Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Down the lazy river

Thanks to an eagle-eyed spectator who alerted me to this gem:

Here’s the description from the web site:

As you cruise, see some of the world’s most exquisite architecture, quaint seaside towns, and important sites from Canada’s wartime history. Bringing the newsroom on board, some of The Globe’s most lauded journalists will give you a behind the scenes look at the making of the news, while offering their knowledge and insight on cuisine, wine and history, along the way.

I wonder how the French feel about us looking at their country through the lens of “Canada’s wartime history?” Isn’t it like visiting your neighbors and reminding them about that time their house flooded and you came over to help them bail out the basement?

The 11-day cruise will be co-hosted by Globe publisher & CEO Phillip Crawley and editor-in-chief David Walmsley (the Julie McCoy and Isaac of this Love Boat, if you will) who will (somewhat creepily) be “a continued presence throughout the journey.”

Best of all, though, will be the presence of columnist Margaret Wente who will presumably wow travelers with unattributed commentary from other authors.

A “standard suite” aboard the “Scenic Gem” ship will set you back $9,999.00 per person (plus port fees). If you’d prefer a suite with a private balcony on the “Sapphire” or “Diamond” deck, it will cost you $12,999.00 per person (plus port fees). If you want a top-of-the-line “Royal Balcony Suite” on the Diamond Deck (including “a luxurious oversized bathroom” and “thoughtful touches”), it will cost you $15,999 per person (plus port fees).

(In passing, do people actually still believe that $12,999.00 is markedly cheaper than $13,000? You’d think the average Globe & Mail reader would be a little too sophisticated to fall for that old trick.)

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about how to raise the Spectator‘s profile and increase my subscriber base and this has given me a fabulous idea: I’ll rent the Harbour Hopper and do a three-hour tour of Sydney Harbour. I’ll invite some leading local journalists and the chef from the Fuzzy’s Fries truck. I’ll charge $99 per ticket and everyone will think, “What a bargain! I thought I’d pay at least $100.” We’ll admire the CBRM’s exquisite architecture and quaint seaside towns and important sites from Canada’s wartime history. (Fort Petrie, here we come!)

And then I’ll sit back and count my take as the remains of my publication’s journalistic reputation sink softly beneath the waves…


Historical fiction

Historical fiction can take many forms. For example, the resume our former chief administrative officer provided his new bosses in Alberta had elements of historical fiction in it, claiming, as it did, that during his time in our municipality he’d been “instrumental in recently closing a contract with Ports America to be the largest operator the Region has ever seen.”

Hilary Mantel (Source: BBC 4)

Hilary Mantel (Source: BBC 4)

The Barbara Cartland romances I read by the wheelbarrow-full the summer I was 12 count as historical fiction, albeit more fictional than historical. (In my defense, after digesting about 200 of them — which was basically like reading the same book 200 times — I started writing parodies of them. Even at 12 I had a finely tuned sense of the absurd.)

But some of the best historical fiction I’ve ever read was by the British author Hilary Mantel. She’s written a wonderful novel about the French Revolution (A Place of Greater Safety) and her two books about Tudor England, which put the spotlight on Thomas Cromwell, the King’s fixer (Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies) are fantastic (she’s working on the third and final in the series, I can’t wait).

I have to wait, though, so imagine my joy in discovering that while I waited, I could listen to Mantel deliver the 2017 BBC Reith Lectures, which are available online and as podcasts. I listened to them over a week or so and they are fascinating. She talks about the role of historical fiction, her approach to writing historical fiction and sometimes she just talks flat-out history. I think those might be my favorite bits.

In her third lecture, she describes life in pre-industrial England and the first thing she does is dispel the myth that everyone, especially members of the working class, was filthy. (I laughed out loud when she mentioned this because I’ve noticed it time and again in movies and television shows — peasants are always portrayed with dirt all over their faces.)

Mantel pointed out that while it’s true people couldn’t wash most of their outerwear — they would just brush it and air it out — they’re outerwear never touched their bodies. What actually touched their bodies was linen which was washed frequently.

But the line that really struck me was her description of the pre-industrial soundscape. If you lived in England before the industrial revolution, she said, the loudest noise you’d ever heard was probably thunder — or church bells.

Having almost deafened myself with my own high-speed blender yesterday, I find that idea very attractive.


Thanksgiving miracle

What happens when a corporation owns a province?

This, says Canadaland’s Jesse Brown:

What happens when a corporation is just really, really tight with a province? Global has you covered there:

It’s worth quoting that Global story in greater detail. This is what our premier said in response to the news that there had been an explosion in an oil refinery in a Maritime city:

“I want to say how impressed I was and how grateful all of the families were that there was no loss of life in New Brunswick and we look forward to you continuing to put your company back together and continuing to make investments not only in this province,” McNeil said, gesturing at the room around him.

But as the story’s author, Alexander Quon, pointed out:

The lion’s share of the funding for the Richard Murray Design Building and the Emera IDEA building came from the federal government, which paid half of the roughly $64-million price tag.

Irving Oil committed  $1.5 million to build a large auditorium in the design building.

If Dalhousie had relied solely on Irving, it would have had a large, free-standing auditorium at the mercy of the elements.

And as I will point out, McNeil seems to be implying that Irving did something “impressive” to ensure there was no loss of life in that explosion, when really, the most you could congratulate Irving for is sheer dumb luck that nobody was killed.

Which is not to say people weren’t injured — and as the CBC is reporting, Irving may have under-reported how many:

Tim Bousquet covered the safety history of the St. John’s refinery in Wednesday’s Morning File, along with the related issues of regulatory capture and Irving’s environmental record. It’s well worth a read.

But it’s that Telegraph-Journal headline I can’t seem to get out of my head: an Irving-owned paper putting a positive spin on an explosion in an Irving-owned oil refinery  is a sight that’s hard to unsee. If only there were an antidote…Oh wait, there is.

Bless you, Kate Beaton:

Source: Twitter

Source: Twitter


Hark! a Vagrant

Speaking of Kate Beaton, she’s officially ended her Hark! A Vagrant project, which was my first introduction to her work.

She writes:

Hark! A Vagrant, such as it is, is an archive website now. I didn’t think it would be when I stepped away to work on other projects, but (not to kill the light mood around here) 2016-2018 were very difficult years in a personal sense, and emerging on the other side, I feel like this is a project that has run its course. I am so very grateful for all that this comic and my readers have given me, they have given me a career, joy, and more than I ever dreamed.

Beaton has dedicated the archive to her sister Becky, who died of cancer earlier this year, which makes the announcement even sadder.

But she says she is working on a graphic novel and picture books for children and may one day return to “humour comics” although she’ll “have to figure out what that will look like.”

Her fans expressed their thanks and paid their tributes on Twitter by posting their favorite “Hark! A Vagrant” comics. (Be warned, she has many fans and they picked excellent comics and you could lose serious time to this thread. Just saying…)

I could never pick one favorite, but I always loved this one:

Kate Beaton, Hark! A Vagrant (

Kate Beaton, Hark! A Vagrant 

Thank you, Kate Beaton.







The Cape Breton Spectator is entirely reader supported. Please consider subscribing today!