Rob’s Too-Many-Word Review of ‘good girl’

Let me start off by saying this, right up front: I was never a Musical Theatre Kid. In my formative theatre years, I eschewed the very notion of musical theatre. I saw it as the Synchronized Swimmer’s Smile of the theatre world. Fake and Forced. To this punk rock loving (clean-cut) kid, it was akin to the devil Disco. You see, I fell into theatre with that punk rock mythos as my credo – three chords, a middle-finger to the establishment, a severe lack of any structural ability to perform, yet an overwhelming desire to get on stage and make something. 

I can now recognize that this naive and erroneous point of view was, and is, a failing on my part. Obviously, I was (am) an idiot, and my haughtiness was based on my total lack of exposure to, awareness of, and ignorance about the rich tapestry of musical theatre blah blah blah. (that ‘blah blah blah’ is not an indictment of musical theatre, by the way. Rather, it should be seen as my sudden and profound disinterest in my very own spouting off on things of which I know too little. Just get to the matter at hand, Rob!)

Still, I feel  it important to preface this review with that information about my deep-seated disdain for musical theatre, because it turns out, Melissa MacKenzie’s show ‘good girl’ (a Kitbag Theatre production) contains a lot of musical theatre numbers. Like, a lot. And I thought it would be best to give you readers a strong foundational POV for this journey through my ‘good girl’ experience. Sort of an “oh my god, he hates musical theatre and this show is basically jam-packed with musical theatre references and songs, oh my god, they’re either going to hate each other or fall in love!

So, going into ‘good girl – on the second of a two-night run, with a boisterous and exuberant sold-out audience on a mid-April evening at the Trailside Music Hall in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island – I was fairly unaware of what I was stepping into. I was half-expecting a theatrical one-person show type of experience, in which songs would play a part. The Facebook Event described ‘good girl’ as Melissa “navigating love, sex, and the muiscal theatre industry after growing up Good.”  Joining Melissa, it was promised, was “an all-star team of musicians and performers for a night of Mrs. Maisel-esque storytelling and tunes of every genre.”

For the record, and only as an aside, I watched maybe half of season one of Mrs. Maisel, and enjoyed it a fair bit until halfway through an episode I suddenly couldn’t bear to watch any more of it. I have not returned to it.

So, here’s ‘good girl’ in a nutshell: Over the course of Part One, Melissa tells us about growing up in a very strict Christian family and community where she was taught and indoctrinated into believing that being the Good Girl was paramount. Interspersed with this storytelling are plenty of songs, well-chosen as a sort of subterfuge and sabotage of the indoctrinating mindset. In Part Two, she focuses on how that repression profoundly affected and confused her sexual awakening. Again, she drops in a plethora of songs that joyously accentuate and embellish her move towards accepting and appreciating herself as a sexual being.

All those words I’ve written so far, and I’ve yet to say what I thought of the show. Well, here that is:

Melissa MacKenzie is an astoundingly talented performer. She sings breathtakingly, seemingly without effort, and is masterful at it. To my ear, every song she sang, she absolutely nailed. I was honestly astonished at her skill of performance during several of the songs.

I should come clean here and say that I did not recognize even one of the songs that was sung throughout the night. Blame that on my musical theatre ignorance. But it turns out that doesn’t matter in the least. I was very happy to be able to discover them through Melissa’s wonderful interpretations. When she sings, she is very much in her element, and her joy of performance is contagious.

I’ll also add here that Melissa wasn’t alone on stage. True to the promise in the Facebook event writeup, she had assembled an all-star, killer group of performers to support her occasionally throughout the night with sharp and expressive instrumentation, and beautiful background and harmony singing. 

Morgan Saulnier should soon be getting an Order of PEI pin for all she does to make music on this Island as wonderful as it is. She seems to be involved in pretty much everything as a musical director, accompanist, and, I expect, as an inspiration to so many musicians and singers in our community. She really is remarkable. And adding to the “all-star” element are a handful of artists who each could headline a night of music in their own right – Jessica Burrett, Brielle Ansems, Morgan Wagner all sing and instrumentate (don’t look it up) and percuss to perfection, as Marlee Saulnier on saxophone ups the artistry even more for a number of songs.

So, yeah, the musical component was absolutely fantastic – as good as you’d see or hear anywhere – and plentiful. Melissa can truly do it all, it seems, when it comes to musical styles and genres. My favourite selection came near the end of the evening when Melissa sits at the piano to accompany herself on a really phenomenal song she wrote herself. After a night of already stellar performances, she elevates everything and somehow manages to discover new depths of emotion and honesty. I’d love to hear more original songs from her.

Without question, Melissa is a huge talent as a singer. Going into this evening, I was perhaps expecting to see more of a theatrical experience that would also include songs as support to the storytelling. What I got, it turns out, is quite the opposite – a packed songbook of an evening where the stories – as important and personal as they obviously are to Melissa – end up being the glue to bind the song selections together. 

If I had a criticism of ‘good girl’ – and I suppose I do, since I’m about to express it – it’s that I would love the storytelling to be as impactful as the music.  When she is performing the written portions, telling the stories of her struggles with the concept of being a Good Girl, Melissa is sharp, funny, assured, engaging, and obviously knows how to earn and command attention. She gives us plenty of wonderful lines and anecdotal insights, all well told. She pretty much had my rapt attention all night long.  

So, what’s the criticism, Rob? Maybe it was just me, but I found myself wanting to see just a bit more of a deeper exploration and investment into the emotional aspects of the story of this journey – the theatricality of it all, if you will. Particularly in Part One, she often seemed to take on something of what I’d describe as a character persona version of herself as she relayed these quite personal and traumatic events and elements in her life. 

Maybe this is where the Mrs. Maisel reference comes into play? It’s like at times she chose – perhaps for comedic effect – to remain a step removed from what she is speaking about. I sometimes found myself wishing to see past that persona. In Part Two, that persona dropped away much more frequently, and we saw what I assume is more of the true essence of Melissa. It was Melissa speaking truth to us, in the emotion and in the moment. And in those moments – especially in the aforementioned performance of the song she wrote herself – the impact is profound. I just wish there were more of those moments.

And even though I just spent a couple of paragraphs speaking about that, it really is a fairly minor criticism and didn’t really detract from what was a thoroughly entertaining and enlightening evening of storytelling and music.

The music is all there. The talent is all there. But I think there’s potential to expand and heighten the emotional impact of the theatrical aspects of this musical theatre experience. I believe Melissa considers ‘good girl’ to be a continuing work-in-progress so I have no doubt that as she continues to perform and tweak this as an artistic piece, she will discover ways to better achieve that, should she choose to.

I’ve been coming around a bit, in the past few years, to Musical Theatre as a concept, and I’ve made a pointed attempt to appreciate musical theatre more. I have a long, long way to go, but I’m happy to be on that road, now, at least. And experiencing ‘good girl’ is fully a musical theatre expedition I can easily and wholeheartedly endorse.

I’m not sure if we ended up falling in love with each other, but I certainly enjoyed the experience and am very happy with the time I spent getting to know Melissa MacKenzie’s ‘good girl’.

If, and when, Melissa remounts ‘good girl’ in a theatre or music hall near you, take it from me – a guy who’s had a very challenging relationship to Musical Theatre – it is a night of entertainment you owe to yourself to enjoy and experience.

Island Roads – CBC Mainstreet 1991

With Trevor Arsenault & Archie MacDonald

Welcome to Island Roads, where we explore the Main Streets, and the Side Roads, and the Back Alleys of PEI’s History, and it’s Culture, and it’s Folklore to boot!

In the summer of 1991, David Moses and I created, for CBC Radio Charlottetown, a short radio series called Island Roads. Here are some remembrances I have on that whole endeavour.

I was the sidekick. In those early years of creating plays and establishing an impossibly low-budget black box theatre company (see A History of Off Stage Theatre), I was the eager sidekick to the Idea and Implementation Guy, David Moses. It was, no doubt, David who came up with the germs of the idea for Island Roads, and who was responsible for making it a reality. As with so many things at that time, I was glad to just come along for the ride.

Around this time, David was, I think, doing some occasional work at CBC Charlottetown, or at the very least, was in the orbit of Chris Straw, the producer of their afternoon radio program Mainstreet. Chris was relatively new to Charlottetown and was looking for ways to move Mainstreet away from the news-centric program it was and into a more entertaining, loosey-goosey, and conversational show.

From our first meetings together, to the end of his time here in Charlottetown, Chris was a champion of the kinds of things David and I were doing, and he went above and beyond to find ways to get us on the radio. He was chagrined that he couldn’t afford to pay us as actual, you know, creators of original fictionalized content. The costs would have been prohibitive. So in an effort to at least get something fun and interesting done, he, and we, came up with the idea that we would be creating content, but under the guise of journalists. And it was through this sort-of loophole that Island Roads was born.

[Chris Straw’s enjoyment of our stuff – a small group of us also performed live improv on Mainstreet semi-regularly for a brief while – went a long way to making me feel like I was legitimately funny and had value as a performer. To this day, I appreciate the faith and respect he showed towards me during those early days of my creative life. He was so obviously and grandly talented in what he did, and I had such respect for him and was glad to call him a friend for that brief time. We lost contact with each other when Chris moved to the CBC in BC. I knew he had became producer of Basic Black for awhile, but hadn’t really followed his career after that. I was shocked and saddened to hear, in March 2021, that he had suddenly passed away due to a freak construction accident at a neighbour’s house.]

