Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gilles Richard's Caravans

Beautifully handcrafted Caravans emerge from Dunham

By Manfried Helmuth Starhemberg
For about one year, visitors to Sutton were surprised to see a lovingly painted caravan on the side of a shop next to the local police station. Then there were two, now four, then one disappeared and another one showed up. This I had to investigate, which led to a meeting with Gilles Richard (61), the builder of these fairy tale creations and owner of Trains-Trains Inc. of Dunham. The lovely wagon in the picture above was the first to be created and has wooden wheels and a chassis made by the craftsmen on the premises.
"We changed the framework, because the narrow wooden wheels have a tendency to sink into the mud and have to be on a firm foundation", explained Richard. "Now we farm out the lower frame to a shop in Cowansville and we use rubber tires which are much more easy to manouver and not susceptible to the vagaries of rain or snow".
The insides of the caravans, which can be sold completely outfitted, resemble a small Victorian area guest room and the one pictured is abundant with a lovely double bed, curtains and resplendent with pillows, a marvellous mattress, storage space under the bed for the winter windows and an eclectic array of furniture. The frame of each caravan is of quality welded steel construction and  fully insulated. The wagons are also wired for outside electricity and have two outlets for sound systems or an electric heater. The "house" is constructed of wood and every piece of the framing, the sides, the finely sculpted overhead arches, which allow a six and a half foot tall person to comfortably move around, are all hand sewn in the modern fully equipped shop on the premises.
All doors, windows, some with faux stained glass inserts, are also fabricated here by master builder Bruce Poirier and his assistant  √Čric Ducharme.
 The large victorian caravan is but one example of the company's offerings. there is a smaller version of it as a childrens play house, replete with bunk beds, cheerfull furniture and appropriate colors, a perfect place for a sleepover, a pajama party or to house those extra grandkids that are staying for a night, a weekend or a vacation.
Another version is an open verandah type car which resembles an early tram and is great for a garden party, as well as a smaller version of the large caravan depicted above, which could be used as a small lakeside cottage or a moveable guest room. As a guest bedrom, a caravan can provide charming ambience and privacy while not interfering with the host's life, truly an innovative idea and one I would have welcomed a few times in my 40 years of being married with children and relatives...
The caravans cannot be towed behind a conventional truck because they do not have the required lighting system, which would incorporate blinkers, brake lights etc., all cumbersome additions and not really germain to the idea of the rustic simplicity of a beautiful moveable work of art.
Trains-Trains Inc. will bring the caravan to a prospective owner's home and set it up at a location of their choice. What makes this so appealing is that if the owner wishes to move, he can take his guest house with him, move it to a lakeside location or even rent it out to a vacationing couple
The company can produce one large caravan per month but will accomodate a prospective owners timetable as there is always something being in the process of being built to accomodate an individual's needs as to interior design, color choice and decor. Since this is an artisinal enterprise, the clients "king and queen" ,can work with the builders to their hearts content.
And now to the crucial question: "How much does all this cost"? "An average of $ 20,000" answers Gilles, "It will depend of course on the level of luxury required and the individual customization of the unit". Frankly, if I had an extra $ 20,000.- lying around right now, I would love to own one of these caravans, as I could well envision myself and Nancy sitting inside on a rainy afternoon, hearing the rain drum on the roof and water the hanging plants on the porch overhang, while we listen to some good music, or to spend a cosy evening to candlelight, possibly playing Gypsy music over a good bowl of Hungarian Gulyasz and a bottle of Egry Pickawer ("Bull's Blood", the most beautiful sweet Hungarian wine and a gypsy favorite).
I am dreaming of course, but Gilles Richard has made his own dream come alive through  his magical creations in lovely Dunham.
 The above are my pictures, the two below of different inside vIews of the caravans are courtesy Trains-Trains Inc.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My barn finally crumbled

My incredible barn finally collapsed

 By Manfried Helmuth Starhemberg
I have been driving by this barn on North Sutton Road every day of the week for four years. At one time we had a lottery to determine the exact day it would finally collapse. All the people in the lottery are dead or in Florida. This morning the barn finally died, two years shy of it's 100th birthday according to a neighbor.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sutton's Fashion Shop is Back in Business

