Your turn, people: name the cheesiest Manse-era pop song!

As regular readers probably know, I sometimes like to mark Fridays – best day of the week! – with a musically themed post. Hey, it’s been a long, hard work week for all of us (save those who are retired), and I figure that on Friday night all we really want to do is kick back and relax. In other words: less of Katherine’s prose, and more musical memories and vintage videos.

On this particular Friday I have been inspired once again to adopt a musical theme by an email I received today from my good friend and former colleague Earl, one of the cleverest and funniest people I have ever had the privilege to know. Earl is brilliant at digging up goofy, hilarious things on the internet, and apparently today he came across just such a thing – and fortunately for us all, he decided to share it through me. And into the bargain, he gave me a great idea for a post.

Earl’s message was brief:

In case you’re thinking about doing cheesiest Manse 1.0-era songs/videos ever, I hearby submit:

Oh, people. If you’ve already clicked on this video, you know how awful it is. If you haven’t, you must. It may in fact be the cheesiest video – and song – of all time.

But here’s the problem: ubiquitously ghastly as the Starland Vocal Band‘s one and only hit, Afternoon Delight, was, it is ineligible for competition in our newly created (thanks to Earl’s inspiration) contest called Name the Cheesiest Pop Song of the Manse Era. Why? Because it was released in 1976! Too late for the Manse Era – that is, Manse Era 1.0, as Earl cleverly puts it. (Manse Era 2.0 having started in 2012, when Raymond and I reclaimed this old house that I grew up in.) The years of my childhood here – Manse Era 1.0 – were 1964 to 1975, and so Afternoon Delight falls just a bit outside of the eligibility criteria.

I think we can all agree that the years 1964 to 1975 were when some of the greatest pop songs of all time were released. Without even stopping to think about it, I’ll list California Dreamin’Son of a Preacher Man, Norwegian Wood, Both Sides Now, Like a Rolling Stone, Love Child, Honky Tonk Women, Ode to Billie Joe, Sloop John B, Angel of the Morning, Take it Easy, I Feel the Earth Move, Down on the Corner, Walk on By and I’m a Believer. And that doesn’t come close to even scratching the surface. Wow.

And then there was the cheesy crap! And lord knows there was lots and lots and lots of it. So I think it’s time to name the greatest hits, so to speak, of the bad music of the era.

No, we can’t include Afternoon Delight. (Sadly.) But we can include my nomination, Kung Fu Fighting – a ridiculous and terrible song from the era when Joey Edwards was the star DJ here on our local AM radio station, CJBQ. That’s the one that you will have seen at the top of this post.

And maybe we could think about another nomination:

But people, really what I (and your fellow Meanwhile, at the Manse readers) want to know about are your nominations. Comb through those musical memories, rack your brains, and share: what were the worst popular songs, the real stinkers, of that otherwise golden era for music? Send ‘em in – and we can collectively wallow in the fun of really bad music that we all know by heart. And wish we didn’t.

“Return to sender”? What ever happened to the good old days?

Return to sender“What’s your 911 number?” Raymond and I were asked that more than once after we’d bought the Manse. The first time we were completely puzzled. What on earth was meant by a “911 number”? I mean, 911 is a number – and it’s a general number, for everyone. Why would we have our own?

We did eventually figure out that “911 number” is how folks in rural Ontario refer to the street numbers that all addresses have been given over the past few years. When I was a kid growing up here, no rural homes had numbers; you explained where you lived by saying it was “the brick house on the west side down the hill from the church,” or some such. And your mailing address was simply your rural route number. (And more of that anon.)

But yes, some urbanization of the Ontario countryside took place during the decades I was away from it, and roads that never had any name before – save perhaps for “Concession 5″ or “Seventh Line” – suddenly do. Here at the Manse, for instance, we are at 847 Bosley Rd. But Bosley Road is a new moniker since the days of my childhood at this address. I assume the name comes from the Bosley family that used to live just down the way from the Manse, and that’s absolutely fine with me; but it still feels a little artificial – put-on, you might say – to my ears. As for street numbers – well, I do find them useful when I’m driving to a certain home or business for the first time, but they still seem rather odd. However, I suppose in the overall cause of emergency workers being able to locate you when your house is on fire, street names and numbers are a good idea. And I think I’m safe in assuming that efficiency in emergencies was a primary reason behind coming up with these names and numbers in the first place.

