xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: 2013

Monday, 16 December 2013

We wish you a very, Merry Christmas.

We Wish You

Yes, in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s Christmas time again.

But how could you not have noticed? The big department stores have been flogging Christmas gifts since mid-September. Each year we know Christmas is coming by the tuneful sounds of  those busy cash registers going ka-chingle bells, ka-chingle bells, ka-chingle all the way..

What is more, our meticulously kept records show that you are still on our mailing list, which explains why you are receiving this Bourke Family Christmas Greeting. 

Yes, folks it Christmas time already.That’s what happens when your short term memory goes. You are fated to experience rapidly recurring Christmases that come around with ever increasing frequency. Like this one has done. Let’s face it, everybody knows that it is only two months since last Christmas!

As for being on our mailing list...well, we are like the Readers Digest. As regular as clockwork and very difficult to shake off.

At least we don’t tell you that you have come through six stages of elimination to be in a position to receive our letter and we definitely do not promise to pay you $500 000 if you post this letter back within seven days and your lucky number is selected from eight million other people in the draw.

However, there is a special gift bonus for those who take up our offer to have a Merry Christmas. It is the gift of HAPPINESS! Please take good care of this gift and use it as often as you like.
We had our fair share of happiness and good fortune this year and will again enjoy a very Merry Christmas with family and friends.      

Of course the BIG news this year is that Denis’ parents, Rheal and Annette, his sister, Ginette, brother in law, John Pineau and nephew, Justin, have all travelled from Moncton, New Brunswick, to celebrate with us. It will be the first time since 1991 that Denis has had Christmas Day with his Canadian family. In 1992 he left Moncton to work in Jasper, Alberta, where he met Sarah and the rest, as they say, is history.

As Moncton usually has a white Christmas with temperatures well below zero degrees Celsius, Denis' family are in for a very different Christmas experience. They cannot say that we did not give them a warm Western Australian welcome.
We could call this year the Christmas of the In-laws. Emily and Carl with Jack, Sari and Kai in tow, will celebrate Christmas in Dunsborough with Carl’s family. Jane and Ian, together with Pascal, Cisco and Havana, will celebrate Christmas Day with Ian’s parent’s in Sorrento. Noel and Lesley will celebrate Christmas with the Belliveau family at Denis and Sarah’s spacious new home in Ocean Reef.

However, there will be the usual family gathering at Bourkeville (Population 2) for Noel’s birthday on Christmas Eve, which is always a nice way to start off the festive season. Well, at least Noel thinks so.

The Bourke family enjoyed their year, although it was tinged with sadness a few months ago with the passing of very dear cousin, Ruth Carr. She is sadly missed by everyone.

Noel and Lesley continue to enjoy good health and keep up a hectic round of orchestral concerts, ballet, opera, films, cricket, football, movies and socialising with family and friends. These activities are interspersed with increasingly longer and longer periods of rest and relaxation in front of TV or with a book or some wine and classical music. Which reminds me. Did you hear about the lady who said she was really looking forward to a white Christmas? And when she finished the whites she was starting on the reds.

Lesley has a variety of friends from school and teachers college days which she sees quite regularly. However, one of the  highlights of her week is when she looks after three year old Kai on Fridays while Emily teaches at West Morley.

Noel still does one morning a week with the WA Principals Association and mentors student teachers from Edith Cowan University when they are on their Teaching Practice.  They are like hobbies which he enjoys very much.

All of the grandchildren are doing well at school and Pascal has performed outstandingly well in various state surfing competitions and is in the WA State Junior Surf Squad. Pascal will be in Year 11 in 2014.

Next year Sophie will be in her final year of primary school (Year 6), Jack in Year 4, Luc in Year 2,  Sari and Cisco both in Year One and Havana in Pre Primary. It certainly doesn’t take long for them to grow up, but we are thankful that they are growing up healthy and happy little individuals. We did have one scare at Christmas time last year when Cisco cut his wrist on a piece of glass while playing in the shallows at Sorrento Beach. It was serious injury which required treatment at Princess Margaret Hospital. He even had his photo in The West Australian.

OVERHEARD. Emily had enrolled Jack in a junior cricket competition. Sarah asked Luc if he was also interested in playing in a Kanga Cricket match each week. After a little thought Luc replied, “Well, I don’t think I want to play professionally just yet. I’ll just keep playing cricket in the backyard for a while.”

It is amazing what these young children come out with. Jane had Havana attending a Playgroup called Busy Kids. One day I said to her, “So, Havana, you are going to Busy Kids after lunch.”
“Yes, Grandpa.”
“Well, what will you be doing there?” I enquired.
“She gave me an exasperated look and said, “Well, I’m going to be busy, aren’t I.”

With Test Matches, the beach, our Canadian family with us, The Perth Film Festival at the Pines, Rottnest in January and a variety of happy times with family and friends, we are looking forward to a great summer of happiness. And Christmas really is the happiest time of all.

So, let the good times roll, or as our French speaking relatives would say, Les Bon Temps Rouller!”

Wherever you have your Christmas, we hope it is a happy one and we wish you all the best for a healthy and happy New Year.
(To be removed from our mailing list please send in your name and address neatly
printed in 2B pencil on a $100 note).

     Rottnest fun. January, 2013.  Hands up, who is having a good time?  It will be on again this year as we have adjoining units  facing on to Thompson Bay.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

NAPLAN and the Sound of Music.

Various research programmes indicate that standardised testing regimes focussed on Literacy and Numeracy have had a detrimental impact on other areas of the curriculum. It is unfortunate that in many schools music is one subject that is seen as “not very important” in the scheme of things. Yet, the research is clear that music can not only benefit NAPLAN results but has benefits for children in all learning areas and throughout their lives.