And so it was decided that Island Roads would come into being and exist for as long as we could get away with it. David and I would assume the characters of Trevor Arsenault (David) and Archie MacDonald (me) – true to our real-life relationship, Archie was very much a sidekick to the more knowledgeable and worldly Trevor – and we would create episodes of entertainment under the banner of journalists. To his credit, Chris more or less left the content of the episodes up to us, and we left it to him to edit our oodles of improvisations and meanderings into tight little pieces. Considering what we often provided to him, it’s clear he was really good at his job.

Here, then, are the six (plus one) episodes (and my recollections) of Island Roads we created for CBC Charlottetown’s Mainstreet radio program during the summer of 1991.

01. Pownal Magnetic Hill

Island Roads – Episode One – Pownal Magnetic Hill

For our first episode, we decided to highlight the Pownal Magnetic Hill. (If you’ve never experienced it, it’s a pretty great optical illusion. You really do feel like your vehicle is being pulled up the hill. Directions to it, in the episode) With the hindsight of 30 years, I might assume that we thought by dedicating an episode – our first – to a fairly innocuous and relatively unknown “attraction” like this it would be indicative of the type of nonsense we’d be getting up to for this series. The reality, probably, was less of a contrivance and more of a “here’s the only stupid idea we have, let’s see if this works”.

Our method for the episodes would be to roughly pre-plan some story beats we’d like to record, and then improvise around those beats. Nothing was ever written down or very much pre-planned. So, for instance in this episode, I think we decided “Trevor will ask Archie to get the map out and Archie doesn’t have the map” and then hit record to see what happens. We would have come up with this idea while en route to the destination. The laughter at the end of that beat is us genuinely laughing, and I’m so glad Chris kept moments like that in the edit, as I think it really adds to the charm of these characters. Other times, like “Alexandra holds many a fond memory for Archie MacDonald….”, the beat would be completely made up on the spot, as we attempted to catch the other of us unawares, just to see what would happen. When Dave mentions Alexandra as Trevor, I had no idea – and I suppose that he didn’t either – of where that would lead us.

The story about Archie’s father being a bus driver, and driving his pregnant sister to the hospital, is based on a story from my Dad’s life, but obviously exaggerated for effect and full of misinformation. I love that impossible and incorrect ideas like “drove from Georgetown to Charlottetown ten to fifteen times a day” just goes unchecked and taken as a statement of fact. We’re definitely not in CBC journalist territory here.

I was thrilled when I heard the final product, after Chris put it all together. I thought the bluegrass music really added to the energy and feel of what we were doing, and the sfx of the car having trouble starting at the beginning was the perfect lead-in joke to what the audience was about to experience.

We were all pleased, I’m sure, with what we created. And looked forward to what would come next.

02. Owen Connolly Building

Island Roads – Episode Two – Owen Connolly Building

It didn’t take us long to go from the silliness of Episode One to the absurd. For episode two, we decided to visit the bust of Owen Connolly on the top of his eponymous building in Old Charlottetown. And, oh yeah, Trevor would channel the ghost of Mr. Connolly. You know, typical CBC stuff.

An early moment I love in this episode and in this series is when Trevor is commenting on Owen Connolly and the building we’ll be visiting. All I can manage in this improvisation is to repeat a couple of the words Trevor has already said. “Owen Connolly…” and “Owen Connolly building…” You can just barely hear a laugh from me after that. And that laugh is me realizing just how lame my participation in this beat is, having left all the work to David’s Trevor. I really was just along for the ride for a lot of this, just hoping to add my oddball sensibilities to the product, and hoping I wouldn’t get found out. In that laugh, I can also hear me simultaneously realizing that my lack of participation kind of works in terms of the dynamic between Trevor and Archie. So where you may not even take notice of that laugh, to me, it represents me learning a little bit more about who Archie is, and how he is very much a sidekick in this whole operation. A valuable insight for me, at the time, hearing it back. And kudos to Chris, again, for keeping in little nothing moments, like the barely audible “my door’s locked” as we sign off from inside the car. Little moments like that just add so much to the world and character of the show.

Another thing I love about these episodes in hindsight is that they contain little moments of quite specific 1991 history. For instance, “that guy looks just like Kenny Rogers” came about, no doubt, because as we were driving down Queen Street, we actually saw that guy who looks like Kenny Rogers. Does anyone remember that guy? Did anyone else other than us at the time even think that guy looked like Kenny Rogers? I don’ know. But I love that we included the mention of him.

Early on, we tried to record as much as we could “on location”, so most of the stuff you hear in the car was actually recorded as we drove towards our destination. Obviously, for this episode, we didn’t actually go to the roof of the Owen Connolly building (sorry for ruining that illusion for you!). For that portion, we parked down by the ball diamonds at Victoria Park and ran around the parking lot a bit so we’d sound a bit out of wind. I’m sure Chris, throughout the run of the series, had challenges in the edit trying to make some of our scenes sound cohesive and blended.

“I’ll just visually explain what I’m seeing”. Is that Archie showing his inarticulate inability to communicate, or is it me? I’ll never tell. But I will say this: I have often created characters whose lack of something-or-other is a direct result of me allowing my own lack of something-or-other to come forward. So, what I’m saying, perhaps, is that I often encourage and allow myself to channel the stupidity that’s within me. Speaking of channeling, “Can you fast forward through the meditation or something” and the “yoyoyoyoyo” is just funny stuff! As I listen to these episodes again, I take delight in seeing the development of these characters. In particular, in this episode, I take note of how naive and gullible and sincere Archie is. There was, perhaps, a lot more of me in Archie, in those ways, than I’d like to let on.

With the bust falling through the car at the end, and with the car crashing into the ditch at the end of the first episode, we stumbled onto the idea of tagging the ending of each episode with something similar. I’m pretty sure that was Chris’ input and idea.

03. Indian River Church

Island Roads – Episode Three – Indian River Church

We were so pleased with ourselves for starting this episode going through an actual drive-thru. We were eager to keep exploring what can happen in this world of Trevor and Archie and what was even permissible from a production standpoint. Trevor’s statement of Route 2 being Archie’s favourite route was another example of improvising where that was sprung on me and I had to go along with it. We worked well together.

Another relatively big eye-opening (or perhaps ear-opening) moment for naive me, was the concept that music from “real” artists could be used in these silly little things we were doing. It may seem like such a little thing, but Chris’s inclusion of Elvis’ Love Me Tender snippet as a transition piece blew my mind open a bit. Like I say, I was something of a sidekick in this whole enterprise and everything was a bit eye-opening for me.

For this episode, we actually did travel to the Indian River Church, and may have recorded some stuff there, I can’t remember and couldn’t say if any of it made it into this episode. Definitely the Route 2 and “do your Elvis” and the sideburns stuff was recorded en route. And I think my visiting the cemetery was on site. But the majority of the “in the church” stuff from this episode was recorded after the fact, in the acoustically imperfect Off Stage Theatre, if I recall correctly.

“What are you, a heathen?” “No, I’m Presbyterian” will always make me laugh, I hope.

04. Victoria-By-The-Sea

Island Roads – Episode Four – Victoria-By-The-Sea

There’s lots I love in this episode. I love us having a bit of fun at the expense of CBC Radio Drama, at the beginning of the episode. It was improvised in the moment. I love having actual guest participation from the Landmark Cafe owner Eugene Sauve and Victoria Playhouse Artistic Director Erskine Smith. And I love our failed audition.

If I recall correctly, we recorded this episode on the same day we visited Indian River Church. We didn’t tell Eugene nor Erskine that we were coming, but were so happy they were willing to play along with our nonsense. I’m not sure what we would have done if they were otherwise engaged.

One of my favourite moments of this series, and of my entire existence, is the three of us, Rob, David and Erskine, sitting at a table at The Landmark Cafe, trying to figure out the mathematics of how many performances the Victoria Playhouse has had. It is such an unnecessary and confusing diversion. I don’t know about David, but I can safely say that this was not Archie trying and failing at math. This was Rob trying and failing at math. I so very much love that it was included in the episode.

The excerpt of the play we performed for the audition was improvised, obviously, and I love how Erskine was politely dismissive of us. Believe it or not, us singing “Hooray For Hollywood” at the end is, I’m pretty sure, us trying our best to harmonize and sing well. No Triple Threats, us! And even though these characters exist in their own world and reality, I always found it hard to believe that either of them would know the lyrics or the melody to that tune.

05. Basin Head

Island Roads – Episode Five – Basin Head

So the summer of 1991 was our first at Off Stage Theatre on King Street. For that summer, David had invited a couple of his National Theatre School friends to Charlottetown to be part of our inaugural summer season. And that’s how the inestimable Rick Roberts ended up in a cameo as Stuart, Archie’s cousin from away. I think we just wanted to get Rick some of that lucrative coin we were making for each episode. Probably something like $30 per episode or close to that. For writing and performing original content for the CBC. We were ridiculously underpaid for what we were creating. Or maybe we were ridiculously overpaid. Have a listen and you decide. I’ll agree with whatever judgement you come away with.

