– April 27, 2013 – newsletter, editing, design, purpose, communication

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours tinkering with the redesign of a non profit small group newsletter and it certainly passed the time in dialsyis treatment extra quickly….newsletters seem old-fashioned these days, but the membership of this group includes a fair number of seniors and the particular interest seems to have a higher than normal number of technology-averse folk….one improvement of the small kind, is to recognize that by delivering the issues via pdf format as an email attachment, most people are going to view it on their computer screen, some will print it and read it.  Continue reading

The Difference – a microscopically short story

pen blue line art 1The Difference

We stood in the gift shop in the weak light waiting for the next group of Christmas shoppers to walk in from the shopping centre next door. My first post-university part time job was cleaning this childrens’ art centre. My boss had me in the gift shop part of the day to keep an eye on the shopping crowds.

They had been coming in small trickles every 20 minutes or so, strangely regular as a clock, bought what they wished and then left. The volunteer lady was 67. She had spoken at length about her work and her retirement the traditional two years before. I doubted that she lied about her age. She was a very direct woman. When things displeased her she spoke quickly and loudly.  She didn’t seem to care much for the pretense and deception that some people use as a shield. We talked about the winter weather, and winter colds, and so she was able to mention her last bad cold a year ago. She was not prone to colds, so that was of interest. Also, this bad cold had caught her after three holiday flights—one to Barbados, to Italy, and to California.

”Barbados was awful though. All the black men there. It was terrible. It was all so obvious and it made me very nervous. That’s the only time when I’ve travelled off the North American continent that I’ve felt nervous, not quite safe at all. So pushy. I watched from my hotel room balcony. If a girl’s husband or boyfriend left; the next moment three beach bums came right up.

”I liked Martinique though. There a different kind of black. They’re French. It makes the difference.”

The Groceries, a very, very short story

pen blue line art 1The Groceries              by William J. Gibson

It was cool in the grocery store. There had been a thunderstorm overnight but for the sheer devilment of it, the outcome was more not less humidity.  I had a week left before going back to university, so I was winding up the summer at the cottage, having worked construction for almost three months. . My Dad was coming up for the weekend, so my Mom and I were shopping on Friday morning, before the whole weekend cottage crowd hit town. I was pushing the cart full of bags out into the mall and heading for the parking lot.

They were a couple, a farmer and his wife. Not quite American Gothic but getting there. His haircut was so close it looked like 300 grit sandpaper. He and his wife were exactly the same height.

I was surprised when my Mom stopped to say hello. She was an absolute Swede, fiercely independent and just plain did not need other people or their conversation. Although she had been born in the small town where our cottage was, she didn’t talk with any of the old people there. From the few things she told me about growing up there, this wasn’t a change at all.

He was shorter than me, and as they spoke I looked at his forearms and his hands and they had done more work than I could imagine. He was the classic wiry build — that being steel wire — that over time he had extended with a small paunch. He still looked dead solid. A tornado would not dare to knock him over. I had worked that summer with younger versions of him on the construction job out in northern Alberta.

His wife was as clean as a bar of Ivory Soap with the paper wrapping just removed. Thin silver wire framed glasses. A summer dress, a small flower print. White wicker purse. You know what her shoes looked like.  They bored me.

It was a two minute conversation, but it seemed like an hour.

Out in the frying pan parking lot I accelerated the cart, so I could unload and we could get into the station wagon and crank up the A/C. I was already thinking ahead. After I got the groceries into the kitchen and the fridge, I would be racing to get into my swimming trunks and into the cool water of Georgian Bay. I had decided to spend the rest of the day there.

On the drive home my Mom told me, “I haven’t seen them in…it must be forty years. We went to the same church. Something happened to them back then. They had a little boy, named Jimmy, he was about five or six years old. One of their neighbours had a boy who was younger, maybe three years old and they use to play together. And then one day, they found the little one faced down in a deep, deep puddle and he was dead. Drowned.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“They never really figured it out. He might have fallen and hit his head and lay face down. Everyone kind of stayed away from Jimmy. Some people thought he did it, he never admitted to it. Later, he ran away from home. They never had any other children.”

