Monday, November 27, 2006

The Piano Man

There’s this guy I used to travel with a lot. In fact, a big chunk of that travel was even in a 1991 GMC Safari van that I bought off him for a very good price that still irks him! It really annoys him also that except for a few minor problems such as rust the vehicle is still running perfectly more than 10 years and 300,000km after we bought it.

Anyway, for a few years way back we roamed the roads as a team trying to hit just about every Lions Convention, Leadership Forum, Cabinet Meeting, and Club Meeting that we could. We did a lot of driving, talking, debating, sharing of hotel room expenses and sampling more than our fair share of single malt scotch. We visited Lexington, Des Moines, Montreal, Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie, several Lions Conventions, Forums and meetings all around Ontario and Quebec and too many Lions Clubs to list on this page. He got me motivated and into the world of community service, something that I really miss with all my travels with Northern Stores the past few years. He encouraged and supported me in my years as Zone Chairman, Region Chairman and through several positions on our District Cabinet and still insists he will be my Campaign Manager should I ever agree to run for District Governor.

Past District Governor of District A6, Lion Ivor Jones is a gentleman who has devoted just about his entire life to helping others first as a schoolteacher and then as Dean of Arctic College as well as a host of other positions such as serving on town councils and championing many local causes and events in Northern Ontario. He has served in many positions on the Ontario branch of the Canadian Diabetes Association as well as their National branch and has just been appointed President of the Northern Diabetes Network where he will continue his crusade against one of the leading killers and THE leading cause of blindness and non-traumatic amputation in the country. (Did you know that diabetes is a very major cause of heart and kidney failure? When you read that someone has died of heart failure there is a very good chance that it was brought about by diabetes.) He just about single handed put Moose Factory and Moosonee on the Lions map of the world and has traveled as far away as Brazil, Thailand and Australia for Lions causes and campaigns. On top of (and perhaps because of) the many honours bestowed on him by Lions Clubs International and the Diabetes Association he is also an Honorary Kentucky Colonel!.

One of his greatest projects in my opinion is entitled "Catch the Dream." He has contracted First Nations artists to create a traditional dream catcher with the feathers in the Lions purple and gold colors. All profits from the sales of these dream catchers goes directly to diabetes research. So far hundreds of these items have been sold putting many thousands of dollars into the hands of the people frantically searching for a cure for this epidemic. If anyone out there would like one they are $10 each and if you let me know how many you want I'll have Ivor get in touch with you to make arrangements.

His Lions awards are too many to mention but include among others an International Presidents Leadership Medal, a Melvin Jones Fellowship, and I myself had the honour and pleasure of pinning a Judge Brian Stevenson Fellowship medal on him during what was for me a very moving evening while serving as President of the Moose Factory Island Lions Club.

Why is this blog entry titled “The Piano Man?” Well, many were the times that I carried his instruments (an organ among them) to a lot of the Lions functions I mentioned above. Ivor also picked up some spending money is his younger days playing piano and singing in various establishments and is still in great demand to play at Lions and other functions. I think one of the best pieces he plays is the song by that name and I once even called in a $50 pledge to the Lions MCTV Telethon to get him to play it on the air one year! By the way the telethon is this weekend so don't forget to call in your pledge!

Anyway, I guess I’m just feeling a little melancholy today and hearing Billy Joel sing The Piano Man on an internet broadcast a few minutes ago just brought back a lot of memories to me. I miss my days working with the Lions Clubs and I miss our travel and fellowship, Ivor. Lets not wait too long to renew our journey. Once more for the road?

How about the rest of you out there, what triggers your ancient history and emotions?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Please sir, may I have some more?

Does anyone know a good humane way to get rid of squirrels? We’re gearing up for the winter bird-feeding season and my old enemies have already discovered the free lunch we are putting out. I don’t want to dig out the BB gun as these little beasties are just trying to fill their bellies like all the rest of us. Last year we tried the so-called ‘squirrel proof’ seed that they supposedly wouldn’t like the taste of but they just gobbled it down with the rest of the feast. Any ideas?

Time Out

So I seem to be neglecting this blog lately. I could say that we’ve been busy building up the Watkins business, the new personal Watkins site and filling orders but that’s only partially true.