Au Rendez-Vous de la Mode back in business in Sutton

By Manfried Helmuth Starhemberg
About two month ago Sutton went into shock: The venerable local clothing store "Au Rendez-Vous de la Mode" had mannequins standing on the sidewalk and being loaded into moving trucks, racks and packages followed and the local populace which has shopped there for almost exactly 50 years was perplexed. Where they closing? Had they sold the place? No, the next day a reassuring sign went up: "Closed for renovations". Old Suttonites, many of them having been outfitted at the store for their first day at school, their first date or the prom, were relieved.
As Queen Victoria once stated: "Every 50 years or so, one must reexamine one's estates". Owner Alain Camille,(60), whose mother founded the store in 1961 at a site now occupied by Le Cafetier across the street, and who had moved to the present location in 1964, would have approved. The place needed a renovation and it got it. Insulation,long needed to combat the rising heating bills was added as were double paned windows, all new lighting, paint and interieur decor. When I visited, there was still a very faint odor of the new paint to be detected but the place looks completely different now, There are new displays, new hardware to hang up and show off the clothes which come from 33 different companies, from Calvin Kline to Columbia, Woolrich and Killtec or Nova Scotia's Stanfield to a vast line of shoes from the Merrell line among others.
The building which houses the store is among the oldest surviving in town. For many years the curent location was split into two enterprises, a hardware store and a barber shop until Mme Yvette Boutin Camille started her fashion emporium. Alain and his brother Michel who retired after the current restoration, have owned the store since 2002 after purchasing it from their mother.
Outside of hundreds of dresses, blouses, sweaters, jackets, jeans and any other imaginable ladies apparel, there are a myriad of handbags and accessories, socks, belts and every other item imaginable to entice the shoppers which are a mix of locals and tourists.
"Sutton has changed so much over the last ten years that I could not possibly tell anymore who are the local residents or visitors" admits Alain. "I used to know most of the people in town but so many have moved out, new faces have moved in, it is hard to keep track of the clientele anymore".
Alain  goes to various trade shows every year. "I have to order next year's stuff in August in order to have my summer collection for the next year", states Alain. Manufacturers want to plan ahead and so do us merchants in order to guarantee an even flow of incoming product.
"Is it hard to track inventory ?", I asked, "It is all in my head. I do not use a computer for inventory control. I know exactly what I have, what needs to be stocked, what to order and where to cut down on an order because a line might not sell as well as I had imagined".
Competition? "Yes, there are the big stores in Cowansville and Granby but I have a loyal local clientele and business has always been steady. As long as we can provide friendly service, a great variety of products at prices people can afford, I do not worry too much about what anyone else is doing. If you want a brand name quality product, you get it here and our prices are well in line with anything else out there. But you have the convenience to park in front of my store right here in downtown Sutton and you know where to come to if there is a problem with a product".
As much as I had enjoyed seeing the mannequins standing on the sidewalk on a snowy day two months ago, it is nice to see them back inside in their natural surroundings being tended to by a charming man and his affable staff.

The greenest store in Sutton

"Vert Partout", the greenest store in Sutton

By Nancy Helmuth
Re'jeanne Labrecque started "Vert Partout" in 2009 on Sutton's main street. The store is dedicated to "green" products and initially, everyone was wondering about the feasibility of such an enterprise. They were proved wrong. The store is doing well and, as a frequent visitor, I can attest to the fact that it is still evolving with new products being added and the lovely interior seems to be updated all the time. Mme Lebrecque demonstrated a new set of items today, pepper mills made from logs which are incredibly cool to look at, to touch and to use.
My favorite items in the store however are bags made from used bicycle tubes, one of them even showing an old tire patch while others can still be read as being "700x25C", a tube preferred by road racing enthusiasts. These are made in Sherbrooke by a company called "Ressac".
Metal sculptures by local Abercorn artist Maurice Ferland mingle with locally produced jewelry and sit next to bags for firewood or shopping bags and floor mats made from recycled tires. A large display holds wallets made from recycled paper and they are aptly called "mighty wallets". I tried to tear one up and could not, that is how tough they are.
But the best part is the handbags and reuseable snack packs that state: "I used to be a plastic bottle". They are durable, colorful, affordable, and one again, recyclable.
The next rack holds blankets that are spun from recycled wool, wonderfully soft and cuddly creations in a myriad of colors. And did you ever think about wearing a bathrobe made from Bamboo? It can be had right here, a sensuous garmet spun from bamboo fibers to go with the bamboo blankets, sheets and bath towels. The density of the fibers is actually found to be better than natural wool or even the best spun cotton and recent tests in laboratories in Europe state that the washability and longevity of this recently developed textile material far surpasses that of wool. Add to this that the material has a far lesser shrink rate than wool, this will possibly be a great addition to materials used in the garment industry in the future, if we can just get the Panda bears out there from eating it all up first.
Where does all the stuff come from? "About half the items in the store are produced in Quebec or Ontario, the rest comes from the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos and other Asian countries which are really getting into the recycling industry" explained Diane Lebrecque, the owner's sister in law and the English speaking member of the crew, who courteously afforded me her time in traslating my questions.
So, if you grumble about putting out your recycle box every other week, think about the fact that our grandchildren may have raincoats or hats and lunchboxes made from that old soda can. And you shall be able to find it in downtown Sutton!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sutton's First Responders

