Saturday, December 30, 2006

Author Guest Blog: 'Fluffy Jesus' a Christmas story from David Weale


It's the sixth night. Cold and calm here in Tors Cove after a day of feasting with good company and skating by the sea. And now an evening Christmas story from David Weale.

Fluffy Jesus

The night of the Christmas concert arrived at last. As I walked along the dark, snowy road with my family I could see the school in the distance, shining like an eye on the top of Greenmount Hill, and it seemed a grand novelty to be going there at night with my mother and father and little sister. Indeed, because of my enthralled state of mind almost everything that happened during those approaching hours seemed uncommonly delightful, and I had the strong urge to compliment everyone and everything I encountered. A bird landing on a branch, or flying away, or the sun slipping behind a cloud or appearing suddenly, all were revelations and signs of the great and billowing goodness of everything.

That year I was to play the part of a doctor in one of the sketches, and was carrying a pair of glasses made out of wire, and a top hat and valise fashioned out of cardboard and darkened with stove black. My father had made them for me that very afternoon and I was expecting to carry them home with me when the concert was over. I had no way of knowing that a surprising turn of events would make that impossible, and if I had guessed for a year, or a lifetime, I could not have predicted what that turn of events was going to be. There were no stars out to guide our journey, but somewhere behind the clouds they were lining up portentously.

The school that night was a magical place, like something just touched by the end of a wand. And I was that wand. The nickering of horses, the glad ringing of sleigh bells, the shouts of greeting -- how splendorous and complete it all was! Each stepping horse seemed a darling creature, and the sight of each man and woman, boy and girl, a cause for rejoicing. The school itself was bursting with light from the gas lanterns brought from homes and hung along the walls, and in the yard fat, falling snowflakes, in slow descent, were being picked out of the darkness by the window brightness.

Inside was a small, improvised stage, built that week by some of the fathers, on which had been set an asthmatic pump organ, lugged to the school on a wood sleigh for the night’s entertainment. There were two white sheets, strung across the front on a piece of number nine wire, with a big, self-conscious boy at either end for opening and closing, and crepe streamers hung diagonally across the room, with a large, red, accordion bell at the centre that sank down slowly as the school warmed, and rose back up as it cooled. Or was it the other way around?

It was a full house, with the young men of the community standing side by side in a bachelor pack, leaning along the back wall. I presumed they had come for the concert, but now understand they had gathered, not to be entertained by callow youngsters, but to be in the same room with the eligible, Christmas virgins of the community. They had lines of their own to deliver that night, and were watching for an opportunity.


Strangely, I can’t remember anything of my own performance, but I do recall the little brown bags of homemade fudge that cost ten cents; the Christmas apples; the large yellow and red barley candies, shaped like animals, that would linger in your mouth for hours; and the little, wooden pencil-box, with the sliding top that I received from the teacher. One other year I received from her a small number of pencils, with my very own name, DAVID WEALE, emblazoned on the side in gold letters, which seemed to me at the time one of the most amazing things I had ever seen. The teacher, I reasoned, must have had some very powerful connections to be able to get specially stamped pencils for every child in the school. In that porridge and potatoes world of hard-scrabble subsistence, when some people were still dropping pennies into the collection plate, and frugality was a virtue that ranked right up there with faith, hope and charity, it didn’t take a very great present to fill a child’s heart with delight. It’s why that Christmas for me was so spectacular. I was joyous as a carol with my pencil-box in one hand, a royal, red apple in the other, and my cheek bulging with a barley shape, and had no idea the best, by far, was yet to come.

As the concert drew to a close the intensity heightened as every child in the school waited for the heavy THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! on the school door. “ He’s here, he’s here,” we all would cry out, and with that Santa would step through the door, from the outside to the inside, and from his world to ours. I think I understood at the time that he wasn’t in the same league as God, but there was no doubt in my mind that he was supernatural, with great and incomprehensible powers. He also showed up. The heavenly father was a distant figure who was often talked about but never seen, whereas Santa arrived every year, on schedule, at the door of the Greenmount schoolhouse -- with treats. Eventually we were all informed that he wasn’t real, and that we were too big to go on believing, but that was just another adult ploy to remove us from childhood and direct us into their world of reference. I’ve since discovered that adults, even the smartest ones, don’t actually know what is real. Most of them imagine that they do, but it’s precisely what they’ve forgotten. They talk all the time about truth, but don’t seem to realize it’s just their replacement for the Santa story.

Appearance wise, the Greenmount Santa was not at all like the stylish, perfectly turned out, mall-Santa of today, with his red suit, immaculate white trim, and designer boots. The Santa I remember was more earthy than that -- a peasant -- wearing a large, scruffy racoon coat, upon which the moths had obviously feasted, with a string of sleigh bells around his waist, held in place by a coarse length of binder twine. He also had a stocking cap pulled down over his ears that helped hold in place his absurd shag of a beard that looked like it had come off the sheep’s back just that morning. The only thing new or shiny about him were his calf-high, black rubber boots that had never seen the barn or the potato cellar, and doubtless had been purchased especially for the occasion. And there was no red whatsoever, save for the red of his nose. He looked, in a word, like a slight variant of any one of the old men who could be sighted in the barnyard of almost any farm in Greenmount. But it didn’t matter. Neither the high drama of his arrival, nor the grand effulgence of his presence, was diminished a whit by his rustic, rag-tag appearance.

It was alleged that one year, before my time, Santa entered and passed right out from the heat in the school, and, I suspect, from the Christmas moonshine he had been sampling to ratchet up his courage. I’m glad I didn’t witness that as I don’t know how the sight of a supine Santa might have affected my very great reverence for a figure who was, in my mind, as invincible as he was good.

The year of the supernatural surprise we all noticed immediately that when Santa arrived he was carrying not one, but two bags over his shoulder. That was different, and promising. Then, as he made his way through the crowd toward the tree we all observed, with almost hysterical glee, that one of the bags was wriggling with some form of concealed life. There was definitely something alive in Santa’s sack, and as the silent guessing spread across the room in a wave, he arrived at the front, held the mysterious, moving bag out in front of him, and announced, “Ho! Ho! Ho! I’ve got a present here for you here, but you’ll have to catch it.” And with that he dumped out onto the floor a little toffee-brown puppy, with long fur and three white feet.

It was a birth.

A portal from the other world had opened right before our eyes, and when that little, blinking creature came sliding out of Santa’s sack it was as though joy itself, on padded feet, had been delivered miraculously into our midst. The frightened puppy began immediately to run through the crowd and, incredibly, headed straight in my direction, attracted doubtless by the powerful magnetism of my heart’s desire. For a moment I was certain I was to be the lucky child, but just then a farmer, Marshall Rayner, stooped over and grabbed that little, headed-straight-for-me puppy in his thick, sausage fingers.

The night shattered, like a dropped dish. How was it possible to be so close to something so perfect and have it snatched away in the blink of an eye. I looked over at my father for some kind of comfort, or understanding, but he was laughing along with all the others. It was terrible, but just before the big tears began to roll I heard Marshall say, “David, do you have a dog at your place?”

“Noooo,” I stammered.

“Then here’s something for you.” he said, as he placed the puppy in my outstretched hands. Immediately, the night flew back together again, like a movie played in reverse.

The room didn’t suddenly go quiet, and I believe a choir of homespun angels was probably singling hallelujahs somewhere on the side of Greenmount hill, but there was a very great hush came over me as I stood silently, in speechless awe. I suppose I could say I was grateful, or surprised, or pleased, but the great and weightless wonder of the moment left no room for any of those lesser emotions. The Almighty had done it again; become flesh and bones and a hank of hair -- not in a cattle shed, but in our crude little schoolhouse, and walking home that night in the snow, with that puppy cradled in my arms, with me looking down at him, and him up at me, I had some inkling of what the Virgin Mary must have experienced. She could not have felt more blessed.

For obvious reasons I wanted to call him Jesus, but that wasn’t very well received by my parents. My mother said she didn’t want to hear me out in the yard calling, “Here Jesus. Here Jesus,” or saying, “Jesus, get off that couch.” Said it wouldn’t be right. So I called him Fluffy, and thereafter he became my constant companion and bounding co-adventurer. But though I never told anyone, at least not until now, in my own mind he was, and continues to be, Fluffy Jesus.

**************
David Weale is also the author of our favorite Christmas story The True Meaning of Crumbfest. The unabridged Earphones Award winning audio edition of which is available from Rattling Books (print edition available from Acorn Press).

Friday, December 29, 2006

Author Robin McGrath on CBC's Weekend Arts Magazine, Dec 30


Robin McGrath, author of the recently released Coasting Trade, will be heard on the CBC Radio (Newfoundland and Labrador) Weekend Arts Magazine, December 30, around 7:30 AM.

Listen to a clip from Coasting Trade.

