Snow Falling

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You just know the snow is serious when you get a knock on the door and you see three kids outside, bearing shovels. Still, you had to appreciate the industriousness of these kids, especially as they waited patiently as, behind the closed door, me and my family raced around to try and find cash to pay these kids to save us from having to shovel our driveway and sidewalk. The perils of a cashless society.

Though, when I opened the door, one of these young'uns said, "Would you like us to shovel your driveway for ten bucks? Five?" I let out a chuff, like I'd been kicked.

I wanted to say, "Dude! This is the heaviest snowstorm of the season, so far! And our driveway is HUGE! You're selling yourself way too short if you charge anything less than twenty dollars, since a twenty-dollar bill is just so easy to hand over."

But I didn't. I said, "sure", and they finished it with remarkable speed. And I paid them $25. In loonies and toonies because, as I said, the perils of a cashless society.

I asked: they couldn't take cheques.

Waiting for the Train

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Kitchener Station, taken by me early on the morning of Wednesday, January 4, 2023.

We Are Our Brothers' (and Sisters') Keepers.

I'm probably flailing at straw men, here, but bear with me a moment.

I've heard it said that some people say "Am I my brother's keeper?" when they argue against social programs, spending money to help people less fortunate than themselves, the whole concept of having a government to take care of people who may not be them or their loved ones. "Am I my brother's keeper?" What responsibility do I have, they argue, to help others who may or may not have gotten what's coming to them. I didn't cause their suffering, so why am I responsible for their care?

It surprises me that some of these people who take this tack, by how they act, even if they don't make this quote directly, don't realize where this quote comes from. You see, it's from the Bible. And before they suggest that this gives God's backing to ignoring the needs of others, note that it's from the Book of Genesis, chapter 4, verses 1-9. It's what Cain says to his parents, Adam and Eve, when they come to him and ask, "Where's Abel?"

Because, of course, Cain has killed Abel. And hidden the body. And made it quite clear within the story that his actions and sentiments are not something that we as decent human beings should be modeling.

So, if anybody does ask, "Am I my brother's keeper?" the answer is, emphatically, "Yes!"

On Train Service to Timmins and Weekend GO Service to Stratford

Ontario Northland purchased equipment

Though I am loath to give the Doug Ford government the benefit of the doubt, I will give them credit when it's due, and the recent news of their purchase of new passenger equipment for the restoration of the Ontario Northland train from Toronto to Timmins is undeniable good news.

I still haven't forgiven Dalton McGuinty for cancelling this special train service. Yes, it lost money, but all modes of transportation do. We have to spend money to ensure mobility, whether it's on roads, bus services, public transit, and trains into the northern part of the province. And given the boost to tourism, the local economy, northerners' health and wellbeing (connecting them to hospital services in southern Ontario), and generally keeping an eye on our links to the Arctic in this age of climate change, this investment is worth our while.

The new equipment purchased by the Ford government builds on the sleek new trains VIA Rail is getting for the Quebec-Windsor corridor. All in all, thanks to Ottawa and Queens Park, come 2026 I'm going to have more places to ride, and nice accommodations when I ride. I'm happy about that. I would even recommend that the premier purchase a few more sets of equipment and operate the new GO Train to London using them. They're probably a damn sight more comfortable for longer distance. Integrate the service with VIA Rail and possibly brand it VIA Ontario.

All that said, while there is much to look forward to on the public transit front in the next three years, there is a lot of room for improvement. Yes, we may be on the verge of the biggest addition to Toronto's rapid transit network since 1966, but the ongoing delays and the corporate cloudiness at Metrolinx demands an investigation and some accountability. Rush hour express trains between Toronto and Kitchener are running for the first time since the pandemic started, reducing the commute time to downtown to 95 minutes (try driving that in that length of time during the same period), but weekend service between Kitchener and Toronto has degraded. All that GO has for Kitchener is their bus service to Square One in Mississauga. With Greyhound vanished, there is no direct downtown weekend connection from Kitchener to speak of, save for the lonely VIA train, which inexplicably worsened their service when they moved their morning inbound train to early in the afternoon.

Metrolinx has promised two-way, hourly, seven-day-a-week train service between Kitchener and Union for 2024, but that's not looking likely. I would gladly take what limited service Barrie now receives to downtown Toronto, with trains between these two centres every three hours, or so. Sure, it would cost money, and certainly the competing freight traffic makes it difficult, since unlike Barrie, Metrolinx doesn't own all the tracks between Toronto and Kitchener, but the service would be instantly popular, and the costs of providing it less than people think if Metrolinx would just look at the opportunity staring them in the face.