Pretty much all of this episode was created and improvised as we drove to Basin Head from Charlottetown. I really enjoyed the new dimension a third character added to the dynamic. And Rick played an obnoxious Stuart to a T! I had a hard time keeping from laughing a number of times. You can particularly hear that when I exacerbate “Stooo-urrrrt!” at one point.

You know, with my hazy memory, I am now wondering if we did in fact travel to Basin Head? I’m pretty sure we did, but it might now be a false memory I have. I can’t imagine we would pass up an opportunity to day-trip to Basin Head on a lovely August day on Prince Edward Island. I’m pretty sure we attempted to record the actual Singing Sands but it didn’t translate to tape. So – and I do know this is factual – we recorded the sounds you hear of the Singing Sands in the CBC studio, pressing on a box of corn starch to simulate our footstomps squeaking in the sand. Again, sorry to burst that illusion for you!

Ah, the magic of radio!

06. Phantom Ship of the Northumberland Strait

Island Roads – Episode Six – Phantom Ship of the Northumberland Strait

We knew, going into this one, that this would be the final episode. Chris couldn’t find any more money to keep it going, and we were all bummed that it was the end. I still get a bit emotional when I hear Trevor and Archie in this episode talking about how much they loved doing this show. Because really, that was David and myself saying how much we loved doing this show.

This episode, I’m pretty sure, was pretty much fabricated and built in the studio. We didn’t actually travel Up West and we didn’t actually witness The Phantom Ship. For this one, we figured out a bit more of a story line before we recorded, like the contrivance of running out of film. I quite like the casual, reflective pacing at the end of this episode, and thank Chris for the extra production elements he threw into this one, from the crackling fire to the awesome segue into the Lenny Gallant song. And every time I listen to this episode (which, granted, isn’t a lot – I mean I am my biggest fan, but I don’t go crazy about it. Like, I’m not a self-stalker or anything – but) I get a lump in my throat whenever I hear Willie Nelson’s Stardust at the end of the episode. And then the improvised final tag, with the genuinely in-the-moment revelation of Newton Nash. I cherish the genuine laughs we have after that moment.

This episode was a lovely end to a lovely summer experience of creating six episodes of fun and foolishness.

07. Haunted Car Wash – Halloween Special

We just couldn’t leave well-enough alone, I guess. In late October of 1991, we attempted to recapture the magic of the summer with this half-hearted and too-contrived special Halloween edition of Island Roads. It’s a fairly weak effort, in my opinion, but it does have a few moments.

The nicest moment for me is hearing Chris Straw’s voice at the end of this one. I hadn’t listened to this episode for a long time, and I forgot Chris played a character in it. So, listening to this one just a day or two after I learned about his sudden and untimely death (which compelled me to make this post), I was so pleased to hear his voice. What a lovely experience that was, hearing him, and it brought back so many great memories.

If you’ve read, and listened, all the way to the bottom of this post, I hope you got even a fraction of the enjoyment out of these episodes that I did in creating them.

The European Experience

Diary of a five week trip through Great Britain and Europe in 1985 with Jean, Preston, Margie and Lee Smith – by Preston MacDonald

Sunday, May 5 – To Halifax

On May 5th, 1985, we left Halifax airport around 8:00 pm for London England. We touched down at Gander for a few minutes and then across the Atlantic. We landed at Heathrow Airport at 6:30 am local time

Monday, May 6 – In London

After going through customs, a Cosmos tour guide met us and took us into London by bus, a 12 or 15 mile drive. They dropped us off at Park Court hotel where we got our rooms for that night.

Park Court Hotel, by Kensington Gardens, London England

We then took a stroll through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park which were across from the hotel.   I would guess those parks would cover about 300 acres.   At one side of Kensington Gardens was the home, or Palace, of Prince Charles and Dianne.  On the opposite end, in Hyde Park, we stopped at “Speaker’s Corner”. There were about 8 groups there, scattered around, where someone would be speaking on a favorite subject.

We then took a sight-seeing double-decker bus tour of London.  We saw such places as the Royal Albert Hall, Westminster Abbey, House of Parliament, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and many more attractions. 

After the tour, we went back to the hotel. We retired early that night, as we had no sleep the night before.

Tuesday, May 7 – Sightseeing in London

We had to find our own way across Town to another Hotel, called Hotel Ryan. The four of us took a taxi, which cost 4 pounds, around $6.80 Canadian. Practically all the taxis in London are the same – black, with diesel engines, they are owned by the city of London, and are not allowed to take more than 4 people. The back seat is roomy, with 2 drop seats with your back to the driver. They have no trunk, there’s a space beside the driver for luggage. All taxis have meters. Anyway, we got to Hotel Ryan, checked into our rooms. Then we walked to nearby Kings Cross, one of many underground stations in London. We took the subway, or, as they call it there, the Underground, or Tube, and we went to downtown London.  On the way down, we stopped at Masonic Hall, a huge building where they hold Grand Lodge of England, and the Grand Master is always Royalty. 

Harrods, London

Our next stop was Harrods department store where we had lunch. After that we visited 3 museums – Albert, Geological and Science – a must, if ever in London! We then went back to our hotel for the night.

Wednesday, May 8 – London to Exeter

Our breakfast was delivered to our room this morning. In most of the hotels in England there is an electric kettle, with coffee, tea, milk and sugar supplied.  After breakfast we boarded our bus for the start of our Great Breton trip. It was a 52 passenger bus, air-conditioned, good sound system, cassette and radio, stereo system. 

Christina, our guide, talking to a passenger
Patrick, our driver, talking to 2 passengers

Our bus driver was Patrick, and our guide was Christina.   Our first stop was Hampton Court, a palace built in 1515. There was beautiful public gardens surrounding the Palace. It was where Henry VIII used to live.

Hampton Court Gardens

Our next stop was Salisbury, and we visited the Cathedral there. It was built in 1220, and it has the tallest tower in England, 400 feet high. We had lunch in the Church, where the Ladies of the Church were running the restaurant. After an hour’s stop, we moved on across the Salisbury plains, where we stopped at Stonehenge. Those stones are in a circle, each about 10  feet by 22 feet high. No one seems to know the true meaning of these stones – some think they were used to study Astronomy, and others believe they are for religious purposes. They are supposed to have been there for 4000 years.

Our next stop was a place called Fleet, an air-force training station and museum. Prince Charles trained there to be a helicopter pilot.   We arrived at Exeter at 6:00 pm, staying at Moat House Hotel for the night. 

Thursday, May 9 – Exeter to Bath

We drove through Dartmoor to the coastal city of Plymouth, (pop. 210,000). We took a  one hour boat tour up the harbour. This is a major Naval and shipping city, which was badly bombed during WW2. From there we went to Torquay, a beautiful seaside resort on the south of England. From there we went to the city of Bath. On the way, we passed Glastonbury where, the story goes, Joseph of Armathea founded England’s first Christian Church here. Others say Jesus lived here when He was a youth.

We arrived in Bath in the evening. Romans found warm springs here in the 1st century AD. A museum was built over the springs, where the water is warm enough to take a bath.  We stayed at nearby Limpley Stoke Hotel that night.

Limpley Stoke Hotel

Friday, May 10 – From Bath to Wales

On through Coyswold, famous for sheep, to Wor-cester (pop. 65,000), famous for porcelain and Worcester sauce.  

Friendly sheep in Wales

Next we went into beautiful Wales. [picture driving down a winding road, with lush, green fields on each side of the road, sloping to the base of  the beautiful mountains, with sheep and cattle grazing in the fields, and the bus stereo playing a Welsh male chorus singing Welsh songs and hymns]   

That night we stayed at a place called ‘Landrindod Wells’, at the ‘Glen Usk Hotel’. After dinner, in the lobby, there was a local man playing the accordion, and a number of people singing. We all had a great sing-song. 

Saturday, May 11 – Wales to Windermere

We drove through Welchpool, a very interesting yet typical old English town.

Jean, Margie and Lee walking down a path in Welchpool

From there through Horseshoe Pass, on to Chester, a very old city. We did some shopping here, then on to Windermere, beside the largest lake in England.  We stayed at Lowwood Motel. I only saw four Motels in all of England and Scotland.

Sunday, May 12 – Into Scotland

Entering Scotland

Arrived in Scotland around 10:00 am.  They played Scottish selections on the stereo. We drove up Kirkstone Pass to Moffat, where a large woolen mill is located. We shopped at a woolen store there and had lunch. There were about 20 buses stopped there. We then moved on past Glasgow and Loch Lomand, to Oban, a seaside resort where we stayed for the night. Our hotel room overlooked the beautiful bay. That evening, after dinner, we went to a Scottish concert at ‘Corran Hall’

Oban Bay, from our hotel room

Monday, May 13 – Oban to Portree

Another lovely, sunny day. We left Oban for Fort William, past Glencoe, where the MacDonalds were massacred by the Campbells in 1692. Soon we came in sight of Isle of Skye. We took the ¼ mile trip across.

