Friday, January 25, 2008

Playing Through

SlĂ inte Mhath! Happy Burns Day!
Give the Scots in your life a polite nod of acknowledgement today (or perhaps a firm handshake if you know them really well. But please, none of that "kiss me I'm Irish" nonsense!). There probably is a Scot in your life as there are about 5 million Canadians with Scottish ancestry oot and aboot. Some Scottish Canadians are quite fiercely attached to their Scottish heritage, along the lines of Mike Myers' infamous Scottish storekeeper on Saturday Night Live: "It it's not Scottish, it's craaaapp".

Vancouver band Spirit of the West put it best in their classic song, "The Old Sod":

From the old sod to the new land we came over by the score
We cut the ties said goodbye & closed the old world door
We settled on your prairies, in your cities and your towns
There's another oatmeal savage, every time you turn around

There's none more Scots than the Scots abroad.
There's a place in our hearts for the old sod.
There's none more Scots than the Scots abroad.
There's a place in our hearts for the old sod.

We soon found our own kind, formed clubs & social nights
We practised on each other just to keep our accents right
For there's more tartan here than in all the motherland
We came 5000 miles to the gathering of the clans


There's a bar in the rec room in the basement of our house
A little shrine to Ballantynes, Haig & Famous Grouse
There's a sprig of purple heather from the land that once was mine
And Robbie's on the tea towel with the words to Auld Lang Syne


Canada's been good to us, we've a living and a home.
We've all got central heating and most are on the phone.
I'm a citizen of both countries and very proud to be,
For the thistle and the maple leaf, are the emblems of the free.

Many "oatmeal savages" make the trek back to the old sod from time to time - Edmonton author Curtis Gillespie among them. He wrote a beautiful, moving memoir of a year he spent with his young family living in the small town of Gullane, Scotland: Playing Through: A Year of Life and Links Along the Scottish Coast. On the surface a golf book, with sufficient talk of Gullane Golf Club to satisfy golfers, it is really about Gillespie and his father, his family and the fragility of life. It paints an affectionate picture of Scottish village life including ceilidhs and Burns Night dinners.

Curtis is here in person at the Library this Sunday, along with author Todd Babiak, to talk about his most recent book, a novel from last fall, Crown Shyness. Their event, Sunday Salon, takes place Sunday January 27th at 2:00pm. Hope you can make it!

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Carbon Buster's Home Energy Handbook

How are you doing with your New Year's resolutions? Been to the gym more often? Me neither. Lowered your CO2 emissions yet? Me neither. But the year is young... and some expert help is on the way, this very week, with the Al Gore of St. Albert, Godo Stoyke, dropping into the Library this Thursday January 24th @ 7pm with a handy free public workshop called "Carbon Busting for Fun and Profit".

Godo is President of Carbon Busters Inc., an "energy efficiency consultancy" that has worked with companies and organizations around the world to reduce CO2 emissions. His 2007 book, The Carbon Buster's Home Energy Handbook: Slowing Climate Change and Saving Money, is full of practical ways to save money through energy efficiency. And he even thanks the Library in his introduction: "Thanks to the friendly staff at the St. Albert library, for providing one of the best selections of books for a library of this size I have ever seen."

The hand wringing and the debates about climate change are so 2007. Godo's book - and his talk at the Library - help us move on into actually doing something practical.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Experts say this year will be the best ever!
It is important to start the new year on a positive note. That out of the way, we can proceed with recent author deaths. First on my list is George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman novels, who departed this mortal coil on January 2 at the age of 82.

Lovers of the Flashman books form a bit of a cult - a love that dare not speak its name these days as the Flashman novels are over the top in their political incorrectness. But their unPCness is the point, as they are satire - brilliant parodies of the Victorian-era Boys' Own Adventure tales of derring-do by the British Empire's worthies (including the ones "who so gallantly gave their lives to keep China British" as the mighty Python so aptly put it).

Fraser plucked Harry Flashman, the bully from Thomas Hughes's Victorian morality tale, Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857), and dropped him
like a Zelig or a Forrest Gump into real 19th century historical events in a series of bestselling novels, starting with Flashman (1969).

D. J. Taylor in the UK newspaper, The Independent, sums up Fraser's genius in Flashman:

"The distinguishing mark of the Flashman series ... is its historical detail. Harry Paget Flashman, its motivating force, may in the end be only an inspired invention, but the world in which he moves is sharply and accurately laid out. As well as offering readers the comparatively rare spectacle of an unreal person at large in a real world, Fraser added a further refinement. Unlike the conventional heroes of historical fiction, Flashman is a coward, a bully and a satyromaniacal philanderer. The fistfuls of honours and decorations with which he is routinely showered ... are invariably the result of grotesque accidents."
[I had to use the above quote just for "satyromaniacal philanderer" alone!]

Fraser himself seemed to harden in his opinions as years went on, especially in recent decades of New Labour, Cool Britania and so on. One senses a fondness in Fraser for the grand days of Empire. But then again he is au courant, with young historians like Niall Ferguson taking a revisionist view of the British Empire in books such as Empire: the Rise and Demise of the British World Order ...

There is a good discussion of the issues raised by Flashman in the Crooker Timber blog and the many comments from readers [here], all initiated by an obit from Neil Gaiman on his blog [here].

Here's a list of the Flashman books in historical chronological order (not publication order):
  1. Flashman (Britain, India and Afghanistan 1839-42)
  2. Royal Flash (England 1842-43, Germany 1847-48)
  3. Flashman's Lady (England, Borneo and Madagascar 1842-45)
  4. Flashman and the Mountain of Light (India Punjab 1845-46)
  5. Flash for Freedom! (England, West Africa, USA 1848-49)
  6. Flashman and the Redskins (USA 1849-50 and 1875-76)
  7. Flashman at the Charge (England, Crimea and Central Asia 1854-55)
  8. Flashman in the Great Game (Scotland, India 1856-58)
  9. Flashman and the Angel of the Lord (India, South Africa, USA 1858-59)
  10. Flashman and the Dragon (China 1860)
  11. Flashman on the March (Abyssinia 1868)
  12. Flashman and the Tiger (Berlin 1878, Paris, Vienna 1883 to 1884 / England 1890-91 / South Africa 1879, England 1894)