Coasting Trade, published by Rattling Books is distributed in Canada through House of Anansi Press by HarperCollins. It is also available online from rattlingbooks.com.

Excerpt: The Last Voyage of the Karluk by Captain Bob Bartlett, setting: Dec. 29, 1913

...As soon as it was light on the twenty-ninth I kept a sharp eye out for land; south by west, by the compass, I could see a blue cloud raised up on the horizon. According to the soundings we should have been nearer Wrangell Island than Herald Island; I was inclined to think that it was Herald Island, although working out our position with our chronometer readings gave us Herald Island sixty miles to the south. Afterwards I found out that our observations at this time were correct but that the soundings were not right on the chart. What deceived us more than anything else was the big mirage; Herald Island looked large and distorted for many days. Later in the day I went aloft to see if I could make out which island it really was but on account of the imperfect light I found it impossible to tell.

Some time during the night the ice cracked about a hundred yards from the ship and made an open ribbon of water ten inches wide; during the next day the young ice was cracking a good deal all around us....

As the fifth night of Christmas approaches may there be no cracks in the ice around you.

This excerpt is from The Last Voyage of the Karluk An Epic of Death and Survival in the Arctic, 1913-1916 as related by her captain, Robert A. Bartlett and here set down by Ralph T. Hale (published in 1916 by Small, Maynard and Company, Inc.; unabridged audio edition narrated by Frank Holden published by Rattling Books).

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Excerpt: The Last Voyage of the Karluk by Captain Bob Bartlett, setting: Dec. 26-27, 1913


"...On Friday the twenty-sixth a crack in the ice made from the waist of the ship towards the stern, running for about a hundred yards off the starboard bow. The crack did not open, but for the first time in our drift we felt a slight tremor on the ship. In about an hour we felt another slight tremor. I followed the crack for a hundred yards and then lost it. There was a fresh north-northeast wind which moderated as the day wore on but it looked as if we were in for some more bad weather, though the barometer was steady, and next day we began to get things ready to leave the ship at once, in case we should have to get out in a hurry. Everything was where we could lay our hands on it at once...."

This excerpt is from The Last Voyage of the Karluk An Epic of Death and Survival in the Arctic, 1913-1916 as related by her captain, Robert A. Bartlett and here set down by Ralph T. Hale (published in 1916 by Small, Maynard and Company, Inc.; unabridged audio edition narrated by Frank Holden published by Rattling Books).

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Author Guest Blog: 'Charlie and the Paper Boy' a Christmas story from David Weale

As we head for the second in the twelve nights of Christmas we figure it's a good time to bring you a story from David Weale.

Charlie and the Paper Boy

He grew up dirt-poor in a large family of brothers on the Miramichi. When he was old enough to work he became a lumberjack, and with his thick, tree-trunk of a body, and large, powerful hands, he looked every inch the part. But when he was still a young man he gave up the life of the woods for another vocation. He became an entertainer, and by the time his life was over he had become one of the county’s best loved troubadours.

His name was Charlie Chamberlain, and during the 1950s and 1960s he became famous across the country as the lead male vocalist in the “down-east’ band, Don Messer and his Islanders, and there are old-timers yet alive who still haven’t forgiven the CBC for cancelling their weekly TV show in the mid-1960s. Charlie’s heartfelt, even maudlin, renditions of traditional Irish folksongs, favourite hymns, and popular ballads endeared him to an entire generation of Canadians. He touched them in deeply familiar places, and they loved him for it. Some critics questioned his sincerity, but someone told me a story a few years ago that indicated he was just as sentimental and soft-hearted in life as he was on stage.

In 1953, before they were famous, Charlie and the rest of the band were living on the Island, and on the afternoon of the day before Christmas Charlie put in a call to his old friend, Russell Downe, and invited him over to his house for a few tunes, and a little Irish dew. Russell, happy to oblige, grabbed his guitar and headed over, and it wasn’t long before the two were seated, one on either side of the Christmas tree, having their own little Christmas concert. According to Russell they were right in the middle of Down in the Little Green Valley, when the doorbell rang.

It was the paper boy, from a couple of streets over, who was there to collect his paper money. “Come on in,” shouted Charlie, as he fumbled in one pocket after another for change. While this was happening the boy, wide-eyed, was staring at the tree. Charlie noticed his wonderment and asked, “Do you like my tree lad?

“Yes sir,” replied the boy.

“And do you have a tree like that at your house,” asked Charlie off-handedly, as he continued his search for the paper money.

“No sir,” was the soft, flat reply.

“You don’t have a Christmas tree!” exclaimed Charlie incredulously.

“No.”

“What about a turkey, and presents? You got those?”

“Not this year,” replied the boy.

“What do mean, ‘not this year?’” demanded Charlie incredulously.

“Me father’s not workin’” answered the boy. “He said we’re going to have Christmas next year.”

“Do have any brothers and sisters?”

“Yes.”

“Well now,” proclaimed Charlie emphatically, “you must have a Christmas tree. That’s all there is to it,” and then he went into action. He laid his guitar on the couch and walked over to the tree. As Russell and the boy stared in amazement he proceeded on a course of action that was so unexpected, and so impulsively rash, that they could scarcely believe their eyes. He unplugged the lights, then reached through the branches with his big right hand and picked the tree right off the floor – lights, ornaments, tinsel and all. Tree in hand he then marched down the hall to the kitchen where a big turkey was lying in the sink, its neck flopped out over the side. With his left hand he latched onto the bird and headed back down the hall. “Open that door Russell,” he cried out, “we’re going to make a little visit.”

“Show me where you live young fella,” he said as he stepped through the door, pulling the tree through behind him, as ornaments and tinsel went flying in every direction.

“It was quite a procession,” recalled Russell, shaking his head. “The boy was ahead, and behind him marched Charlie, carrying the turkey and the tree, with the cord from the lights dragging in the snow. And I was bringing up the rear, picking up ornaments, and laughing at the look of Charlie. When we arrived at the paper boy’s house his mother came out on the porch, and just stood there with her mouth dropped open.”

“Open your door wide missus,” shouted Charlie, “we’re comin’ in.”

“Oh my Lord Jesus,” she replied.

“No, not the Lord Jesus,” he laughed “just Charlie and Russell,” as he swooshed into the house, set the tree in the corner, then strode out to the kitchen at the back of the house, and deposited the massive Christmas bird on the counter. “Merry Christmas,” he cried out as he exited the house as abruptly and flamboyantly as he had entered.

“Mr Chamberlain,” called out the boy, “you don’t need to pay me that paper money.”

“Oh Christ,” replied Charlie, out of breath, “ I forgot all about it. “Russell, pay the lad for God’s sake.”

As they walked back to Charlie’s place through the snow Russell reminded Charlie that he had neither tree nor turkey at his house, and that the stores would soon be closed. According to Russell he just grinned and said, “It’ll all work out Russell. It’ll all work out.”

When he was done with the story I asked Russell just how much Christmas cheer he and Charlie had had by that point. He didn’t say anything for a moment, then replied with a soft look on his face, and a twinkle in his eye, “Just enough I would say; just exactly enough.”

**************

Prince Edward Island author David Weale has been most generous in sending us several Christmas stories for the Blog. David is also the author of our favorite Christmas story The True Meaning of Crumbfest. The unabridged Earphones Award winning audio edition of The True Meaning of Crumbfest as performed by Antonia Francis is available from Rattling Books (print edition available from Acorn Press).

John G. "Jack" Higgins (1891-1963): Collector of our Featured Christmas Cards

Photo: John Higgins and the Oxford Canadian ice hockey team. John Higgins is in the back row, second from right. Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives (Coll - 086), Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland.

Jack Higgins: Newfoundlander Through and Through
From the files of The Gazette July 9, 1998.

It is indeed an ironic twist of fate that Senator John G. Higgins died on Canada Day, July 1, 1963. As a veteran of the First World War, he would have said he died on Memorial Day, the day Newfoundlanders commemorate the massacre of the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont Hamel. It was just as ironic that Jack Higgins was even a member of the Canadian Senate; he had fought long and hard to keep Newfoundland out of Canadian Confederation in the late 1940s. But such ironies were an integral part of the life of this unheralded Newfoundlander.

....Shortly after his graduation he was selected as the 1909 Rhodes Scholar for Newfoundland and spent the next three years at Merton College, Oxford, where he read law, and captained the seven-member Oxford-Canadian Ice Hockey Team, which also included Newfoundland 1910 Rhodes Scholar, Robert Tait. This team, which toured Europe, was undefeated in the 17 matches it played, outscoring the opposition 204 goals to 17.

...Higgins became one of the leading members of the Responsible Government League, firm in his belief that Newfoundland should return to self-government before any negotiations should be begun with Canada. He participated in both referenda campaigns, contributing his speaking and writing talents and financial support. Never one to take defeat lightly, on March 31, 1949, he hung black crepe, a symbol of mourning, over the door of his house.