 In 2009 the Cambridge University Review of Primary Education found that “standardised testing has narrowed the curriculum” and that the arts, science and humanities had been eroded by the strong national focus on testing literacy and numeracy. The powerful British Office of Standards in Education (OFSTED) agreed, stating that “music in particular has a vital role to play in primary education.”

In November, 2012, The Whitlam Institute at the Sydney University, in conjunction with the University of Melbourne, released its study on The Impact of High Stakes Testing on School Students and their Families. This was a comprehensive study based on over 8000 responses from educators around Australia. In May of 2013 the ongoing study also canvassed the opinions of a wide range of parents. Echoing the Cambridge Review, the Whitlam Institute’s chief finding was that NAPLAN “is having unintended side effects of narrowing teaching strategies and the curriculum.” The study revealed that high stakes testing impacted on schools, their students and their families. There was

1. A narrowing of teaching strategies and of the curriculum
2. Negative impacts on student health and well being
3. Negative impacts on staff morale
4. Negative impacts on school reputations and the capacity to attract and retain students.

 More than 4000 teachers reported NAPLAN had affected the style and content of their teaching. Over 5000 teachers reported NAPLAN had led to timetable reductions of other subjects. Leading researcher, Nicky Dulfer said, “We are narrowing the curriculum in order to test children. There are ways that we can support numeracy and literacy without limiting children’s access to other subjects like music, language and the arts.”

In view of its research findings, the Whitlam Institute argued as a part of its submission to the 2013 Senate Enquiry into NAPLAN, that “In brief, we note the strong concerns we have for the high stakes nature of the NAPLAN testing regime. While literacy and numeracy skills are fundamental and build a strong foundation for further learning, we believe that educational reform should place an emphasis on fostering much broader learning goals and outcomes.”

 Australia’s leading music educator, Dr Richard Gill, has continually advocated that a good and continuous programme of music in schools would be beneficial to all students in all areas of learning. Dr Gill firmly believes that singing should be the basis for all music education and should eventually lead to children reading music, playing an instrument and eventually composing their own music. Of course, an unintended and unfortunate consequence of placing Specialist Music Teachers in Western Australian schools in the late 1970s was that, apart from the very early years of schooling, there is now almost no daily classroom singing at all. In earlier times every class started their school day with a variety of songs.

 In late 2013, Claire Rogerson, of Wollongong University, released a very well researched paper providing plenty of evidence to show that music in schools would not only benefit NAPLAN results but many other areas of a child’s development.

 The intrinsic importance of music education

Her paper is entitled, “Problem Solving: Solutions Associated with Music in N.S.W. Schools.” Although WA compares more than favourably with N.S.W. as far as music education is concerned, Ms Rogerson makes some very valid points for upgrading the quality of music in our primary schools. Under the heading, The Relevance and Importance of Music Education, she challenges the view that music is not an important part of the curriculum and that it takes time away from more important subjects. She quotes studies by Letts (2007), Butzlaff (2000), Gadberry (2010), Kalish (2009) and Miller and Hopper (2010), which all say that music provides students with a range of skills and attitudes that are not developed in any other subject. Skills such as flexibility in thinking, innovation and unique problem solving techniques can be easily integrated into other subjects to increase student learning.

She points out that both music and English are represented by formal, written notation reading from left to right. She quotes research by Butzlaff (2000), showing that the stronger the engagement with music the greater is the achievement in English. She also quotes Kalish (2009) to show that music develops analytical skills not developed elsewhere that “can be the difference between a child understanding a concept straight away or having to reteach the concept three or four times.”

The Kalish study also reveals that music enables children to self-monitor more effectively. Ms Rogerson cites research by Gadberry (2010) that skills fostered by music extend well beyond the classroom and blend in to life skills such as citizenship, volunteering, better memory capacity, increased self-confidence and school spirit.

An Integrated approach to the arts.

Addressing problems relating to Restrictions of the Curriculum and Timetabling, Ms Rogerson acknowledges the well-known complaints from teachers about the crowded curriculum and severe time constraints. She notes that pressure from NAPLAN has resulted in at least 50% of the time being devoted to literacy and numeracy in most schools, with about 1.5 to 2.0 hours left for The Arts, including music. “Why,” she asks, “do teachers ignore one sixth of the curriculum for ‘more important’ subjects?”

She urges teachers to consider the most appropriate and effective learning styles for their students, which generally involves some form of creative integration and movement. She cites Boswell (2011) and Davies (2010) who have shown in the UK that the integration of creative arts across the curriculum helps minimise the time spent solely on the arts. Gallion School in Becton, London, has successfully integrated the arts into the everyday curriculum. 80% of the school’s curriculum content is taught through music, visual arts, drama and dance. This in turn engages the interests of the students, encourages their creativity, develops the different learning styles of all students and makes the curriculum much more accessible, even to those students who do not have English as their first language. She maintains the success of Gallion School demonstrates that literacy and numeracy cannot develop to their fullest if the skills needed to apply them in real life are not present. Music benefits all curriculum areas for all students.

In focussing on NAPLAN and Standardised Testing, Ms Rogerson observes that most Australian schools devote most of Term One to NAPLAN testing and as a result all other subjects are compressed or pushed aside. However she says research by Anon (2001), Johnson and Memmott (2006) and Olsen (2008) indicate that direct parallels exist between music participation and improved standardised test scores. A study in the USA concluded that student’s involvement in any form of music education is more beneficial than no involvement at all. The higher the quality of the music programme the higher the academic achievement. Johnson and Memmett (2006).