The ferry held 2 buses and a dozen cars. Skye was a much more rugged country than we expected. With sheep grazing among the rocks and heather, we drove about 90 minutes to Portree, the capital of Skye. We had lunch here and headed back to the mainland. We stopped at Loch Ness for pictures. We didn’t see the monster!.  We continued on to Inverness and to Hotel Drumossi on the outskirts. After dinner we had a local singer entertaining us for a while. There were about 8 tour buses at that hotel that night.

Tuesday, May 14 – Portree to Perth

Bonnie Prince Charlie’s monument

Left the hotel at 8:00am, driving up past Culloden Moor, sight of the battle between the English and Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1746. Then down through Spey Valley, a famous area for whisky making, past Balmoral Castle built by Queen Victoria in 1854. We visited Craithe Church, the Church where Royalty worship when they are staying at Balmoral Castle. We stayed in the city of Perth for the night.

Wednesday, May 15 – A Day in Edinburgh

Lee, at Edinburgh Castle

A short drive to Edinburgh, where we spent all day and night. We visited Edinburgh Castle overlooking the city, spent an afternoon sightseeing, and took in a Scottish concert that night.

Thursday, May 16 – Back to England

Left Edinburgh and back to England again. Stopped at Abbotsford, home of Sir. Walter Scott, then to York  a medieval city. Visited York Minster Abbey,   stopped near Leeds for the night.

Friday, May 17 – Leeds to Warwick

Our first stop today was Coventry, a very old city and historic Cathedral. This is the city where Lady Godiva was supposed to ride her horse,  and also where Peeping Tom originated. This was Christina’s home (our tour guide). We then went to Stratford on Avon, and Ann Hathaway’s cottage.

Lee, Margie and Preston at Ann Hathaway’s cottage

She was William Shakespere’s wife in the 1500’s. We spent this night in Warwick. 

Saturday, May 18 – Back to London

On to Baldon, we saw where Sir Winston Churchill was buried, and also the church he worshiped in.

Where Sir Winston and his wife are buried

From there we went to Oxford, where we visited part of the University. After that we went to Windsor. We were in part of that huge Castle, also into one of Madam Tussauds wax museums.

This was an old railway station and Queen Victoria and her horsemen [they looked so real!]

We then went to London and Hotel Kennedy.   This was the end of the British tour. We had gotten to know all the other bus passengers by this time. There were 18 from USA, 12 from Australia, 4 from Vancouver, a lady Doctor from Montreal, and we 4 were the only Maritimers. 

We spent a quiet Sunday in London, as we were leaving the next day for Europe. On the British trip, about 30% of our trip was on 4 lane highways, the rest was on narrow back roads which were very scenic. We drove 2200 miles in 11 days. Every day the passengers on the right side moved ahead 2 rows  and on the left they moved back 2 rows. This gave everyone a variety of locations on the bus. When we would get to our hotel in the evenings, we stayed on the bus until our guide went in and got our room numbers and keys. That eliminated any confusion in the lobby. Our luggage would be left at our room door. Also we would leave it outside our room in the morning, and they would put it on the bus.

Monday , May 20 – To Europe

We left our hotel at 7:00 am and headed for Dover by bus, where we boarded a ferry and departed at 10:00 am for Ostend, Belgium. This trip took 4 hours, our European bus was waiting at Ostend. 

Geno, in front of his bus

Our driver was an Italian named Geno, and our guide was a little guy from Ireland named Edward. We put our watches ahead one hour when we got to Belgium at 4:00 pm. We started for Holland, up through Antwerp, and on to Amsterdam, to hotel Ibus for the night. Passing the airport, I noticed the highway goes under the runway at one spot.

Tuesday, May 21 – Belgium to Germany

We went to the city of Amsterdam (pop. 1 million). It goes back to the year 1300. This is where Rembrandt lived. We visited a museum and a diamond factory.

Sight-Seeing boat in Amsterdam

We took a one hour tour of the canals in a glassed in sightseeing boat which would seat about 100 people. Around 3 o’clock we started for Germany. We made a stop in Cologne, then went on to Bonn for the night. This is where Beethoven was born in 1770. It was the capital of west Germany.

Wednesday, May 22 – Bonn to Basle, Switzerland

We left Bonn and headed down the Autobahn along the Rhine.  We left the bus and took a cruise down the Rhine River.

The Rhine River, and one of the boats we were on

This passenger boat had three levels and would seat about 500 people. This was a very pretty trip, with mountains, vineyards, old Castles and small towns on both sides. The river is about a half mile wide and is a very busy shipping route. The river is 820 miles long, starting in Switzerland. This was a 2 hour trip. We were given a complementary drink of wine – some passengers had more than one, and they had upset stomachs when they got back to the bus. Our bus was waiting for us up the river. Back on the bus, we continued on past part of the Black forest, to Basle about the size of Halifax, which is in Switzerland. It borders Germany and France. From there we went to Lucerne for the night. The Alps are really beautiful. Our hotel was at the base of an 8,000 foot mountain

Thursday, May 23 – Lucerne, Switzerland

We drove to the city of Lucerne (pop. 100,000). We had a job to get a space to park in the parking lot which held at least 50 buses. We then took a boat ride in the Lucerne lake. This is a 44 square mile lake, and every minute the scenery was different. After that, we boarded the bus and headed into the mountains. We seemed to be climbing for half an hour when we came to the cable car station where we were going to the top of the mountain.A Gondula, on the trip to the top 

We first got into a 6 passenger ‘gondula’ and went two levels in this. Then we changed to a large cable car which held about 50 people, standing room only. We took 2 separate cable cars to the top, which was 10,000 feet high. We were passing snow covered mountains long before we reached the top. There was a large restaurant at the top, where we had a meal.

A view of the restaurant at the top

Outside was like a day in February. The trip up and down was very thrilling. We went back to our hotel for dinner, and after that they took us to a large hall where there were about 12 bus loads of tourists like ourselves, and they had what they called a Swiss evening. It was local entertainment singing, yodeling, and playing music. It was really an enjoyable evening.

Friday, May 24 – On to Innsbruck

We drove on through Switzerland to Liechtenstein, a country of its own (pop. 29,000)

A hotel in Liechtenstein, adjacent to Switzerland

We had lunch at Vaduz, its capital, at an outside café. They have a deal with Switzerland where they use Swiss franc as their currency. We then headed for Austria. We went through a mountain tunnel, nine miles long. We stopped at Innsbruck, and had a guided walking tour  of the city. We went to our hotel, which was 10 miles out, and had dinner. Then we were bused back to Innsbruck where we had another evening similar to the one we had in Switzerland the night before. The Austrians do some yodeling too. Innsbruck is in the Tyrol province of Austria, and this is where they had the winter games back in 1976.

Saturday, May 25 – To Italy

We headed for Italy today, through the beautiful Brenner Pass. The highway reaches a height of 4,500 feet with a 4 lane highway through here. Our first stop in Italy was Cortina. This is a resort town in the heart of the Dolomite Mountains, which are probably even prettier then the Alps.  We had our first Italian meal in Cortina. Later we left the mountains and traveled through quite a level area until we reached the Venice area where we got our hotel for the next two nights.

After dinner we went by bus to Venice which was about 20 miles away. When we came in sight of Venice we pulled into a large parking lot. It probably covered 200 acres.  We went to a wharf where we boarded a  ‘watertaxi’ – a large boat that held 2 or 3 hundred people.  We sailed down to the opposite side of Venice where there were some ocean-going ships tied up.  We were let off at a wharf and our guide took us on a walking tour of the city. There were about forty of us in the group. There were thousands of people moving about, so we had to stay together. The streets are about five to ten feet wide. There are absolutely no cars in Venice, so the only way to move about is to walk or by boat. Local car owners leave their cars in the park I mentioned earlier. There are hundreds of canals and footbridges  here. We ended up at a night spot, or ‘Gratto’ as they called it, where there were some Italians singing and playing music.  A couple of hours later we made the return trip back to the hotel.

Sunday, May 26 – A Day in Venice

This morning we went back to Venice and had guided tours of some historic places. Also visited a glass blowing factory. They gave us a demonstration on blowing glass, which was very interesting. After lunch, we took a gondola trip in the canals.

A few of many gondola’s in Venice

There were six people to each boat, and six boats took our group – we more or less traveled together. There was an accordion player and a singer on one boat.  Each man owns his own gondola, and they all have to be the same size and color – black, with gold trimmings. After a couple of hours of sightseeing, we returned to our hotel for the night.

Monday, May 27 – Roman Holiday

We headed south for Rome. On the way, we stopped in the republic of San Marino. This is the smallest country in Europe – twenty four square miles in size with a population of 23,000. The Capital, San Marino, is situated on top of a mountain. It still has the old fortification walls around it, but the bus was able to drive to the top. We did some shopping, and had lunch here. Continuing on, we stopped at a hotel about twenty miles from Rome. We stayed at this hotel for three nights. 

Later we went into Rome and had a two hour tour of the city, then to an Italian restaurant for a five course dinner and entertainment.

Tuesday, May 28 – The Vatican

We went back to Rome and visited the Vatican and St. Peters square and Cathedral. This is the largest Cathedral in the World, with the dome over 400 feet high.