There had been no elected House of Assembly in Newfoundland during the 15 years of the Commission of Government. An election was scheduled to elect a new House on May 27, 1949. Higgins, never before a candidate for elected office, was returned by the voters of St. John's East as a member of the Progressive Conservative Party. As party leader H. G. R. Mews had been defeated in the election, Higgins became the leader of the opposition, the first in post-confederate Newfoundland. His term in the house was short-lived, however, as he was not a candidate in the next election in 1951, preferring the logic of the law courts to the fractious debate of the House of Assembly.

His political career was not over. On January 15, 1959, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker appointed Higgins as the first Progressive Conservative Senator from Newfoundland.

...Higgins married Alice Casey of Harbour Grace on August 13, 1925. They had three children, Gilbert, Mary Margaret and John. He was made King's Counsel in 1932. He was also a fine poet, who published in local magazines such as the Newfoundland Quarterly on a regular basis. Much of his poetry remains unpublished.

Jack Higgins was an ardent Newfoundlander. He was a lover of books from childhood and began collecting Newfoundland books at an early age. He purchased many rare and valuable documents, mainly from England, concerning Newfoundland...

(excerpt from the Gazette article stored in the digital archive of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies)

Jack Higgins' son Gilbert was a great friend of Rattling Books before it even existed. I have fond memories of visiting Gilbert in his book stuffed apartment in Stephenville where to have a cup of tea I had to first wait while Gilbert removed stacks of books to clear a seat for us, his access to the tea and even the stove. Those books and articles so lovingly cared for by Gilbert are now under the care of Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Thank-you Gilbert for your unbounded and contagious enthusiasm for books.

Second Installment from the Christmas Card Collection of Jack Higgins: Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives


This is the second installment in a series of Christmas card postings from the Higgins' collection (John G. "Jack" Higgins (1891-1963)). The collection may be viewed at the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archive

Monday, December 25, 2006

Did Santa once operate out of St. Anthony in collusion with Wilfred Grenfell?


This photograph of Santa's reindeer and some of Santa's Nelfers (term for Newfoundland elves) was taken in St. Anthony circa 1907.

The slide can be found in the International Grenfell Association Lantern Slides Collection presented online by the Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Digital Archive Initiative (DAI).

Photographic evidence of Santa's reindeer and Nelfers active in St. Anthony during Wilfred Grenfell's time there suggests that the Grenfell Association may have functioned as a cover for Santa's activities during that period.

Wilfred Grenfell is otherwise best known for being adrift on an ice pan and writing a best selling account of his adventures. That account, Adrift on an Ice Pan, a gripping one with absolutely no mention of Santa, is available as an unabridged audio edition from Rattling Books.

The Twelve Days of Christmas (Three Web Sources)

Twelve Days of Christmas (Source 1)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Twelve Days of Christmas and the associated evenings of those twelve days (Twelve-tide), are the festive days beginning the evening of Christmas Day (December 25) through the morning of Epiphany on (January 6). The associated evenings of the twelve days begin on the evening before the specified day. Thus, the first night of Christmas is December 25–26, and Twelfth Night is January 5–6.

Twelve Days of Christmas is also an English Christmas song which enumerates a series of grandiose gifts given on each day of the festival. It is one of the most popular and most-recorded songs in American history.


The Twelve Days (Source 2)

The "12 days" originated when days began at sunset. They went from sunset on Dec 25th to sunset on Jan. 6th. Because days now start at midnight, in some places the 12 days start on Dec. 25th, in others on Dec. 26th.

Sometimes Christmas is reckoned as one of the Twelve Days, sometimes not. In the former case, of course, the Epiphany is the thirteenth day. In England we call the Epiphany Twelfth Day, in Germany it is generally called Thirteenth; in Belgium and Holland it is Thirteenth; in Sweden it varies, but is usually Thirteenth. Sometimes then the Twelve Days are spoken of, sometimes the Thirteen. "The Twelve Nights;" in accordance with the old Teutonic mode of reckoning by nights, is a natural and correct term.

Whatever the limits fixed for the beginning and end of the Christmas festival, its core is always the period between Christmas Eve and the Epiphany - the "Twelve Days." A cycle of feasts falls within this time, and the customs peculiar to each day will be treated in calendarial order. First, however, it will be well to glance at the character of the Twelve Days as a whole, and at the superstitions which hang about the season. So many are these superstitions, so "bewitched" is the time, that the older mythologists not unnaturally saw in it a Teutonic festal season, dating from pre-Christian days. In point of fact it appears to be simply a creation of the Church, a natural linking together of Christmas and Epiphany. It is first mentioned as a festal tide by the eastern Father, Ephraem Syrus, at the end of the fourth century, and was declared to be such by the western Council of Tours in 567 A.D.

While Christmas Eve is the night par excellence of the supernatural, the whole season of the Twelve Days is charged with it. It is hard to see whence Shakespeare could have got the idea which he puts into the mouth of Marcellus in "Hamlet":-

"Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Savior's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time."

Against this is the fact that in folk-lore Christmas is a quite peculiarly uncanny time. Not unnatural is it that at this midwinter season of darkness, howling winds, and raging storms, men should have thought to see and hear the mysterious shapes and voices of dread beings whom the living shun.

Throughout the Teutonic world one finds the belief in a "raging host " or "wild hunt " or spirits, rushing howling through the air on stormy nights. In North Devon its name is "Yeth (heathen) hounds"; elsewhere in the west of England it is called the "Wish hounds." It is the train of the unhappy souls of those who died unbaptized, or by violent hands, or under a curse, and often Woden is their leader. At least since the seventeenth century this "raging host " (das wuthende Heer) has been particularly associated with Christmas in German folk-lore, and in Iceland it goes by the name of the "Yule host."


The Twelve Days of Christmas (Source 3)
Dennis Bratcher


The Twelve Days of Christmas is probably the most misunderstood part of the church year among Christians who are not part of liturgical church traditions. Contrary to much popular belief, these are not the twelve days before Christmas, but in most of the Western Church are the twelve days from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany (January 6th; the 12 days count from December 25th until January 5th). In some traditions, the first day of Christmas begins on the evening of December 25th but the following day is considered the First Day of Christmas (December 26th).

The origin of the Twelve Days is complicated, and is related to differences in calendars, church traditions, and ways to observe this holy day in various cultures (see Christmas). In the Western church, Epiphany is usually celebrated as the time the Wise Men or Magi arrived to present gifts to the young Jesus (Matt. 2:1-12). Traditionally there were three Magi, probably from the fact of three gifts, even though the biblical narrative never says how many Magi came. In some cultures, especially Hispanic and Latin American culture, January 6th is observed as Three Kings Day, or simply the Day of the Kings (Span: la Fiesta de Reyes, el Dia de los Tres Reyes, or el Dia de los Reyes Magos; Dutch: Driekoningendag). Even though December 25th is celebrated as Christmas in these cultures, January 6th is often the day for giving gifts. In some places it is traditional to give Christmas gifts for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Since Eastern Orthodox traditions use a different religious calendar, they celebrate Christmas on January 7th and observe Epiphany or Theophany on January 19th.

By the 16th century, some European and Scandinavian cultures had combined the Twelve Days of Christmas with (sometimes pagan) festivals celebrating the changing of the year. These were usually associated with driving away evil spirits for the start of the new year.

The Twelfth Night is January 5th, the last day of the Christmas Season before Epiphany (January 6th). In some church traditions, January 5th is considered the eleventh Day of Christmas, while the evening of January 5th is still counted as the Twelfth Night, the beginning of the Twelfth day of Christmas the following day. Twelfth Night often included feasting along with the removal of Christmas decorations. French and English celebrations of Twelfth Night included a King's Cake, remembering the visit of the Three Magi, and ale or wine (a King's Cake is part of the observance of Mardi Gras in French Catholic culture of the Southern USA). In some cultures, the King's Cake was part of the celebration of the day of Epiphany.

Excerpt: Christmas Day with Captain Bob Bartlett on the Karluk, Dec 25, 1913 from The Last Voyage of the Karluk


The following excerpt is from The Last Voyage of the Karluk An Epic of Death and Survival in the Arctic, 1913-1916 as related by her captain, Robert A. Bartlett and here set down by Ralph T. Hale (published in 1916 by Small, Maynard and Company, Inc.; unabridged audio edition narrated by Frank Holden published by Rattling Books).
"...At six o'clock on Christmas morning the second engineer and McKinlay started in decorating the cabin with the flags of the International Code and a fine lot of colored ribbon which Mr. Hadley had brought with him from Point Barrow for the trading he had hoped to do in Banks Land. Later in the morning I went around and distributed presents to the Eskimo. I gave each of the Eskimo men a hunting-knife and a watch and the Eskimo woman a cotton dress, stockings and underwear, talcum powder, soap, a looking-glass, a comb and brush and some ribbon, with a cotton dress for each of the little girls.