 This idea had already been addressed by Caterall, Chapleau and Iwanaga (1999) who discovered that despite socio economic differences, students participating in music education programmes dramatically increased their test scores. Music promotes inclusive education. In addition, Olson (2008) noted that music is the only subject in which students of any ethnicity have equal opportunities for success. With NAPLAN it is quite the reverse. Ethnicity and language background are key determinants of success or failure in NAPLAN tests.

Ms Rogerson again poses the question, “With the abundance of evidence showing music education has benefits for all curriculum areas, can the importance of music education really be disputed?” She concludes that without continuous and quality music education in primary schools “teachers are limiting students and not providing challenges that encourage the attainment of goals and potential. It is the range of creative skills, attitudes and values that are developed through music that make it such an integral subject in the primary curriculum. If these values are developed early enough, teacher will set up positive habits of learning that students can carry through to their high school education.”

And into the rest of their lives!

As usual, Pasi Salhburg, Finland’s visionary education leader, commenting after the 2013 release of the 2012 PISA test results, puts everything into beautiful perspective: “Finland should also continue to let national education and youth policies — and not PISA — drive what is happening in schools. Reading, science, and mathematics are important in the Finnish education system but so are social studies, arts, music, physical education, and various practical skills. Play and joy of learning characterize Finland’s pre-schools and elementary classrooms. Many teachers and parents in Finland believe that the best way to learn mathematics and science is to combine conceptual, abstract learning with singing, drama, and sports. This balance between academic and non-academic learning is critical to children’s well-being and happiness in school. PISA tells only a little about these important aspects of school education.”

Shouldn’t ‘play and the joy of learning’ also characterize Western Australian primary schools? Shouldn’t Western Australian principals and teachers, like many in Finland, agree that the best way to learn mathematics and science is to combine conceptual, abstract learning with singing, drama and sports? The research says a resounding Yes to both questions.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Give a little whistle

“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Harry? Just put your lips together and blow.” Those of us of a certain vintage will always remember that line, delivered by a flirty, sexy, Lauren Bacall to a roguish and worldly Humphrey Bogart, in the film depiction of Ernest Hemingway’s classic, “To have and have not.” Although I do not think Hemingway wrote those particular lines. Indeed I don’t think Hemingway wrote much of the script at all as the film is more of a re-write of Casablanca than of the Hemingway’s novel.

 On reflection it seems that a lot of us have lost the art of whistling, or never had it in the first place. My cousin, Maurie Carr, used to write a very popular column in Perth’s Daily News. In one column in the late 1970s he lamented the fact that dogs no longer chased cars and people did not whistle anymore. Maurie was quite correct. When I was growing up in the 1940s and 50s dogs invariably chased cars up and down the road trying to get a good bite at one of the wheels. All dogs did it. I am not sure why dogs stopped doing this, sometime in the 1970s. Maybe too many off them lost teeth trying to bite the rock hard, rotating steel rims and it eventually became imbedded in canine DNA that biting car wheels was not a very good idea.

 As for whistling, I remember growing up and being surrounded by whistlers. The baker used to come down Seventh Avenue in Inglewood each day in his horse drawn cart. He whistled all the time. As did the ice man, who called twice a week to put ice in the large black ice chest in the kitchen. Fat Burns, the butcher used to deliver the family meat order on his Harley Davidson motor bike that had a side car for the meat. He whistled all the time. Then there was the grocer’s boy from John Mills Grocery on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Beaufort Street. He rode a heavy duty bicycle that had a big wire carry basket over the front wheels that was filled with groceries to be delivered to various houses in the street. He whistled as he cycled along. In those days lots of people whistled as they walked or cycled along the streets.

A lot of entertainers in earlier times whistled as part of their act. Al Jolson was a great whistler. Bing Crosby used to insert whistling into his crooning as an alternative to bubba bubba boo. English singer,Roger Whitaker, started out as whistler before he successfully switched to straight singing and Ronnie Renalde toured the world thrilling audiences with his melodious whistling of such favourites as In a Monastery Garden and Bells Across the Meadow. I heard him twice at His Majesty’s Theatre in the late 1950s.

 My dad, Jack Bourke, was a great whistler…and singer. Just after World War Two, Dad and two other gentlemen started up the Premier Fibro Plaster Works in Braid Street, East Perth. One of the first things my dad did was put a radio in the factory so that the men could whistle and sing as they worked away. This was back in the 1940s and 1950s when radio was primarily used for playing music instead of the incessant listener talk back and current affairs news programmes of today. Dad would whistle and sing with the best of them. On the weekends he was usually busy in the garden or his shed, but you always knew where he was because he would be whistling as he worked.He taught me to whistle when I was quite young. In fact, he taught me to whistle when I blew out and when I was breathed in. I was quite proud of myself, because it meant I could whistle nonstop without having to pause to take in a breath.

 I started teaching at Bunbury Central School in the late 1950s. I remember walking into the staff room one lunch time and the First Mistress, a lovely lady named Audrey Birch, was there. She looked at me and said, “Noel, we always know when you are coming because you whistle wherever you go.” I suppose I did. But just as dogs have stopped chasing cars, people, these days, have stopped whistling. Perhaps things are about to change. I was walking around the Belridge Shopping Centre last week end and noticed that the large video store had closed down. It is just another sign of the times of the new technology that allows people to record their own entertainment or download shows from the internet. The old video store was being refashioned to open as some sort of food outlet. What caught my eye however, was a sign in the window of the soon to open eatery enquiring if anyone was interested in working in the new shop. It said if you are interested in working with us:-
* You must be good with food.
* You must be good with people.
*you must be a happy person.
* You must like being part of a hard working team.
* You must like whistling.

That’s right! They wanted people who liked whistling to work in that shop. Well, I’m not looking to work there but I am going to make a point of going to that shop when it opens just to hear those happy workers whistling. I might even buy whatever it is they are selling.

