Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Welcome to Ireland

So, vacation time 2018 is here. I haven’t done a great job of these little blogger journals the last couple of years and I miss them. They’re a nice reminder of what we’ve seen and done and impressions. Plus, you know, more writing is a good thing to get into the habit of.

But first, allow me to indulge in a small conspiracy.

The flight over was a slightly below par international Air Canada flight aboard an older plane with uncomfortable seats. And we were an hour late arriving. Among the many sins of Air Canada I certainly can’t get outraged over it.

But it did land us right in the middle of a flood of planes arriving in Dublin. A lot of eastern North American cities launch flights in the late evening so they arrive the next morning allowing you to save the cost of a hotel....at the price of being jetlagged out of your mind the first day you arrive. But details.

So as we’re wandering down the endless corridors of Dublin International Airport to get to customs and immigration when we walk past a sign that said it was five minutes ahead. Then, about 10 seconds later, we ran into a wall of people that didn’t move for the next 30 minutes. And then for the next hour begrudgingly crawled forward a few inches at a time.

Far be it for me to tell the Irish, well known for their efficiency, that perhaps taking a couple of hundred jetlagged people in a deeply irritable mood who want to do little more than get to a hotel room to shower and nap that this is not the best way to endear warm feelings and a desire to spend money in your country. But if there was a suggestion box at immigration I might have slipped that note in.

It got worse when you got near the front. EU citizens had been breezing past the non-EU citizens at a healthy clip during these 90 minutes. In fact, helpful immigration staff were routinely going up and down the line to rescue any that might have accidentally wandered into the wrong line. Which always buoys spirits....but only European ones.

(When one of the immigration officials checked to see if there were any wayward EU citizens in our area and asked “You’re all Americans, right?” a dozen voices sang out “No! Canadians!” Her response of “Americans, Canadians...whatever” was quickly matched by my annoyed “Irish, English....whatever”, but she didn’t hear it, much to Cathy’s relief.)

Near the front there were about eight machines which only required EU citizens to place their passport into a scanner to be admitted. A process that takes about 15 seconds. There were also four officials there to deal with the few who were EU-Ctizens but required help.

And for the hundreds of non-EU people in line waiting in line? Four people.

I mean, it’s so breaktakingly stupid that it gave me pause. When we were in Portugal last year the line was ridiculous, but it kept moving and there were about a dozen immigration agents. It took about 30 minutes to get through with more people.

And so, the conspiracy. After I saw how many agents were handing non-EU I said out loud “Jesus, is this some kind of EU ‘go fuckyourself Americans for voting for Donald Trump and giving us all migraines’ and Canadians are just caught in the crossfire?”

I uttered my conspiracy mostly for Cathy’s amusement, but then a voice behind me went “I’m from America and I was just thinking the exact same thing.”

So if you’re Canadian and travelling from North America to the EU, perhaps be prepared for a chilled welcome, no matter how many Canadian flags you have on your backpack.

Most of the rest of the first day was spent getting to the hotel, shower and napping. We did manage a wander of the area, and to hit a pub for a pint and a meal. The main wandering about will be in the next post.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Break time

After Trump won the 2016 presidential election I took a break from social media for a couple of months. The pure despair and misery on social media was simply more than I could handle. And it was a much needed break. But much like any addict there was an eventual lapse and I gave it another go.

I'm hit and miss on Facebook, to be honest. I like the vague idea of keeping in touch with friends, but it's not like I actually learn of anything going on in their lives on that site. People have learned their lesson and are much more judicious about what they say there.

And while I like Instagram, the realities of Northern internet means waiting two minutes for photos to load can quickly become annoying.

No, my major vice is Twitter. I'm an information junkie. I recall being at King's back in 1994/95 and spending hours reading news groups and my classmates thinking I was nuts. But it was information and I love knowing things. And Twitter gives you that constant flow of information. Whether it's political news, geekery, fun pics/memes, it's a constant hit of information.