At eleven 0'clock the first event on our type-written programme began - the sports. This was the list:


D.G. S. Karluk. Xmas Day, 1913

The events of the sports programme arranged for the day will take place in the following order:
1. 100 yards sprint
2. Long jump (standing)
3. Long jump (running)
4. Sack race
5. High jump
Interval for refreshments
6. Three-legged race
7. Putting the weight
8. 50-yard burst
9. Hop, step and leap
10. Tug of war
11. Obstacle race
12. Wrestling
Proceedings will commence at 11 A.M. (Karluk time); dogs and bookmakers not allowed on the field.

The doctor was umpire and wore a paper rosette.

...Dinner as usual was at half past four. I confess that I felt homesick and thought of other Christmas dinners. It was my fourth Christmas in the Arctic; in 1898 I had been with Peary at Cape D'Urville on the Windward and in 1905 and 1908 at Cape Sheridan with the Roosevelt, but our situation now had far more elements of uncertainty in it than we hd felt on those occasions and in addition this time it was I who had the responsibility for the lives and fortunes of every man, woman and child in the party.

We sat down at 4:30 P.M. to a menu laid out and typewritten by McKinlay:


"Such a bustle ensued"
Mixed Pickles Sweet Pickles
Oyster Soup
Lobster
Bear Steak
Ox Tongue
Potatoes Green Peas
Asparagus and Cream Sauce
Mince Pie Plum Pudding
Mixed Nuts
Tea Cake
Straswberries
"God Bless You, Merry Gentlemen;
May Nothing You Dismay!'

Murray produced a cake which had been given in Victoria to cut for this particular occasion and which he had kept carefully secreted. Dinner, which was a great credit to Bob, the cook, was followed by cigars and cigarettes and a concert on the Victrola which had been presented to the ship by Sir Richard McBride. We had records that played both classical and popular music, vocal and instrumental, and we kept this up with singing, to a late hour. Malloch wrote a Christmas letter of many pages to his father, a letter which, alas, was destined never to be delivered.... (to be continued)"

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Excerpt: The Last Voyage of the Karluk by Captain Bob Bartlett, setting: Dec. 18-23, 1913

The following excerpt is from The Last Voyage of the Karluk An Epic of Death and Survival in the Arctic, 1913-1916 as related by her captain, Robert A. Bartlett and here set down by Ralph T. Hale (published in 1916 by Small, Maynard and Company, Inc.; unabridged audio edition narrated by Frank Holden published by Rattling Books).

"...Murray lost his dredge again on the eighteenth when it caught on the ice and parted the line; the chief engineer started work at once on another.

December 21 was the Arctic midnight, the day of days in the Arctic, the day that we all looked forward to, for now the sun was coming towards us every day, and every day the daylight would lengthen. We were not, of course, getting real daylight but at midday we got a kind of twilight that was good enough to get about by, out of doors. Mr. Hadley and I experimented with the acetylene lights but found that outside of the ship they would not work because the water froze.

On the twenty-second much of the twilight time was used in clearing away the huge banks of snow that had drifted about the ship. The chess tournament was decided on that day. The men had been playing it for a good while and now the winner of the most games received the first prize, a box of fifty cigars, and the next man the second prize, a box of twenty-five cigars. Mamen took the first prize and the mate, Mr. Anderson, the second.

The dogs, which we had been keeping all together in the box-house, broke their chains on the twenty-third, and some of them got into a fight; our best, Jack, was so badly bitten that he could not walk. I took him on board and down into the carperter's shop where Mr. Hadley sewed up his wounds with surgical needle and silk cord. Poor Jack was in bad shape and at first refused all food. He received constant attention from Mr. Hadley but could not bear a harness until the latter part of February. The fight in which he was hurt warned us that we must not keep too many dogs together, so I had the Eskimo build several snow kennels in a large snowbank near the ship. They sprinkled ashes on the floor of the kennels and chained up the nine most quarrelsome dogs, each in his separate kennel.

With the approach of Christmas all hands began to make plans for the proper celebration of that good old holiday. The spirits of the whole party were excellent; now that they were in the neighborhood of the place where Santa Claus came from they seemed determined to observe the day in a manner worthy of the jolly old saint..."

Friday, December 22, 2006

Writer demands to be unlisted from Amazon

Writer demands to be unlisted from Amazon
Nick Tanner
Wednesday December 20, 2006
Guardian Unlimited

A children's author has drawn attention to the plight of independent bookshops by demanding that his book be removed from sale on Amazon's UK website.
George Walker, author of Tales from an Airfield, was horrified to find that his new title was featured on the site without his permission, following good sales in bookshops...


read the rest here

Support your local Independent Book stores and Record Stores this Christmas and in the New Year!

In St. John's Newfoundland that would include places like:

Bennington Gate, Terrace on the Square, Churchill Square, Ph: (709) 576-6600
Granny Bates Childrens Books, 2 Bates Hill, Ph: Ph: (709) 739-9233
Fred's Records, 198 Duckworth St., Ph: (709) 753-9191
The Travel Bug, 155 Water St, Ph: (709) 738-8284
O'Brien's Music, 278 Water St., Ph: (709) 753-8135

From the Christmas Card Collection of Jack Higgins (#1): Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives, Memorial University of Newfoundland


A card from the collection of Jack Higgins which articulates Rattling Books' wish for you this Christmas. We'll bring you more between now and Old Christmas Day.

John G. "Jack" Higgins (1891-1963): b. St. John's; Rhodes Scholar, Merton College, Oxford, 1909; Oxford Canadians Ice Hockey Team, 1910-1911; called to Newfoundland Bar, 1913; served in World War I, 1916-1918; practised law in St. John's 1919-1959; leading member of the Responsible Government League, 1947-1949; first Leader of the Opposition after Confederation, 1949-1951; first Progressive Conservative from Newfoundland appointed to Canadian Senate.

Jack Higgins was a collector. He seldom threw anything away, as it might have some value in the future. We are very fortunate that he had this trait. Included in his personal papers on deposit in the archives are a small collection of Christmas cards, many dating back to the turn of the century. ...These and other Christmas cards from the Higgins' collection may be viewed at the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Link to CBC Radio Archive Page (Andy Jones speaking with Shelagh Rogers)

December 20, 2006 conversation between Shelagh Rogers and Andy Jones on Sounds Like Canada, CBC Radio is archived, atleast for now. So if you missed it and want to hear it here's your chance.

For the Navigator in your Nest: Coasting Trade by Robin McGrath

Coasting Trade: a Performance for three voices with soundscapes, the most recent Audio release from Rattling Books is the product of a collaboration between author Robin McGrath, radio producer Chris Brookes and actors Robert Joy, Rick Boland and Anita Best.

Coasting Trade follows the voyage of a Yankee trading schooner, circumnavigating the island of Newfoundland sometime after 1865. As the vessel puts in at various ports, lyrical narratives weave back and forth through a century of change while the 19th century sailing notes adapted from Sailing Directions for the Island of Newfoundland by J.S. Hobbes (1865) remain timeless.

Listen to a clip from Coasting Trade.

Rattling Books are distributed in Canada through House of Anansi Press by HarperCollins. Rattling Books are also available online from rattlingbooks.com.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Andy Jones on CBC Radio's Sounds Like Canada today



Andy Jone on CBC Radio's Sounds Like Canada today.

Listen to a couple of Letters from Uncle Val here:

Listening Clip 1

Listening Clip 2

If you're interested in what's been on this Blog relating to Andy Jones and Uncle Val up to now here are the permanent links:

Andy's Saltfish Valentine recipe:
http://rattlingbooks.blogspot.com/2006/12/saltfish-valentine-recipe-from-andy.html

A brief history of CODCO:
http://rattlingbooks.blogspot.com/2006/11/brief-history-of-codco-background-for_26.html

Who was CODCO?
http://rattlingbooks.blogspot.com/2006/11/who-was-codco-background-for.html

Dr. Andy's convocation address:
http://rattlingbooks.blogspot.com/2006/11/memorial-university-of-newfoundland.html

and there's more if you look ...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Rattling Books audio edition of The True Meaning of Crumbfest serialized on CBC Radio in PEI


The True Meaning of Crumbfest by David Weale, performed by Antonia Francis (Rattling Books, 2005) will be broadcast over the next three days: Wednesday - Friday (December 20 - 22) on CBC Radio's Mainstreet program in Prince Edward Island.

So tell your Island buddies to listen up. Or check out a clip here.

Available from rattlingbooks.com and in Charlottetown from the BookMark book store.

And if you prefer the printed edition, Acorn Press.

Excerpt / Recipe / Alternative to Turkey: Jiggs' Dinner from Hard Light by Michael Crummey


Jiggs’ Dinner

Out of bed by seven to leave plenty of time to dress for church. The salt beef in to soak overnight to take off the brine: put it on to boil in the largest pot in the pantry. Drain off half the salt water and replace it with fresh every hour. Clear a spot on the counter. Start the vegetables.