Ceiling of the Sistene Chapel, Vatican

There has been a Basilica here since the fourth century. In the fifteen hundreds, they hired Michelangelo to re-model it. His old Testament paintings cover hundreds of feet in the Sistine Chapel ceiling and other places. Looks like it was done 10 or 20 years ago instead of almost five hundred. The Vatican has used Swiss guards there since 1505. They are the Pope’s personal guards. They look nice in their orange, yellow and red uniforms.

Wednesday, May 29 – Rome to Tivoli

We went back to Rome again, we visited the ancient Coliseum.

Jean, Margie,Lee, at the Coliseum in Rome

It was built between 72 and 80 A.D., and once could hold 50,000 spectators, but is now in a semi state of ruin. Then we went to the ‘catacombs’ – those are burial places of the early Christians. They are 20 to 65 feet below ground level and cover about six hundred acres. We only toured part of it. There were narrow passages about 3 feet wide and 6 or 7 feet high going every which way, and shelves cut into the sides where once the bodies were sealed in. They used this until the 5th century but by the 8th century most of them were moved to cemeteries. 

Next we went to Tivoli, near Rome.

One of the many beautiful fountains in Trivoli

This city has beautiful gardens and all kinds of fountains on the side of a gradual sloping mountain. They have been there for hundreds of years and operate by the natural force of water from the Anien river.  We later had dinner at a place where 3 Italians entertained us with singing and accordion music.

Thursday, May 30 – Florence

Today we drove north to Florence (pop. ½ million). There was a parking space designated for buses along the river Arno, and there was at least a half mile of buses parked there. This is a World famous cultural city, with many museums of paintings and statues – Dante, for one. We saw a lot of sidewalk shops here, and we also visited a leather factory here where Jean bought a purse for herself.

Friday, May 31 – Nice to Monaco

Today we head for Nice, we stopped at the Square of Miracles in Pisa and saw The Leaning Tower.

The tower was closed then, but has since opened. They thought it might tip over, and later was reinforced.

On past Genoa (pop. 1 million). We took the autostrada (super-highway) north, through the Apennines mountains, [and I mean through them]. We went through one hundred and seventy one tunnels in four hours. Each 2 lane tunnel had another tunnel beside it going in the opposite direction. They were from a thousand feet to 1 mile in length, and each one had its length posted  before entering. Finally we reached the French Riviera and to our hotel in Nice. After dinner we went to Monaco, where we visited the famous “Monte Carlo”, tried some of the ‘one armed bandits’. The people of Monaco are the only people who are not allowed to gamble there.

Saturday, June 1 – More Monaco

We went back to Monaco. This, I think, was the prettiest  place on our tour. 

Lee, Margie and Jean in Monaco

We visited Prince Rainier’s Castle, also saw where Princess Grace was buried.

We visited this Church, where Princess Grace lies.

We watched the ‘changing of the guards’  there, had lunch, and enjoyed the view. 

The view from seven hundred feet above the city and marina. 

We then went back to nearby Nice for the night.

Sunday, June 2 – From Nice to Lyon

We headed inland this morning, stopping at Grasse, where we visited a perfume factory. Jean bought some perfume there. We then drove up the Rhone valley to Auigon. This old city had a 20 foot wall around it. We went to the center area where there were lots of side-walk cafés. We had lunch at one of them. One land-mark there was a part of a 12th century bridge that was partly blown up during a war and was left in that state, half way across the river Rhone.

Continued up the rich, vineyard growing valley to Lyon for the night. This city has half a million people. We saw an Esso refinery on the outskirts. There was a Roman Colony here in 43  B.C.

Monday, June 3 – Into Paris

We passed through Beaune and Burgundy, famous wine making centers, and on to Paris (pop. 13 million). We got settled in our hotel, and that evening, the bus took us on a sight seeing tour of Paris. We went to a Cabaret near Molin Rouge, and saw a live show. 

Tuesday, June 4 – Paris and Versailles

In to Paris for more sights. We first went to Notre Dame Cathedral. It took 67 years to build, from 1163 to 1230. One round, stained glass window in the Church was 50 feet in diameter.  We then went to the Eiffel Tower, which is 1000 feet high.

It was built in 1889. Usually one can go right to the top, but this day we only got up 400 feet, as the elevators were not working on the top levels.

After lunch we went to Versailles, outside of Paris. This is a huge palace built by Louis XIV in 1661. We had a guided tour through the historic rooms. The city of Versailles grew around this palace, which has a pop. of 1 million. It’s now time to go back to our hotel.

Wednesday, June 5 – Paris and The Louvre

Back into Paris, went to the Louvre, the famous Art museum, built in 1202 as a fortress palace.

Reconstructed after 1541 as a museum by Napoleon, it’s got room after room of treasured Art, including the ‘Mona Lisa’. A guard was stationed in front of it at all times. In the evening we went to a dine and dance hall, where we had dinner, entertainment, and dancing. All the guests there were passengers from five Cosmo’s tours. 

Thursday, June 6 – Paris to London

We left Paris, headed for Calais. Part of this trip reminded us of PEI – sort of red earth, and potato growing country. We passed the Vimy Canadian  Memorial Monument near Arras. Would like to have stopped there, but it wasn’t in the plans.

We took the ferry across the English channel to Dover. This crossing took 90 minutes, much shorter than going over. An English bus was waiting for us at Dover and took us back to London and the Royal Scott hotel.

Friday, June 7 – Westminister Abbey and Wax

Took a taxi back to Park court hotel for our last two nights in London. From there we took the underground to Westminster Abby, and other places of interest. From there, after lunch, to Madam Tussauds wax museum and Planetarium.

Saturday, June 8 – Buckingham Palace

We went to Buckingham Palace where they were having a rehearsal of the trooping of the colors, which was taking place a week later.

We didn’t see the Queen.  It was a nice parade, with foot guards and riding guards. There were over 200 horses in it.

This is the “Canada” gate at Buckingham Palace.

Windsor Castle

In the afternoon we went to a London transport Museum – old double decker buses and other means of transportation of the past. After that, to a huge outdoor market – sort of like a flea market, each one had their own corner. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a pub and had dinner – lots to eat, and reasonable.

Margie, Lee and Jean on a street near Windsor Castle

On our European tour, we had a lovely bunch of people. There were 23 from USA. 16 from Canada, 5 Australians, 2 Cubans, 2 from India, 2 Japanese, and 2 Malaysians, all were very friendly.

Sunday, June 9 – Heathrow, Halifax and Home

Cosmos bus picked us up at the hotel and took us to Heathrow airport where we got a flight back to Halifax and Home, and a happy ending to a much enjoyed trip.

A Winner From PE

I just got off the phone after spending an enjoyable 25 minutes talking with a spam caller. Before I picked up, my phone told me this was likely a spam call. He called twice, actually. The first time was when I was just pulling up to the pay window at my local Tims. I only managed a “hello” before I hung up because I had to use my phone to pay for my coffee. His realization that he got through to an actual human must have prompted the immediate call back from him. I was going to just block the number, but I was in a good mood so I thought I’d see what this was all about while I drove myself home.

Right away, I had been informed by John that I was the winner of $425,000, and he needed to know that I would be home tomorrow so UPS could give me the cheque. I spent the first few minutes after this query hemming and hawing about not being sure if I would be home as I didn’t know my schedule yet because my boss was in the hospital and wasn’t able to send me the work schedule. So I can’t say if I’ll be home tomorrow, and I hope that doesn’t mean I won’t get my winnings. John tried several different tactics to get me to state that I would be home tomorrow, but none of them worked on me as I remained unsure and uncommital about that.

“I wish I could be definitive about that, John, whether I’ll be at home at any point tomorrow, but with the situation with my boss, I just can’t.”

I asked John if there was a number I could call back to, once I knew what my work schedule was and whether I would be home tomorrow or not. He said what he could do was call me again tomorrow morning and at that time verify whether I’d be home or not. I agreed this would be a fine solution to that issue.

I asked John where he was calling from and he said “Saint John, New Brunswick, and you’re in PE.” I laughed out loud at this.

“What’s PE stand for?” I asked. He didn’t understand the question. After a couple more attempts from me to get him to say what PE was for, he caught on a bit and said “Like AB stands for Alberta and OH stands for Ohio, do you understand?”

“Yes, I understand perfectly. So what does PE stand for?”

After a momentary pause, “It’s your state.”

I spent the next couple of minutes chastising the Saint John educational system if it turns out students like John who didn’t even know that in Canada we don’t have states, and who couldn’t even tell me what PE stood for, even though PE and his home province of NB were neighbours. I felt a bit wary giving him this vital information regarding the difference between states and provinces because I was aware that he could probably use this newly-gained information on future scam calls. “Yes, ma’am, I’m calling from Saint John New Brunswick which is a province in our country of Canada, and not a state!” After a few more attempts to get him to tell me what PE stood for, and him not understanding and/or obfuscating his ignorance, he moved on to the crux of his phone call.

