Strange times indeed. Normally in March and April, I’m training for The Ride to Conquer Cancer, to support cancer research at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital, one of the top five centres in the world.
2020 would have been my 13th ride. Alas, not to be. The Ride is in limbo along with the rest of our world. Hard to see how an event of 4000+ sweaty riders plus 1000 volunteers, all served by well-used porta-potties, leaking buckets of energy drinks and pawed-over treats, could happen in this epidemic year.
No matter what they decide about the Ride itself, the donations will go to cancer research, if not this year, then in 2021. If only cancer went into quarantine! Happily though PMH has officially joined the war on CORVID-19 with researchers working on a treatment / vaccine.
What to do in the meantime? Luckily because I’m a runner and cyclist I’m not housebound. No rules against either activity…yet. Public health authorities encourage everyone to get fresh air. But where?
My favorite training loop, Mt. Pleasant cemetery, is closed, but city trails are not. And the streets are eerily empty of traffic. Surreal to be sure. My intrepid fellow companions are: dog walkers, families with small children, senior citizens and other crazy cyclists and runners. Waved to a gym buddy – an 82 year old grandmother and long distance runner who grew up during the Battle of Britain.
My British blood stirs. This is our boomer moment, I guess. Crap! And it’s spring and reason for happiness.
One of my favorite bike routes runs along the Beltline. Uplifting to discover that its interesting street art is not only intact, but restored.
Wildlife may be reclaiming their habitat judging by the sign spotted near the end of the Beltline. Stay safe, my friends!
In business school, I learned that my job-survivalist strategies in the bureaucracy had a name: NETWORKING. To push through the inertia of the Ministry, I had to call on my friends for help. And trade favours for favours.
It took years to build my network, to gain friends from shared job successes, catastrophes or bosses from hell. But business profs urged a more active approach: Get out there, meet more people, throw your business card to the winds, attack and build your NET.
So I did – and discovered that gold, when it landed, always came from an unexpected direction.
Me? In the movies? NO WAY! Unlike the Ellen Burstyn character in Requiem for a Dream the last thing in the universe I want is to be on TV. Radio is fine (and I had a fab time as Alison Dore’s guest on Sirius) but the shock seeing of myself as others see me – GACK!!
Cat and my dear friend and author extraordinaire, Lisa De Nikolits, connected right away. They invited me for coffee and I thought, why not? Coffee and company, what’s a better way to spend an hour NOT writing!
The hour turned into three hours of lively and thought-provoking discussion. And after I viewed Cat’s wonderful documentary, Biker Bob’s Posthumous Adventure, I knew I had to make the Mesdames film happen.
The first hurdle: money! Cat planned to approach the CBC. Oh, well, I thought. I have several friends and my own daughter, Claire Callway, is in the film biz: the chances of a film ever getting financed are really low. BUT CBC came through.
Over the next several months, Cat and crew filmed miles of footage, interviewing many Mmes individually, including myself. How would Cat distill all this material into a coherent 15-minute film?
We had a lot of fun, including a garden party at my house where the weather cooperated beautifully. The atmospheric picture above is from the footage shot at the wickedly macabre Darling Mansion decorated mostly like a Victorian bordello. Here are some pics: a visit is highly recommended.
In my former life as a management consultant, I grew comfortable with chaos. When you walk into a work place experiencing problems, you’re overwhelmed by the trees of a prickly forest: the client’s urgency, too much or too little of the right data, human emotions, office politics. Fortunately, I liked to dive right into the metaphorical shark pool and swim around until patterns emerged. And soon I’d hear a phrase that crystallized those patterns into a solution.
Ironically, for our film, the person who uttered the key phrase was me. Cat had asked me why I liked writing crime fiction. To me, I said, it’s spiritual comfort food. When I open a mystery novel, I know that no matter how horrific the crime, by the end of the story justice will be done. And we all know life isn’t really like that.
In Cat’s film, The Mesdames of Mayhem, she shows that early life traumas propelled us to create crime fiction. There we can serve up justice to those who so richly deserve it! Cat focused on four of my friends: Jane Burfield, Melodie Campbell, Donna Carrick and Lisa De Nikolits. I’m there, too, flitting in and out: I even get to show off our latest anthology, In the Key of 13.
Word was that Cat’s film would make you laugh – and make you cry. On October 25th, I opened up the YouTube link and watched The Mesdames of Mayhem alone in my studio. It was a brilliant, emotionally intense experience, the work of a gifted professional.
I laughed, I cried! And you will, too, dear readers. HERE IT IS:
It’s been a chilly spring and I’m still wearing my winter bike gear in May! But riding through the wind and rain toughens you up to any adverse weather on the Ride to Conquer Cancer. As always, the City of Toronto keeps closing bike routes and the repairs are s-l-o-w. This year it’s the southern part of the Don Valley trail, which I normally do on every training ride.
But there are rewards. Cruising down a Leaside street and crossing north over Eglinton en route to Sunnybrook I discovered Graffiti Alley North. The street runs parallel to Eglinton now torn up by the light rail construction. Feast your eyes, readers!