Potatoes
Potatoes are inevitable, like grace before a meal. You’ll want a spud for everyone eating, two if they’re smaller than your fist. The skin is mottled brown and spotted with eyes, the flesh is white and damp. The taste is neither here nor there, like its colour, it complements everything you serve. Cut the largest in half or three to avoid stony pits enduring after everything else is ready to eat.

Carrots
Carrots are the middle child, no one’s particular favourite, but well enough liked by all. A good rule of thumb is to cook more than you think you need. Never worry about leftovers: a carrot holds its flavour like no other vegetable, it tries so hard to please.

Turnip and Parsnip
Predictable vegetables, sturdy and uncomplicated, tasting of the winter root cellar, the warmth of darkness smouldering beneath snow. Turnip is served mashed with a tablespoon of butter and a pinch of fresh pepper. Parsnip served like carrot, the beautifully tapered torso laid naked on the plate.

Greens
Leaf and stalk of turnip, boiled until tender. The dark green of deep water shoals. As tart as spinach and better for you, the limp stalk wrapped around your fork like thread on a spool, a spill of green liquor on your lips with every mouthful.

Cabbage
Similar to lettuce, but heavier and more densely rounded: the quieter and more secretive of two siblings. Too firm and fibrous to be eaten raw, boil the cabbage whole until the inner leaves have paled almost to white and part before a fork like the Red Sea before the staff of Moses.

Onions
Slip the pocket of tears from its papery shell. Do not bring the knife near the flesh. Drop two or three whole onions into the pot to cook the tang from the core. Eat them by the forkful, the translucent layers soft and sweet as orange sections, every bit of bitterness boiled away.
When the church bell peals, place all vegetables to boil with the salt meat. The pease pudding is wrapped separately in cheesecloth or a piece of rag and placed last in the pot, before leaving for church at a quarter to eleven.

By twelve-thirty everything is ready. Take up the vegetables in separate dishes and people will serve themselves as they please. Ladle a spoonful of the salty liquor from the pot over your food, or dip up a mugful to drink with your meal. Protect your Sunday clothes with a linen or cotton napkin. Bow your heads before you eat.

Be thankful.


Hard Light by Michael Crummey (the book) is available from Brick Books. The section of Hard Light entitled 32 Little Stories, narrated by Michael Crummey, Ron Hynes and Deidre Gillard-Rowlings is available as an audio CD or MP3 Digital Download from Rattling Books.

Listen to Didi reading Jiggs' Dinner.

Jiggs' Dinner was also included (along with a piece each from Andy Jones and Mary-Lynn Bernard) in Three Servings, a chapbook from Running the Goat Press.

Monday, December 18, 2006

For the lawyer in your life: Judge Prowse Presiding by Frank Holden


Judge Prowse Presiding, written and performed by Frank Holden was released earlier this month by Rattling Books.

Listen to a clip of Frank performing Judge Prowse.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Where to get Rattling Books

in Canada: Rattling Books are distributed through House of Anansi Press by HarperCollins

in the US: Rattling Books are available from the wholesalers Baker & Taylor, Ingram Books, BWI and AV Cafe.

in New Zealand and Australia: Rattling Books are available through INT Books

in Iceland: Rattling Books are available from 12 Tónar

In Newfoundland:

St. John's : Bennington Gate Bookstore, The Travel Bug, Fred's Records, Devon House Craft Store, O'Brien's Music, Woof Design, the Rooms Giftshop, Historic Sites Association stores, the Gift Company in the Fairmount Hotel, and for The True Meaning of Crumbfest only: Auntie Crae's, Georgetown Bakery and Granny Bate's children's Bookstore.

Petty Harbour: Herbie's Olde Shoppe

Corner Brook: Johnny Ruth Gets The Travel Bug, the Newfoundland Emporium, Family Bookstore and Ewing Gallery in the Glynmill Inn.

Rocky Harbour: Fisherman's Landing

Wiltondale: Newfoundland and Labrador Art

Griquet: Dark Tickle Company

Trinity: Campbell House B&B

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Icelandic Writers Union site notice regarding Rattling Books

Rattling Books Author Agnes Walsh and Narrator Anita Best recently performed in Iceland. Rattling Books ran a Translation Contest for Icelanders to translate a poem by Walsh into Icelandic. We will post the winning translation separately in a future blog. Here is a page about this story on the Iceland Writer's Union website. Of course we have no idea what it is saying. Do you?


Úrslit kynnt í þýðingarsamkeppni Rattling Books frá Nýfundnalandi:
Þýðing Aðalsteins
þótti öðrum betri



Aðalsteini Ingólfssyni voru á laugardaginn afhent verðlaun í þýðingarsamkeppni Rattling Books frá Nýfundnalandi. Þýðing hans á ljóði Agnesar Walsh, The Day I Married Halldor Laxness, þótti öðrum innsendum þýðingum betri. Rithöfundasamband Íslands annaðist framkvæmd samkeppninnar og dómari var Ingibjörg Haraldsdóttir.

Það var Agnes Walsh sjálf sem afhenti Aðalsteini sigurlaunin, iPod spilara (spilastokk), að Gljúfrasteini. Við það tækifæri las Agnes upp nokkur ljóða sinna jafnframt því sem Aðalsteinn las eigin þýðingu á ljóði skjáldsins.

Þýðingarsamkeppnin var haldin í tengslum við komu fjölmennrar viðskiptasendinefndar frá Nýfundnalandi til Íslands í síðustu viku. Á meðal gesta í sendinefndinni voru fulltrúar frá Rattling Books. Þetta er lítið útgáfufyrirtæki á Nýfundnalandi sem hefur m.a. sérhæft sig í útgáfu hljóðbóka. Agnes Walsh er kunnur höfundur á heimaslóðum og hefur frá barnæsku haft dálæti á verkum Halldórs Laxness.

Heimsókn viðskiptasendinefndarinnar var skipulögð af viðskipta- og fjárfestingadeild Innovation, Trade and Rural Development (INTRD) stofnunarinnar á Nýfundnalandi í samvinnu við Newfoundland and Labrador Organisation of Women Entrepreneurs (NLOWE). KOM almannatengsl höfðu milligöngu um útfærslu heimsóknarinnar í samvinnu við kanadíska sendiráðið á Íslandi.

Excerpt: The Last Voyage of the Karluk by Captain Bob Bartlett, setting: Dec. 16, 1913

... On the sixteenth I had the Eskimo dig out the seal meat which we had kept in the "ice-houses" near the ship and put it on deck, so that we could have it handy in case the ice broke up around the ship. Furthermore, I wanted to see how much we had accumulated. I found that we had forty-one seal, about 1600 pounds, enough to last twenty-five people sixty-seven days. Not every one on board liked seal meat but all could eat it. I had Mamen at work these days making up a list of things required in case I went on another Arctic drift some time...

This excerpt is from The Last Voyage of the Karluk An Epic of Death and Survival in the Arctic, 1913-1916 as related by her captain, Robert A. Bartlett and here set down by Ralph T. Hale (published in 1916 by Small, Maynard and Company, Inc.; unabridged audio edition narrated by Frank Holden published by Rattling Books).

Friday, December 15, 2006

Saltfish Valentine: a Recipe from Andy Jones, author of Letters from Uncle Val


Salt Cod Valentine
(Brandade De Morue Avec Twist Terre Neuvienne)
(A Xmas Pâté for Celia)


Preparation Time: 70 minutes
Start to Finish Time: 13 hours
Yield: about 3 cups

1 pound center-cut salt cod (the thickest part of the fillet)
1 medium baking potato (6 ounces)
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium White Onion, minced
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus several whole sprigs for garnish
pinch of Newfoundland Savoury
1 loaf bread, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices and toasted
1/2 cup white wine

Soak salt cod in cold water in the refrigerator 12 hours, changing the water three times.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Bake potato until tender, about 50 to 60 minutes. While the potato is cooking, drain and rinse salt cod, then place in a medium pot covered with cold salted water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer until fish is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool in liquid. As soon as the potato is done, split it in half, scoop out the steaming flesh, and pass through a sieve or a ricer.

Heat olive oil in a small saucepan over moderate heat. Add garlic and white onion; cook until soft, then add cream and simmer 7 minutes. Stir in the white wine during these seven minutes. Remove from heat. Drain cod and pat dry. Remove the skin and bones, then pulse a few times in food processor to break into coarse pieces. With the machine running, add the garlic-cream mixture in a steady stream. Transfer to a medium bowl, add the potato and a pinch of Newfoundland savoury, and stir until everything is mixed well. Season with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Add more salt and/or lemon juice if necessary. If not using the salt cod Valentine immediately, cover and refrigerate. (It will keep for up to a week.)

