Read any Good Books lately? (#22) – Islands and Highlands Pandemic Binge Reading

In my youth I was never a big fan of Murder/Mystery/ Crime fiction. Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie were never on my reading list. But in my late middle age something must have changed because that particular genre of literature is almost my preferred recreational reading. My wife being Scottish may have had something to do with it. She introduced me to the Scottish writer Ian Rankin.  It was only a short hop to the Swedish novels of Henning Mankel  and a whole plethora of Nordic Noir. So now that I am hooked,  I am always on the look out for new writers in the genre and the latest one to come to my attention is B.M. Allsop. She is  an Australian writer of The Fiji Island Mysteries. She lived in the South Pacific islands for fourteen years, including four in Fiji where she worked at the University of the South Pacific in Suva. She now lives in Sydney with her husband and tabby cat. All of the key ingredients of the genre are there in the series. There are good plots with an unexpected twist here and there, peopled by believable, sometimes flawed, characters, all set in a specific geographical location that invests the  novel with a unique atmosphere. On the requirements of plot, personalities and character development The Fiji Island Mysteries scores top marks. In the series there are five novels that feature two main characters, DI Josefa (Joe) Horseman – a washed-up rugby player and DS Susie Singh  a driven Indian woman who has to deal with familiar gender issues as well the racial and feudal issues of Fijian society.

  • Death of a Hero: Fiji Islands Mysteries is the prequel to the Fiji Islands Mysteries series. Set in 1990s Suva, the young Horseman’s first case is not only a twisty whodunit that will have you reaching for your thinking cap, but a sensitive coming-of-age story that will touch your heart…..  Amazon.  This is  the rugby playing Josefa (Joe) Horseman in his youth at the University of the South Pacific (USP). Like most Fijians the motivating force in his life is Rugby and to this end he was on the University rugby team while studying for a business degree. All that changed when the team captain was murdered and he became a prime suspect.To clear his name he became involved in the investigation and in the process his academic focus shifted from business to policing. That’s how it all began.
  • Fijian Island Mysteries: Book one – Death on Paradise Island.  Joe had left University behind him and chosen a career in the police. The chance to play on the police rugby team was a  motivator. Rugby is a brutal game and he suffered some career ending injuries that required treatment and rehabilitation in the USA. On his return to Fiji he is immediately back on the job investigating  a murder on a resort island. Tourism and environmental concerns are big issues on the islands and the murder in a resort setting poses significant challenges and difficulties.
  • Fijian Island Mysteries: Book Two – Death by Tradition. “Only 5 more days… Horseman can’t wait for his American girlfriend, to join him in Fiji. So, when a young activist is murdered in the remote highlands, Horseman sets a deadline to crack the case. But he knows nothing of the dangers looming through the mountain mist.” ….. Amazon Books. Fiji must be one of the few feudal societies left on the planet and as such it creates some of the unique challenges that are explored in this story.
  • Fijian Island Mysteries: Book Three – Death Beyond the Limit. “DI Joe Horseman stares into the eyes of a severed head fished out of a shark’s gut. Did the tiger shark kill Jona or was he already dead when it clamped its teeth around his neck?” ….. Amazon Books. The novel explores the political and environmental complexities of industrial fishing and how a small island nation has to deal with the big political and commercial international players in the industry.
  • Fijian Island Mysteries: Book Four – Death Sentence. “Everyone in Fiji hates Dev Reddy, in prison for horrific abuse of his own son. When he is released after serving only half his term, the Fiji media whip up a public outcry in Suva. As protest escalates to riot, DI Joe Horseman fears Reddy’s parole may prove to be a death sentence. But Horseman defies the court of public opinion. He must even battle his new boss to protect Reddy just like any other citizen under threat. Together with DS Susie Singh, he pursues blind justice through the streets of Suva and the rural back blocks. Can he unearth a killer the public applauds?” …. Amazon Books.

The series has been a wonderful way to explore the geography and culture of a location that is tucked away from public view and allows one realize that despite the remoteness of the islands there are certain themes and issues that are universal. The place names and the Fijian language might be a bit of a challenge but the rewards are well worth the small effort required.


Highlands and Islands Detective Thriller Series by G.R. Jordan

This box set collection contains the first six books in the Highlands and Islands Detective Thriller series which have already been published as individual books:

  • Water’s Edge
  • The Bothy
  • The Horror Weekend
  • The Small Ferry
  • Dead at Third Man
  • The Pirate Club

When we think about Scottish Murder/Mysteries the author Ian Rankin and his chief protagonist John Rebus comes to mind. His stories are generally in the urban settings of Edinburgh and we forget that there are are two Scottish realities.  One, the modern urban Scotland that is a land of modern cities similar to the rest of the world albeit with a Scottish accent. Two, the other part of Scotland,  the wilder more primitive  regions of the  north and west – The Highlands and Islands. Ian Rankin’s urban world is much the same as the rest of us, a little grittier perhaps  but with a Scottish accent.  G.R Jordan’s world is a Scotland  where the “Wee Free Church” and a Calvinistic mentality  still has some hold over the minds and manners of men and women. Sunday in that part of Scotland is the Sabbath with attendance at  two Church services and the rest of the day is spent in prayer and contemplation. Nothing moves or is pursued in that part of Scotland on Sunday. Just try and get a restaurant meal on Sunday in the Western Isles. Things are changing but on the Isle of Skye  in 1972 we found that just getting a meal on a Sunday was a challenge.