But I hit my wall last weekend. Again. My social media news feeds were 90% seething rage. The rage was:

- Donald Trump
- Kids being snatched at the border
- The Red Hen story
- And, bizarrely, a woman being raked over the coals for calling the cops on an eight-year-old selling bottled water.

The start of this week hasn't calmed down much, what with the recent Supreme Court ruling in the United States. And today Justice Kennedy announcing his retirement that also means there will now be a fight over a seat on the Supreme Court. It is going to be a summer of unending, seething rage in the United States. That country is so messed up, so angry and incoherent, that if it were a patient you would commit it and give it all the drugs.

There is literally nothing I can do about this and frankly it is beginning to stress me the fuck out. I'm not thrilled with the idea of sticking my head in the sand, but I need a break. I have a perfectly lovely vacation planned for most of July. In August I have my usual "Movies Cathy Hates" marathon planned while she's in Newfoundland. I have about 30 books to read.

I have writing I've been putting off for ages. There are more useful things I can do....things that are better mentally for me, than having an online front row seat to watching the United States try to eat itself alive. Until the mid-term elections in November, most social media outlets will be unbearable. I mean, a solid third of my Twitter stream is just comic book geeks. You'd figure that would be safe, but you would be wrong.

So until that happens, I'm out of here. As of July 1 I'm off Twitter, Facebook and Instagram until November 15. Granted, no one reads this blog unless I post a link to one of those sites. So we'll see if anyone notices.

I'm sure there will be lapses. I'm hoping to go to Emerald City Comic Con next March, and registration is normally in October. So there might be some sneaking around at that time for any information. And there will always be lapses. But I won't be on it every day for what probably amounts to hours.

If you need to reach me, my email address (towniebastard (at) gmail ) will do the trick. And I'll still monitor Facebook Messenger if you really need to reach me. Plus there's this thing you can do with iPhones I've heard about. Apparently there's an app that allows you to call and speak to people. So that's a thing I could try to, I guess.

The next four months or so will be absolutely batshit crazy. Take care of yourselves, folks.

Last Five
1. The trip to pirate's cove - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
2. Fever - Neko Case
3. From Finner - Of Monsters and Men
4. Road to joy - Bright Eyes
5. Kingdom of days - Bruce Springsteen

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Geekery for sale

Once a year I go though my geek den and ask myself the sickening question...."Do I need to keep this?"

I'm a geek and a collector. Getting rid of things is never an easy choice for me. However, I have a hard limit on how much space I have for my stuff as Cathy has decreed that while I certainly can buy all the graphic novels I want (a deal she has cursed on more than once), she has also decreed that the geekery cannot escape the room. And since my geekery has expanded beyond graphic novels to include Lego, figurines and original artwork, well, space is at a premium. So what's the sense of holding onto books or toys that I no longer need.

I should mention that most of the graphic novels are fine, just not my thing. The comic publisher Image, in particular, does this marvelous thing of offering up Volume 1 of most of their trade paperbacks at a low price. So you can try it out and if you like it, great and you will pay regular price for all future volumes. If not, you're out a few bucks.

I mention all of this because I'm going to list a bunch of graphic novels I have for sale. This is primarily for Iqaluit geeks....I can just link to this post from Twitter. But if you're abroad and see something you desperately want, and are willing to pay shipping, I'm sure we can work out an arrangement.

If you're local, DM me on Twitter is the best way. Or email me at towniebastard at gmail dot com.

Happy hunting....


All-Star Superman (Morrison/Quietly) Vol 1 and 2 (HC - sold as set. Contains #1-12) - $15
Transmetropolitan (Ellis/Robertson) Vol. 1-10 (sold as set) - $50

Magneto (Bunn/Walta) Vol. 1 and 2 (sold as set) - $8
Strange Tales (Various) HC - $5
Gotham Academy (Cloonan/Fletcher/Kerschul) Vol. 1 and 2 (sold as set) - $8
Shade, the Changing Girl (Castellucci) Vol. 1 - $4
Justice League: A League of One (Moeller) - $4