He said in order to receive the cheque from UPS, I’d need to go to WalMart or Walgreens or a similar store and purchase a $500 Vanilla Gift Card and have that on hand when the UPS delivery arrived. (I assume the scam is that I get another phone call on the day saying the delivery is postponed or something and then they ask me, over the phone, the serial code or whatever on the Vanilla Gift Card, which is how they make their money?) I said I didn’t understand why I needed to buy a $500 gift card in order to receive the package from UPS. He gave me a couple of vague reasonings like “It’s the way we have the contract set up with UPS” until he gave me the reason “It’s for the taxes on your winnings”.

I politely explained to him how I don’t think this is true because it was my understanding that in Canada we don’t pay taxes on prize winnings. I asked John if he could verify, for a fact, whether we in Canada do need to pay taxes on winnings, and if so, then I guess it makes sense that the $500 was to go towards paying the taxes on the winnings. He said that this was, in fact, the very reason for his need for me to purchase the $500 dollar Vanilla Gift Card.

I said “I don’t know. Something sounds a bit fishy about all this. Is this some sort of scam or something, John?”

He profusely assured me in no uncertain terms that this was in no way a scam, that it was legitimate, and he was just trying to make sure that I received my $425,000 cheque from UPS.

Stating that I guess I have no choice but to believe him, I then spent a few minutes trying to ascertain from John how it came about that I won $425,000 in a contest that I did not even enter. His explanation involved lines about how i should have received a notice in the mail, and did I ever hear about Clearing House, and since I hadn’t received a notice in the mail, he would send one to me right away once he went into the office first thing tomorrow morning.

But the one thing he still needed to know for sure was whether I’d be home tomorrow for the UPS delivery. I again expressed my uncertainty in that regard and offered to give him my boss’s private phone number so John could ask him about my schedule but I couldn’t guarantee he’d even answer because the cell-phone reception in the hospital is pathetic.

Before he could answer or respond I told him that I knew this was a scam call, I knew all along, that I was just wasting a few minutes in my morning playing along, and that he really needed to up his game and do a bit more research about the country he was pretending to be from.

He again profusely stated this was not a scam call, that I had won the prize, and that if I didn’t want the money there wasn’t anything he could do about that (he was getting irritated now) and reiterated how I needed to go to WalMart and purchase a $500 Vanilla Gift Card.

I cut him off. “Name one business in Saint John.” “What?” “You said you’re in Saint John New Brunswick, so tell me the name of one business that exists in Saint John.”

There was a long pause. I was willing to continue on with this phone call, as I was enjoying the experience, but at this point, Karyn came out to the car (I was now parked in the driveway), ready to take it to church.

So I hung up. And I guess I will not get the $425,000 I won from Clearing House.

This guy wasn’t the best at his job, but he had self-assuredness and enough answers to basic questions to sound like he could know what he was talking about. But he got quite flustered when he got caught out in obvious lies.

I can see how people get conned by phone calls like this. But please, please, please, if you do answer such calls, always go into them under the expectation that every word is a lie. Don’t give out any personal information. If the call is legit (it’s not. It never is. Never), they would make sure your safety and security is a priority. No legitimate organization will make you pay them money – certainly not in gift cards – in order to receive an unsolicited prize.

Do not fall for this shit!!

The Salesteam

Way back when, a century ago, I began a job as Creative Writer for radio on PEI. I started either in 1998 or 1999. I believe it was ‘99. That is not really important to this post, Rob.

I wrote with two other writers, Rod McGrattan – whom I’d continue working with until a few years ago when our jobs became redundant, and Cynthia King (Dunsford, at the time), who left the job a couple years after I started, to pursue other interests.

In those early days, when we had some down time, we’d play around on Microsoft Paint, each taking turns on either creating our own individual pieces of art, or working collectively on projects. One such collective piece was an attempt to capture the essences of our radio salesteam.

Here is the result, printed out on photo paper and left in the sun too long to fade and get dirty and such:

Diary of a Milk Maid

January 1

Dearest Mother, I have arrived at my new employ! It is a wondrous country home with lovely gardens and vast acreage. I have only briefly met Sir and his only instruction to me was “Milk your cow daily and when the time comes, do My Love’s bidding.” I was then brought to meet the cow from which I am to extract the daily dairy. A lovely enough beast. I have named her Abigail.

As I said to you before I left home for this mysterious new employment, a lot is not known about the situation in which I now find myself. My understanding was that I was to be Sir’s solitary milk-maid. However, when I was shown where my lodgings would be – a small cottage adjacent to the barns – I was most surprised to find another seven young ladies there within. They are all, like me, newly-arrived and we are all hired as milk maids, each with our own personal cow. The cottage, as such, is going to be rather cramped but the girls seem nice enough, and I am sure we all will get along quite well. Still, it was a surprise to discover an entire cottage of milk maids, each responsible for only one cow. Surely, one, or at most, two of us could handle the responsibility. Oh well, I anticipate that I may have a bit of free time on my hands each day once the milking is done. I hope to explore more of the grounds tomorrow. Love to you and Father, and of course the siblings!

January 2

Dearest Mother, Abigail is a peach of a cow! She gives her milk freely and easily, and is not shy with her quantity. I am sure Sir will be pleased with the output. Speaking of Sir, I was informed by Cath, one of the other milk maids – and this is just rumour and gossip, but who doesn’t like stories, eh – that apparently Sir is madly in love with a young lady, and has been regaling her with gifts these past few days. He is so sweet! I admit, I am envious of his love, and I cannot wait to meet her, when the opportunity arises!

After my morning milking duties were completed, I had opportunity to peruse the surroundings of the home. There is a lovely large lake, in which a dozen or more swans reside. I was told these swans, like me, are newly arrived to the estate. They are gifts for the young lady, I’m told. She must be fond of swans, because as I was there at the side of the lake, another seven swans had just arrived. So many swans! The lake can barely contain them all. Perhaps she is a bird lover. She must be, as the entire estate, actually, is rather flooded with all manner of fowl. There are no less than two dozen geese, just wandering about the yards. We maids are not sure whether the geese are in fact the present Sir’s given to his lady, or if it’s the eggs they lay each day. I wouldn’t be surprised if, with all these geese wandering about and laying eggs, my duties will soon include collecting those eggs along with milking Abigail.

After I returned to the cottage from my tour of the estate, i was very much surprised to see another eight milk maids had been hired. Each responsible for her own milk cow. They too, will be living in the sam cottage, and that is going to mean tight quarters indeed! There already were not enough beds for the first eight of us, so it looks like doubling and tripling of beds will be required. After a quick chat with one of the new girls, I understand that this new lot were also hired as milk maids for Sir’s love. Why on Earth she needs so many of us is anybody’s guess. Oh well, the pay is fair enough, the job is easy, and we’re all fed three full meals, so despite the close quarters, no complaints from me! After all, I do remember Father’s oft recited admonishment: “A Young Maid who complains becomes a complaining Old Maid!”

Cath told me that these new maids aren’t the only new arrivals today. Nine ladies have also been brought to the estate. Cath says she heard Sir’s only demand of them is that they dance – at least once a day – for his love. I am slowly painting a mental picture of this love interest! It seems she is fond of fowl and the arts! A few of the girls from the cottage snuck up to the main house and peeked into a window, and sure enough, there they were. Nine ladies in a room, all dressed in fineries, and it seemed they were practicing what looks like a Morris dance. it seems Sir really does love this girl, to be hiring all these dancers! At least they won’t be living in the cottage with us, as they, being ladies, will remain in the Great House.

January 3

Dearest Mother. Guess what? When me and the other girls got back to the cottage this morning after milking our cows, what sight befell us but another eight young girls, just sitting at the cottage table. “What are you lot doing”, asked Cath. They said they were the new milk maids. What in the Heavens is going on, Mother? There are now two dozen of us supposed to be shacked up here in this little cottage building! I didn’t know what to make of it, so I had to get away for a bit. Went down to the lake just in time to see another half-dozen or so new swans being uncrated. More geese too! So many geese eggs!

And that’s not all! Remember when I said this love of Sir’s must be fond of fowl? Well, I have seen with mine own eyes, that gaggle of geese, upwards of thirty blackbirds which he keeps in a barn, maybe two dozen hens, a dozen or more doves, and, at last count, nine newly planted pear trees, each containing its own partridge. The partridges are each chained to its tree. And I’m told that a new lot of each of these birds arrives every day. I know it’s called a gaggle of geese, but what do you call a group of two dozen milk maids crammed into a tiny cottage? I claim it should be called “An Uncomfortable of Maids”. And this is all for his love? I don’t understand?

January 4

Mother, I guess I may have made a mistake, agreeing to take on this position. Another eight maids have shown up this morning, each with a cow in tow. The barn is over-run with cattle, and our cottage is far too overcrowded to even be called uncomfortable. More ladies showed up, too, for more dancing. And almost a dozen men! They call themselves Lords, but I don’t see how even one Lord would hire himself out to Sir, let alone ten of them! And get this, Mother. Their job, these “Lords” is to jump around. Yes. In amongst the – what is it now? – 18 dancing ladies, there are ten men just jumping around. And it’s not ballet. There’s no talent in their jumping. At least, not that I could see from my vantage point peeking in through the window. Plus, more birds have, of course, arrived on the premises. The whole place has gone quite mad! I dare not write this, Mother, for fear of it being seen by the wrong eyes, but I am starting to think Sir is more than a bit touched in the head. I am starting to wonder if there even is a True Love upon which he is bestowing these gifts. I am thinking I might steal away in the night sometime soon, and return home.