Sutton's First Responders ready to roll

By Nancy Helmuth
The town of Sutton has just announced the start of a new service, the "First Responders". Each of the volunteers had to undergo 60 hours of professional training and they are all now accredited to respond to medical emergencies in the Sutton area. The problem in the past had been that it takes an ambulance a miniumum of 20 minutes to respond as they have to come from Cowansville, a distance of some 25 kilometers.
The new group of volunteers which are centered at the Sutton fire department are teamed in pairs and will work 12 hour shifts, once a week. The service is now available round the clock, seven days every week.
When a life treatening call comes into the 9-1-1 service, the first responders will be dispatched by the pre-hospital emergency service through the ambulatory call dispatch system. The role of the first responders is to evaluate and stabilise the patient and to offer first care, awaiting the arrival of the ambulance technicians. In case of life and death situations, a few minutes can often make a huge difference. The volunteers are trained in the use of defibrillators, have been taught how to stabilise wounds and to keep a patient calm, warm and stable until professional help is on the scene.
A new training session will be announced soon and prospective new volunteers are encouraged to contact Jean-Pierre Boisvert at (450) 538-4172 to find out how they may be able to assist this most needed and valuable new service in town.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Les Caprices de Victoria

Les Caprices de Victoria, Sutton's Charming B&B

By Manfried Helmuth
Les Caprices de Victoria, a four star Bed and Breakfast in Sutton, is possibly the most charming place to stay in town. The building is one of the last standing "Neo Queen Anne" structures in the townships and the 1907 structure is mostly original with the exception of a later addition to the rear of the house which is done so tastefully that it is impossible to discern where the old ends and the new begins.
Owner Maryse is a registered nurse and currently on a two month sabbatical as visiting nurse in Inukguak on the eastern coast of Hudson's bay, where she provides home care for the elderly Inuit population. Husband Michel, retired manager of many airports in Quebec and the Northwest Territories (from Whitehorse to Frobisher Bay, Baye Como and as near as St. Hubert) minds the store. in Maryse's absence.
"After I retired from managing airports, we came to Sutton to visit my brother in law and just fell in love with the town", explains Michel. "We love animals and we wanted to find a place where we would have a first class pet grooming, boarding and training facility. Then Maryse saw this B&B and that was it. She had to have it and as we like people as much as animals, I agreed to give this a try. Michel worked his airport for another year to help with the cash flow and Maryse puts in a lot of nursing in the off season but they have made this place into a magical kingdom of their own.