Metrolinx already serves Stratford, with a single train that operates in from London on morning weekdays and returns the following evening. The train is stored in London overnight, except for the weekend, I believe, when it deadheads back to Toronto for maintenance. Here's the opportunity: don't deadhead the train.

And here's the second opportunity: work with the schedule of the Stratford Festival.

You can look up GO's schedules for trains to Kitchener and London (the route number is 31) and extrapolate the times a few weekend runs can do. A train departing London at 5:14 Saturday morning gets to Stratford at 6:15 and Kitchener at 7:38. Serving all stops to Bramalea and running express to Union east from there gets passengers to downtown Toronto at 9:13 -- a perfect time to start a day trip in Toronto. Trains can turn around pretty quickly at Union, so it can likely depart at the already scheduled weekday time of 9:34. Making all stops, it arrives in Kitchener at 11:21. Given travel times to Stratford, it can continue to that city and arrive at 12:14. Plenty of time for people to grab a lunch and catch a 2 p.m. matinee at the Stratford Festival.

After a matinee, and time for a dinner, people can head back to Stratford station to catch the train back to Toronto at 7 p.m. Serving all stops, it can reach Toronto at 9:58, turn around for a 10:30 departure, returning to Kitchener just after midnight and in London around 2 a.m. In one fell swoop, you've provided a useful service for Torontonians to a tremendous attraction that requires bus parking to handle all the tour groups, and you've given residents of Waterloo Region access to Toronto for a weekend day trip. We could even tighten the schedules so that the return time isn't so late, and there's plenty of room in the middle of the day for a Stratford-Toronto-Stratford run providing more choices for Waterloo Region and Stratford residents as well as Torontonians, keeping a lot of people and cars off of Highway 401.

It seems a no brainer. I realize that the presence of Canadian National freight trains along the route complicate this service, but really the thing holding it back is a lack of political will and an unwillingness to spend the money to make it happen. The thing is, though: with the correct schedule and a decent marketing plan, Metrolinx will not have to spend nearly as much money as one would think, and it would be a boon to the tourism industry in southwestern Ontario.

Like him or dislike him, Ford seems like he's getting it done on the Northlander. I appreciate that. He needs to get this done for Stratford and Waterloo Region.

And add some direct bus service between Kitchener, Guelph and Hamilton while you're at it!

On Writing and 2022

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It has been both a good year and a frustrating year for my writing.

It's been a good year because I'm gainfully employed in being creative for a purpose. My job as a Communications Officer has me creating press releases, reaching out to donors, writing up current events, and promoting upcoming events, all in service of a cause I believe in. I've taken advantage of my old fanzine production experience to create bi-annual news magazines, and I'm being paid for it all! There are few things better than being paid to do something you enjoy doing, working in a cause you believe in. I am blessed to have been able to make an income from writing for the past few years, now.

However, the fact is, my fiction has been a source of frustration. While I'm pleased with the quality of my stories, I simply haven't had much success in finding a market for them.

It's not like I wasn't warned about this. We've heard the tale of how Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time was rejected by twelve publishers before finding a home. But what people in the industry don't warn newcomers about, I find, is that quite often the hard slog of searching for an agent or publisher, querying that agent or publisher, sending a manuscript to said agent or publisher, and waiting for a response, before starting the whole process again upon a rejection, often doesn't go away. Those twelve times Ms. L'Engle submitted A Wrinkle in Time to publishers? That's gone up, and it applies to published authors. I've heard tell that authors are rejected on average forty times before finding an agent, these days, and without an agent, many publishers just won't look at you.

The industry has gotten harsher in recent years. Thanks to the pandemic, publishers have consolidated their listings, and themselves. The pandemic is why my novel, The Dream King's Daughter, will not be published, even after having it accepted and a contract signed. The marketing budgets of the industry have been slashed, and almost all of it goes to support the top sellers rather than the struggling mid-list.

Though I'm afraid that this might be seen as whining, and I know that all of these feelings will be whipped away the moment I get some semblance of a bite, I do think it's important to say out loud that this part of being a writer is a soul-crushing experience. Most of us did not get into this industry expecting things to be easy, but it can be so discouraging to find how hard it truly is to keep making progress, even after you've "made it" selling that first novel.

I am also aware that I have been absolutely privileged to have my fiction be been published as much as it has. I remain proud of the recognition and reviews I've received and grateful for the friends I've met along the way. I just don't want it to stop. I have considered self-publishing, but if finding a publisher is hard, think of how much harder it is to find an audience without the resources of a publisher behind you. I'm no Arthur Slade. I have neither the name recognition nor the marketing gumption to pull off what he does. But maybe it is a way to go.