January 5

Okay. I want to come home, Mother. More maids today of course! More everything today!! Sir came down to the cottage today, and asked how we maids were getting along. Over 30 of us in that tiny cottage room, four or five to a bed, and he has the gaul to ask us how we’re getting along? Cath asked him, point blank, if there’d be an incresase in how much food each of us would be given as provisions seem to have been rationed pretty thin now that there’s so many of us. Sir said he’d look into it, and asked us to be patient as all this would be worth it in the end, once his true love arrives tomorrow to see all the wonderful gifts he’s gotten her. She has no idea he’s been doing this for her, and I really think he’s going to be shocked -and not in a good way – when she sees all of this. Why, even the shit alone is monumental!

I have also started wondering – worrying, if I am honest, Mother – what all this means for when Sir’s True Love arrives. Am I to then be automatically become employed by her, or will I still be under Sir’s direction? I assume it to be Sir as I imagine he’s the one who will be paying all the bills, as they say. Still, whose commands do I take heed of? Sirs, or hers? Oh well, I am sure it will all become quite apparent in due time. Perhaps I will ask the question of the other Uncomfortables tonight before we go to sleep.

I had some down time today. Of course I did, because all I have to do is milk Abigail once a day. I’m still waiting for the shoe to drop and Sir tells me that he’s increasing my daily duty list, but it hasn’t happened. Seems he’s adamant about us all to remain purely as, in his words, “Maids a-Milking”. Honestly, Mother, I’d be afraid to be alone with him! But there’s no chance of that, as the whole estate is just teaming with birds and even more lady dancers and another crew of jumping men having just today arrived. I mean, what did Sir even do? Put a notice in the newspaper asking if any young men were availble to be hired as jumpers?

Anyway, I had some down time, and I was trying to find a quiet space just to think and figure out what in the world is even happening. I was on a knoll behind the barn when a couple of the dancing ladies on their break came up to me, bummed a smoke. We got to conversing, and they confided in me that the two of them weren’t even Ladies. And neither were any of the other 30 or so dancers. They were all hired from various theatres and burlesques. Sir demanded that they pretend they were Ladies of Repute, especially when being interrogated – they said that was the word he used – “interrogated” – by his love when she arrives tomorrow. That caused my heart to skip a beat or two, Mother, as I am now even more wondering what kind of situation I have gotten myself involved. We three were just getting into a conversation about that very topic and others – for instance, one was saying how she heard every day a delivery of gold rings arrives. Five or six at a time, and Sir just puts them all in a drawer in the kitchen. Anyway, we were ruminating about that when we hear an ungodly din coming from the front of the Great House. We, and the rest of us employees – the maids, the ladies and lords – all rush to where the terrible noise is coming from. And sure enough. It’s eleven bag-pipers. Each one playing a different song, Mother! All wearing different tartans! It terrified the swans and geese. The partridges tried to fly off their pear trees, but of course they’re chained to them.

January 6

Mother, I ask you this: what could be worse than eleven bagpipers each playing a different tune, all the day long, non stop? The answer it turns out, is another eleven pipers joining them the next day, again, each playing a different song, and then being assualted by even more noise as a dozen drummers show up on the scene, each hitting his drum in a different tempo it seems. Sir hires almost two dozen bagpipers and a dozen drummers and doesn’t even think to hire even one conductor? Whatever the definition of chaos is, I have heard it today with my own ears!

There are rumours starting to percolate around the estate that Sir is perhaps running out of money, due to the extravagant cost of this undertaking. I believe this might be the case, as it would explain the ruse asked of the fake-ladies, along with the less-than-artistic jumpers, and the cacophonous noises emenating from the pipers and drummers. I don’t think they are actually musicians at all! All I know is I got paid my wage each day so far, and as long as that continues I shall be considered content.

This is it, Mother! The day True Love is to arrive!!

So, let me set the scene for you, Mother. Sir told us all early this morning that his True Love is arriving today, and we are all – everyone and everything he’s hired and bought – we are all, directly after lunch, to meet outside the front of the Great House so all her gifts will be there as she steps out of the carriage. He is so excited! I am so afraid of him! It is just dawning on me now, Mother, that he considers me a gift for his True Love. Don’t you find that a bit odd? I should take a closer look at that contract i signed, before I go to sleep tonight.

So, he has these twelve pear trees – they were originally planted in a back field but he’s had them transplanted just today onto the gravel drive. They are placed in no apparent pattern around the yard. Each with a madly sqwacking partridge chained to it’s main branch. These partridges are not happy! There are no pears on any of the trees, it should also be noted. Then, in six wooden crates – again, seemingly set in a haphazard fashion – he has jsut over 20 doves imprisoned. Which doesn’t even make sense why he’d have them in these crates because I was told he had their wings clipped so they wouldn’t fly away. At this point, i was just glad he hadn’t put a ball and chain around my leg to force me to stay in this increasingly mad situation!

While I was standing there with Abigail, amongst the 40 of us maids and cows, just waiting for his True Love to arrive, I tried to count the hens that were ambling about and I think there were maybe 30 of them. And by the way, were I his True Love, I’d be perfectly happy with hen eggs from all these hens instead of having to deal with the over 40 geese he had held in a pen he’d had built there in the drive for this special occasion. For the 40 or so swans he had a large moat dug out in the drive and filled with water. Honestly, it ruins the landscape. It was just finished, so the water was basically just mud. He had wanted the swans “a-swimming” – his word, but they were basically just barely floating. Maybe he’d clipped their wings too? Do swans even fly, Mother? Maybe you could ask Father. Oh, and also, could you ask him to come save me from this madman? Cath said the swans were so docile because Sir had drugged them all with some sort of potion. Yes, I have just decided I will no longer eat or drink anything for the rest of my duration here, until I saw the effects it would have on any of the other hundred maids, fake-ladies and lords, drummers and bagpipers here assembled.

What else? Oh, the 30 or 40 blackbirds he had captive in a large cage. One of the two dozen pipers, when they weren’t blaring their infernal racket, an obvious self-satisfied know-it-all, stated they were “calling birds”, but one of the, at last count, 30 gentlemen hired to jump around, said that was incorrect and that they are Colly birds, or simple blackbirds.

So we’re all there, assembled, and the moment is about to happen. Sir’s True Love is about to arrive. Sir runs into the Great House, and returns with what must have been 40 or so rings. He’s carrying them in his hands, and runs up to a pedestal upon which is a red velvet pillow. He roughly tosses these 40 gold rings onto the pillow, as we see the carriage approaching. I must admit, despite the strangeness of this whole affair, I found myself giddy with anticipation as to what was about to transpire!

Sir kneels down on one knee and instructs the 20 or so bagpipers to start bagpiping. They do, as dischordant as before. Did nobody think to get together and decide upon one song? Is Sir absolutley tone deaf? He also instructs the drummers to begin to beat their instruments, and each, like a petulent child takes it upon themselves to go with their own rhythm. “Ladies dance!” Sir bellows. “Lords, get to a-leaping!” And they do.

The carriage approaches.

Sir looks over to the 40 of us maids. “Well,” he yells, in a surprisingly angry tone, “get a-milking!!” He then looks back at the ever-closer carriage. We girls look around at each other. It was, like, two in the afternoon. Our cows had already been milked in the morning. In some kind of silent solidarity, we all decide to get behind our individual and docile beasts and mime the “a-milking”. I made sure to situate myself so that I could see everything as it happened.

The carriage came to a stop just in front of the still-kneeling Sir, beside his pedestal of golden rings. The curtains of the carriage drawn.

I see a pair of eyes peek out from behind the drawn curtains of the carriage window. Then the curtains open and the face of Sir’s True Love is seen, as she takes in the madness that is Sir’s demented love for her.

I see her cover her ears to protect herself from the noise of the pipers and drummers. I see her look over to the muddy moat of lethargic swans. To a few of the partridges chained within the fruitless pear trees; to the mass of fake ladies dancing around on the gravel drive, clearly needing much more practice before whatever they were doing could be construed as dancing. She takes in the two dozen men in tights, agressively jumping and leaping into the air as they run around.

She turns her head towards us milk maids, and I manage to catch her eye. I smile and nod my head. She does not smile and does not nod her head. Just as I expected. She turns her gaze towards the pedestal of golden rings, a couple of which have since fallen onto the drive way.

Finally, her gaze attends her suitor. This man who must have spent a literal fortune to show this young lady just how deep his True Love is. A gesture so grand, and so pure, that I would not be surprised that it were not one day celebrated in song. Their eyes lock onto each other’s. They remain locked as he rises, stands at his full height, and holds out his hand towards her.

It’s a moment that seems to last forever! The eternity of true love’s blooming, I suppose. A love that even inspires the poetical to come out of me it appears!

As they gaze, I see a smile appear on her lips. The subtlest little taste of a smile I ever did see. Then I see her mouth words that I can only surmise were “Driver. Drive on” as she drew the carriage window curtains closed.