In this collection of six novels the author invites you to join stalwart policeman  DI Macleod and his burgeoning new DC McGrath as they look into the darker side of the stunningly scenic and wilder parts of the north of Scotland. From the Black Isle to Lewis, from Mull to Harris and across to the small Isles, the Uists and Barra.  This mismatched pair follow murders, thieves and vengeful victims in an effort to restore tranquillity to the remoter parts of the land. MacLeod is very, very  old school and is trying to come to terms with his traditional view of things and the political, cultural and professional changes taking place around him. His new partner, McGrath, is a very modern miss who has to deal with the macho male mentality of her chosen profession but is very much in tune with the changing world around her..

Become a observer of these tales of a surprise partnership, amid the foulest deeds and darkest souls who stalk this peaceful and most beautiful of lands, and you’ll never see the Highlands in the same light ever again.


I do most of my reading on Kindle. By and large I have nothing but high praise for the device. I particularly like the bright screen and the  instant availability of the dictionary. The only time I find Kindle  less than satisfactory is when the reading material has a lot of graphics. I also subscribe to a service called BookBud that sends me daily listings of budget priced e-books. It has been a wonderful avenue for finding new and interesting books. All at a low cost.  The Fijian Island Mysteries and the Highlands and Islands Detective Thriller Series are two collections that I would not have found otherwise.


YouTube Picks (#42) – Manha de Carnival

In my opinion Manha de Carnival is one of the great melodies of the 20th century. It is a Brazilian Bossa Nova classic and a staple in the jazz repertoire. It is an original composition by Luiz Bonfa and is the theme song from the 1959 Academy Award film Black Orpheus. Luiz was born on October 17, 1922, in Rio de Janeiro and began studying  guitar with the Uruguayan classical guitarist Isaías Sávio at the age of 11. Luiz  is best known for his involvement with Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes and the development of Bossa Nova in the late 1950s. …. wikipedia

Stephanie Jones is a young classical guitarist originally from Perth Western Australia. “From a very young age her childhood resonated with the sound of music.She played many instruments, beginning first with the piano, and progressing to the violin, viola, saxophone and flute. However, it was the guitar with its captivating range of sounds and great versatility that especially appealed to her, and it quickly became her first love. She is a world-renowned soloist and chamber musician who specializes in classical guitar performance. Stephanie received her undergraduate degree with First Class Honours at the Australian National University under the guidance of Tim Kain and Minh le Hoang, as well as a Masters degree at the University of Music Franz Liszt Weimar with Prof. Thomas Müller-Pering. She is currently based in Germany and now studying Konzertexamen.

Stephanie continues to perform extensively around the globe in multiple tours and festivals, and has also released three solo albums; “Open Sky” (2020), “Colours of Spain” (2015), and “Bach, the Fly, and the Microphone” (2009). She is also a member of the acclaimed Weimar Guitar Quartet, releasing their debut album in 2019.

She has also won numerous awards in prestigious competitions, including first prize at the Hannabach Guitar competition, Uppsala International Guitar Festival Competition, and Fine Music Network Young “Virtuoso of the Year” Competition.”  …. Stephanie Jones website.

Over the past 50 years a number of versions of Manha de Carnival have made their way into the Classical Guitar repertoire. This is an outstanding arrangement by Stephanie Jones.

She plays a number of traditional Classical Guitars including a 2012 spruce top guitar by Perth luthier Paul Sheridan, a 2020 crossover guitar by Daniel Zucali, and a double top spruce guitar by Altamira. On this recording she is using a TransAcoustic & Silent Guitar manufactured by Yamaha. Essentially it is an electric travel guitar but as this video demonstrates it has a “true” acoustic Classical sound.

  • Nylon Strings, Natural Finish. Body and neck material is mahogany
  • The SLG is the perfect instrument for practice, travel or stage use – any time an acoustic guitar just won’t do.
  • Near-silent performance makes discrete practice simple
  • Yamaha’s exclusive SRT-Powered pickup system gives incredibly natural acoustic tone through headphones or line-out
  • Studio-quality on-board effects enhance playing to perfection and line-in functionality makes jamming easy

In performance Stephanie also uses a GuitarLift. This is an innovative device that enable the guitarist to hold the instrument in the most desirable stable configuration.


Here is another Bossa Nove tune from Stephanie…



Entitlements, Responsibilities & Wishful Thinking

A classic case of Entitlements ………….” In 1974, Frank Sinatra came out of a short retirement to tour Australia for the first time in over fifteen years. The legendary crooner was not prepared, however, for the changed political landscape Down Under. Increasing numbers of women were entering higher education professions and public life” and to refer to Australian female journalists as “hookers” was a big mistake and one  that the journalists’ Trade Union could not overlook. Unions hit the Sinatra tour with a black ban that immobilized the tour. Check out the following video………

After the tour Sinatra commented ” I made one mistake in Australia. I got off the plane”.