I don't want this to come across as whining. I have success to look back on. I am currently doing work that makes use of my abilities. I've even put out fan fiction. The simple exercise of writing gives me joy, and I'm not going to turn my back on that. But I think I need to write this because I know there are people out there in the same boat, facing the same frustrations, submission after submission. Even after getting a book published, that's no guarantee that you'll get the next book published, and that's a harsh reality for anybody to face.

But maybe it's a little bit easier to know that you're not alone. Maybe it will help to remind yourself how much you love to just put words down on paper, or electronically onto your ancient blog (which might become relevant again once Elon Musk utterly kills Twitter, who knows?), and send them out not knowing nor particularly who else will see them. Because writing them down and getting them out is a good feeling. I know it because that is what I'm feeling now, and I can't see that urge ever going away.

But as I move into 2023, towards my fifty-first birthday, I am going to have to think about how much longer I want to continue the submission-rejection cycle. I don't have nearly as many days left to tell these stories as I used to, and I need to think about what I want to do about that.

Because I like to write, and I like to have an audience. And I have stories in me, and I have some of them on paper.

Chris Boucher (1943-2022)

I was sorry to hear of the passing of writer Chris Boucher, a British author and screenwriter. He was known for his works in, among other things, Doctor Who and Blake's 7, producing some of their most treasured episodes.

My first taste of Doctor Who happened in 1978, when I walked in on my parents, aunts and uncles watching Genesis of the Daleks, Part 6, on TV Ontario. The fact that I can remember this very scene shows how much of an impact it had on me, but this wasn't the moment I became a fan. Rather, it came after my parents kept watching TVO's episodes of Doctor Who, through its classic era of episodes produced by Phillip Hinchcliffe and script-edited by Robert Holmes. The stories were good, and my parents and I got aboard, but it took a little while before my interest grew beyond that of my parents, where I became an avid collector of all things Who-related, eventually joining the fandom, writing fan fiction, and developing as an author.

And that moment came when we watched The Robots of Death, an art-deco-inspired science-fiction-touched murder mystery. The look and feel of the story and, the rich characters, the script -- that was the episode that made me a fan of the series. And it was written by Chris Boucher.

So, Chris Boucher made me a fan of Doctor Who. And Doctor Who fandom turned me into a writer. And being a writer turned me into me. So, it's not too much of a stretch to say that Chris Boucher had a big impact on who I am today, though he'll never know it. Thus I salute him.

Thank you, Chris. Rest in peace.

Whither Joan Sprat?

The nursery rhyme goes, "Jack Sprat could eat no fat; His wife could eat no lean; And so betwixt the two of them; They licked the platter clean."

Things that stay with you: in the early eighties, the Beef Council of Canada, or whatever the industry marketing group was called at the time, ran a series of advertisements on television, seeking to rehabilitate beef's image. It's hard to believe that beef's image would need to be rehabilitated, but thinking back to the advertisements, it's clear what the marketers were thinking.

As I remember, their on-screen spokesman was Jack Sprat, a young and lively man who danced onto the set in a top-hat, coat and tales to a big chorus-line number. "Jack Sprat!" the singers exclaimed. "Could eat no fat", and this was okay because beef was now leaner (but not meaner), and thus Jack was a happy boy, and you should be too if you loved beef but wanted to have a healthier diet with less fat in it.

I'm not sure if the commercials did the trick in rehabilitating beef's image, except for the fact that this was the last advertisement I ever remember seeing from the Beef Council, and there's no shortage of people buying beef in stores. Also, I still remember this advertisement, even though it's around forty years later.

But as I look back at it now, I have to ask: where's Jack's wife? She's very much absent from these commercials as Jack carries on with the chorus line singers. Was there a divorce? Has she mysteriously disappeared to go somewhere, nobody's quite sure where? Where did you hide the body, Jack?

The third verse of the nursery rhyme, incidentally, goes, "Jack Sprat was wheeling; his wife by the ditch; the barrow turned over; and in she did pitch."


As an aside, Jack's wife really does get short shrift here, as evidenced by the fact that I had to look things up in order to find out that her name was Joan. And, in doing my quick research, I've discovered that, as with all nursery rhymes, the Jack Sprat poem is much more than just about a young man with an allergy to lipids: see here.


And, no, I'm not making this up. The ad exists and, thanks to the miracle of YouTube (doing a search after I wrote the above; so I misremembered the tophat, coat and tails when he instead adopted a Rick Ashley look), can be found here:

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