I certainly hope whistling is making a comeback because I still whistle as I go about the place or when I walk from my car to the shops. I enjoy it, but I do get some quizzical looks from people walking by. It is rare these days to hear a man whistling as he walks along. Maybe this new shop will start a whistling revival. I hope so, because whistling is good for you.As that wise old philosopher, Jiminy Cricket, once said to Pinocchio in an effort to keep him on the straight and narrow,
 "When you get in trouble and you don't know right from wrong 
Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle! 
When you meet temptation and the urge is very strong 
Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle! 
Not just a little squeak, pucker up and blow 
And if your whistle's weak, yell Jiminy Cricket. Right! 
Take the straight and narrow path And if you start to slide 
Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle! 
And always let your conscience be your guide.

Sounds like very good advice to me. All you have to do is put your lips together and blow. I certainly hope that it doesn’t give those dogs any ideas!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Memories of JFK fifty years on.

Like a lot of Australians I followed with interest the Kennedy-Nixon presidential campaign of 1960. However, I became really interested in John Fitzgerald Kennedy on January 21, 1961. On that sunny afternoon I was driving to the summit of Mount Kosciusko when the ABC broadcast his inaugural address. It was a stirring speech. A clarion call to freedom that spoke of hope and promise for the future in a world held in the fearful clutch of the Cold War. One phrase in particular caught my attention.

"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country?"

It was a great quote, but I found out some years later that it was not entirely original. In 1959 the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr R.A.B. Butler, presented the budget on behalf of the government of Prime Minister Harold McMillan.

Even though McMillan was going around telling the Brits that, "You have never had it so good," it was a rather tough budget and "Rab" Butler was letting everyone know that the hard times needed people to make sacrifices. He asked the British people to be understanding and  said, "Don't ask what the government is doing for you. What are you going to do for the government?"

Of course two years later, JFK spoke those sentiments much more dramatically in language fashioned to stir the hearts of men and women everywhere. That was Kennedy's great effect on people. He made them feel important and he filled their hearts with hope. And he challenged them to be better than they were.

I was stirred again in May, 1961, when the young president was shown on the TV news pledging that America would land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. He told his fellow Americans that they would confidently take up this challenge, not because it was easy, but because it was hard. And because it was hard it would make them better people. Not many politicians these days ask us to do hard things because it will be good for us.

Perhaps Winston Churchill gave the very best example of this when he said, "I have nothing to offer but blood, tears, toil and sweat," when asking the British people to defend their island against Adolf Hitler.

In that May, 1961 speech, Kennedy said, "I believe that this nation should commit itself before this decade is out to landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard.
Because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our abilities and skills.
Because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone and one which we intend to win."

Oh, yes, John Fitzgerald Kennedy had the words and the charisma to lift us up, to willingly accept difficult challenges for the good of all.Young people flocked to the Peace Corps to work overseas doing voluntary work to help the poor and disadvantaged.

In August 1962 I arrived in Toronto and quickly fell under John Kennedy's spell. He gave almost weekly press conferences where he answered even the trickiest questions with clarity and confidence. But more than that, he was charming and witty and his press conferences were as entertaining as any show on television.

And then it was all over. Taken away in a few brief seconds of murderous madness in the Dealy Plaza in Dallas. For me, and for many, the loss was palpable. It weighed us down with grief and rage because that bright light of promise had been so quickly extinguished by an assassin.

In August 1963 I was holidaying at a beach side motel in Miami. Martin Luther King had just about to hold his momentous march on Washington and I was sitting near a poolside bar discussing this historic event with some friends and some other people we had met at the motel.

There were to young lawyers there, from Philadelphia as it turned out. I was absolutely dumbfounded when one of these young men asserted that Kennedy would be shot. He referred to the freedom riders travelling through the south asserting their rights to be served in bars and restaurants, he spoke of the attempts  by negroes to enrol in whites only university. He spoke of negroes who were being arrested as they tried to register to have their names placed on the electoral rolls.

When I said that nobody would shoot the President he said, "Kennedy has gone on National TV and supported the rights of negroes to be served in racially restricted restaurants, to enrol in universities and to vote. He has upset a lot of people. Some day somebody will shoot him."

Three months later that Philadelphia lawyer was proved 100% correct. Since that time many conspiracy theories have been promoted as to how and why John Fitzgerald Kennedy was slain. It is often tempting to believe it was the mafia, the CIA, the FBI, redneck racists in the Ku Klux Klan, the communists or some other group angry at Kennedy's legislative package to reform race relations, the unions and big business.

Personally I think JFK was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald. Why? Well for several years after JFK was murdered his brother Robert Kennedy remained as the US Attorney General, the chief law officer in the land. Considering Bobby Kennedy's relentless pursuit of the mafia and union strong arm men like James Hoffa, it is inconceivable that he would have allowed his brother's killers to go unpunished. He would have tracked them down and brought them to justice. He didn't do that because Lee Harvey Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby three days after JFK.

In 2005 I released a book titled LEON. It was a reflection on the early years of my life. I referred to myself as LEON because I was writing in the third person and felt uncomfortable writing "Noel did this and Noel did that." It seemed somehow right to adopt LEON as the name of somebody named Noel who was looking backwards at his life.

They say everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard of the death of John Kennedy. Well all those people would  now be sixty years or older. Below is an excerpt from my book relating to when I was teaching in Toronto on that fateful November day when our    dreams were so cruelly ended.

 One Friday afternoon Leon was happily teaching away in his Year Seven classroom when the school’s intercom crackled into life.
“Teachers, boys and girls, I’m very sorry to have to tell you that a radio bulletin has just announced that President Kennedy has been shot in a motorcade in Dallas. He has been rushed to hospital. I’ll try to keep you informed. I’m very sorry.”