Low (Reminder/Tocchini) (sold as set) Vol. 1-2, $8
Jonsey (Humphries/Boyle) Vol. 1 - $2 (slight damage)
Ghost (DeConnick/Noto) Vol. 1 - $4
Tokyo Ghost (Reminder/Murphy) – Vol. 1 - $4
Mythic (Hester/McCrea) Vol. 1 - $4
Mara (Wood/Doyle) Vol. 1 - $4
Shutter (Keatinge/Del Duca) Vol. 1 - $4
No Mercy (De Campi/McNeil) Vol. 1 - $4 (signed)
Letter 44 (Soule/Alburquerque) Vol. 1 - $4
Black Magick (Rucka/Scott) Vol. 1 - $4
The Discipline (Milligan/Ferandez) - $4
Doctor Who: The Four Doctors (Cornell/Edwards) - $4
Bounty (Weibe/Lee) Vol. 1 - $4
Rockstars (Harris/Hutchinson) Vol. 1 - $4
Josie and the Pussycats (Bennett/Deordio) Vol. 1 - $4
Outcast (Kirkman/Azaceta) Vol. 1 - $4
Flutter (Wood) - $4
CSI: Dying in the Gutters (Grant/Mooney) - $2

Kids
Polly and the Pirates (Naifeh/Rodriguez) Vol. 1-2 - $4
Courtney Crummin series (Naifeh) Vol. 1-4 - $8
Newprints (Xi) - $2 (signed)

Toys
Rhino (Funko Pop. Still in box. Never open) - $5
Black Panther (Funko Wobbler) - $3
Thanos with Sanctuary II (Giant bloody Funko Pop. Limited edition)  - $25
Avengers: Infinity War heat changing mug - $3
C3PO Snapback hat (Funko) - $3
Spider-man snapback hat (Funko) - $3

Random assortment of figures (Batgirl, Wonder Woman, Buffy,  Mr. Freeze, Captain Marvel, etc) - $1-5 each. Not in package.

Monday, May 07, 2018

25 years after Guyville

My iPod currently holds 13,372 songs. And while I love music and I'm constantly poking around looking for new stuff, I confess I've gotten into a bad habit. I tend to buy albums, throw them on my iPod and then hit shuffle.

Now, I love the shuffle function. I've never been much one for creating playlists unless it's something to play at the gym. I like being surprised by the next song. It's a little radio station of songs I like. And yes, I know there's streaming. You understand I live in Iqaluit, the land where Internet comes to die, right?

I love my iPod Classic. It's a miraculous black slab of music. When Apple idiotically discontinued them, I immediately went out and bought another one as a back-up. I'm still on the first one and it's still working. I can't even tell you how many years I've had at at this point. The Classic was discontinued in 2014 and I've had that one a couple of years before that. I use it pretty much every day, either in a Bose station at home or sitting on my desk at work with my noise cancelling headphones.

But as much as I love it, I get lazy with it. I rarely, very rarely, listen to an album from start to finish anymore. I can buy a new album and it can be months before I go "huh, I don't recognize that song" and then check to see it was something I bought 6 months earlier. I kinda miss that. At the very least I should get back into the habit of listening to an album a few times before it gets lost in permanent shuffle.

I'm rambling about this because there are only a handful of albums I can remember where I was the first time I heard them. Transformative albums. Many, many years ago I used to be Entertainment Editor of the Muse, which meant dispersing music. A lot of it was crap, but every now and then you'd hit gold. Pretty sure I gave Nevermind by Nirvana to someone to review. I can't remember if they actually did. Giving away the music was easy; getting the reviews back required a hefty amount of death threats.

I recall giving the cassette (they were almost always cassettes. CDs were too expensive to waste on student newspapers) Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos to my friend Jaap. He came into the office the next day, dragged me into an office and made me listen to the tape on a battered ghetto blaster, proclaiming it was of the greatest things he'd ever heard.

(Jaap would probably say it still is one of the greatest things he'd ever heard. I wouldn't argue with him. It's a remarkable album).

