Friday, April 24, 2009

Potato experiment

The garden is slowly returning to life - no leaves on any trees or shrubs yet, but the perennials are coming back, and we even have a few flowers on the grape hyacinths. The indestructible rhubarb was the first to appear: this was taken a few weeks ago, but you can see that it was poking above the ground even while the snow was still surrounding it!
I think I'm going to divide it this year, and move it to a spot at the back of the Old Garden. Then I'll move 4 forlorn blueberry plants up to the front, and see if they can do any better there, away from the strangling presence of the raspberries. If this doesn't work, then off with their heads. Five years is a long enough chance, and if they can't produce, then maybe the garden just isn't suited to growing blueberries.

I'm trying something new this year: I'm going to try growing potatoes in containers. I've read that it's not that hard to do, provided you have a big enough container. I bought 3 big round tubs, the sort you use for carrying laundry, and drilled drainage holes at the bottom. What one does is put a layer of 4" soil or compost on the bottom, then lay down 5 little potatoes or potato sections. They are supposed to be "chitted", which means they've started growing, putting out those prickly little knobs. We had a lot of teeny potatoes left from last year, and Dean couldn't bring himself to throw them away, so he stored them in the basement. It was cool, but not cold enough to retard growth, so a few weeks ago when I pulled them out, I was astounded to see that some had grown 6" to 8" long! I couldn't use those, so I picked out 15 that were just starting out, and planted them in the tubs. Since it's been cold so far, I stacked the tubs in the garage.

Today it's going to be sunny, and getting up to 20C - the next three days will be even better, going up to 28C! So I pulled the tubs out into the sun, and am happy to see that 14 out of my 15 plantings are nicely above the soil.

Now, the process is to wait until the plants are about 6" high, then cover them with another layer of soil and compost leaving just the tip visible. The plant grows higher, and then you repeat the process, until you're within 2" or so of the top of the container. Then the plant can be allowed to grow out and put forth leaves. The potatoes will form underground, along the length of the stem that's been buried by the soil. We'll see how it goes as the summer progresses. I've planted 5 Chaleurs, 5 Blue Russians, and 5 All Reds.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Musical interlude

Makes as much sense as a Kevin Thew Forrester sermon - perhaps they can play this on big screens during his consecration.

I have to be honest, I was a little too young to remember any of this when it actually happened. I was 10 years old and living in Vancouver - the closest we came to Woodstock was a sort of hippy squat at the entrance to Stanley Park. The city put up a plywood fence to screen the squalid sight from motorists, but if you rode on a bus you were high enough to look in. All I remember is a blur of gaudy paint and my mother's ever-reliable "Tsk-tsk" as we rode by.

I'm sure I've heard "straight" versions of this song, but the weird thing is, when listening to it and reading the hilarious subtitles, I honestly can't think of what the words ought to be. This just fits it so perfectly, what with the jumbled theology and disconnected stream-of-consciousness images.

(hat tip: Ace of Spades)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Typical CBC

This past week, I had an experience that pretty evenly combined pleasure and exasperation: my name finally came to the top of the long list of those waiting to borrow the 8-dvd set "The National Dream" from the Ottawa Public Library. It took about 3 months. I first discovered that this CBC series, first produced in 1974, was available on dvd when I read a comment on the IMDb listing for the program. The poster provided a link to the CBC educational materials department, and sure enough, there it was - for a mere $400 a copy.

I didn't have quite that much change lying around the house, so I was happy to discover that the Ottawa Public Library system has 3 copies of this series, and I put my name on the list to borrow it. When I got to watch it, I was happy to discover that the old series has held up quite well. There's a new introduction by Pierre Berton, who states that when it was first aired in 1974, this series broke viewership records in Canada. It was really quite unique and lavish, by Canadian standards - a combination of costume drama re-enactment and documentary. We really didn't do this sort of thing in Canada, and I always loved this series for being a single, sparkling refutement of the the usual assumption that "Canadian history is boring!" This wasn't boring - it was funny, engaging and downright gripping in places. Canada's history has never had all the dramatic portrayals of American and English history, so it was fun to think that we could provide a good "story" too.

What aggravated me was the path I had to follow to get another look at this series. As I mentioned, it aired in 1974. From Berton's introduction, I gather that it was re-aired in the early 2000s sometime (probably because of the 30-year anniversary of the making of the series). I didn't see that, and it's possible that we were still in Boston then. The dvds date from 2003. So that was about 30 years when no one could get a second look at this series. And when it FINALLY was issued on dvd, how was it done? In a $400 set that is clearly marketed to "institutions" - universities, government offices, libraries.