Nearly half a century later another celebrity tangled with Australian officials. This time it was the number one seed in the Australian Tennis Open, the  Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic. To compete in the event the request from the Australians was simple. To enter the country he just had to show proof of vaccination against Covid 19 and abide by the public health rules in place. In reality it was a non-issue. If you want to compete you have to be vaccinated. A very simple equation. Djokovic, an outspoken anti-vaxer tried to evade the rules and as a result he was deported from Australia. The decision to deport the tennis star was generally supported by the Australian public. The country had come through two years of public health lock downs and was in no mood to overlook entitlement behavior. Because Djokovic was removed from Australia using ministerial powers under the Migration Act, he is now barred from returning to Australia for three years. However, since each visa application is reviewed on its merits, the ban can be waived in certain circumstances if he satisfies the conditions of a visa. How ever, His future participation in the Australian Tennis Open Championships is in jeopardy. As a follow up to the Australian brouhaha  Djokovic’s participation in the French open is now also in jeopardy. As vaccination rules tighten up in other jurisdictions he might end up in a very lonely place on the tennis circuit.

Across North America and the world there is a misplaced celebrity culture that fosters a sense of entitlement without a counter balancing sense of responsibility. Djokovic was one of a number of athletic celebrities trying to evade or bend the rules.  Luckily the general public tends to follow the rules and not support entitlement bad behavior. In British Columbia the public has acted very responsibly. Vaccination rates are over 90% and, by and large, public health orders are followed. In certain sectors this has not been easy. Gyms and hospitality industries have been hit hard and despite some confusion around some orders, compliance has been excellent. We acknowledge that all citizens have a right to earn a living but some people have tried to stand on that principle to allow them to flout public health orders. Certain health care workers, despite their intimate contact with vulnerable populations, have refused to vaccinate. The policy of the public health team has been to tread “softly, softly” and have tried to rely on education to nudge the unwilling in the right direction. Health orders are out there but enforcement has been mostly non confrontational. In the case of the Health care workers refusing vaccination they were given the option to comply with health orders or face unpaid leave with the possibility of eventual dismissal.  Apart from the health orders there are certain professional ethics that needed to be observed and if not followed there would be professional consequences.  Dr. Bonnie Henry was heard to comment that if “they are not prepared to vaccinate and protect their patients then, perhaps, they are in the wrong professions”. A very tactful criticism of the offender’s behavior. Those refusing to comply are small in number but very vocal. The latest group to buck the vaccination orders are the cross border truckers. Because of the essential nature of their services, they had been exempt from vaccination. That is about to end. Both the Canadian and US governments are now demanding that truckers need to be vaccinated. Just for their own safety the majority of truckers have been vaccinated, but, once again there is a vocal minority  who feel they have been hard done by. I suspect when faced with significant quarantine periods after cross border trips, the hold outs will comply. It is the old story of when paychecks are threatened then there is an incentive to buckle under and comply.

From the very beginning of the pandemic there has been a significant level of wishful thinking. The foremost question has been “when can we get back to normal?” It has driven certain politicians to ignore the science and pursue policies that contravene sensible public health policies. The most infamous was Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenny declaring the end of public health precautions and predicting that Alberta was going to have “The best summer ever”. We all know how that turned out. Following the government’s pronouncement there was a very predictable spike in Covid cases .

For most people “getting back to normal” means a return to way things were before the pandemic. That is not going to happen. The pandemic is a catastrophic world changing event and there is no going back to the way things were. Just a brief look back at catastrophic events over the past hundred years underscores that notion. World War I started in 1914 and lasted until 1918 and that was followed immediately by the “Spanish Flu” pandemic that lasted a further four years. When that was over the world was a different place. Life in the early 1920s were vastly different to life in the 1914  pre-WWI era. There was no going back and, if the truth is known, there was nothing to be gained by trying to go back. Similarly the Great Depression of 1929 was followed almost immediately by World War II. Once again life had changed so dramatically and there was no going back. Life in 1945 was vastly different to life in 1930. So here we are only two years into the current pandemic, and optimistically we are at the mid point with at least 12-24 months still to go. and when we come out of the pandemic that there are the implications of Global Warming breathing down our neck. By 2024 the world will be a very, very different place to the one we left in 2020. There are expectation that international travel and tourism will resume at pre-pandemic levels. We have forgotten how the virus originally spread across the world? International travel was a significant component. We have also forgotten how prime tourist destinations were being overrun by visitors and local populations were already calling a halt to the disruptions of the tourism industry. Despite the warnings of the CDC there are people “dying” to get back on board the “floating petrie dishes” that are cruise ships. The last time I looked,  the CDC was advising against taking cruises and 19 cruise ships are being currently monitored. Some maritime destinations have refused to allowed some cruises to land.