K2 is the world’s second highest mountain. Though 800 feet shorter than Everest, it is a far more challenging technical climb. As one injured climber famously said: “K2 is a savage mountain that tries to kill you.”
It has a nasty track record. It has the second highest climber mortality rate for mountains over 8000 feet: 77 deaths for 300 summits or roughly 1 in 4 climbers die. The dubious title of ultimate killer belongs to Annapurna at 61 deaths for 191 summits or 1 in 3. Everest gets more publicity for its deaths but in fact, its fatality rate is relatively low: 54 deaths for 3000 summits.
K2 got its name during the The Great Trigonometric Survey of British India. Thomas Montgomerie, perched on Mt. Haramuhk 200 km south of the Karakoram mountain range, sketched two prominent peaks and labelled them K1 and K2. K1 had a name, Masherbrum, but K2 didn’t, probably because of its remote and inaccessible location. Local people simply called it “Chogori” or Big Mountain so the name K2 stuck.
Now for the opening of the surreal trapdoor! The first serious attempt on K2 was a 1902 British expedition led by the infamous occult leader, Aleister Crowley! At the time Crowley was a mop-headed, British gentleman of independent means, channelling his inner Alan Quartermain. Despite being hampered by lack of roads, modern equipment and an understanding of the devastating effects of high altitude on human physiology, his team managed to reach 21,407 feet. Miraculously no one died in the attempt despite the frigid temperatures and gale force winds.
The team suffered considerable hardships. Crowley went 85 days without bathing and was plagued by malaria, lice and snow blindness.He was too ill to attempt the summit, which probably saved his life.
Unlike his friend, Oscar Eckenstein, who was a careful, methodical climber, Crowley attacked mountains the way he approached sex, drugs and other pleasures in his life – with wild, mad intensity
He attempted one more big climb, Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world and third worst killer of mountaineers: about 22% die summiting its peak. After three of his team died in an avalanche, he gave up climbing over 8000 feet for good.
Crowley’s interest in the occult and “magick” began in 1898 when he joined the Hermetic Society of the Golden Dawn. The occult and mysticism became the focus of his life. In 1905, he founded his own religion, Thelema. Throughout his life, he remained controversial because of his multitude of male and female lovers and his appetites for opium, heroin and cocaine. Some biographers believe that his libertine ways covered up the fact that he worked as a spy for British intelligence throughout his life.
K2 was finally summited by an Italian team on July 31, 1954, a little more than a year after Hillary and Tenzing topped Everest on May 29, 1953. More understanding of the dangers of high altitude and bottled oxygen made these ascents possible.
Mike Conefrey, the author of The Ghosts of K2, is a documentarian who has worked mostly with the BBC. His passions are mountaineering and exploration. He approaches writing non-fiction as a dramatist, which makes Ghosts of K2, a page-turner that stays with you.
Life does indeed imitate art – but, hey, Windigo Fire did it first!
In Windigo Fire, my villain, Santa is the owner of a seedy roadside attraction, Santa’s Fish Camp. Of course, he has a large crop of marihuana plants flourishing in the “service area”.
I got the idea after we visited Santa’s Village in Bracebridge, Ontario with our then 4 year old daughter. She absolutely loved Santa’s Village, but as a mom chasing after an active kid, well, my thoughts turned dastardly. As I tell aspiring writers: ask the “What if” question. What if this clean, family-friendly attraction masked a grow-op?
Thus the seeds of Santa’s Fish Camp were planted so to speak. But now Legoland UK has followed suite!
Recently, a grow-op was discovered at Legoland UK. Two enterprising b*stards planted 50 thriving marihuana plants inside a cottage at the boundary of the theme park. Even cheekier, the ambitious herbalists accessed the cottage through Crown Estate lands – at Windsor Castle where the Queen lives!
Read the full story in the Huffington Post here. As they say, man, Legolize It!
I’ve been offline for much of January doing what writers do: writing! Finished up two short projects and now I’m re-attacking Danny Bluestone’s next adventure, Windigo Ice.
Lots to look forward to in 2017: the launch of the Mesdames of Mayhem’s third anthology, 13 Claws; Left Coast Crime in Hawaii; Limestone Expo in Kingston; Word on the Street; and Bouchercon right here in Toronto!
But of course my fingers strayed over to the internet from the time to time and I came across this retro gem though: what happened when engineers stopped Niagara Falls in 1969?
When I was a kid in school, my science teachers were preoccupied with the demise of Niagara Falls. If Something Wasn’t Done, the Falls would deteriorate post-haste into a series of rapids and precious tourist dollars would evaporate. Rock slides in 1931 and 1958 had dumped a sh*tload of rubble at the base of the American Falls. The Niagara Falls Gazette created a fervour by predicting the Death of the Falls and the cause was taken up by a zealous senator and congressman.
And so on June 12, 1969, the US Corps of Engineers did the unthinkable: they stopped Niagara Falls for the first time in 12,000 years. (Well, not exactly. A half a dozen ice jams have blocked the flow over BOTH sets of falls, most significantly in 1848, but only for a few days each time.)
Once the water dried up, what a desolate and unattractive site it became!