But while I’ve more or less got used to street numbers for rural addresses, I was not prepared for the old ways to have disappeared entirely. And I’m not sure I’m terribly happy about it. Here’s my story:

The other day I wrote a thank-you note to an old friend who had done something special for Raymond and me. I had her telephone number and email address, but I wanted to send her my thanks the traditional way, in my own handwriting. What I didn’t have was her street number, and her listing in the telephone book failed to cough it up; all it said was “RR2 Madoc.” Well, since that is the way all rural mail was addressed through all the years I was growing up in Queensborough, and since that mail always reached its destination, I assumed I was safe in going with that. After all, don’t the rural mail carriers know everyone on their routes? They always used to, that’s for sure.

So you can imagine how surprised I was when my thank-you note showed up back in our own mailbox only 24 hours after I’d dropped it off at the post office in Madoc. As you can see from the photo atop this post, it bore a large “Return to Sender” stamp on it, which further informed me that the address I had used was “incomplete.”

Well I never! What is the world coming to?

Longtime readers might recall a post I did quite a while ago (it’s here if you’d like to refresh your memory) reminiscing about the introduction of those new-fangled things called postal codes back in the early 1970s, and how infuriated many people were about them. Back then I heard more than one person of a certain ago – like, say, probably around the age I am now – vow never ever to use postal codes, since the mail had always been delivered perfectly well without them. As a young teenager I found their old-fashioned anti-progress attitude (which is how I saw it) quit hilarious.

Now, however, with my annoyance at my thank-you note having been peremptorily returned to me, I see that things have changed.

I have officially become a postal fuddy-duddy. And you know what? I am proud of it.

A sad day for Canada, but an exciting one for new journalists

Newsroom headlines

The developing top story on QNet News (the student-produced news website at Loyalist College) on display on the overhead monitors, on a very busy day in our newsroom today.

A brilliant former Montreal Gazette colleague of mine who is now, as of the start of this academic year, a professor of journalism at a university, posted something rather poignant on Facebook at midday today: “It is so weird not to be in a buzzing newsroom right now.”

She was referring, of course, to the shocking (and as of the time of her posting, still very much unfolding) events in Ottawa, when shots were fired in the halls of Parliament and a young reserve soldier with his whole life in front of him was shot and killed at the National War Memorial. As I write this, several hours later, I think the whole country is still trying to wrap its collective head around the very un-Canadian events of the day. And mourning the death of that soldier, whose smile is so dazzling in all the photos.

My former colleague’s post referred to the fact that she is in academe now, as opposed to a professional newsroom. Both she and I have been in newsrooms on so many days like today, when shocking events catch everyone by surprise and it is necessary to dispatch a vast team of reporters to cover them, to co-ordinate and manage the coverage, and to ensure that the news as it develops is posted as quickly and as accurately as possible online and, eventually, in our newspaper. While the events of such days are, unfortunately, almost always tragic, the adrenaline rush you get from working through them and helping bring the news to the world is like nothing I can describe.

So I could certainly relate when I saw my former colleague’s post, right after I had emerged from the cocoon of teaching a class of first-year journalism students at Loyalist College about writing leads for news stories. And I came this close to adding a comment to her post, along the lines of “Me too.”

But then I stopped and looked out the door of my office, toward the centrepiece of the journalism program at the college: our own newsroom. And it was a scene of non-stop activity, full of students monitoring social media and websites and TV screens, taking notes, making phone calls, preparing to head out to nearby Canadian Forces Base Trenton to report on what impact the day’s events might be having there, prepping radio newscasts, and producing a constantly-updated running report for QNet News, the website made up entirely of our students’ journalistic work. And I thought: “Wait a minute! I am in a ‘buzzing newsroom’!”