Over the next two years there will be many false starts and hiccups on the way back to “normal”. I suggest it is better to continue to hunker down and allow the post-pandemic world unfold in a slow and orderly way. Jason Kenney is probably right. We are going to have to live with the virus but that is going to take time and experience. As the saying goes “everything will turn out in the end and if it hasn’t then we are not at the end” (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel).


2022-01-24 Postscript: As we speak, cross border truck drivers are rebelling against the government’s mandate for all cross border truckers to be vaccinated. A truck convoy has started traveling across the country to converge on Ottawa. I suggest as a protest it is doomed to failure because……..

  • Both the US and the Canadian governments are in lock step with their demand that cross border truckers must be vaccinated.
  • Governments cannot afford to have such important supply lines at risk.
  • The protest lacks public support.
  • The truckers lack industry support.
  • The protest is a form of social blackmail.
  • Truckers cannot afford to have their rigs off the road for the duration of a protest. Each day off the job is a very significant economic drain on their resources.
  • The truckers have had over a year to comply with vaccine mandates.

So guys, give it up and suffer the minor inconvenience of a vaccine jab. Swallow your wounded macho pride and get back to work.


Read any Good Books Lately (#21): The Balkans – The Middle of Nowhere and the Center of Everything

Australia. “The Land Down Under” and the last great discovery in “The Golden Age of Exploration”. An island continent perched  on the edge of nothing. Below Australia there is no significant land mass until Antartica. To the East there a lots of scattered Pacific islands but no major land mass until until you eventually hit South America. To the west, provided you steer ever so slightly north there is Africa but if you veer just a little bit south there is nothing until you hit the east coast of South America. Once again, to the north of Australia there are lots of island nations but no major land mass until you hit the Asian mainland. Australia is a long, long way from everywhere, including the Balkans.

The Balkans. Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia of the former Yugoslavia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria  Albania, Macedonia and Greece are a collection of small nations that are the buffer states between Christian Europe and the Islamic states of Asia and the Middle East. If it were only as simple as a  case of East meets West then maybe the history of the region would have been different. Within the Balkans there is a hoge-poge mixture of ethnic and religious animosities. Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Albanians, Hungarians, Romanians, Macedonians, Muslim, Orthodox Christians, protestant denominations and  Roman Catholics all intent on pursuing their own agendas.  On first glance one would be forgiven for discounting the Balkans as a region of world wide significance. And yet what happened in the Balkans in 1914 precipitated World War I and impacted the whole world. Australia is a long way from the Balkans and yet the activities there eventually resulted in Australian and New Zealand troops fighting the Turks in the Dardanelles. That campaign became a monumental military disaster and gave birth to the ANZAC mythology that has became ingrained in the culture of both of those countries. How is that possible?

The author Tim Butcher was obviously puzzled by notion of how could the assassination of two Austrian Royals in a nondescript  Balkan city in 1914 lead to a World war. After all Arch Duke Ferdinand wasn’t the first assassination in that part of the world. What was so different about the circumstances of that particular event? Tim explores the event and then  goes onto explore the ongoing pivotal role of the Balkans in the history of the twentieth century.

The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War (Kindle Edition)

“A splendid book, part memoir, part history,” about the teenager who killed Archduke Ferdinand and sparked World War I.

“Sarajevo, 1914.  On a June morning, nineteen-year-old Gavrilo Princip drew a pistol from his pocket and fired the first shot of the First World War, killing the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Princip then launched a series of events that would transform the world forever. Retracing Princip’s steps from the feudal frontier village of his birth to the city of Belgrade and ultimately Sarajevo, journalist and bestselling author Tim Butcher discovers details about the young assassin that have eluded historians for a century. Drawing on his own experiences in the Balkans covering the Bosnian War in the 1990s, Butcher also unravels the complexities and conflicts of this part of the world, showing how the events of that day in 1914 still have influence today.” –  Amazon Books……

For history buffs this is a good fast read and I highly recommend it as a companion to Balkan Ghosts – A Journey through History by Robert D. Kaplan (1993). To have some understanding of the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s this is an essential read. I have read it several times and I will probably read it again.

Most books on the Balkans point back to the 1938 travel book Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by novelist Rebecca West. Although it is listed as a classic I found it heavy going.

On a tangential subject Why Angels Fall – A journey Through Orthodox Europe from Byzantium to Kosovo by Victoria Clark (2000) is also an excellent read. Back in the heyday of the Soviet empire there was a belief that the empire was evil because the communists had lost religion. It was thought that once they found religion again the world would come back into balance. That has turned out to be a pretty naive assumption. The Soviet empire has gone and Putin’s Russia is once again Orthodox and yet nothing much has changed.  Victoria Clark’s book is an exploration of the impact of the various Christian Orthodox religions on modern Eastern Europe. Unfortunately it is a book that is hard to find. My edition I picked up in a second hand book store in Sydney Australia.