To dry up The Falls, the US army dumped 27,800 tons of rock upstream across the Niagara River, creating a 600 ft cofferdam that diverted the water away to flow over the (to my mind) far more beautiful Canadian Horseshoe Falls. Over the next six months, army engineers mechanically bolted faults and drilled holes in the riverbed in hopes of delaying further erosion.
As a crime writer, I was curious to know what workers found UNDER the falls once the water dried up. Well, at first, lost coins drew a ton of fortune seekers. Eventually tourists stayed away in droves, because the falls had become, quite frankly, ugly.
Sadly, two bodies were recovered: the first a man, a recent suicide. The other, the skeletal remains of a woman wearing a red and white striped dress and a narrow gold wedding band with the inscription “Forget Me Not”. There’s a story there certainly.
Experts soon realized the enormous cost of removing all the rubble from the base of the Falls. On November 24, 1969, the workers dispatched the coffer dam in front of 2500+ spectators, restoring the flow of water, the Falls’ beauty – and collective sanity all at once.
For more details about this engineering oddity, follow this link.
Thank you for making 2016 a fabulous year – with even more to look forward to in the New Year.
After a quick family visit to London, England, we are back home to celebrate Christmas and to perform our sacred rituals – like nom-nom-noming the Festive Special at Swiss Chalet with Ed’s car club!
Santarchy ruled again on Dec 17th. Costumes were especially creative with an emphasis on naughty. No need for a big budget as you will see in the following pics!
This year went off without a hitch. The weather was mild and perfect for marching down Queen Street. Gathering at the Imperial Pub, we stormed Dundas Square then invaded the Eaton Centre to give out candy canes and treats to kids.
Group photo on the steps of Old City Hall, then after a long wait for the Zamboni, an impromptu slide across the skating rink at city hall dodging security guards and skaters on blades.
Get turned away at The Rex – check. Wave to Christmas-spirited cab drivers and cops – check. First stop, The Black Bull – check. The bartenders serve 50+ customers without missing a beat. Amazing!
Some great costumes below.
On to night clubs, Crocodile Rock and The Ball Room, where like the Big Lebowski, you can go bowling. At 1 pm, Ed and I called it a night and walked through the rain to the perennial late night fave, Fran’s on Shuter street. We survived and look forward to Santarchy 2017.
Every year on a Saturday mid-December 100+ Santas storm through Toronto’s Eaton’s Centre and head down Queen Street west. Flagrant rebels in search of BEER! This is a world-wide movement from Hanoi to Helsinki to Tokyo to London and beyond. Read about Santacon here.
Ed and I have been part of this rampaging mob for several Christmases now, thanks to our friend Eric. (Read more about Eric and his Grand Guignol clowning in my most popular blog ever, Charlie the Lonely Sentinel. Charlie’s a stuffed dog BTW.)
We’re polite rebels with several rules of decorum, including being nice to kids and obeying police officers and security guards. After all, we’re Canadian! A Santa suit is a must, but one’s imagination may run wild from racy to saucy Mrs. Claus. We’ve even had a Thor Santa! (Sorry, ladies, no photo). And we are led by Old St. Nick in resplendent bishop’s robe and staff.
Typically, we meet up at the Imperial Pub on Dundas St. East then march through the Eaton Centre, giving out candy canes to kids. Then on to Nathan Philip Square for a rampage through the skaters. Group photo at the war memorial on University Avenue then on to The Rex to be refused admission. (Hey, it’s tradition!) The Black Bull though is usually our first and favorite watering hole.
We wend our way down Queen Street, invading the pubs that will let us in. (To be fair, they’ve been pre-warned.) The Academy of Spherical Arts is a fav as well as the late, great Hideout. This is a way to get in to clubs who would never otherwise let you in because you’re obviously middle class and O-L-D. We’ve even witnessed Fetish Night. (Great material for crime fiction, but who would believe me?)
By 2 am, Ed and I are ready for food (poutine anyone?) and home. Many times the subway has gone sleepy-bye for the night so we’ve relied on the notorious Zoo Bus of our youth. The Yonge St. night bus is a whole quantum level more surreal and never fails to disappoint.
Interested? The info isn’t up on the website yet but word is that if you come to the Imperial Pub at 6 pm, Sat Dec 17th, you may find something to your advantage…
My friend and fellow crime writer, Cathy Astolfo, recently moved to Brantford. I’ve made flying visits there to give talks with other crime writers that Cathy arranged with her local Brantford library. My impression: Brantford’s nice and quiet – a typical small Ontario town.
How wrong can you be!
Follow the link here to fall through the Surreal Trapdoor and discover Brantford’s loveable eccentrics, like Mike on a Bike and Captain Kindness. And time warps like the Dairee Delite selling ice cream so good, Canadians line up for it in winter!
Cathy writes two series: the light-hearted Kira Callaghan series set in the ReVisions Retirement Residence and the darker, Emily Taylor series. She’s also penned the standalone noir psychological thriller, Sweet Caroline and published many crime fiction stories. Do check out this Arthur Ellis award winner’s books here. http://www.catherineastolfo.com/.