To serve, place in a large iron pan and warm over medium heat, stirring constantly, until heated through. Stir in parsley, spoon into a serving bowl, and serve surrounded by toasts. Garnish with a few olives.

Andy Jones is the author and performer of Letters from Uncle Val.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Author Guest Blog: 'Wrapped' a Christmas reflection by David Weale

Wrapped

Feeling constricted, or trapped, is a universal human experience, and every culture has symbols, or figures of speech, that allow it to express the condition. One of the most powerful metaphors for me is that of being swaddled or wrapped, like poor old Lazarus in his winding sheet when Jesus called him back to life, or Harry Houdini, wrapped with chains inside a sealed box, attempting to rise like a god from beneath the dirty waters of the Hudson River. Legend and myth are rife with evocative images of that kind, and for me there is something about the way we celebrate Christmas that inspires a similar meditation.

Like it or not, Christmas has become, more than anything else, a lavish festival of wrapping and unwrapping, and when we participate in the ritual I suspect we are all unconsciously acting out the central drama of the human condition. I know this will sound far-fetched to the symbolically challenged, but I think there’s something to it, and what intrigues me most is not our enthusiasm for exchanging gifts in an extravagant, sometimes impoverishing, potlatch of generousity, but the curious insistence that all the gifts be wrapped, so they can then all be unwrapped. I could be completely wrong about this, as I am about many things, but have concluded that the most important part of the ritual is that of unwrapping, and stripping away, as a necessary prelude to joy. It’s why it would be unthinkable for most of us to give a gift unwrapped, and why it’s not prayer that puts so many of us on our knees on the floor at two o’clock on Christmas morning. In wrapping we replicate our ego-confinement, and in unwrapping, our desired emancipation.

What put me on to this way of thinking was an exchange I had with a woman in a department store when I was in my early twenties. I don’t know her name (it probably one of those sweater-girl names from back then like Wilma, or Arlene, or maybe Sandra), but I do remember that she was attractive and flirtatious, and probably around thirty-five. She was wearing a shiny white blouse, unbuttoned to cleavage, ornamented by a Christmas corsage big enough to serve as a table centrepiece. Her friendly smile was framed by lots and lots of holly-berry lipstick, and her straw-blonde hair teased up into some kind of indestructible hairdo. All of that doesn’t sound so great to me now, but at the time I thought she was quite something.

She worked in the department store every Christmas wrapping presents for busy shoppers, and on the wall above her table was a sign that declared, IT’S NOT A GIFT UNTIL IT”S WRAPPED. And that’s just the spirit she brought to her work. Wrapping for her was a passion, and the way she shook loose the ribbon, spread the paper, and then picked ever so carefully the final sprigs of green or silver, reminded me of how a great chef might garnish a meal, or a famous artist finish off a canvas.

On the day of my recollection she was wrapping a gift I had bought for my girlfriend, and to pass the time I asked her what was the biggest wrapping challenge she ever faced. She said it was a toboggan. “I don’t do those anymore,” she added with a smile. I also asked her if it bothered her that within a few days all her work would be torn to shreds. “Oh no dear,” she replied as she folded under the edge of the paper, “that’s the whole point isn’t it -- to get to the gift.” I liked her reply, and the confidential way she phrased it, but it made me wonder why, if the whole point is to get to the gift, we expend so much time and effort concealing it in a box beneath layers of tissue and seasonal paper, and then wrapping string and ribbon around the whole business.

We both were enjoying the banter so, when she was almost finished, I informed her teasingly that if she did much more to beautify my package my girlfriend might not want to unwrap it. Without missing a beat she smiled provocatively and responded, “Well then, I guess she’ll just have to unwrap you,” which made me blush a little because I realized she was probably reflecting back what I had been thinking about her.

Arlene, or Wilma, or whoever she was, was wiser than she knew on that Christmas Eve Day afternoon, for I have discovered over the years that getting unwrapped is exactly what I want for Christmas, and what I wish for all my friends. In fact, it’s pretty much the only thing I want. If I can also get disrobed that is a bonus, and another powerful metaphor, but it’s my eyes I want unwrapped, and my heart, so I can once again glimpse the infinite in every brown nut and piece of hard candy, and feel the presence of the sweet eternal vibrating in everyone I meet, and in myself.

Unwrapping presents doesn’t do that for me anymore, but in the removing of layers of concealment, and the cutting of strings, I am at least reminded of what I really desire, and that I already have it.

And by the way, if I was making the sign it would read, IT’S NOT A GIFT UNTIL IT’S UNWRAPPED.

David Weale


David Weale's children's story The True Meaning of Crumbfest is available in an unabridged audio edition from Rattling Books. Narrated by a five year old Antonia Francis it recently garnered an Earphones Award from AudioFile. Several of David's books are available from Acorn Press in Prince Edward Island where David makes his home.

Excerpt from In the Chambers of the Sea by Susan Rendell


Light Years
in memory of Jim Truscott

...That November they took Mom to St. John's, to the hospital. I wasn't around when she went, but I knew when I came in the house she was gone, I could feel it. That was the Christmas I found out there was no Santa Claus. Not how most kids finds out; you know, their Mom or Dad tells them or they hears it at school, but it's not so bad because they still get presents and everything. But when me and Brian went down over the stairs Christmas morning the year Phonse died and Mom went away, taking the stairs two at a time like we always did, pushing and shoving each other - it's a wonder we never broke our necks because there was no carpet or nothing on them stairs and they were as slippery as a gutting table - our stockings were as flat as pancakes; we could see 'em laying limp over the clothesline by the stove before we were even halfways down. I couldn't believe it. The old man never said nothing to us when he got up, and we never said nothing to him. The old bastard; dead to the world on Christmas Eve on all that money, and me and Brian laying awake for the longest time, listening for the reindeer to pitch on the roof....


Listen to the same excerpt narrated by Joel Thomas Hynes, from the Rattling Books recording of In the Chambers of the Sea by Susan Rendell.

Excerpt: Coasting Trade by Robin McGrath

She loved him with a fierce appetite
Patting and prodding his flesh
Like a reliable, well-trained chef
And once, while they embraced,
She pinched the tender meat behind his hip,
Said “If we were stranded on a desert island,
And I had to eat you,
This is where I would begin.”
Over the years she tasted every part of him,
Sleepily chewed the lobes of his ears
In bed in his arms on cold winter mornings,
Licked the jam from his fingers at breakfast,
Then nibbled the tips to still her hunger,
And often she told him he was so sweet
That she could eat him alive.
When he died she
Feasted for the last time,
Spit up bones and hair like an owl pellet
And slept with it under her pillow for luck.


Coasting Trade by Robin McGrath is a performance for three voices recorded and produced by Chris Brookes as an audio CD for Rattling Books. It is voiced by Anita Best, Rick Boland and Robert Joy.

Listen to a clip from Coasting Trade.

Author Guest Blog: Robin McGrath concerning her newest title, Coasting Trade

Coasting Trade

Coasting Trade started out as a series of six linked poems about various places around Newfoundland, which I wrote and submitted to what was then the CBC/Saturday Night literary competition. This was years ago, and I didn’t win, of course, but much to my surprise I made the shortlist and got a very encouraging letter from Robert Weaver. He told me just to keep going with it, that it wasn’t finished.

Every now and again I’d go back and add another visit to another community, but I knew It needed some unifying element for it to make sense to a listener from outside. Then one day I came across an old book of sailing directions for the island, dating back to 1865, and the voice of the navigator was so strong I could almost hear it. Except for the occasional church steeple or flagstaff, the directions for entering the bays and inlets of Newfoundland and Labrador were exactly the same more than a hundred years later.

My mind played one of those funny tricks of the imagination, and I thought of this man, Hobbs, sailing in an out of time, landing in various outports at different times in history. I made him a coasting trader because at the time I was working on the history of the early traders who came up from New England, and it seemed to fit.

I had intended from the very start to make this a performance piece. I wanted the voices to resonate literally just as they had imaginatively in my head. Some of the narratives went on to become free-standing poems, and found their way into print, but they still had a strong vocal element, which I think is evident in a lot of my poetry. Is this poetry or prose? A bit of both, I think. David Ferry once said that performance poetry is “just a free-form of theatre” so perhaps it’s drama as well.

Robin McGrath

Coasting Trade, a performance for three voices, by Robin McGrath is hot off the Audio CD press from Rattling Books. Recorded and mixed by the incomparable Chris Brookes and voiced by Robert Joy, Rick Boland and Anita Best - Coasting Trade is a feast for the ears.

Announcing the Release of Coasting Trade by Robin McGrath

Award winning Author Robin McGrath and radio producer Chris Brookes team up with actors to produce Coasting Trade: a Performance for three voices with soundscapes.