It felt like a punch in the stomach. Every child was in pain. Girls cried and hugged each other. The boys beat their hands into their desks in frustration. Leon was stunned. JFK was one of his idols. Since arriving in Toronto, Leon had followed the President’s career with great interest. Kennedy’s televised press conferences, held almost weekly, were compulsory viewing for Leon. To these young Canadian students, Kennedy was as popular as The Beatles. The students were inconsolable.

Leon remembered October in the previous year when the Cuban Missile Crisis had gripped the nation. He had arrived home from work at about 4.30pm to be told by one of his housemates that the radio and TV stations had been saying all day that President Kennedy had put the military on full alert because of a build up of Russian missiles in Cuba. He was addressing the nation on a national telecast at 8.00pm.

At 8.00pm Leon watched the grim and resolute President state the situation as he saw it and what action he was going to take. He wanted Russian boats bringing missiles to Cuba to turn back and had set up a U.S. naval blockade for this purpose. He also said, in a broadening of the Monroe Doctrine, that any attack from Cuban missiles on to any part of the Americas would be deemed to be a direct attack on the United States by Russia and would be met with “full retaliatory force”.

Leon went to bed that night but he didn’t sleep. Like almost everyone else in North America he was waiting for World War Three to start. He also remembered the efforts of John Kennedy and his brother Robert, the attorney general, in desegregating the South. He remembered when they called in the National Guard to thwart Governor Wallace and Police Chief "Bull" Connors in Selma,  Alabama, and to stop white supremacists from preventing James Meredith from becoming the first enrolled negro at Mississippi University.

Above all he remembered the spirit of optimism and hope that the President had created in people – especially young people – around the world. It was in this hopeful and optimistic frame of mind that Leon started to tell the class that being shot did not mean the President was dead. He told them of South Africa’s Prime Minister, Hendrick Vervoerd, who had received two pistol bullets in the face, yet survived and continued his political career. Some of the children were calmed by this news. Just then the Principal’s voice crackled out once more with the tragic news that ended the dream for everyone.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Art of Being a Good Mixer

After I finished my two year teaching stint in Toronto of Friday, June 26, 1964, I had a real problem. That Friday was my last payday. I had booked and paid for my voyage back to Fremantle aboard the SS Iberia, but the ship wasn’t due to leave Vancouver until September 22.

I faced three months without a pay cheque until the boat sailed, even then, I would not get a job back in Australia until sometime after I arrived home on November 7. Teachers in Canada were very well paid and I had saved quite a bit. I had also arranged for a refund of my compulsory superannuation, so I had a nice bank balance at the time.However being unemployed was a worry. I had been unemployed before, but this time I was really concerned about using up most of my money even before I got on the boat, let alone waiting eight months until I could get a job teaching with the Western Australian Education Department in February of the following year.

After that final pay day I went to the usual party on the Saturday night. There was always a party somewhere. I didn’t enjoy it. While everyone else was drinking, dancing, laughing, singing and doing other things, I sat sipping slowly on my beer and thinking “All of these people are happy, they all have jobs to go to and on Monday they will be earning money. I am unemployed. Any money I spend will not be replaced. What am I going to do?”

By July most of the usual summer jobs had already been taken up by university students. I could only hope to get a low paying casual job like washing dishes in a restaurant, or being a part time cleaner somewhere or other. During the party I asked various people if they knew where I may pick up a job but they all nodded sadly and gave me a look that said, “Why didn’t you get yourself organised in May and arrange to get a job as a Summer Camp Counsellor where the pay is good and all board and food is supplied?” It was a good question.

As it happened one of the people at the party was a journalist friend of mine named Brian Hogan. Brian was one of the many Australian journalists working in Toronto at that time. On the following Monday night, an excited Brian telephoned me to say that he had found me a job. Brian lived on Toronto Island, about 12 minute ferry ride from the downtown docks. He said he was a Member of the Queen City Yacht Club on the island and they needed a bartender as the current bartender had proved unsuitable due to his penchant for imbibing the fluids he was supposed to be serving. This had led to a serious disagreement with the Bar Manager.  He had been dismissed on the Sunday and the club was desperate to find a replacement.

I thanked Brian but told him I couldn’t take the job because I knew nothing about mixing drinks. Brian said there was nothing to it. “Most of the members will drink bottled beer straight from the fridge and the ladies will drink gin and tonic. Occasionally one of the men will want a scotch and soda. Nothing to it really. You could do it in your sleep.”

Well I desperately needed the job and Brian’s enthusiastic confidence in my non ability convinced me to travel to the island the next afternoon for an interview with the Bar Manager who was not very happy to be acting as bartender until a replacement was hired. The Bar Manager was an ordinary club member whose volunteer role was to see that the bar ran efficiently and profitably. He did not oversee the running of the bar on a daily basis but popped in for a drink after work and was generally around the place on weekends.

The interview was interesting because I lied blatantly about my vast experience working behind the bar in my father’s hotel in Kalgoorlie (absolutely not true) and of my intention to remain as a bartender at the yacht club until I was old enough to retire on the age pension, despite having my boat booking for September22 in my pocket. Circumstances can make liars of the most honest of men.

I don’t think I fooled the Bar Manager. He was shrewd enough to know that a 25 year old Australian was going to move on well before he reached 65 years of age. But there were no other applicants and he was desperate, so he said the job was mine. I was to serve all of the customers and to keep him informed whenever stock of any sort was in need of re ordering. This included beer, spirits, mixes, soft drink, cigarettes, peanuts, crisps, pretzels, assorted confectionery, cheese sticks and even assorted cheeses, pickled sausages and pickled onions which provided the members and their guests with some light snacks.
He told me that I would be paid $65 a week, which was not bad money in those days. My teacher’s pay was about $90 per week. In fact the Bar Manager told me my pay was above the normal rate for a bartender because club policy was to pay more than the usual rate as, unlike hotels, club members did not usually give tips as they felt their membership fees were sufficient. I was to work from 4-00pm till 11-00pm each day except Monday and was entitled to one three course meal from the club dining room each working day. 