Picking up An Irish Evening by the Chieftains at a college radio remainder sale in Halifax in 1994 and listening to it so much my roommate at King's begged me to stop. It quickly became an expensive quest while in Halifax to own everything by the band.

I remember buying Neko Case's Furnace Room Lullaby at Fred's after hearing a song on CBC's Definitely Not the Opera and driving around around St. John's for hours afterwards listening to it on repeat by myself because I'd never heard a voice like that.

And then there's Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville.

It is, god help me, the 25th anniversary of the album. Which means, of course, there's a special remastered edition of the album. Pitchfork, which hates almost everything, gave it a 10, which surely means the end is near. I normally curse on anniversary editions of albums because they're silly or make me feel old. But hearing the album is now 25 slams the specific moment I heard it for the first time.

I heard it at 3:30 in the morning at a house party (pretty sure it was Sherry Russell's place) after a night downtown. My friends Chris and Lisa were trying to convince others to let them put on the CD. I was deeply skeptical of it because at this time both of them belonged to the cult of Cub, a band they loved and tried to convert everyone too. I loathed the band and had grown to deeply distrust their musical sensibilities at this time.

But they won out and the CD eventually made it on, but in a bedroom so everyone else didn't have to listen and could continue on with what they were doing. I was roped in because, well, Chris is Chris. And it was jaw-dropping. It's that moment when you realize you've never heard anything like it before. I was a 23 year old guy when I heard it, so I wasn't exactly the target audience she was singing to. I was pretty much everything wrong in the world that she was singing about. But the honestly, purity and rawness made an impact. Again, next day I went out to buy it....and couldn't find it. Eventually Fred's got it in and I paid some silly amount of money for it. Worth every penny.

Others will, and have, written more eloquently about the album. And again, I think if you're a woman hearing that album it hits you in much different ways than if you're a guy.

There's been a segment of critics that have always been disappointed that Phair never lived up to the "potential" of Exile but I quite liked her next few albums. Whip-Smart  was quite good and Whitechocolatespaceegg had some moments of pure pop wonder like 'Polyester Bride'. Hell, even a song like 'HWC' has a humour and brashness that I can admire. They're not Exile, but hell, very few artists get one of those kinds of albums in a career. Asking to do it a bunch of times is insane.

So yeah, dig it out if you haven't listened to it in awhile. And if you've never listened, hop into your time machine to the early 90s and enjoy. You may have heard people try to duplicate it to some degree, but the original still holds all the power.

Last Five
1. The Parts - Manchester Orchestra
2. Who do you love - Lily Allen
3. Boogie Street (live) - Leonard Cohen
4. Trip my wire - Garbage
5. Extraordinary - Liz Phair*


Sunday, May 06, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War (spoilers)

Here there be Spoilers. So don't read if you haven't see the movie...
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There's a key moment for me in Avengers: Infinity War. And it's not one that's been particularly focused on when I read a lot of the commentary about the movie.

It's the scene at Knowhere, the wonderful (and hopefully rebuilt) mining colony inside a dead Celestial skull. Thanos is trying to wring the location of the Reality Stone out of the Collector when Gamora attacks and kills Thanos, before breaking down weeping. This is when Thanos pulls back the curtain to reveal that he is still alive and already has the stone. After a brief and terrifying fight, he takes her away.

Two things occurred to me at that moment.

1. Marvel are clever, devious, lying bastards. In all the promo material it ever only showed Thanos with two of the stones. This scene shows him with three. That means Marvel had spent a solid year deceiving people. The movie wasn't going to be about Thanos trying to get the stones to form the Gauntlet and the Avengers trying to stop him. 

No, the movie was going to be about him actually using the Gauntlet to wipe out half the universe.

I honestly felt like clapping at that moment. I'm not mad at Marvel. Good for them. Fans are insane. Every inch of footage and still pics were examined in a way that would make the CIA want to start recruiting analysts at Comic Cons. If lying meant that people got a surprising cinematic experience, I'm happy for them. But this leads to....

