shaks-pere on April 23rd 1564 in Stratford upon Avon, England, the son of a merchant, a glover, a town alderman. It is assumed that he attended Stratford Grammar School, but no records remain. At the age of 18, he fell in love with his sweetheart Anne Hathaway; she was 25. They got married and had three children. Sometime later he left home to look for work in London. Not much more is known of William. Anything could have happened in the life of this young man.

Many years later we find him on the London stage, an actor, writer, producer, and theatre owner. At the age of 49 he returns to Stratford as a rich retiree. He dies in 1616 at the tender age of 52. 

And that is most of what is know of the life of William Shakespeare. His life remains mainly undocumented. A bit of an enigma.

My argument follows a creative life and embellishes moments that could quite easily have been lived by William. These moments are lived by most creative people, especially the ones who become the "exceptional ones", the ones we call ‘Genius.’

The debate begins.
Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare

He was born William Shaks-pere in 1564, in a small market town with no cinema, library, theatre, or cultural activities except for the odd traveling circus, theatre company, comedy show or wandering minstrel.

William was a creative soul, and a creative is filled with energy, curiosity and
a hunger to find his calling: Something where he can plow all his energies into creating something in a meaningful way.

I suggest that young William got caught up in the magic of a traveling theatre. He was bedazzled by the stories, the actors, the workings of the stage and the creativity of it all. I think young William saw the potential in something that excited him. So he later took off for London to join the theatre.

What followed were his lost years where not much is known. Anything could have happened in the life of this young man. So I will give you this scenario.

As a young boy he read lots of books and wrote many stories and poems. At school he read books, he participated in school plays, he acted out stories with his friends.
No wonder he was hooked on the theatre.

He went to London and studied to become an actor, changing his name to William Shakespeare. It sounded better for an actor, "Shake your spear."

He wouldn't be the only person to change his name. Archie Leitch changed his name to Cary Grant, Samuel Clements changed his name to Mark Twain, Lady Ga Ga is really Stefani Germanotta and of course Reggie Dwight became Elton John.

As an actor, William would hang around with the folks of the town. The good guys, the bad guys. He may even have known people from other countries, i.e. Italy, Denmark. He may have taken a trip to Italy or Denmark. We really don’t know. But who's to say he didn't? He may have been so taken with Italy that he decided to set many of his plays there. We just don’t know.

He was surrounded by creative people, actors, writers, directors, producers in London. He may have paid a tutor or a teacher, or even befriended a mentor to help him learn and fine tune his use of the English language. "A good teacher teaches you how to teach yourself." From here he would collaborate on writing plays for his theatre. As a creative artist he would be continually learning. The more he did, the more he learned, the better he got, and like all great artists he became a master at what he loved to do.

He didn't have to go to university, he was in the university or the school of life. He was surrounded by street life, culture and great characters. They were in every doorway, pub or within the tales of the great storytelling culture of his age.

Beethoven never went to university, nor did other highly creative genius
composers such as Mozart, writers like Charles Dickens, Robbie Burns or Mark Twain. Winston Churchill, who was a great writer, never went to university.

As a creative individual, William Shakespeare had an internal drive to be better and he was surrounded with great stories, from the street, from traveler’s, from friends, from hear-say and from his own imagination.

He wrote plays, he collaborated on plays, he acted, directed, produced and
was a partner in a theatre company. He was a very busy man for many years. Until one day, he was so burnt out that he decided he couldn't take it any more. He left everything behind in London and retired back to Stratford, to a quiet life; a very rich man. And he took back his real name of William Shaks-Pere

He died three years later at the age of 52. He had written 38 plays, 154 Sonnets -
and whatever else he wrote is gone; lost in time

Most writers rarely get good credit for their plays or movies. Can anyone remember the person who wrote Steven Spielberg's last movie? Or Alfred Hitchcock's writer? We remember Walt Disney, but how about the many writers who wrote his movies? It wasn't until ten years after Shakespeare's death that his theatre friends got together to publish some of his works. Because they thought he was so good.