(2022//01/03 – I have just discovered that Why ANGELS Fall is now available from Kindle for $9.99)


Postcript: Growing up in Sydney,  Australia any notion of the Balkans was intimately linked with the the local football (Soccer) clubs. The growth of the sport was linked to post war immigration from Britain and Southern Europe. Local clubs conformed to ethnic origins with such teams as Yugal, Croatia, Pan-Hellenic, Macedonian and Italian based clubs. Fans were divided along ethnic lines and often reflected old loyalties and divisions in the home countries. This often led to tensions off the field. If I remember correctly this lead to the renaming of some clubs to diffuse ethnic tensions. Also, if I remember correctly, in the 1960s it was not uncommon to read in the newspaper of bricks thrown through the window of the Yugoslav Consulate in Sydney. At that time ethnicYugoslav tensions in Australia were high off and on the soccer field.

Migrants continued to boost interest in the sport in the 1970s and 1980s, especially from the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia.


Gordie Tentrees at Centre 64

Gordie Tentrees at Centre 64 in Kimberley, Saturday November 28, 2021, 8pm

In this day and age performers like Gordie Tentrees are labelled as Singer / Song writers. In Gordie’s case that is true but it is not the whole story. Singer / Song writers can run the whole gamut from trivial pop music through the most esoteric music possible. In a different era Gordie would have been labelled simply as a “Folk Singer” but these days that is a rather a quaint label to hang on an artist. When was the last time you saw “Folk Singer” given any promotional  prominence? Never-the-less, that’s what Gordie is, an honest-to-goodness folk singer and storyteller in the tradition of Woody Gutherie (without the prewar politics), Pete Seeger (without the banjo), John Prine (without the twang) and, closer to home, the Canadians Freddie Eaglesmith and David Francy. With these masters the story is the thing and in Gordie’s case the songs are slices of life polished to a gem like luster to enhance the story.

Gordie Tentrees (vocal, guitar, harmonica, Dobro, foot tambourine and stomp box) was accompanied by his side kick, the “icon of the Yukon”, Bob Hamilton on pedal steel guitar, mandolin and arc top guitar. They traveled down from Whitehorse in the Yukon to do a string of twelve performances and, despite the horrendous weather, torrential rains, floods, wash outs and road closures they made it all the way through to Kimberley for the gig on Saturday November 28, 2021. The next day they headed off to Calgary for the long trip back up north to their home base in Whitehorse. That is a lot of kilometers to traverse to play twelve gigs in venues governed by strict Covid rules.

The show opened with some nice, gentle pedal steel guitar on the song Wind Walker. For the next hour and a half the audience was treated to a plethora of stories and songs that touched on Far Away Friends, Ring Speed (experiences as a boxer), Bye Gone Days (a desire to rewrite Canadian history), Craft Beards and Man Buns (dubious man fashions), Less is More (you don’t have to be a deadbeat dad), a Tlingit song and lots of stories culled from and interesting life that started in Bancroft, Ontario before heading across Canada and the world. Along the way he spent time in New Zealand and Western Australia and in one of my favorite places – Byron Bay, New South Wales.

Bob Hamilton played his appointed role as an accompanist on Pedal steel guitar in a C6 tuning (for those interested in that sort of thing), some driving mandolin and arc top guitar. Geordie gave him lots of solo space and spiced up the music with some tasteful foot tambourine and stomp box. Because of covid restrictions there was no interval. In these trying times we are thankful for the Kimberley crew who planned and organized the evening’s music. Well done guys.

Here are some more images from the evening:




Gordie’s  comments on race relations are worth repeating “the New Zealanders are way ahead of Canada and Australia is way, way behind”. Australia has yet to confront its racist past and its treatment of indigenous people. I can verify his opinions. I am Australian born and lived in Australia until I moved to Canada in my early 30’s. Growing up in Australia I had no contact with Aborigines. I met my first Aborigine in  Byron Bay while working in a slaughter house. I was then in my late twenties. Prior to that time I had worked and lived in Sydney and each day I caught the train into the city to go to work.. Each day I would step off the train at Central station and, unbeknownst to me,  immediately behind the station, on the other side of tracks, so to speak, there was an aboriginal ghetto.I worked in the city for nine years without being aware of that fact.  In later years I learnt there were parts of the city where “whites” were not welcome. In the late 1960s I hitch hiked across Australia to Perth and outside Kalgoorlie in Western Australia I was picked up by a driver who must have been in his seventies. In conversation he mentioned that in his youth he was a drover on one of the big cattle stations and, because they speared cattle,  he said that they were under orders to shoot “wild blacks”. That would have placed such instances back in the early part of the twentieth century. Not that long ago when you stop and think about it.

Since that time I have traveled to New Zealand a number of times. I even lived there for the best part of a year and became aware of the Maori culture and its impact and integration into New Zealand society. New Zealand must be the only place on the planet where the indigenous culture has changed the white man. If I had not finally settled in Canada, New Zealand would have been my choice as a place to live and bring up a family. Every body should take a trip to New Zealand before they die. It is a very special place.