A big blue station wagon passed us, the back seat full of kids and a dog, and behind them a million bags and tricycles and toys and all that good summer stuff. The kids waved at us and we waved back.

memoir snippet #1 Syncrude Project 1974 and 1975 backhoe adventures

As a university student I was fortunate to use a family connection, something I rarely did, to get a job for the summer on the Syncrude Project in 1974 and 1975.  These two work stints helped enormously with tuition and expenses.  I was an “oiler”, an apprentice operating engineer helping with backhoe operations out on the mining area of Syncrude.  This was in the very early days.  While the plant was being constructed, we were out on the former muskeg swamp digging first generation drainage ditches to drain the swamp and to get larger draglines in to dig further drainage ways.  My second summer I worked more in the “Upgrading” area where the plant was coming in to shape.

I am in the slow process of writing a memoir of those two summers.  Here is a snippet of scribbling looking back to those days:

spill pile slide

I was standing in one spill pile when it slipped and the avalanche of loose soil carried me down toward the excavation hole about fifteen foot of travel downwards and I ended up buried in soil up to my waist.  If it had been a larger pile I would have been at risk of having the pile cover me completely and I might have easily suffocated. There was just my operator nearby and he would have had to jump off the backhoe and run to the spot and dig me out.  Not sure how easily he could have reached me if the soil was loose.  Not sure he could have walked over it quickly.

Near Miss

In the Upgrading area, an awkard digging situation with some risky aspects. Digging one hole late on a Friday with the Frenchman from Saskatchewan, Guy, operating and the area crawling with supervisors and engineers and the hole flooding in with water, a local First Nations fellow working as a labourer down in the hole.  Guy could see me across the hole but the labourer was below his line of sight.  Rain pouring, loose soil, soft soil, and traces of soil caving in on all the sides.  Someone suggested the labourer use the bucket to lean and support himself and use his spade shovel to uncover some detail below the visible line of the hole. It was getting later and later and the light was poor, overcast from the rain clouds.  Part of the issue was that no one was coming out to work on this part of the site on either Saturday or Sunday.  Perhaps it would rain all weekend and cave in everything. Finally somebody warning me to get Guy to  stop and me giving him the hand signal to stop the machine.  We came close to injuring the labourer.  One of the superintendants said to me, “Nice work, you were getting close to breaking that kid’s legs.”

Good thing I had learned the hand signals that as a hoe oiler I was supposed to know to communicate with the operator.  Boom in, boom out, hoist down, hoist up,  and of course, STOP everything Right frigging now.

mud pile quick sand

I did get stuck in some wet soil one day.  I was lucky that the bank that all the spill piles were set was hard dry soil.  Gave me a solid bottom to stand on.  but I was stuck in up to my hips.  When I tried to get one leg out that worked fine but I then had nothing to push against to get leg number two out of the muddy goop.  My operator had to walk the hoe over and set his bucket next to me.  Then I had something to push against and was able to get both legs free and crawl into the bucket.

This was pretty hilarious for my operator and a couple of other backhoe teams working way out on the Mining area digging drainage ditches.  My General Foreman came by in a Nodwell Swamp Buggy, the vehicle we used to transport crews out in the morning, carrying diesel fuel drums for refuelling, mechanics, and carried crew out at the end of the shift.  He suggested I might want to go back into camp and change clothes.  I said it was okay, it was a warm day and was willing to look a little silly and I suppose not draw any more attention to my misadventure back in the bunkhouse area of base camp.

Base camp was doublesided Atco trailers, we had small, single rooms, communal washroom/showers, and a laundry room, mess hall, camp store, recreation hall with TVs, pool tables and straight board shuffleboards.  I got pretty good at the no bank straight shot shuffleboards.  Sadly the non-bank boards were not that popular back in Ontario.

PAK 40 7.5 cm anti-tank gun

293534159_824e3dd9b3 293546972_6096994de8

293547401_a55e1869603 photos taken at Base Borden Military Museum at Angus, Ontario in Canada.

The 7.5 cm Pak 40 (7.5 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 40) was a German 7.5 centimetre anti-tank gun developed in 1939-1941 by Rheinmetall and used during the Second World War. Pak 40 was primary German anti-tank guns for the latter part of World War II.