2. The only way you could know this was coming is if you were a comic book reader. Liking Marvel movies and reading the comics are hardly mutually exclusive. Marvel and DC go quietly insane over movies that can make $1 billion at the international box office but the comics they take the material from are lucky to sell 100,000 copies a month.

I have no way of proving it for sure, but I'd be surprised if 10% of the audience at Black Panther or Avengers: Infinity War had read one of those comics in the last 6 months.

So for me an other comic book readers, we'd probably figured out what was coming, had an hour to brace for it, wonder how it was going to play out and how they're going to reverse it the next movie. Because they will, because there are no pearly gates in super hero afterlife, merely a revolving door.

But for everyone else, including Cathy, the last five minutes or so were an absolute gut punch. They didn't see it coming. The heroes lost and half the universe gets wiped out. Characters they love died. And as one clever critic I read mentioned, you were not given a glimpse of hope at the end of this.

The Empire Strikes Back is considered a massive downer of a movie, but it still ends up an upbeat note. Luke is back with the Rebellion, he has a new hand, and there's a plan underway to rescue Han. They got their ass kicked, but there's still hope.

There is not a glimpse of hope in that ending. Not a whiff of it. It is an astonishing final act to drop on audiences. Maybe later you go "Well there's no way they're killing Black Panther and Spider-Man - they have movies coming out." But at that time, it's an audience not familiar with comics and its tropes, who might not read all the fan sites, watching characters they love get wiped out is devastating. I've read reports of all kinds of reactions to that scene. Dead silence. Crying. Gasps. Apparently people have fainted, but that's unconfirmed.

It's as ballsy a thing you'll see in a franchise movie in quite some time.

Now, does that make it a good movie? Well, allow me to quote Warren Ellis, who has written a whack of these characters, for a moment....

"It is not a movie. It is a brand manifestation that wants to have prolonged, eager and reasonably skilled cultural sex with you. It wants your experience with its content™ to be satisfying and it hopes you are pleased enough to return for further interaction with the Brand.  This is a very 21C thing.  I like it for that alone, to be honest."

It is as weird a movie as I've ever seen. Completely non-sensical if you haven't watched the 18 previous movies. And yet if you have, it pays off in dozens of different ways throughout if you have. Funny, yet massively heartbreaking. It's the second-to-last episode in the most expensive season of TV you've ever seen. It's a remarkable achievement that might never be duplicated again. 

Seriously. Marvel's skill is in making this look flawless and easy. So easy others crash on the rocks trying to duplicate it.

I need to see Infinity War again before I can properly assess and place where it falls in the grand scheme of things in the Marvel series. Probably Top 5, but I've thought that about others and they don't hold up to repeat viewings. And with a movie with this many easter eggs, twists and everything else, it'll be interesting to see how it holds up to repeat viewings. 

Still, all those involved deserve a round of applause. And probably lots of booze. Ten years ago, after walking out of Iron Man, if you had asked me if a movie like this could exist I would have laughed. And here it is. Remarkable.

Top 5
1. You are what you love - Jenny Lewis
2. Let the lord shine a light on me - Noel Gallagher and the High Flying Birds
3. Sweetest goodbye - Maroon 5
4. Beautiful - Blue Rodeo
5. DOA - Foo Fighters

Monday, April 30, 2018

Snowguard and Champions

One of my favourite stories of last week had the rare meeting of comic books and the North. The CBC reported that a new Inuk super hero is being introduced by Marvel Comics and joining one of their super teams - The Champions.

Nunavummiut got a bit of a hint this was coming a few weeks ago. Champions #19 came out and someone posted a page on Twitter showing the issue started with a couple of Inuit characters investigating a mysterious base just outside of Pangnirtung. It was a couple of pages of set up, then going back to the main team in New York who are getting themselves reestablished after a rough period. They decide to investigate a disturbance in Nunavut. Cue action sequence when they're attacked and a dramatic cliffhanger.