The Tree

About ten days ago I was standing by the kitchen window drinking my morning tea and it just caught my eye. The unmistakable tint of dead needles in one of the huge trees just downhill from the house. It was a surprise because earlier in the summer the trees by the house were healthy. This one must have died very quickly and very silently over the summer. The was no lightning strike no catastrophic event. It just died of old age I guess.  I walked down and checked it out and it was dead. A tree dying in the forest is not a remarkable event, however this was a huge tree and if it should come down it could take out our power, telephone, the sun deck and a significant portion of the house. There was no need to panic. A dead tree could stand for a couple of years before mother nature and gravity brings it down but eventually it would come down.

I contacted a local tree service run by Don Johnson. He came in, confirmed my fears and arranged to come back with a crew in few days and take it down. As mother nature would have it,  a tremendous storm blew through the province and Don was delayed as he dealt with clients with more urgent needs. A few days later he showed up with a crew, three trucks , Cherry picker, flat bed trailer, a huge chain saw, tools and a chipper. They formulated a plan: Stage 1 – Decide where to fall the tree and clean out the landing area; Stage 2 – Bring the tree down; Stage 3 – Remove the branches; Stage 4 – Cut up the log and remove; Stage 5 – Clean up

Here is  photographic record of what ended up as a  2-3 hour job………..

Preparing the landing site

Bark removal & the first cuts :


Working it with Wedges


And down she comes, on target  right between the trees…….

On the ground and the clean up

Counting the rings

Portrait of a Logger – Don Johnson

The Job’s done – The final paragraph: The tree  came in at around 80-90 feet and was probably around 200 years old. That means it germinated around the time Queen Victoria was born (1819) and was a mature tree by the year of Canadian Confederation. A tree of that maturity and magnitude deserves to have a name and Ol’ Vic would seem appropriate.




Slowly but surely live music is returning to the post-pandemic world. Elizabeth Shepherd and Michael Occhipinti are returning to the area to perform concerts in support of their new release Weight of Hope. Elizabeth and Michael tour out of Toronto and Montreal (I think) and  have visited the Kootenays many time of the years. They are both Juno Nominees and, as always their performances will produce music above and beyond the normal.

The concert will be limited to 30 seats @ $ 20.00each. To reserve your seat please send interac etransfer to John Siega All attendees must provide proof of double vaccination and follow Covid 19 guidelines as per venue requirements. The concert will be at Cranbrook Art Gallery at the 1401 Gallery site on 5th street North . Any questions please contact Louie Cupello (250) 417-9690.


Read any Good Books lately? (#20) – The Day of the Triffids

There is nothing like a pandemic to whet ones appetite for a good post-apocalyptic novel. These days it seems that there is whole genre of science fiction that ruminates on what-if-end of world scenarios. There are plenty to pick from but a good place to start is to go back to the classics and that would include  THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS by John Wyndham. Written in 1951 it is probably his best known work and is a classic of the genre. His other famous novels  include the Midwich Cuckoos (1957) otherwise known as The Village of the Dammed. Readers today may find the writing style a little to old fashion but for me they are still page turners.

The Amazon synopsis of  The Day of the Triffids goes something like this……….

“Bill Masen wakes up one morning in his hospital bed. His eyes are completely bandaged after an eye operation so he is unable to see. He immediately notices how still and quiet everything is. Having taken off his bandages, he discovers that both inside the hospital and out, the majority of the population (who watched a display of startlingly bright comets in the night sky the previous evening) have all gone blind, and realizes that there is a terrifying new enemy for humankind to contend with. This is his thrilling, chilling and enthralling story…. When Bill Masen leaves hospital and goes into the center of London, he finds that looting is rife as people are grabbing anything from the shelves of shops that they think they might find useful – mainly food.

While surveying the scene he comes across an attractive young woman who also wasn’t blinded, Josella. Together they return in her car to her parents’ home, only to discover everyone at the house has been murdered by the Triffids. The Triffids are walking plants which carry a vicious and lethal sting. Bill used to have one in his back garden, but far from being completely harmless they have now developed and are threatening to take over the world. They are also strongly linked to the mysterious comet shower.

Bill has an advantage over other survivors in that his job had involved him researching the Triffids. In fact, it was a Triffid sting that was one of the reasons he had been in hospital on the night of the comets, and this incident saved him from blindness. Together, Josella and Bill, whose bond to each other is growing, join a group of people, many of whom are blind but some of whom can see, with plans to head into the country…and their true struggle begins.” and so on. The Triffids appear to be the result of some genetic tampering and the accidental mass dispersal of the seeds into the atmosphere. Prior to the the “night of the comets” the Triffids were controlled and harvested in various commercial enterprises. After “the night of the comets” it became obvious that the only advantage that man had over the Triffids was the  ability to see.The novel explores human survival after the mass blinding of the human race.

It is a believable premise and for me resonates with our current pandemic predicament. The elements of denial and the hankering to get things back to normal are similar. There is a failure to fully realize that the notion of normal has drastically changed. In both instances there is a watershed moment of “before and after” and nothing can ever be exactly the same again.  In the novel the change is way more dramatic and permanent than in our coming post-pandemic world. Some things we hold near and dear will return but in some ways it is like the world in 1919. Things had changed too much to ever really go back to the way things were. The world in 1919 was a vastly different place to that of 1914. Similarly the world of 2023 will be vastly different to the world of 2019. Millions of deaths on a global scale will do that sort of thing.


