The distant speaking of the voices

Every December when I read or listen to A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas – “All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea …” I am reminded of the first time. The technology, of course was different. Now I can listen on my iPad, but then I was in Grade Twelve at John F. Ross C.V.I. in Guelph. My English teacher, Isobel Cowie, had lugged in from her home what passed in those days for a portable record player. With it she brought a vinyl recording of the reading by Thomas that she played for the class. The performance ran for about...

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A most generous heart

It’s wonderful that Seymour Schulich is getting the kind of recognition his philanthropy deserves. In recent days, half-page newspaper ads have trumpeted his gift, in partnership with Daniel Woolf, principal of Queen’s University, of 400 rare books to Queen’s. A batch of full-page ads have commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Schulich School of Business at York University. Schulich, who made his money investing in gold, turns 76 next month and is busily giving away much of what he made. His total givings to date are probably in the $400-million range. I can’t think of anyone else in Canada who...

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The Globe is flat

The folks at the Globe and Mail held the topping-off ceremony yesterday at their new 17-storey building on King Street East. As they prepare to move in next year I plead with them to take a close look at what their newspaper has become. Here’s what’s on page one of today’s Weekend paper: no actual stories, just blurbs and photos. Above the fold, the part meant to appeal to readers at a newsstand, the carefully curated offering includes a pointer to a crossword puzzle, the announcement of a celebrity chef columnist, top moments in the year’s culture and lessons learned from Somalian...

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The book club

I can’t read e-books; my attention wanders. I’m OK reading one on my iPad on an airplane, where the only other choice is a safety pamphlet, but on the ground I need paper and binding and a bookmark. I tried in digital format Robert Caro’s latest installation in the life of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power, and finally gave up. I couldn’t stomach always seeing variations of the line at the bottom: “You are on page 133 of 1,878.” I bought the hard cover with “only” 700 pages. I highly recommend it in whatever format you prefer. I also enjoyed Margaret...

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The road not taken

Of all the overindulged groups in all the world, Ontario teachers must surely be the most mollycoddled. First, there was the news that expenses for negotiators were paid for by the other side; now their bloated pensions are being buttressed by full credit for time off during an illegal strike. And what to say about the Ontario government toll-gating political contributions from the teachers? Taxpayer money is being recycled like it was rotten food meant for the green bin. Teachers hardly even do their jobs anymore. They refuse to reply to emails from principals received after 3:15 p.m. They don’t even respond to...

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Housebound

To get some understanding of just how high house prices have risen in Toronto, I cite my grandparents’ place in Etobicoke. My grandfather died in 1961, my grandmother in 1966. Their three-bedroom bungalow with a self-contained basement apartment sold in 1967 for about $25,000. Today, the same house, with no additions, would come on the market for $1 million and might even attract multiple bids. What else has risen forty-fold in the intervening almost 50 years? Nothing I can think of. Certainly not incomes. When I graduated from university in 1967, my starting annual salary was $6,000. Humanities grads now get around...

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Canadian idle

How would the Canadian election have turned out if the terrorist attacks in Paris had happened before the vote? My dentist put that question to me today when, fortunately, he had so many implements in my mouth that speech was impossible. I say “fortunately” because I could not have mustered a response even if my mouth was available. By the time his work was done, my lips were frozen and the moment had passed. I’ve been wrestling with the question ever since. Watching the televised clip of Justin Trudeau at the G20 summit in Turkey was like looking at a man who’d been...

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The going down of the sun

Today’s Remembrance Day services in Ottawa offered a number of new sights. There was a new prime minister and his wife who wore a hat straight out of Downton Abbey, a new Sikh minister of defence who served in Afghanistan and a new minister of veterans affairs in a wheelchair. But it wasn’t the new I sought. It was the War Memorial itself, the silver cross mother, the twenty-one gun salute, the children’s choir and the aged faces of veterans. I never lost a loved one in any war. Oh, I had an uncle and and an aunt who served and...

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