A Fairly Productive Day For Macca

I no longer have the vigor of youth. Both my physical body and mental acuity have become Couch Potatoes. My energy level is akin to a cold, neglected poutine, forgotten in the back seat of a Subaru from Quebec. I still have dreams of breaking through the sludge of this apathy and indifference, yet most days, I feel lucky if I can manage a single, solitary, productive task.

Still, I try not to jealously begrudge others their energy and vigor. Some days that’s easier than other days. And other days, when I see or hear or read about somebody else who is doing or did something pretty extraordinary with their day, I just have to stand up and applaud the effort. Or, I would stand up if the physical act didn’t hurt my knees and back so much.

But I can type! And type I will about one such productive day for a guy named Paul McCartney who was in a band called The Beatles. (I bet you already knew that!)

On June 14, 1965, Paul McCartney had an extraordinarily productive day in the Abbey Road Studios. On that singular day, he and The Beatles, along with George Martin and the engineers etc., managed to record three songs. You might say “Big deal! They recorded their entire initial album in one just one day.” That’s true, and remarkable, but even in the 2 years between then and this day, The Beatles songwriting and recording methods had become more developed and intricate.

Three songs in one day. And each one a Macca creation. Impressive, I say. And more impressive still as they represent the amazing breadth of creativity he and The Beatles were experiencing at that time. It was, undoubtedly, a most fruitful period for everyone involved.

The day started off with the recording of the rollicking acoustic folk tune, I’ve Just See A Face. After 6 takes and a maraca overdub, they considered the song complete. I’ve always thought this song was rather underappreciated. Have a listen and see what you think.

The Beatles – I’ve Just Seen A Face

After a relatively quick completion of McCartney’s I’ve Just Seen A Face, and after a short break, they moved on to another new McCartney composition. I’m Down. From the rather pure pop-folk of I’ve Just Seen A Face, to the rip-roaring all out rocker of I’m Down – and a Macca performance that certainly proves it’s not only John who can belt out layrnx-demolishing vocals like on Twist and Shout.

Have a listen. The guy absolutely tears into the vocals! And listen to Ringo showing those cymbals absolutely no mercy, and John pounding those keys on the organ! A fantastic group performance, and a vocal highlight, for sure. Seven takes in total, a couple of overdubs of backing vocals and such, and they decided to move on to the next song.

The Beatles – I’m Down

So far on this day, two songs in the can, each pretty different from the other in terms of style. But there’s still time to get one more song in the can, surely? Wrapping up the day, just after ripping his vocal chords on I’m Down, Paul tackled the melodic ballad Yesterday, which, you know, would only become the most covered song in history.

George Martin had Paul take a crack at both singing and playing the guitar in one take. It landed pretty well. A bit later, as the strings are overdubbed, he had Paul sing the lead again, but in the end, they went with the first vocal. And that was it. Two takes and done!

The Beatles – Yesterday

Three terrific songs. One productive day. Today, I barely managed to get myself through a drive-thru for an Egg McMuffin.

Rob Reviews: The Beatles Biography “Tune In”

The Beatles: All These Years, Vol.1 (2013)

If you think you know a lot about The Beatles, particularly their formation, and you haven’t read this book, then trust me. You don’t really know anything.

Mark Lewisohn is widely regarded as the undisputed expert and authority when it comes to knowledge about The Beatles. And in this fascinating and enjoyable biography, he’s amassed a stunning amount of information and accounts of the paths and roads that led The Fab Four to the brink of stardom.

First published in 2013 after over a decade of forensic investigation and research, it’s Volume One of a promised three-volume set. He promises Volume Two will be ready in a couple years, after another decade of research and writing. I cannot wait!!

Volume One only takes us up to the end of 1962, just to the point where the group is about to break it big. You may think, like I did before reading this biography, that there can’t really be that much to know about the of the pre-Fab Four history of The Beatles.

Most Beatles fans know the story: Paul sees John’s skiffle band performing at a church fete in the late 50s and is impressed. John, likewise impressed by Paul’s musical knowledge and ability, asks him to join his band. Paul brings George along. Eventually they, along with drummer Pete Best and bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, become The Beatles. They gig in Liverpool and take a couple of trips to play in Hamburg, Germany. Stuart dies, Pete gets sacked, they get Ringo to be the drummer, and the rest is history.

Those are the familiar basics. What more can there be to know? Turns out, there’s an immense amount to discover. Lewisohn doesn’t hold back. He dives deep into everything: the genealogy of each band member, manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin; the history of post-war Liverpool; the history and societal impact of the early years of rock and roll; and of course, the plethora of events and occurrences that lead these people to become The Beatles – and he writes it all in a way the absolutely engrosses and enthralls you. 

How detailed does he get? Well, he unfolds the story in a chronological order. The aforementioned John and Paul meetup at the church fete doesn’t actually occur until over 400 pages into the book. So, yeah, 400 or so pages before John and Paul even meet. And I gobbled it all up! It takes another 400 or so fascinating pages before they eventually meet George Martin.

Despite our knowledge that they will become the biggest and most important band in the world, Lewisohn crafts the story of their early years in such a way that we catch ourselves wondering if this plucky band will even make it, such are the factors that pile up against them. There are several moments throughout this early history of the group where events conspire that cause the members of the band to come oh-so-close to giving up. It’s thrilling to discover just how often The Beatles as-we-know-them almost didn’t happen. It turns out to be a most-exciting read.

One of the aspects of the book that I most appreciated was the discovery of just how punk and alternative The Beatles were in these early years. I knew they were talented and exciting before they “made it”, but Lewisohn really takes the time to explain in a clear way what made/makes The Beatles in 1960-62 such a remarkable group. (even the concept of “group” didn’t really exist until The Beatles demanded to be taken as such. George Martin was trying to decide whether they’d be known as John Lennon & The Beatles or Paul McCartney & The Beatles before they insisted – and he agreed – that they had to be, simply, The Beatles. A rock and roll group)

They were constantly and stubbornly going against the musical trends of the time, subtly demanding the industry bend to their way of doing things, rather than them caving in to “the way things are done”. That was an exciting eye-opener for me, and I now look upon and listen to those early recordings of The Beatles with fresh eyes and ears. Yes, they may be seen to be the epitome of simple pop songs to our 21st century experience, but the music they were creating, and the ways they went about creating it, truly was remarkable and completely different from the sounds of the day.

If you have any interest in the history of The Beatles, you owe it to yourself to read this book. It will absolutely alter your perspective of the band for the better. I can barely wait for Volume 2!!!

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!!