The fact is I’m enjoying this break from my full time job with Northern. How does one spend time off after 230+ days on the road this year? A little cooking, a little visiting, a little computing, a little very minor carpentry, a little feeding the birds, a lot of sitting on the deck with a good cigar and some fine old port and… enjoying getting to know the family again.

By the way, when did they grow up? Was it during the Inuvik trip, the Happy Valley trip, the Qiqiqtarjuak trip or one of the other 100 or so company ‘tours’ over the years? I guess it was all of the above and also while I was losing my hair. Isn’t it strange that when I’m winding down my travels across Canada that they are getting ready to make the decisions that will take them away, out on their own to their own explorations and experiences. Oh well, that’s life I guess.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

And The Beat Goes On!

Headed up to Sudbury yesterday to take our daughter out for her birthday supper. As the saying goes "a good time was had by all." Here she is with her son, Nicholas, hamming it up for the camera!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mid Life Crisis

This would be my MLC if I could afford it. What's yours?

Monday, November 06, 2006

I Have Seen the Gates of Hell...

... or at least a reproduction of them!

Whenever I pass through Winnipeg I always check out what’s on at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. This time it just happened to be an exhibition of the works of Rodin. Normally I’m not a big fan of sculpture but there was no way I was going to pass up what was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the work of one of the world’s greats.

Most everybody is familiar with his “The Thinker” which has been reproduced in many sizes but did you know the original was only 21cm high? Neither did I and neither was I familiar with some his other pieces such as “The Age of Bronze” and especially “The Gates of Hell.” All I can say is WOW, I’m glad I went and if you ever have the opportunity to view any of his works please go, I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

We've got a hole....

... and we're going. Those were the welcome words that came over the PA system.

I should have known that when the Calm Air Saub 340 rose from the runway in Chesterfield Inlet exactly on time and into a sun filled sky that something would go wrong somewhere along the line. Northern weather is just too variable when you are flying long distances. I'm not talking about the short Montreal / Toronto length flights, but the ones that can take 4, 5 hours or more from start to finish. Today for example was supposed to be a simple 8-hour excursion that would take me to a schedule of meetings in Winnipeg the next day. Among the planned stops enroute was a routine landing in the world polar bear capital, Churchill, Manitoba to take on fuel and passengers. Well, my sunny take-off in Chester earlier had now turned into a wet blizzardy day. By the time we were in the terminal the snow had turned to freezing rain. This is something that aircraft and pilots dislike. I think it's called the "Even if we get off the ground we'll drop like a rock ten minutes from now" syndrome.

After an hour of uncertainty the airline agents started mumbling about sleeping arrangements, which started us worrying. At this time of year there is not a hotel room to be had in Churchill as tourists from all over the world are in town to see the bears. Those of us within earshot of the counter immediately began a scouting of the waiting room area, trying to decide which of the metal benches we would claim as our own for a long, hard night. Three of us started eying the same semi-dark corner, slowly edging in the general direction of that one location which seemed to promise a hope of not having a fluorescent bulb directly overhead. We all abandoned our bed hunting as they advised that a box-lunch supper and snacks were available at the counter. After all, I can sleep just about anywhere if my belly is full. If you don't believe me just ask my wife about circumnavigating our living room carpet with me in the middle of it following Sunday dinners in Iqaluit! About this time another visitor arrived at the airport, Manitoba Premier Gary Doer. He couldn’t take off in his chartered plane either but I’m sure he would be able to find a place to stay somewhere and not spend the night with us mortals on an airport bench.

Anyway, about this time we heard the announcement that started off this post and we got off the ground OK after de-icing and in between rain showers… but that’s not the end to the story. The next stop south from Churchill is Thompson for one of those security checks that I mentioned in a previous blog entry. Upon landing in Thompson, we were told that the freezing rain and slush in Churchill had caused a sensor to malfunction and they hadn’t been certain that our landing gear was locked. Nice to know after the fact but that's just a part of northern flying that we all take in stride. They simply taxied the aircraft into the hanger for an hour to let it thaw out and so they could chip away a little ice and off we went to Winnipeg, landing only about 3 hours late. Just another normal flying day up in the real world and it's great fun!