No! Other people did not write Shakespeare - William Shake-Pere of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote Shakespeare.

There was a recent study undertaken by a university in the United States that compared the writings of Shakespeare on computer, to all the other people who were speculated to have written his plays.

The conclusion:  William Shakespeare wrote those plays. No one else came close to his style, class or substance.

The study is online. Go see it.

While I fully support the merit and affirmative side of this issue, if need be, I could quite easily argue the other side of the story. It is a mystery that needs to be explored with an open mind, fully knowing that in the end there may never be a definitive answer.

There is a great ignorance of creative artists among the ranks of the general public. Creatives are the misfits, the eccentrics, the troubled people of society. So-called normal people really don’t know how to slot them in the file system. They pass them off as being “different” while trying to ignore them. In many cases they are shunted around and rarely understood while they create their magic. In other cases they are the heads of highly successful companies that lead through innovation.

Most creative people would gladly do their work for nothing because they love what they do, and they usually do it well. This is why they are quite often short changed, bargained down, diminished, cheapened. If a creative artist does become popular and reaps the benefits by drawing in the money, he or she is hounded, degraded and made to feel that he or she doesn't deserve the wealth. They are even belittled by their own class. Yet, their products become commodities that are highly valued by financial sharks.

Then the true creative artists become so overworked and burnt out that they can't  stand the people they are working for or with, and they find it difficult to continue to create. They are finally put out to pasture.

During their lifetimes, creatives make a major difference by enhancing their world in a significant and profound way.

We remember ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt by the art, the artisans and the architects who designed their edifices, their carvings and paintings. We find old cultures and religions through their writings, art and philosophies. We find ancient paintings in caves, jewelry and pottery, and we are left a wealth of literature and musical works from creative masters and those we label as genius.

We have no lasting memory of the accountants, the bankers, the politicians, the lawyers or the civil servants who control our world. They are the insignificant ones.

The ones who are truly significant are the creatives; for they have made our world.

While I will never discount the value of a good education, learning in itself does not always come from educators or institutions. And this is proven every day by the individuals who rise to greatness through the basic human traits like curiosity, willfulness and gravitas. Some people are constant learners no matter with what they are involved. Usually, the creatives are the ones who defy the schools. They are the slow ones when it comes to grasping academics, yet when they latch onto a subject that interests them, they fly with it and excel through their willingness to try something new and innovative.

Take Winston Churchill. He was not a very good student. So-much-so that his father, Lord Randolph Churchill thought he would never amount to very much.  When he finally left school he couldn’t pass the entrance exams for university, but he had just enough education to be admitted to the army.

However, Winston’s interest lay in adventure and writing, and in this he excelled. He used the army as a spring board to be a war correspondent and by the time he was in his mid-twenties, he saw combat on three continents, rose in the ranks to Lieutenant, won four medals, was mentioned in military despatches, wrote five books - one of them a novel - gained international fame as a war-correspondent, and won a seat in Parliament, all before his twenty-sixth birthday. Churchill later went on to become a landscape painter, a major writer of history books and an accomplished speaker.

From there we know the rest of the story. Churchill used creativity to propel him through life, until he finally became Prime Minister of Great Britain and a war-time leader who was at the forefront to win the war over one of the most evil regimes in history.


We are such stuff as dreams are made on,
and our little life is rounded with a sleep.
- William Shakespeare

All the world’s a stage.
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
and one man in his time plays many parts.
His acts being seven ages.
-William Shakespeare

Sonnet 66
Tired with all these, for a restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm’d in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplac’d,
And maiden virtue rudely trumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgrac’d,
And strength by limping sway disabled,
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly - doctor-like - controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall’d simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tir’d with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save, to die, I leave my love alone.
- William Shakespeare

The Spelling of the name Shakespeare.'s_name

The University study into who wrote Shakespeare.
Claremont McKenna College
Computer study.