Postscript: “Day of the Triffids” was turned into and unsuccessful B grade movie that is best forgotten. There was a sequel novel set 25 years after John Wyndham’s original novel. It is called The Night of the Triffids and was  written by Simon Clark in 2001. It is a reasonable attempt at a sequel but is not as believable as the original.


Karma’s a bitch!!



Otherwise known as KARMA – The spiritual principle of cause and effect wherein intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect): Good intent and good deeds contribute to good karma and happier rebirths, while bad intent and bad deeds contribute to bad karma and bad rebirths. This concept has also been adopted in Western popular culture, in which the events which happen after a person’s actions may be considered natural consequences…… wikipedia

Mak Parhar was an outspoken COVID denier and conspiracy theorist from Vancouver, British Columbia. He passed away on Thursday, November 4, 2021. He had shown COVID-19 symptoms for the past couple of days prior to his death, but it is not clear whether he had tested positive for the virus.

He first came to public attention when he was operating a yoga studio in North Delta in contravention of Public Health orders. It was shut down after he claimed that the COVID-19 virus  could not survive heat. Considering his public denial of the existence of the Covid virus it was an odd position for him to take.  In July 2021 he  was accused of repeatedly breaking COVID-19 quarantine rules and appeared in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster. He was charged with three counts of breaking the Quarantine Act. At the time of his death his trial was still ongoing. Parhar allegedly refused to self-isolate after returning from a Flat Earth conference in the United States in November 2020. At the time, he spent four days in jail. In March 2020 after he encouraged people to attend the studio and falsely claimed the heat would kill the coronavirus the City of Delta revoked his business license. That did not deter Mr Parhar from continuing to deny the existence of the Covid virus.

Last month while in his car, Parhar posted a video describing that he was suffering from a number of symptoms. They included a “rheumy sore throat” and hot and cold feelings. In the midst of that diatribe, he was also coughing and spitting phlegm out his driver’s side window. But Parhar adamantly denied that he had “COVID”. That’s because according to him, “COVID doesn’t exist”. In a subsequent video, Parhar revealed that he took Invermectim, a quack remedy for Covid,  which is used to treat parasite infections. Once again, considering his Covid denial, it was an odd position take

In his final video posted on his Facebook page, Parhar expressed hope that he could cross the border in the future to attend a convention of Flat Earth believers in the United States. One can make the most outrageous claims but, in Mak Parhar case,  there are consequences. If the cause of his death is attributed to Covid then he will join  a growing list of deniers and anti-vaxers who have also died from the virus.

On a different scale President Donald Trump’s performance in fighting the coronavirus pandemic was the worst in the industrialized world. His bad handling of the pandemic probably contributed to election defeat in 2020 (karma). Other leaders were very bad  but nobody else in rich countries matched Trump’s combination of maliciousness and addle-brained incompetence. But at least one other president did worse: Tanzania’s John Magufuli, who refused to admit COVID-19 was a problem, suppressed discussion of the pandemic, and ultimately died of the disease himself, along with many of his top political allies.  It’s a stark lesson in the deadly cost of denying the pandemic and a perfect example of bad Karma coming back to bite the perpetrator.

You can deny the reality of the covid virus and you can refuse to be vaccinated but there are consequences. Without being vaccinated it is a certainty that you will catch the virus, possibly end up in an intensive care ward and you may die. Do you really want to take that risk?

As I said Karma’s a bitch.


Paul Reed Smith Custom SE Semi-Acoustic Guitar

Fan…….. I hate that word. It always brings to my mind screaming teeny-boppers at a pop concert. I am not a fan of anything and if I should end up so labelled then you have my permission to take me outside and shoot me. As I said I am not a fan of anything but for some things I am an aficionado. In particular I think of myself as a Jazz Guitar Aficionado. I have been listening to Jazz Guitar my entire adult life. Probably the first jazz guitar recording I came across was the 1929 recording of Knocking a Jug featuring Edie Lang with the Louis Armstrong Orchestra.

In many ways, musically and culturally, it was a landmark recording. It must have been one of the first inter-racial bands on record.  Edie Lang was white and Louis Armstrong was black. Edie Lang pretty well killed off the use of the banjo in jazz. After Edie Lang came along banjo players started switching to guitar. Edie went onto to make a whole series of classic recordings with the jazz violinist Joe Venuti. Following a routine tonsillectomy in 1933 he died at the age of 30. In 1977, Lang’s recording of  Singing the Blues with Frankie Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

The other great guitarist of that era is the French gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, who along with the violinist Stephane Grapelli took American Jazz and invented a whole new style of playing, one with a particularly French flavor. It became a whole new genre of jazz called Manouche or Gypsy Jazz .