It was an interesting discussion on local Twitter about it. Aside from the small oops of putting trees in Nunavut and Pangnirtung, it's a solid little issue. The issue also featured the debut of a new creative team with Toronto-based Jim Zub writing, South African Sean Izaakse on pencils and Marcio Manyz on colours. So they're trying to do something different to shake up the book. I've been collecting Champions in trade paperback since it launched with Mark Waid writing. Waid's one of the best, don't get me wrong, but the concept he was aiming for - a group of idealistic teen superheroes who want to change the world and help people rather than getting into a super villain of the day fight - just never completely materialised. I think I read an interview where he even admitted that.

Zub might be the guy to do it. He's coming off a well reviewed run on Avengers that he co-wrote with Waid and Al Ewing. I've enjoyed his Image series Wayward, which features teenagers challenging old mythological powers. So he's a good fit. Izaakse's art is new to me, but I like his style.

Both were on Twitter talking about the book when the Nunavut conversation was going on. I was pretty excited and others enjoyed the idea as well. However, there was concern about appropriation of Inuit culture in the comic and how accurate it was going to be. For example, there was sadness that the character of Amka Aliyak wasn't wearing a nice traditional parka or some kamiks. Or that maybe it would have been nicer if Marvel had hired Inuit to write or draw the comic.

Zub also alluded, cryptically, that he consulted with someone from Nunavut. Plenty of locals offered to provide help (guilty as charged) if they needed it. Nunavut doesn't make it into mainstream comics every day. We'd like for it to be accurate. They were both pretty gracious about the Northern geeks offering to help.

The CBC story broke that open, with Nyla Innuksuk being consulted on the character's origins, powers and design. And it wasn't just a consultation....it was a paid consultation. I think everybody was very happy about that. The creators seems very determined to get this right and aware of the sensitivities involved. Good for them.

Snowguard
A lot of how this is going to play out remains to be seen. Amka has only been in a few pages. The publicity push right now has to do with boosting orders for #21, where she makes her costumed debut, as the cut off for ordering is coming up shortly. Plus, well, Champions could use a sales boost. Last I checked it's on the mid to lower end of sales for books Marvel publishes. Or at least the best guess. Marvel and DC are zealous about guarding their sales figures.

Despite being a Nunavut-based character there are limited options for people reading her adventures. To my knowledge nowhere in Nunavut sells comics anymore (Arctic Ventures used to and stopped. Stuff 2 Do, which sold toys and comics closed last year). You can read it digitally through Amazon, but there can be challenges with that as well in Nunavut (Crappy internet. Not everyone has a credit card). The trade paperback collecting the stories won't be out until November. I confess if the Nunavut Public Library system doesn't buy it, I might buy a bunch and donate them.

And there's a lot to like about her design. I love the amauti design of her costume. And the tattoos, particularly the facial ones, are a big bonus. Not 100% wild about her name; something in Inuktitut would have been nice, but that might have been a bit much for Marvel to swallow. Her powers are also a bit derivative of another Marvel Canadian hero - Snowbird. We'll see how that works. Besides, as much as I love Snowbird, man is she an awkward character in a modern context. An Inuit demi-goddess with the power to change into any Northern animal who is....white. And blonde.

Also, new characters are hard to launch. Almost exactly four years ago DC made a very big deal about a Cree character from Northern Ontario named Equinox in a Justice League series. Her creators were Jeff Lemire and Mike McKone, two very prominent creators. She appeared in a handful of issues and then vanished. To my knowledge she's not currently being used in any series.

Snowguard may well be different. I hope she is. There needs to be more indigenous characters and creators in comics. Representation truly matters in comics and pop culture. If you need proof of that, look at the reaction Black Panther had when it hit screens. And Champions is a good book for her to be in. The characters are young, but also ethnically diverse and feature more females than males.

Zub has said as long as he's writing the book, she'll be a part of it. Here's hoping Champions has a long run. Selling comics is not an easy gig either. But as long as Amka is around, I'll keep giving Champions a look....