Rattling Books is proud to announce the release of Coasting Trade by Robin McGrath. This newest Audio CD release from Rattling Books is the product of a collaboration between author Robin McGrath, radio producer Chris Brookes and actors Robert Joy, Rick Boland and Anita Best.

Coasting Trade follows the voyage of a Yankee trading schooner, circumnavigating the island of Newfoundland sometime after 1865. As the vessel puts in at various ports, lyrical narratives weave back and forth through a century of change while the 19th century sailing directions remain timeless.

A smuggler who studies angels, a woman who knits a stove, green martyrs, a homesick immigrant, and a biologist studying the sexual characeristics of caplin all come to the attention of the navigator before he turns southward, to the joy of glad returning.

Coasting Trade, a performance for three voices by Robin McGrath with navigation notes adapted from Sailing Directions for the Island of Newfoundland by J.S. Hobbes (1865) was produced for Rattling Books by Chris Brookes and performed (in order of appearance) by Robert Joy, Rick Boland and Anita Best. Voices and soundscapes recorded and mixed by Chris Brookes.


Robin McGrath is the author of fourteen books, including Trouble and Desire, a collection of stories; Escaped Domestics, a volume of poetry; Hoist Your Sails and Run, a children's book; and the novel Donovan's Station which Rattling Books produced as an unabridged audio edition in 2003.

Chris Brookes is an independent radio producer whose award-winning programs (eg. Peabody Award 2006, Prix Marulic 2006, Prix Italia 2005, Gabriel Award 2003) have been heard on public radio in the U.S.A, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, England, The Netherlands and Canada. He runs Battery Radio from the Narrows of St. John's Harbour. Chris also produced and narrated Adrift on an Ice Pan by Wilfred Grenfell for Rattling Books.

Robert Joy is an actor and writer and the principal narrator of The Big Why by Michael Winter (Rattling Books upcoming 2007).

Rick Boland is an actor, director, producer and dramaturge involved in stage productions, film and television.

Anita Best is a singer of traditional Newfoundland ballads and a narrator of several Rattling Books projects (Merrybegot by Mary Dalton, In the Chambers of the Sea by Susan Rendell).

Listen to a clip from Coasting Trade.

Rattling Books are distributed in Canada through House of Anansi Press by HarperCollins. They are available online from rattlingbooks.com.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Excerpt: Mat, a poem by Mary Dalton from Merrybegot (with reference to Christmas)


MAT

Some of them could go fast as the wind -
Nell now - and she was a great hand at it,
Scrolls and squares anad dogs and roses
And one time a red punt on the water.
And then the scrubbing -
Dragging mats down to the cove in summer.
We beat them against the beach rocks,
And the salt water gave back their colour.
And come Christmas
Out we went mummering,
Out in the fools, happy as kings.
Mat rags sewed into our clothes.

Merrybegot, a collection of poems by Mary Dalton was originally published in 2003 by Véhicule Press. It is available as an unabridged audio recording from Rattling Books. It is performed by Anita Best and Patrick Boyle.

Listen to Anita Best narrating Mat with Patrick Boyle on trumpet.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Dictionary of Newfoundland English: Gud

This photograph of Razorbills was taken by Dave Fifield. If you've visited our Blog before or know anything about Rattling Books you may recognize the Razorbill as the inspiration for our logo. We knew the Razobill by it's Latin name (Alca torda) and the local term Tinker but according to the Dictionary of Newfoundland English the Rattling Books logo is also known as a Gud.

Here is the Gud entry which you can find in the online edition of the Dictionary of Newfoundland English.

gud n Northern razor-bill (Alca torda); TINKER. 1884 STEARNS 235-6 I have often seen the water covered with a clustered flock [of puffins], all engaged in making a hoarse, rasping sound, not unlike the filing of a saw; this is also done both by the 'murre,' and the 'turre,' and at such times, which ever species is present, they receive from the sailors the name of 'guds,' from a fancied resemblance to that sound.

So that's what people have been saying all this time about Rattling Books!

"Some gud logo you got there b'y."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

What do these four birds have in common?


What do these four birds have in common?

a) they are all Razorbills (Alca torda)
b) they are all listening to Rattling Books recordings of literature to listen to
c) they are all Guds (what?)
d) they live at http://www.rattlingbooks.com/
e) all of the above)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Ottawa Citizen review of Rattling Books' The True Meaning of Crumbfest by David Weale, performed by Antonia Francis


The following is an excerpt from a regular audio book column in the Ottawa Citizen by Janice Kennedy.

The sounds of Christmas: Kids should be encouraged to read themselves, but sometimes it's OK to let a CD read to them instead
The Ottawa Citizen Sunday, November 26, 2006 Page: C6
Section: The Citizen's Weekly Arts & Books Byline: Janice Kennedy
Column: Reading Out Loud
Source: The Ottawa Citizen

.... One of the most engaging such recordings is the work of a small company in Tors Cove, N.L., a short drive out of St. John's. Rattling Books produces a variety of engagingly unusual Canadian titles, many of them with a Newfoundland-Labrador connection, in unabridged audio format. (And unapologetically, too. Says founder Janet Russell to anyone who thinks audiobooks "are some form of cheating: If you want to be like that about it, writing it down in the first place was cheating. What's wrong with you, can't tell a story or what? In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was Spoken.")

One of the most engagingly unusual of its titles is a kids' audiobook with a festive-season theme. And it has recently been honoured with an Earphones Award from the U.S. magazine AudioFile. The True Meaning of Crumbfest (22 minutes unabridged/1 CD, $9.95) Written by Prince Edward Island history professor and storyteller David Weale, this story has become very popular since it first appeared in print seven years ago. It is the adventure of a small mouse who tries to discover why something wonderful happens once a year, after the extended mouse family moves from their beloved Outside to the between-walls darkness of the Inside.

Sweet and delightfully tart at the same time, and perfect for kids four to nine, the story is narrated by Antonia Francis. And that's one of the surprising appeals of the recording. At the time the story was recorded -- in 2001, for her mother's community radio show -- Antonia was only five years old. Young Antonia turns her little voice to a genuinely impressive range. She is as cheery, apprehensive, sad or triumphant as the narrative occasion demands, and she is eminently listenable. The 22-minute recording is the original radio presentation, rough around the edges, but still a joy. AudioFile called Crumbfest a "special treat." And so it is.


So there you have it. You can read the Earphones Award review elsewhere on this Blog. The unabridged audio recording of The True Meaning of Crumbfest by David Weale performed by Antonia Francis is available online from Rattling Books.

Listen to an excerpt of Antonia's Crumbfest narration.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

John Steffler is Canada's new Parliamentary Poet Laureate

On December 4, 2006 The Speaker of the Senate, the Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, and Speaker of the House of Commons, the Honourable Peter Milliken announced the appointment of John Steffler as the Parliamentary Poet Laureate.

John Steffler will be the third poet to hold this office and replaces Mrs. Pauline Michel.

The Job Description:

The Poet’s role is to encourage and promote the importance of literature, culture and language in Canadian society.

Federal legislators created the position in 2001 to draw Canadians’ attention to poetry, both spoken and written, and its role in our lives.

As explained in the Parliament of Canada Act, the Parliamentary Poet Laureate may:

write poetry, especially for use in Parliament on important occasions;

sponsor poetry readings;

advise the Parliamentary Librarian regarding the Library’s collection and acquisitions to enrich its cultural materials; and,

perform other related duties at the request of the Speaker of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Commons, or the Parliamentary Librarian.

The term of the Parliamentary Poet Laureate is two years.

The current Poet Laureate, John Steffler, will serve until his term finishes on December 3, 2008.



An unabridged audio edition of The Grey Islands by John Steffler (narrated by John Steffler, Frank Holden, Janis Spence, Deidre Gillard-Rowlings and Darryl Hopkins) will be released by Rattling Books in March, 2007 . The printed edition of The Grey Islands is published by Brick Books.

Excerpt from The Last Voyage of the Karluk by Captain Robert Bartlett (early December, 1913)


This excerpt is from The Last Voyage of the Karluk An Epic of Death and Survival in the Arctic, 1913-1916 As related by her captain, Robert A. Bartlett and here set down by Ralph T. Hale (published in 1916 by Small, Maynard and Company, Inc.; unabridged audio edition narrated by Frank Holden published by Rattling Books in 2005).

The Karluk has been frozen into the ice of the Arctic Ocean. She and her crew who are still living aboard are drifting with the current.

The first few days of December were cold and stormy, with very high winds. I made up my mind that we were in the place where all the bad weather was manufactured, to be passed along to Medicine Hat and thence distributed to Chicago and Boston and points south. We got a little twilight from ten to two on pleasant days, so that the men could see to work out of doors. The health of the party throughout our drift was excellent. Every one had plenty of vigourous, outdoor exercise and slept soundly, though the incessant howling of the wind was not always conducive to a feeling of carefree contentment.