And so it was, that one hot day in early July, I caught the ferry to the Queen City Yacht Club to commence my career as a bartender. I had moved out of the apartment I had when I was teaching and had arranged to live with a mate and his girlfriend in some fairly basic accommodation in their basement. The main attraction was that they were charging me a very low rent and their apartment was about three kilometres from the ferry docks.

On the ferry, I nervously scanned through a booklet I had purchased earlier that day. It was entitled “How to be a Good Mixer” and gave details of a bartender’s duties and how to mix all manner of drinks, including a huge number of cocktails. Foolishly, I tried to memorise them all; Martinis, Tom  Collins, Manhattans, Gibsons, Singapore Slings, Black Russians and so on and so on. As I alighted from the ferry my mind was awhirl with the names of exotic drinks and the various ingredients they required. But I was reassuring myself that Brian Hogan had said the men will drink bottled beer and the ladies gin and tonics. Nothing too fancy. The Canadians drank beer from small bottles that Australians some years later would call stubbies. In Canada they just called it a beer.

I arrived at the Yacht Club at about 3-30pm and took some time to familiarise myself once again with the area which the Bar Manager had given me a quick look over on the night of my interview. In fact he had spent most of that time in the wash area behind the bar. He insisted that I remove lipstick traces from every glass, that I washed them in very hot, sterilised water, rinsed them thoroughly and then wiped them dry to a sparkling finish. Whenever the Bar Manager came to the bar he would very carefully examine the glasses, which were stacked on racks on the bar for easy access by members. After checking the glasses he would give me a look, not to indicate that he was pleased, but to let me know that I had to keep them spotless.

The Club's bar trading hours were from 4-00pm till 11-00pm and by five minutes to four I had everything ready for my very first customers who would begin arriving from their mainland jobs when the 4-00pm ferry docked. I had plenty of ice in three big buckets, lots of sliced lemons and several plates filled with diced cheeses, peanuts and pretzels. I took a deep breath and right on four o’clock I lifted the shutters on the bar. I was ready.

The ferry arrived and my first customer was a very attractive lady in her mid to late thirties, with a Doris Day haircut and smile to match. She was very well dressed in a tailored suit and obviously held an important job in downtown Toronto.

She looked at me with some surprise, presumably because I was not the normal bartender or his Bar Manager substitute, then she gave me a beautiful smile and said, “I’ll have a martini, thank you.”
I looked at her and through my mind ran Martinis, Manhattans, Gibsons, Vermouth, pearl onions, bitters, olives, Tom Collins, Brandy Crusters and a whole host of words and phrases that I had so recently read in my little bartender booklet.

What I said was, “I am sorry, but we do not have any oranges.” My beautiful lady looked at me in puzzlement, then turned and quickly disappeared around the corner from where she had first appeared. I immediately dived into my little bartender’s book and hastily read that a martini was three part gin and one parts vermouth, stirred or shaken with ice, poured into a martini glass and served with an olive. Some people like a little less vermouth.

By this time my beautiful lady had returned. She was smiling. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re new to this, aren’t you?”

“My very first day,” I replied, “but please don’t tell the Bar Manager.”

“And you’re Australian, aren’t you?” I confessed. As I was making her martini, despite the lack of oranges, I quickly told of how I had come to be the club’s bartender. By this time other member were fronting the bar. Thankfully they mainly wanted beers, which I obtained from the three large glass fronted refrigerators behind me, and then they wandered off to sit in the club’s very extensive function area. Large glass walls gave them all a very clear view across the water to the city skyline. They relaxed, drank their drinks and felt sorry for all those mainlanders who could not enjoy island life in the comfortable and spacious surrounds of The Queen City Yacht Club.

Meanwhile, the beautiful lady stayed at the bar and within an hour she had heard most of my story. She worked in a Toronto law firm and lived with her family on the island. Over the next three months she became a good friend and often popped into the bar at around 4-15pm to enquire, “Do you have enough oranges to make a martini today?” or "I'd like a martini, please, but hold off on the oranges," or some other orange/martini related comment.

I enjoyed my time as a bartender, but initially experienced problems getting back to the mainland. The ferries ran on a regular schedule throughout the day.  I closed he bar at 11-00pm and caught the last ferry back to the mainland. This was scheduled for 11-20pm, but sometimes it ran late and I would miss the last bus, which generally left the city docks at about 11-45pm. This meant I had to walk the three kilometres home to my basement bed.

I asked the club if I could set up a camp stretcher in the change rooms. The answer was no. After I had been bartending for about a week a fellow came in whom I had spoken with on many occasions. He said he had heard I was having some transport problems.

“I am going to the Bahamas for eight weeks. I have a four berth cabin cruiser in the canal. If you want to, you can stay on board while I am away.”

“How much will it cost me?” I asked.

“Won’t cost you a cent. I’ll be happy for somebody to be on my boat while I’m away.”

I very quickly took up residence on this very well appointed craft. It had four sleeping berths below decks plus a galley, a refrigerator and rather roomy table. The stove ran on bottled gas and the boat was plugged into a power socket on the side of the canal landing for power and light. Of course the  rear deck was an ideal place for entertaining, which I often did on my Monday off or after work, mainly on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays when some of the fun loving islanders liked to kick on.