Last Five
1. Do you want to - Franz Ferdinand
2. Jejune stars - Bright Eyes
3. Born losers - Matthew Good*
4. Look of love - The Jezabels
5. Zero results - Hot Hot Heat

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Packet at 50

I got tagged by my former editor Barbara Dean-Simmons a few weeks ago. The Packet's 50th anniversary was coming up on March 28 and would I, and some other former staffers, like to write a brief note about our experiences with the paper.

I laughed because my writing at The Packet could be described as many things, but rarely was it brief. So Anyway, my... ahem... award-winning column normally clocked in around 1,000 words. The travel pieces I've been writing for Barb the last few years normally coming in around the same length despite her frequently pleading that 300 words or so is more than enough.

I like writing long when I write for Barb. What can I say.

But then some numbers started jumping out at me. If it's The Packet's 50th anniversary, that makes it Barb's 38th year of working with the paper. Which is a feat as remarkable as it is marginally masochistic. It means she's been editor of the paper for 28 years, which honest to god probably has to be a record for journalism in Newfoundland and Labrador and might be up there across Canada.

It occurred to me to send Barb a friendly mocking note about these numbers when it dawned on me that it means this year marks the 20th anniversary of when I joined the paper.

Ahhhahahahaha.....oh god.

I ended up writing 300 words for Barb and spent about an hour cutting and crafting to get it just right. And 300 words is nothing. In the depths of my hard drive is a failed attempt at a first novel. Its fictional but anyone who spent time with me at The Muse or The Packet would certainly have no problem recognizing people or events. And before it died about three-quarters of the way through that first draft was 120,000 words long.

So yeah, I can write a little bit about my time there.

I'm not saying The Packet saved my life, but it certainly changed it significantly for the better. My 20s were a mixed bag. As awesome as my time with The Muse was, I probably stayed a year longer than I should of (glad I did, I would have missed some amazing people), then I struggled at King's (15 stitches in your lip, strep throat, the flu and almost having to have emergency dental surgery in the space of 6 weeks will wreck some serious havoc on your academics),  followed by unemployment, short term contracts, a mildly disastrous attempt at being an English teach in South Korea....

By the time I was 28 things were grim. Journalism wasn't working out and I was considering going back to school....law school. Gah.

So the offer from The Packet was a big deal. Well, as big a deal as making $18,200 a year can be. As horrifying as that number is, it could have been much worse. Community newspaper reporters in the prairies were making less than $15,000 a year and expected to have their own car and camera. The Packet had a work mini-van and cameras (the glorious Pentax K-1000s. I was nearly murdered by one. More later.)

I have limited photos of Barb. This is the one least likely
to get me murdered.
I'm sure I was a cocky townie and came out with attitude. Barb, to her credit, didn't kill me, but did set me straight. I have many Packet stories, but perhaps the most important one came early when I went to take a picture of five women for a story. She hated it. I shot them from too far away (pre-digital, remember). So I had to call them, ask them to gather again and retake the picture. Barb still hated it and made me call the same five women and take another picture. They, quite rightly, thought I was an idiot. I was furious at the time.

But Barb was right. The photos were lazy and shit. You can be assured they got better after that.

And that's where things shifted with me. I hate to say I grew up, but I stopped being....complacent. I think I've always had some writing talent, but I was lazy with it. Talent is nothing if you don't develop the discipline to utilize it. At that point in time, I needed more structure. And I got it. I was a much better person and reporter when I left the paper in 2001 then when I joined in 1998.

As for Packet stories....

1. Barb and office manager Roz Smith "ambushing" me in the interview with the hardball question if I would mind using the Packet van to drop off papers on Mondays. It's a community newspaper. It's all hands on board. In turns out the Clarenville to Southern Harbour and all stops between run was one of my favourite things.

2. Going to use the only washroom in the paper's office to discover a metal sign that said "Women" and underneath, a sticky note that read, "And Craig". Just so I knew my place.