Then the carriage jolted to a start as the two horses were hutted into action. And the carriage rolled its way back down the long drive.

After standing there, the jilted lover, for what seemed like another eternity, this time because of the infernal noise still emenating from the pipers and drummers, Sir finally turned to us all. After shushing the musicians to a quiet, and imploring the dancers and jumpers to refrain from their movmentts, Sir asked us, rather politely, I should note, if it would be okay, us having witnessed the calamity that only moments ago befell his heart, if it would be okay if we were all summarily released from our duties and contracts, and would it be okay if were were not paid for this final day of servitude.

None of us felt it our right to take anything else from this mad, mad, sad, and mad man, and all agreed to null and void said contracts.

So, Mother, if you would, could you ask Father if he’d be able to send for me the means to return home? I have been gifted three of the hens. They are French, apparently. I was also offered two swans, but felt it best to decline them.

An Old Christmas Card from Mom

There wasn’t a lot of music in our house when I was growing up. We had a few records and a phonograph player, but I don’t remember them being played that much. The radio would be on most of the time, and that’s where we’d hear music. Sometimes, but not very often, there would be live singing. Almost exclusively by my Mother.

Every so often, Mom would get the urge to grab the guitar, and a bit more often, she’d play the organ. And she’d play and sing. I always thought she had a lovely, sweet, soft voice, but I don’t think she thought much of it. She’d always seem to sing shy, it seemed.

I’m so glad we have a few clips of her singing. I don’t listen to them very often. But when I do, they bring me right back to my childhood. And, yeah, they make me miss her a whole bunch, and I get sad that she’s not around. But sometimes it feels good to feel sad. Listening to these songs is a good sad. Much better than not having them at all.

As it’s Christmas Eve, here’s my Mom. Jean Emily (Hume) MacDonald, playing guitar and singing An Old Christmas Card.

A Round Eight Knockout Punch of Intimidation

I was asked recently, quite out of the blue, “what is the most intimidated you’ve ever felt in a room full of writers/arts people?”

It took me only a moment to come up with an experience, as I realize I molded almost my entire artistic career in a way that ensured I never found myself in a room full of writers/arts people. That mold also ensured that i never found myself in a room with an extra dollar in my pocket.

So I don’t have a lot of experiences for my mind to Rolodex through. But there was one time when I did find myself in a room. With arts people. And I did end up feeling intimidated.

Let me take you back to Charlottetown. Mid-September 1991. John A. MacDonald was still very much a man to look up to. It would be another few years, in fact, until a gang of young men, barely pubescent, would look up to him so much, to the extent that they’d take to strutting around the summertime streets of Charlottetown dressed in replica costumes of 1864 fineries, calling themselves “The Fathers of Confederation”. It would be another couple of years before they felt compelled to add Mothers, Wives and Daughters of Confederation to the mix as well. And another 29 or so years until a drunken lad decides to vandalize the statue of a bench-sitting MacDonald and in the quick sobriety that followed, claim it to be an act of social conscienceness. How far we’ve come!!

1991. PEI Tourism was focused almost entirely on one entity. Anne of Green Gables. The idea of promoting Island golf courses to the world was not even on the horizon.

I was merely a few years into my independent theatre *ahem* career *ahem*. I was asked to take part, as a reader/actor, in a day-long dramaturgy reading of a new play by a writer I hadn’t heard of, nor do I remember today who it was. It might have been a screenplay.

The workshop was being held in a conference room at The Confederation Centre of the Arts. But it wasn’t hosted by them. It might have been a PARC thing. PARC is, I’m guessing, the Playwrights Atlantic Resource Council, and they’re still a thing. They’ve asked me to join their community a few times, but scroll up and read paragraph two again.

I was pleased to be asked to take part, and I was a bit nervous walking into the room. I took comfort in recognizing a number of the faces, and people seemed to accept me as legitimately being there. We sat around a big, long table – maybe 8 to 12 people – mostly actors, plus the writer, a dramaturge, a stage manager type assistant. Maybe a couple of observers.

Many of the actors were from that year’s Charlottetwon Festival. You know. “Real Actors”. Most with training, some with longevity. The air of triple threats hung in the room. And here was I, a big nobody really, whose claim to fame was not yet evident. It was September, so I would have just wrapped the first low, low, low budget season of Annekenstein. I assume it was the burgeoning cache from that which was the reason I was asked to take part in the workshop.

As a workshop, it must have had at least a little bit of money behind it, because the scripts were bound with those brass rivet-type binder thingies. The scripts I was used to were hand-written on yellow foolscap. And there were at least two trays of muffins and an urn of coffee. Were I a person who cared about such riches, I surely would have thought that I had “Made It!” But I was more a rebellious punk who believed that comforts such as food and drink and scripts bound with those brass rivet-type binder thingies were the things that separated true artists from those who sold out and made paycheques while being well-lit on stages that gullible tourists would flock to see. No sir. Give me a too-small room with a leaky ceiling and too-expensive rent with folding metal chairs for 30 audience members to sit upon upon rickety risers, and let me call that a theatre!! That’s where REAL art is being made! Real art like our children’s play knock-off of Robert Munsch’s “The Paperbag Princess”.

What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that, sitting there, in that room, I felt a bit like an imposter, in amongst real, serious, professional theatah people.

And while that was a bit intimidating, I could handle it well enough. They were all lovely people, and I always thought I did a pretty good job with cold-reading things. So I felt that I belonged.

What I had a harder time handling – and the element that turned this into a next-level intimidating experience – was that one of the characters I was asked to read was Jamaican, and I was to attempt to inhabit a Jamaican patois.

I don’t know if you know me, or if you’ve seen me. But I’m not Jamaican. I don’t sound Jamaican. I shouldn’t ever be attempting Jamaican accents. I’d be more attuned to portraying white Canadian guy.

When this was revealed to the room, that I was to read the Jamaican character, I could see a reaction on many of my fellow actors’ faces. A couple of reactions, actually. One was “thank god I’m not doing that”. Another was a very specific look, which I will attempt to describe here.

Imagine you’ve made a big bet on a sporting event. Like a boxing match. A big enough bet that, should you lose, your spouse will know because there’ll be no money left in the bank account. So, huge stakes. Imagine you’re there, at the event, and you’ve bragged to those around you about the big bet you’ve made. These people also know, because of your big mouth, especially when you drink – and right now you’re pretty well sauced – of your troubled relationship at home, and how your spouse is already ready to leave you – you know that, even though it’s unsaid – you can see it in their eyes. In fact, you tell the crowd, you believe they’ve already left you. Not in a physical sense, because you still sleep together in the same bed. But in a spiritual sense. You know this in the way they toss the plate of scrambled eggs down on the table in front of you at breakfast. You can see it in the way they look past you, not at you, and you assume they’re likely daydreaming of a better life. A life that doesn’t contain you. So, even though you know your relationship is over, you still believe, somewhere deep inside you, that if you could just score this big score – betting everything on the heavy underdog in the fight – it might make things better. Things would go back to the way things were early in the relationship, where they’d laugh deep and hard at how unfunny your jokes were and you knew they were laughing because they loved you. Your guy is holding his own in the match, and through the first seven rounds you’ve convinced yourself you’re going to win the bet. Rounds five, six and seven, particularly, you get so excited that you tell those around you your life sad life story and how now, with this win, things are gonna turn around! You’re on the top of the world, moments away from your new life!! Then, early in round eight, your guy doesn’t see the roundhouse. Nobody sees it. Later, the pundits will wonder if it was planned. But why plan for the underdog to take a dive? It doesn’t make sense. Anyway, the roundhouse lands square on the jaw and your guy goes down like a sack of bricks. Match over. Mere moments later, you crumple to the floor of the arena, so immediate and encompassing is your failure. While lying there, crying, in a heap, you look up at those who surround you. Many have already forgotten you, moved on to their own next chapters, but a couple, you notice, look down at you. They know your situation. How you’re going to have to go home to your spouse, and all will be revealed. You see them looking down at you. Pity in their eyes. Lips clenched tight. An imperceptible shake of the head at the pathetic beast that is before them.

Anyway, that’s the look that I saw in others when I was given the role of the Jamaican guy.

The play, as I recall, took place in Toronto, and it was supposed to be a gritty, hard-hitting story full of social issues and tortured souls. Not a lot of levity. My Jamaican guy was newly arrived in Toronto, so his accent was supposed to be full-on Jamaican. Thankfully, he was something of a secondary character, so not a whole lot of lines.

But what was worse still, was the writer admitted at the beginning of the reading that the Jamaican character’s dialogue wasn’t, as of yet, particularly written with any necessarily Jamaican patterns of speech. But I was to try and see if I could make it work.

In hindsight, I have wondered if the whole thing was an elaborate joke on me. I mean, who would create a Jamaican character and not write their dialogue with the flow and cadence of Jamaican speech? Whatever the reasons, the reality is it happened.

So, when asked about a particulary intimidating experience in a room full of writers/arts people, that is the experience that came to mind.

As for the reading? Well, I’s think me nailed it, mon!!

Did you see the letter Bush wrote to welcome Clinton as the new occupant of the White House? Just saw a draft of the one Trump is writing for Biden.