Newsroom in action

All hands were on deck in our newsroom today as everyone worked on local angles to the huge story of the shootings on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

As I hastened into that newsroom to offer to help (providing a brief break for a colleague, Robert Washburn, who had been in the hot seat directing operations through the morning), I thought: “I’m right at home here. This is what I do.” And in the midst of all the activity, I offered up a brief thanks that my own transition from professional journalist to journalism teacher had landed me in a place where the focus is on practical learning – on teaching students to become multiplatform journalists by working with them as they actually produce multiplatform journalism. Or (to quote a slogan I knew well in my Queensborough youth – the slogan of 4-H clubs, of which I, as a young rural person, was a member more than once): as they “learn to do by doing.”

The other thing I took away from today is how exciting it is to see young journalists experience and work on a huge breaking story for the first time. Our team worked so hard, and did such a good job. The adrenaline in the room was palpable, and it fired up the reporters and editors. At the end of the day they were excited and proud of the work they’d done, and justifiably so.

My heart broke late this afternoon when we got word that the soldier who had been killed had been identified as 24-year-old Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. Not just because it was just such a damn stupid waste; it was really because of the reaction of one of my students, who was preparing to do the 5 p.m. radio newscast. “He was 24,” he said softly, shock and sadness in his voice. “Twenty-four. That’s just a year older than I am.” Suddenly it was very, very real. For him. And for me.

This evening, my heart was again touched, by another one of my students. It was warmed to the core by his post in our program’s Facebook group: “Wanted to say it was great working with everyone involved with the Ottawa Situation. Was a nice taste of the real job.”

For a veteran journalist like me, there’s probably not a thing in the world better than to see these brand-new journalists find out about the thrill, the scariness, the realness, the rawness, the demands, the stress, the fun and – perhaps most of all – the teamwork of covering news.

These young people will go far. I am very, very proud of them.

Stirling butter, found in all the best places

Stirling Butter

So there Raymond and I were, in a hipper-than-hip butcher shop in Toronto’s Kensington Market called Sanagan’s Meat Locker, and what do I find but a splendid display of Stirling butter, made right here in central Hastings County!

When I was growing up here in Queensborough, my mum always bought Stirling butter because, well, it was the local butter. So did pretty much everybody else. And we never thought too much about it.

Vintage Stirling whey butter wrapper

Here’s something funky the internet just coughed up: a vintage wrapper from when the Stirling Creamery produced whey butter under the name Hastings (rather than Stirling). This takes me back to my childhood days!

When I returned to this area a little less than three years ago, I was delighted to learn that the Stirling Creamery was very much still in business in the pretty little central Hastings County village of Stirling and that it was still – sorry; I can’t help myself – churning it out.

One of the first issues that Raymond and I picked up of the excellent Country Roads magazine featured an article (by a local writer and blogger who was subsequently to become a good friend, Lindi Pierce) on the storied past and successful present of the Stirling Creamery. (Unfortunately that article doesn’t seem to be available online, so I can’t share it with you.) Raymond and I have been faithfully buying Stirling butter ever since our arrival at the Manse, and we have often remarked upon how good it is.

And we aren’t the only ones! In the past couple of weeks, I’ve spotted Stirling butter for sale in the trendiest of trendy Toronto food shops, at the St. Lawrence Market and in Kensington Market. Not, mind you, as one of several kinds of high-end butters for sale: as the only butter for sale to the foodie connoisseurs. That is pretty impressive.

Need more convincing of how great our local butter is? Check out this article from the Toronto Star that notes (among other things) that a while back Saveur magazine named Stirling one of the world’s top 30 butters.

Oh, and I would also like to point out that the gorgeous new packaging that Stirling butter came out with just a few years ago (which you can admire in my photo at the top of this post, and even more here) was designed by our friend Mimi Maxwell, a Toronto designer with a strong connection to the Queensborough area. Isn’t that cool?

Stirling Creamery

Here’s a nice photo of the Stirling Creamery, right in the heart of the pretty village of Stirling. The photo comes from a brilliant blog I’ve just discovered called Seasonal Ontario Food (, which is filled with recipes to help you eat locally and well.