Toronto Island is actually a long narrow peninsula that reaches out into Lake Ontario offshore from the downtown. It consists of several islands through which run canals whose banks are covered with lush foliage. It reminded me of the everglades in Florida. Queen City Yacht Club was on Ward Island, at the eastern end. There were pathways alongside the canals or lagoon, plus many residential dwellings. Brian Hogan and his wife,Margaret and their two small daughters, Caitlin and Erin, lived in one such house. The entire island was government parkland and the residents rented their houses.

The Ward Island community used the Yacht Club as their local hotel and the islanders, like islanders everywhere, had that strong sense of being a special community remote from the hustle and bustle of the mainland. The entire Toronto Island actually had three yacht clubs. One day I was happily wiping and polishing glasses when I had a phone call from a fellow who said he was the bartender at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club and that the Labatts’ man was on his way to my yacht club.

“Oh, yes,” I said, “So what does that mean?”

“It means you make sure you have one of your fridges packed with Labatts’ beer and that whenever anyone asks for a beer you automatically go for the Labatts. These salesmen will sit at the bar and buy drinks for customers. They put large bills on the bar and you get to keep the change.”
I hung up and quickly started replacing my Molsons’ fridge with Labatts’ beer. 

A little while later this young chap came in, introduced himself as the Labatts’ sales representative and asked how Labbatts’ beer sales were going. “Oh, Labbatts’ is very popular,’ I said. We fell into an easy conversation until a few members came in and the sales  rep offered to buy them each a Labbatt’s beer. He put twenty dollars on the bar. I served the drinks and put the change on the bar.
“You keep it,” said the sales rep. Well, stubbies cost less than a dollar, so I pocketed about $15 or $16.

This scenario was repeated several times over the next hour until the Labatts’ sales representative left, but not before he had asked me to undertake to push Labbatt’s beer as much as possible. I said I certainly would. It had been a very profitable day for me.

In those days Canadians mainly drank Labbatts, Molsons or Carling beer. Every so often I would get a call from the neighbouring yacht club that the Carling’s man was coming, or the Molson’s man. I was always ready for them and the rewards were always substantial.

In fact I was raking money in. Despite the Bar Manager’s warning that club members do not generally tip, I was making more money in tips than I was from my weekly pay. Maybe the members felt sorry for this young Aussie boy so far from home, for they regularly tipped me. Sometimes when I served someone they would say, “And have one for yourself.” I would reply that I did not drink while I was working. They would say, “No, but you can take the cost of a drink out of my change.”

Almost every weekend during the summer, The Queen City Yacht Club would hold a big sailing day on the Saturday. Often they would hold regattas over the entire weekend involving yachts from all over the US/Canadian coastline of Lake Ontario. One particular regatta was huge, in fact several of the committee pointed out to me that it was the largest freshwater sailing regatta in the world. They may have been right. The club used to employ a real bartender to come over to the island for the Saturday night festivities in the clubrooms or for the whole weekend when a big regatta was on.  He was a young Greek. His real name was Mike Tnoumenopolous, or something like that. He was known as Mike Jones. I  called him Mike.

Mike was a cocktail maker par excellence. On the big regatta days Mike would serve all the exotic mixed drinks and  I would just serve beers, soft drinks, straight forward rum and cokes, vodka and tonic, etc.

One day after I had given someone their change Mike took me to one side and said, “You just put that man’s change in his hand. Why would you do that?”

“Well it was his change,” I said innocently.

“Never, ever do that.” said, Mike. “If you put the money in his hand he will walk away with it. Put the money on the bar. Let him decide if he will walk away with it or leave some of it, or all of it, for you." After that my tip takings rose quite substantially.Of course, as an Australian, I was not really used to tipping.

One problem that Mike and I had was the inability of our American customers to read a large sign in the bar that said “IN THIS BAR ONE US DOLLAR IS EQUAL TO ONE CANADIAN DOLLAR”
In actual fact, at that time, a Canadian dollars was about 90cents to the US dollar. In our bar, however they were always equal. We often had US yachtsmen coming in from Rochester, Buffalo and other places on the United States’ shores of Lake Ontario. Not only did some Americans have trouble with the club's exchange rate they had trouble with the coloured Canadian money which they referred to as monopoly money. Quite ├│ften they had particular drinking requirements. Often they would ask for a really dry Martini.One day I asked Mike about these really dry martinis. 

"Well, Noel, Americans are crazy and they follow fads. Somebody ordered a dry martini in a movie once and now that’s what they all want.”

“Yes, but what exactly is it?”

“Well you just ease up on the vermouth. What they really want to drink is gin. I’ll show you.”
He pulled out a martini glass, filled it with gin, put an olive in and then raised the drink to his mouth and softly breathed, “Vermouth.” He then held the glass aloft, laughed and said, “Now that really is a dry martini.”
I found out that The Churchill was an English martini. You fill the glass with gin and then pour in  some vermouth from an unopened bottle.

One Saturday night I noticed Mike was becoming very agitated with one particular American customer who was insisting that his change was wrong because one US dollar was worth 10 cents more than one Canadian dollar. He said that his American ten dollar bill was equal to eleven Canadian dollars, so he should have received an extra dollar in his change. Mike pointed to the sign but the Yank kept insisting on his rights and was holding up the bar trade. Eventually, Mike gave the man his additional change. The American accepted his amended change and then pushed 50 cents across the bar as a tip to Mike.

Well Mike just about exploded. “You have just wasted five minutes arguing with me over a measly dollar and now you want to give me a 50 cents tip. Are you crazy? Keep your money. Go away!” He angrily pushed the coin back across the bar. 

For the rest of the night the usually happy and friendly Mike was cursing under his breath about the stupid Americans. Of course most of the Americans were not stupid. They were charming, very well mannered… and very big tippers!