There was considerable pressure early in the month at a point about a mile from the ship, which tossed the ice into rafters, but we did not feel it on board. On the tenth a ribbon of water about a foot wide showed in the ice about two hundred yards from the ship, opening and closing off and on for several days. The temperature was getting pretty cold now, down in the minus thirties, yet the air was clear much of the time and we were not uncomfortable out of doors, even in American clothes....


You can listen to an excerpt of Frank Holden narrating Rattling Books audio edition of The Last Voyage of the Karluk by clicking here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Excerpt: "The Lure of the Labrador Wild" by Dillon Wallace, setting: early December 1903



The following excerpt is from Dillon Wallace's classic story of the fateful canoe trip which Wallace, Leonidas Hubbard and George Elson made into the interior of Labrador in 1903 (The Lure of the Labrador Wild originally published in 1905 by Fleming H. Revell, New York) . The photo to the left shows Leonidas Hubbard (with bag) and Dillon Wallace in Rigolet in the spring when they were still enroute to Northwest River from the US. From Northwest River they would set off by canoe. The image is from the original glass slide collection housed by the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, University of Newfoundland.

Jump to early December (so that we can atleast share a seasonal perspective with the storyline). At this point (early December, 1903) Leonidas Hubbard has died - cold, hungry and alone in his tent. George made it out to get help and Wallace is now safe in Northwest River where he is recuperating from exposure and making plans to retrieve Hubbard's body.

It was my plan to engage dog teams and start with the body for the coast so soon as it could be brought to the post. Everybody agreed that it could not be recovered before January, and Mackenzie argued strongly against the practicability of transporting it with dogs, suggesting that we place it in the old post mission chapel until navigation opened in the spring, when it could be sent home on the mail steamer. But I knew I must get home as soon as possible, and my mind was made up to take the body with me, if I had to haul it all the way to Quebec.

The great toe on my left foot growing steadily worse, it became necessary for me again to see the doctor. Groswater Bay and Goose Bay by this time were frozen solid, and on December 4th I travelled to Muddy Lake, where Dr. Hardy was stationed, by dog team and komatik, Willie Ikey, an Eskimo employed by Monsieur Duclos, the manager of the French trading post across the Northwest River, acting as my driver. Upon my arrival I was cordially welcomed by Mr. Sidney Cruikshanks, the lumber "boss"; Mr. James McLean, the storekeeper, and Dr. Hardy. It was arranged that I should stop and sleep with the doctor at McLean's house. The doctor did some more cutting, and under his careful treatment my foot so improved that it was thought I could with safety return to the post on December 15th, to prepare letters and telegrams for the winter mail, which was scheduled to leave there by dog team for Quebec on the 18th...

In 2005 Rattling Books released an unabridged audio edition of The Lure of the Labrador Wild by Dillon Wallace, narrated by Jody Richardson and directed by Janis Spence.

You can hear an excerpt of Jody Richardson's narration by clicking here.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Michael Crummey's "Wreckage" wins Heritage & History Award

Congratulations to Michael Crummey, whose novel The Wreckage (Doubleday Canada)
was awarded the Heritage & History Award last night.

The Historic Sites Association & The Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland & Labrador (WANL) made the announcement at WANL's annual Chistmas Party in St. John's. The award is intended to celebrate work "that exemplifies excellence in the interpretation of the history and heritage of Newfoundland and Labrador."

Michael Crummey is also the author of Hard Light. In 2003 Rattling Books released an audio edition of Hard Light: 32 Little Stories narrated by Michael Crummey, Ron Hynes and Deidre Gillard-Rowlings.

You can give a listen to Ron Hynes reading from Hard Light by clicking here.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Excerpt from upcoming work by Agnes Walsh: Longevity and Guts from Going Around with Bachelors coming 2007 from Brick Books

The following is from Agnes Walsh's upcoming book of poems with Brick Books, Going Around with Bachelors, edited by Stan Dragland and slated for release in spring, 2007. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of Kitty Lewis (Brick Books) and the author.

The selection presented here was made with fond memories of Rattling Books recent visit to Brooklyn in mind.

The photograph is from the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador (PANL).

Longevity and Guts

The Grandparents


Patricia and Thomas

The trader anchored in the harbour and the packmen came out on deck. They spread their wares: Gerald S. Doyle products, jewellery, boots, and clothes. Men rowed out standing up. Since it was a short row, to sit down would look too leisurely. Women never went but only hoped the men got right what they wanted. Tom wasn’t sent but he went. He picked out a ring, a thin gold band, paid in coin and rowed back to the creek half-grinning. Patsy was turning fish in the hot August sun. Her stomach was swelled only slightly, maybe she could get away with it. Anyway, there was Tom rowing towards her looking cocksure and full of purpose. Winter wouldn’t be so hard after all.

The Aunts


Margaret

When Aunt Peg came back home she wanted to be called Margaret. I said ah, but I love the sound of Aunt Peg. She pulled back, set her shoulders just so and exhaled sharp and quick through her nostrils. I never said Peg again. She threw a glass of beer onto my fifth cousin Anthony’s chest, telling him she would not let the Americans be talked about like that. I hear she squared her shoulders, pushed back from the table, went over to my mother’s house and changed her airline ticket to get the hell out of Newfoundland and home to Brooklyn. It irritates my mother to no end that Margaret is so goddammed proud. She won’t return. Aunt Lil says she never will. They talk about her in the parlour, I listen from the kitchen. There’s more to it than Anthony and the Yanks. That priest on Jude Island who tried to haul her into his bed. She went home, didn’t say a word to anyone. He got up at the pulpit the next morning, scared to let another minute pass, and denounced her as a liar who should be tarred and feathered. She hadn’t told a soul, though by then it was too late. No one believed her. Her own mother turned away. Aunt Margaret came back when Grandmother was in the ground. Proud and fierce, she walked through our town butting invisible enemies. I became her silent bodyguard. I wanted her honored here... but too late, too late, it was far too late. Now she’ll never come back. She’ll be buried in Brooklyn, New York.


Sisley

The family says, “Well sure everyone knows Sis is an alcoholic. She can’t get herself to bed without staggering, would get lost if she had to follow a straight line.” Sisley came home once but I never saw her. “Mom, how come I never met Aunt Sis?” “Your Aunt Sis? I’ll tell you why. Because she landed into town, went to Jimmy’s, drank gin day and night and then flew off back to New York again. Why she spent almost a thousand dollars to come home and drink the same brand of gin she could get there is beyond me.” I wondered if Aunt Sis ever went to the corner store for mix, ever looked at the Southside Hills from Jim’s kitchen window. Jimmy says she still had her black and orange hair, down to her waist, but that she always wrapped it up before coming out of the bedroom where she slept with her ninety-year-old mother. Wish I could have seen her, cigarette between her lips, the curling smoke making her eye pinch up as she folded out the cards in solitaire, and sloshed the plastic stirrer into gin and ice.


Lillian

Everyone wanted to get away. There was a whole slew of us lined up, signing our name on visa applications. Above all else, get out. Why turn over one more maggoty fish, iron one more shirt, scrub one more floor for two dollars a month? Give me a warm Jewish restaurant on Eighth Avenue where you get respect and tips. Aunt Lil worked hard, married Pete Wasinski. I remember him in the grass, under the dogberry tree, coins falling from his pockets like bread crumbs, laughing as the wind stood his hair straight. Mom said that when he died the shoes blew off his feet from his massive heart attack. Well, he did have such a big heart, making sure we kids found the silver in the grass. Aunt Lil married again, a man from home. Came back to Newfoundland saying she could never stay in the States anymore: “All the small town feel is gone from Manhattan.” Lillian, oldest daughter, never had children or a pet, but has a full-length sealskin coat. “The only thing your grandmother gave us,” she told me, “was longevity and guts. That was all she gave us.”


Ellen

In the snapshot she has her sweater pinned at the neck, but her arms aren’t in the sleeves. This strikes me as unlike her so I look for more. It is some sort of courtyard where she stands, drooping veronicas lined against a black fence. Her smile is a question of delight, like when someone says, “You are beautiful,” and you say, “Pardon?” because you want to hear it again. The wind is blowing in the photo, her skirt tail is kicking up behind her. At her feet a small dog barks silently and she leans into a man who looks like Trotsky (he stayed at the Cochrane Hotel on his way to Mexico, and she worked next door). I asked her about this once and she gave me that smile again and brushed her fingers across her lips as if the room was bugged. “Facts,” she said. “Oh my, why do you always need the facts, you with all these photographs?”

*************************************************

Agnes Walsh is currently the first Poet Laureate for the City of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. She recently gave readings in Iceland with Anita Best and forged the beginnings of an Icelandic presence for Rattling Books which you can read about elsewhere in this Blog.

Agnes Walsh's title In the Old Country of My Heart was recorded with Rattling Books and is available as an audio CD or MP3 Digital Download online from rattlingbooks.com.