Now, lest you dare to say (as I probably would have in my childhood here, when my mum was first buying Stirling butter) “But it’s only butter!” – let me tell you about my days living in France. The French are positively reverent about their butter, I learned; often they will visit a high-end cheese shop to purchase freshly made salted or unsalted butter, rather than buy it in a supermarket. Half of a good baguette sliced horizontally and slathered with top-notch butter is considered a treat. And with good reason! I learned while living there how good butter can be – and have had a taste for the good stuff ever since.

A taste that, I am delighted to say, is fulfilled in world-class style by our friendly local creamery. Aren’t we lucky?

I have moved to the land of high-priced dry cleaning. Who knew?

dry-cleaning bill

$34.75 for three items of dry cleaning? What the heck is that all about?

When Raymond and I moved to the Manse a year ago, I was prepared for some variations in the cost of things between here in rural Ontario and very urban Montreal, where we came from. I knew that hydro, for instance, is a fair bit more expensive in Ontario than in Quebec – Quebec consumers being well-served by the huge water-powered operations of Hydro-Québec, which take full advantage of the province’s natural resources in that regard. I knew that car-insurance rates would be different, and braced for them to be higher. (Which they were.) I knew that wine prices at the LCBO are generally a few dollars cheaper than at the Société des alcools du Québec, which is a very good thing. I liked the fact that the sales tax is lower here in Ontario.

One thing I did not expect – that never would have entered my mind to expect – was the sky-high cost of dry cleaning here. What, people, is that all about? Is it really so much more expensive to operate dry-cleaning machines in Belleville than in Montreal?

I say Belleville because as far as I know there are no dry cleaners in our immediate area – that is, Madoc or Tweed. There are businesses in those two central Hastings County places where you can drop off and pick up your dry cleaning, but it is sent to Belleville for the actual work to be done, and my understanding is that the cleaning prices are set by those Belleville companies.

The first couple of times I took items to the cleaners in Belleville – taking advantage of the fact that I work in that small nearby city – I was surprised at the prices. Ten dollars to get a simple knee-length unpleated skirt cleaned seemed like an awful lot. In response, since Raymond in those early months was back in Montreal for one thing and another fairly often, I tended to send dry cleaning with him, so it could be done at the place that’s up the street from the house we still own (because it hasn’t yet sold; would you like to buy a nice Outremont condo?) in Montreal.

But now that we’re here in Queensborough almost all the time, and because the dry cleaning was starting to pile up a bit, I figured I’d better get some done locally. So last week I dropped off three items – a plain (i.e. unpleated, unfrilly) dress, a pair of men’s trousers, and a plain skirt. They were done and ready for pickup two days later, which was great. But my eyes bugged out of my head when I saw the price tag: $34.75!

People of Hastings County, perhaps you are used to paying these exorbitant dry-cleaning prices, and so perhaps they don’t seem exorbitant to you. But based on my experience living elsewhere – they are.

For comparison’s sake I tried to find a price list for my local dry cleaner in Montreal, but its prices, sadly, were not available online. I did, however, find a price list for another Montreal chain; it’s here, and it’s very comparable to what I’m used to paying. So using those prices, I calculate that the bill in Montreal for my same dry cleaning order would be $4.50 for the trousers + $8.75 for the dress + $4.50 for the skirt, which adds up to $17.75; when you add the taxes (a hefty 9.975% in Quebec sales tax, so $1.77, plus the 5% GST, 89¢) the final figure is $20.41. Which is about what I had expected to pay for my three items of dry cleaning the other day, and why I was so horrified when the price was almost $15 – 70%! – higher than that.

You know what this makes me feel like? Well, if you said it makes me feel like opening a dry-cleaning business, charging lower prices than the competition and probably making a bundle thanks to my satisfied customers, you’d be close. But I don’t think I have the time for that entrepreneurial enterprise, so sadly, that’s a non-starter. (Though if anyone else would like to try it, you will have your first customer in me.)