This is just so...CBC. Presumably, the whole reason for making the series (funded by tax dollars) was to present to Canadians a window on an important episode in their history. But when it comes to actually putting the history in the hands of the people who should know it, the instinct is to direct them to some institution, which can ladle it out a few drops at a time, like the gruel at Oliver Twist's poorhouse. God forbid that individual Canadians could be allowed to buy a copy of this to keep at home! No, Americans can buy "Roots" or Ken Burns's "The Civil War" to watch at home as often as they like, but Canadians have to go stand in line to get their limited ration of CBC footage.

And the rationing is strictly enforced. I wasn't allowed to renew this set for a second week, because there were others waiting in line behind me! So if one were unable to watch the entire 8-hour series in the time allotted, the only recourse would be to go to the end of the line and wait another 3 months for a chance to see it again!

I'm not the first to complain about this. A few years ago, when the CBC was in the midst of the financial troubles that will eventually kill it, a journalist wrote that the CBC has a huge treasure of past programs locked in its vaults, and seemingly no intention of ever making use of it. I can't understand this absolutely cement-coated disdain for anything even remotely resembling user- or consumer-friendliness. The BBC sells dvds of past programs good, bad and indifferent. So does PBS. Only the CBC is too proud to consider treating its viewers as individuals; instead, we must be funnelled through some antiquated system of "official channels" before we can be allowed access to programs we paid for years ago.

It reminds me of the old way we used to buy alcohol in Ontario. It's not that long ago - there was an LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario outlet for you foreigners - we don't have privately-run wine stores, only government-run ones) which ran like this when we moved to the Glebe, in 1989. You walked into a nearly empty shop, with a few dozen different bottles of wine and alcohol on display. To buy one, you had to fill out a chit with the name and number of the bottle you wanted, hand it to a clerk, and the clerk would go into the mysterious back area and eventually come out with a bottle for you to take to the cashier. It was similar to handing in a prescription at the pharmacy, and I think it stemmed from the same attitude - that giving a citizen access to liquor was a dangerous business, which needed to be controlled and scrutinized by officials. We're lucky we didn't have a 5-day cooling-off period for every bottle of Bordeaux.

Well, that's my rant about the CBC. Just for fun, I uploaded one trailer from the series, because it presents a memorable moment in Canadian parliamentary history. William Hutt played a terrific Sir John A. Macdonald, and there were a lot of good Canadian actors throughout the series, including John Colicos as William Cornelius Van Horne. In this little scene, resentments boil over in the House of Commons. Donald Smith was responsible for the fall of Macdonald's Conservative government in 1873, and 4 years later, the Conservatives had neither forgiven nor forgotten.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Book vs. Cover

I heard about this amazing YouTube video on the radio this morning. It's from "Britain's Got Talent" reality TV show. I've never actually watched ANY of these shows, like American Idol, because the clips I'd heard seemed to lean on the mockery side, and that always makes me uncomfortable. I remember The Gong Show from my youth, and I didn't need to see a higher-tech version of that freak show.

Well, the radio talk show host said that this was a surprise, and I wasn't prepared for how much of a surprise it was when I turned it on. The contestant, Susan Boyle, looks like someone's good-natured Scottish granny, and just looking at her you can add up how many points against her society would levy. But just watch her explode all those assumptions when she opens her mouth to sing. She's an inspiration to all of us fat, plain, awkward middle-aged women with heavy eyebrows! Watch it, and keep your Kleenex handy.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sunlight is not always the best disinfectant

There's an interesting article in today's New Scientist, explaining 'Why some people sneeze when the sun comes out'. I found it particularly interesting, because I am one of these "photic sneezers", and always have been. Going from a dark house or porch directly into bright sunlight will often cause me to burst into sneezes - it always caused great hilarity among my friends when we took holidays in Las Vegas.

I had always vaguely thought that the reason was that the bright light passing through the optic nerve somehow "got too close" to whatever the nerve was that caused the sneeze reaction, and that still seems like the most plausible explanation, though this article puts it more intelligently. Though they say that it's genetic, I don't recall anyone else in my family who does exactly this, though I was intrigued by the possibility of a connection between this little neurological scramble and more serious conditions. Emma has epilepsy, and one of my aunts is bothered a lot by migraines - perhaps these different problems do stem from some genetic defect, which has cropped up in different forms.

At the end, there are a few questions and points to help establish if one is a photic sneezer or not. I was interested by this:
Photic sneezers almost always sneeze a set, unchanging number of times on exposure to light: most commonly just once, but sometimes twice or more.
It's quite true, I DO almost always sneeze the same number of times. But in my case, it's not once or twice, but a whopping EIGHT sneezes in a row!

I was also relieved to read that it's NOT true that if you keep your eyes open during a sneeze, your eyeballs will blow out. I heard that as a kid - I believe it was on Hollywood Squares - and could never shake the superstitious fear that it MIGHT be true.