3. Tea breaks at 10:30. Religiously. Jokes and horrific puns included.

4. After my lamenting the quality of drivers in Clarenville (they're awful) and baymen in general, our ad agent Bonnie Goodyear responded with a venomous "you...miserable...townie... bastard." I recall not being able to breathe from laughing so hard. And so, a minor legend was born.

5. Barb calling me and asking if I could pick her up some Mary Browns and bring it up to the hospital to her. You see, she'd just given birth and was putting the final touches on the paper's editorial that week and was hungry. Yeah.

The photo I won my award for. 
6. Winning journalism awards. Reporters get cynical and downplay them, but I remember getting so excited by them. I had produced content that was good enough to win an award. I was proud of the times my column won awards because I worked hard at it. I was proud of the business journalism award because it came with a $500 check that I really needed. And when I won a national journalism award for....sports photography...I think even Barb got a laugh out of that one.

I kept winning them for the Packet even after I left. In 2014 I won an award for the travel stories I was writing for the paper. Huge smile on my face. Felt as good as winning the first one.

7. My running war with then Mayor Fred Best. God that was fun. A tip of the hat to my friend Pat for coming up with the phrase "Fillergate" during a particularly epic run of stories involving the mayor using municipal equipment to work on his private property.

8. When I found writing a weekly column challenging, Barb came up with a fantastic solution - we'd alternate weeks. She'd write one; I'd write one. And we'd be constantly trying to top each other. It brought out the best in both of our writing.

   A. One week when both of us were driving back from the set of The Shipping News which was filming near Trouty I made a....poorly thought out remark concerning actress Julianne Moore and that it was hard to believe she was still that hot at 40, which was around Barb's age at the time. Barb told me later, "I thought about slamming on the brakes and just sending you through the windshield but you had your seatbelt on. Then I thought about beating you to death with camera (Pentax K1000!) but I love that camera and your thick skull might break it."

Instead she achieved her revenge by writing about the incident for her column in the paper. For months, every woman in the region over 30 shot me dirty looks or huffed as a walked by.

   B. A tea break debate over Coronation Street spilled out hilariously into our columns as I argued it was a British soap opera and Barb countered that it wasn't but was, in fact, a long running daytime British drama. Which was totally different. The amount of reaction we got to those columns was hilarious. I still maintain I won that one.

9. Our unofficial Letters to Santa Claus contest.

10. And dozens of more things. The mad dash on Fridays to get copy for deadline. Chatting with Kathy over the top of our cubicles. Getting to talk to people, interview, and tell their stories. Occasionally you got to help people with the stories you wrote. That is a feeling you always remember.

I left The Packet in 2001 and I still have some mixed reaction to that. On the very big upside I met Cathy three months after I moved back into St. John's. So that worked out well.

But the reason I was leaving was we simply couldn't get the publisher to give me a raise. There does come a point where you'd like to move up from sharing a basement apartment and running a dehumidifer 24/7 gets tiring. So a little more money would have been nice. What was more frustrating was The Express in St. John's was able to give me a job with the raise I needed and more. I know it bugged the crap out of Barb.

Plus my time with The Express never worked out right. It was a different atmosphere and environment there that never clicked with me. I liked Donnie, Westcott and Stephanie, but I was never comfortable. It was with relief I left the paper in 2005 and moved to Iqaluit. Also, a good dose of timing. The paper folded less than two years later.

I left in no small part, by the way, by having a conversation with Barb who told me I just needed to move on. Nothing wrong with recognizing it wasn't working. You're not a failure, you just need to do something different that you like. It was like a 10 tonne weight had been lifted off my chest when she said that.

Anyway, I have a lot of fond memories of The Packet. It's a great community newspaper. One of the best in Canada, I would argue, but I am biased. But I don't even know where they store all the journalism awards at this point. And Barb remains one of the best bosses I've ever had the pleasure to work with.

So here's to 50 more. Although, please God, retire by then will you, Barb?

Last Five
1. Don't answer me - The Alan Parsons Project*
2. Travellin' - Matt Mays and El Torpedo
3. Squeeze Box - The Who
4. Songs of love - Ben Folds
5. New Years Day (live) - U2