No, what the experience really makes me feel like is this: like I’ve been taken to the cleaners.

Some old-fashioned excitement comes to Queensborough

Old cars 1

Okay, Queensborough may be quaint, but this is not a sight you would normally expect to see. What’s the story? (Photo from a video by Marykay York-Pronk)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: in Queensborough, you just never know what interesting thing is going to happen next. Why, if it’s not a deer coming for a visit, it’s a procession of cows through the village. And now here’s the latest thing: a parade of very old cars. And I managed to miss it!

There I was, ensconced in Toronto for the weekend for a couple of long-awaited big-city special events, when I happened to check my Facebook feed yesterday afternoon. Perhaps you can imagine my surprise when I came upon a brief video from our friend Marykay that showed a very familiar scene – Queensborough Road west of our hamlet – and a very unfamiliar sight on that scene: a whole bunch of Model A and Model T cars! Heading for Queensborough!

Old cars 2

More of the vintage cars on the road to Queensborough. Amazing! (Photo from a video by Marykay York-Pronk)

I couldn’t help asking Marykay, in my comment on her post, whether she might have temporarily stepped back in time. I sometimes think that Queensborough has a bit of a Brigadoon-like quality to it; every now and then you almost do feel like you’ve been magically transported to another era. I am pretty sure Marykay knows the feeling I’m talking about, because it seemed to give her a laugh. Anyway, she responded that the cars had been spotting driving around Queensborough before they all showed up on the road west of town, and she said that even though her video shows about half a dozen of them, there were more than that in total.

Old cars 3

This bright-red model is one I particularly wish I’d been around to see. (Photo from a video by Marykay York-Pronk)

Gracious! I didn’t know there were that many operational Model As and Model Ts in the vicinity. And to think they should all show up in Queensborough!

Then again, given the aformentioned Brigadoon-ness of our little village, maybe that’s exactly where one would have expected them to show up.

Anyway, I’m hoping one or more readers might know more about this most interesting visit to Queensborough. Who were those people in the cool old cars, and what made them come see us? And more to the point: when are they coming back? I don’t want to miss it next time!

Clackers: the stupidest (and most painful) toy craze ever

ClackersDo you remember Clackers? If so, do your wrists hurt when you think about them?

Clackers were a sadistic toy that became popular in the early 1970s, if memory serves. During the peak years of my childhood growing up here at the Manse, in other words. Every household with kids had them; I think they were popular enough that they might even have been sold at Queensborough’s two general stores. They were good clean inexpensive fun. But stupid!

Why stupid? And why sadistic? Well, here’s a post on an entertaining Facebook group to which I subscribe, called 1960’s and 1970’s Advertisements (never mind that the apostrophes are in the wrong place, she says, donning her editor’s hat) by one Kurt X Fischer that explains it quite well:

Today’s fun toy from our Lacerations Department is the infamous Clackers. These hard acrylic orbs were popular on school grounds and were bought in the millions by kids of all ages. The only issue they had, other than thousands of bruises, was the high speed orbs would shatter, sending very sharp high-velocity shards of Chinese plastic through the air, possibly blinding anyone within 30 yards.


A photo of Clackers from the website Banned Toy Museum – which informs us that they were banned in 1985. Good riddance!

That about sums it up, Kurt; thanks! Yeah, the story about Clackers – which I think may have been an urban legend, because neither I nor anyone I know ever saw it happen – was that the brightly coloured acrylic orbs would sometimes shatter, sending dangerous shards every which way, notably toward nearby pairs of eyes. But a far more real and present Clackers danger was the bruises that Kurt mentions: you could clack away at those suckers for maybe 30 seconds at a time, but eventually you’d lose the rhythm and they’d lose their trajectory and one of those hard acrylic orbs would slam into your wristbone at high velocity.

And you’d say, “Ow!” And then you’d say to yourself, “I’m never doing that again.” But everybody around you would be clacking their Clackers, and those orbs in motion were such interesting-looking (and -sounding) things, and… you couldn’t resist. You’d try it again. And bruise your wrist again. And again. And again.

Man, were we dopey!