I suppose to modern ears those recordings sound quaint but it must be remembered that at the time of the recordings around 90 years ago the technology of the day was pretty primitive and musicians spent as much time fighting the technology as they spent on learning their craft. For guitarists things did not really get better until the invention of electricity, specifically  the electric guitar. Charlie Christian wasn’t the first electric guitarist but he was the one who virtually invented the electric guitar vocabulary and has pretty well influenced every electric guitar player who came after him. With the electricity came the volume that allowed guitarists to step up to the plate and join the front line of the band. They now had the ability to play complex harmony, unison lines and solos and actually be heard. That  changed the texture and style of the music.

Charlie Christian opened the flood gates and in the post war period and even up to the present day there are so many electric jazz and rock guitarists that he influenced that to just name them would fill a book. He died of tuberculosis on March 2, 1942, at the age of 25.

What does that have to do with the Paul Reed Smith Custom SE Semi-Acoustic Guitar in the photo below? Even with the invention of the solid body electric guitar jazz players seemed to favor the carved top orchestral guitar with its big body and characteristic f-holes. Rightly or wrongly in my mind the sound of Jazz Guitar became associated with the carved top orchestral guitar.

It was only much after I heard the Canadian jazz guitarists Ed Bickett  and Oliver Gannon play exquisite jazz on a Fender solid body guitars  that I realized that it was possible to get an authentic jazz sound on something hardly more than a piece of two by four with a fret board and a pickup. So maybe I didn’t have to spend a fortune  on a “jazz guitar”. Semi-hollow body guitars like the Paul Reed Smith are a compromise between the classic arch top and the Fender style solid body guitar

I first saw and heard a YouTube review of this particular  Paul Reed Smith model about 12 years ago. I will admit the instrument just looked so pretty that I couldn’t resist it. The price was modest so I purchased one. However, I never really got to grips with using it in performance. At the time I was looking for a cool jazz sound and in pursuit of that ideal I installed some high priced European flat wound strings. They were thicker than the set on the instrument and I had to file the slots in the nut to accommodate them. The result was I ruined the nut. To repair the damage I would have had to travel out of town to find an artisan to do the job. As a result the guitar has just been sitting on my wall unplayed and, despite its good looks, unloved. Earlier this year I did find a replacement nut on Amazon. I would have liked to install one of those fancy zero fret nuts but I wasn’t sure of the sizing. Any way, the Amazon nut was almost a perfect fit and it got the instrument almost back to normal. It did the job. After replacing the nut I tried to set up the guitar  and, although  I did have some success with that it was not perfect. Well, about two weeks ago I learnt that there was a guy in town, Darin Massicotte, who could do a professional set up. So last week I got him to install and set up  D’Adddario Chrome Medium Flat Wound strings on the guitar. For the princely sum of only $60 he did a fabulous job. There is still a little “pinging” on the top E string around the 10-12th fret but we are going to let the instrument settle for a few weeks then re-adjust. I am impressed with the final outcome. The strings are super smooth, absolutely unbelievably smooth,  and the sound is nice, rich  and mellow and with a little reverb and chorus it is the sound I have been seeking. It’s a pleasure to just sit down and practice dumb scales and arpeggios. So that’s what I have started working on again but it is like learning a new instrument. Compared to acoustic guitars, electric guitars are different and the music, particularly jazz, requires a different approach to master the  sound and the phrasing. So with time I have high hopes of maybe getting to eventually play some faux jazz. Maybe even have a shot at Kenny Burrell’s Midnight Blue. I may never get to play “real” jazz but I think I will have fun trying.

I am so taken with the flat wound strings that I am going to install a light set on my Irish Bouzouki. That instrument needs some fret work etc and with some help from Darin  it would be nice to get the instrument back into shape. If the Chrome strings works on the Irish Bouzouki I will probably do the same for my Cittern and get Darin to sort out the balance on the pickup. The Chrome strings are expensive and I suspect they will not last long. So for the Bouzouki and Cittern I am looking at around $30-40 to install new strings (two sets for each double course instrument). If I get 6 months out of them I will be happy.


Post Script: Darin Massicotte – Guitar Tech

“Originally from Edmonton, now a Cranbrook native of 22 years. I moved here with my wife to be in the mountains and ride mountain bikes and ski. I have a always had an interest in guitars. I had a love for punk rock music and after a friend taught me the basics I started playing guitar. Years later I discovered my ability for repairing and setting up stringed instruments, particularly guitars. I have a mechanical background kin repairing bicycles and in precision wood work.

Due to a fairly recent injury I found myself having a difficult time being employable. With that I discovered that my hobby of instrument repair was a desirable skill in the community and people began bringing me their guitars for repair. Word of mouth is big in small communities and word travels fast and I’ve become busy with my “hobby” and have made many new friends over the time. Whether setting up a brand new guitar or re-fretting an old friend, it’s all enjoyable and I learn from each instrument.

I try to get repairs done in a timely manner, limiting the amount of time that you’re without your instrument. Appointments are the best way to do this and I usually only require a day or two with your guitar unless unusual parts are needed or extensive glueing is required.

Next time you need some work done feel free to give me a call.”

Darin Massicotte’s   workshop is called Kootenay String Works and he is located in Cranbrook, B.C.

Telephone number: 250-489-8887