Once I had settled comfortably into my cabin cruiser lodgings, living on the island was a bit like living on Rottnest Island, Perth's holiday island. I had the entire day to myself. Sometimes I would go to the mainland. Sometimes I did a bit of babysitting for the Hogan's so that Margaret could travel to the mainland. Later on I did some babysitting for some of the other islanders. In return they would often give me breakfast.

Basically, I would call around for breakfast and then later on take the children to the beach for a few hours while their mother was shopping or lunching on the mainland. The southern shore of Toronto Island was a wide sandy beach. The only problem was the water was quite cold. I spent most of the day sunbathing with my island friends and then dashing into the water for a quick, very quick, dip to cool off. Unfortunately, there was no surf.

I was living rent free on the cabin cruiser and enjoying one free meal every night at the club with breakfasts often provided by my islander friends. Sometimes I had breakfast on "my" boat. I was salting my money away and building a substantial bank balance. Of course, I spent money to put  food and drink in the  cabin cruiser and I also occasionally bought cereal or bacon and eggs for the Hogans and my other breakfast providing island friends. Although I was the hired help bartender at their club, a lot of the members invited me into their homes. Being summer, there were also quite a few university students staying with their parents, so I did not lack for the company of young people. Socially and financially, life was wonderful.

With Mike’s expert tuition I picked up the hang of bartending and actually enjoyed it. I met interesting people, many of whom seemed keen to tell me very personal details about themselves or other people living on the island. I also learned to deal with the few islanders who tended to drink more than they should.

One old fellow used to binge on rum and coke. His wife told me that after four drinks I should give him coke with a big dash of ginger ale. By that stage he didn't seem to notice. At the end of the night I would refund her the difference in price between rum and coke and coke and ginger ale. It was our little secret.

There was a very sophisticated European lady who used to load up on vodka and tonic. She may have been German or Polish or Russian and was probably in her late forties. The problem was that after several drinks she would sometimes get very amorous, not necessarily with her husband. One Sunday evening there was a commotion in the downstairs beer garden. I looked out of the window and the Russian lady’s husband was chasing another man around the tables in the gardens with a star picket. Fortunately, somebody stopped him before any harm was done. The next day I was told that the lady and her husband had been banned for a week. When she returned she smiled and said, “My usual thanks, Dollink.” She sounded like Marlene Dietrich.

One very big regatta weekend the Hogan's had house guests. His name was Ian. He was English and he was a very  high flyer with the British car company,Winterbottom Motors. He had with him a very attractive girlfriend named Sandra. Ian had official duties to perform on the Sunday. Winterbottoms had some sort of sponsorship deal regarding the regatta.

Ian was also an alcoholic. I could see that Sandra was not entirely happy with Ian's behaviour on the Saturday night as his drinking intake rose. That night after the club closed we all went back to the Hogan's where a party was organised  for Ian and Sandra to meet the locals. I slept at the Hogan's that night. 

At breakfast the next morning we were all a bit seedy, except for Ian, who was bright eyed and raring to go. He stunned us all  by having a straight shot of vodka before downing his orange juice and eating his cereal.

During the breakfast I said that I was going to go to the mainland later in the morning to see a friend who was leaving town, but I would be back in time to start work at 4-00pm, unless I had problems with the Sunday bus timetable. Ian then looked over at me  and said, "Why don't you take my car. It is parked at the dock. It will save you a lot of time."

I am not a real car man and I may have the models wrong, but Ian explained that it was the latest sports model  and that it had been driven by Stirling Moss, the great British Racing Driver. It may have been an M.G., a Triumph or an Austin Healy. As I said, I am not a car man. Apparently Ian was running Winterbottoms'  promotion for the  new model car and the first fifty people  who purchased this sports model had a test drive with Stirling Moss. In each car was a brass plate affixed to the dashboard verifying that Stirling Moss had driven the car. By this time Ian was  pouring some Jack Daniels Black Label into his morning coffee. I told Ian  that I really appreciated his great offer  but I had never driven a high powered sports car before and would not want to risk damage to such a valuable vehicle. Ian insisted that I would have no problems.

I think Sandra could see what sort of a day was unfolding, so she chipped in with, "Ian, you are going to be busy this afternoon with your official duties and presentations. Why don't I go with Noel, just in case he has any problems with the car."  And that is how I came to spend a beautiful, sunny Sunday in August, zooming around Toronto with a glamorous blonde, driving a sleek,white sports car that had been driven by Stirling Moss himself. It was quite a day. I also got the feeling that Ian and Sandra were not long for each other.

When I was working on the island, the Toronto City Council was talking about closing down all of the residences on Ward Island and making it  a National Park. As I left the island in mid September I felt sorry for the islanders because I knew a National Park would be the end of their idyllic lifestyle.

In August 1996, I returned to Toronto Island with my wife, Lesley. I was pleased and very surprised to see that the Queen City Yacht Club was still standing and still serving members from the upstairs bar.  It was about midday and the club was deserted except for a man who was cleaning up the tables and glasses from the night before. I told him that I had worked in the bar 32 years ago and I was surprised that the club was still going because when I was there they were talking about removing all the houses off the island.

“Yes, well the houses are still here and they are still talking about it,” he said.

I didn’t ask him if they had enough oranges to make martinis.

This is Toronto Island.  What is known as Ward Island is at the extreme north eastern end. If you want a really good look, I suggest that you go to Google Maps and type in Queen City Yacht Club, Ward Island, Toronto and zoom in. 
The yacht club is situated on the western side of the inlet  in the north east, opposite to where the ferry landing is.
 In the winter time Lake Ontario froze over but the ferries still used to run. They  forced a way through a channel in the ice. Riding over to the island on a stormy day was like being on an ice breaker in McMurdo sound in the Antarctic. Very thrilling.