Michel beams with pride as he shows visitors the house and the grounds. The acreage behind the inn has a spa, a generous verandah, a bubbling stream and  vast expanses of finely landscaped land for visitors to enjoy. But the inside of the inn is breathtakling. It is cosy, warm, elegant and whimsical. This is a fairy take inn come to life, with lovely accents everywhere and every one of the five rooms superbly decorated in a totally individual style with matching color, antique furniture or reproduction claw-foot bathtubs (at more then $ 2,000 each) which evoke the period feeling while giving the desired modern comfort. Every room has a name, there is Josephine, Juliette, Charlotte, Hortense and the suite Victoria. Josephine does not have a TV, some people prefer this, but all the other rooms have them. All rooms have wireless internet access, telephone and all the required nicities of our time. All have large individual bathrooms as well.  And best of all, the room price includes all the food people can eat, from scrumptious breakasts to four or five course meals. (Prices for double occupancy range from $ 145.-for "Josephine"  to $ 174.- for the "Victoria" suite. This includes all taxes and all the great food!)
"I only buy locally produced bread, vegetables etc", states Michel. I can attest to this because as a local baker, I see him visit the bakery I work in at 6:30 on most mornings, to get his fresh maple butter croissants, Tantations or other Viennoisery the table requires that particular morning.
For a couple that had made their careers in the Arctic, met there, married there and still is very much involved there, was it hard to transition to Sutton? "Not at all", explains Michel. "We wanted a change and at first thought we might move into Western Canada but as I told you, we just fell in love with Sutton". Then he chuckled: "He who hesitates is lost. We found a place we both liked and have not regretted it and we shall enjoy this as our home and business for years to come".
Maryse and Michel had a lot to learn though. There are many laws and regulations that govern the industry, from the fact that all sheets etc. must be ironed (a Cowansville company takes care of that), to the same stringent health department regulations that govern restaurant kitchens. "As soon as a guest leaves, the room gets a complete make over, from sheets to bathrobe, soap, shampoo and the minutest cleaning of every inch of the floor. There is no shortcutting here, this would just not be acceptable".

Where do the customers come from? "Mostly they have been here before or their friends have, but our web site also helps as it is linked to Tourisme Sutton and I work close with the town and other people associated with the tourism industry in Sutton, such as the ski mountain and the "Treetop Adventure" Co-Op".
I had the opportunity to speak to a few people who have frequented the inn in the past and they love the access to the spa, the steam room, the sauna, the availability to have a massage in one of the two massage rooms, or just to sit on the beautiful balconies, a glass on wine in hand and the bucolic scenery below. Just in case they want to visit "downtown", it is a five minute walk away!

Treetop adventures

"Tarzan of the Apes", alive and well in Sutton

By Manfried Helmuth Starhemberg
"Sutton's Outdoor and Treetop Adventure Group is a perfect fit for our town which is why the town of Sutton is showing its support by becoming one of the Co-Op's supporting menbers" explained Sutton major Pierre Pelland at a recent press conference at the company's lodge just off Rue Maple near the top of Sutton Mountain.
The Co-Op is comprised of 100 User Members, seven Worker Members and five Supporting Members.It is currently closed to ready the trails, walkways high up in the forest, the steel lines and cables that let visitors fly through the ancient maples and pretend to be "Tarzan of the Apes" without the problems of whatever may lurk on the floor of the bush below. I have "flown" the zip-line and can attest that it is great and exhilarating fun.
But the Co-Op member's explain it best in their own words:
"An adventure that requires the use of all your senses, within a world of centuries-old Maple trees, a creek of crystal clear water and all the splendours that Mother Nature offers. Arbre Sutton Tree Adventures is available for all brave adventurers of 6 years old and up. We have an exciting course for children who measure a minimum of 1.40m from their fingers to their feet (arms above head). The Little Adventurer course was built in 2007 and offers more than an hour of fun for the 6 years old and over. Dare yourself to tackle more than 20 obstacles including gateways, barrels, zip line, etc. An unforgettable adventure for the whole family!

Note to parents: you are welcome to join your children within the Little Adventurer course. However; we are not responsible for your child teasing you if you do not complete the activity!
For the taller ones measuring a minimum of 6 ft from their fingers to their feet (arms above head), we have the Junior-Adult course. You will need an average of 3 hours to complete the activity and includes a total of four routes of increasing difficulty. Challenges, breathtaking views, centuries-old maples, flying snowboard, zip lines and of course, our Giant Tarzan Rope! We also offer special prices for corporate, group bookings and school groups!
Do you prefer to keep both feet on the ground? We offer more than 5 km of exceptional hiking with informative route signage available for your family, with trails also suitable for the little one`s in their strollers!
We are also friends of our four-legged companions, provided they stay on a leash…"

Sutton's Royal Canadian Legion

A Morning with Sutton's Legionnaires

By Manfried H. Starhemberg
I could not have staged this - after being invited to brunch at Sutton's Royal Canadian Legion, I sat behind a man wearing this poignant T-shirt. I have to admit that even after having lived in Sutton for 12 years, this was the first time I have set foot into the legion hall. As a veteran of the "police action" in Vietnam, I had been disillusioned about the so called "service associations", because the three times I had tried to join such groups in the United States and was not accepted because Vietnam was not a recognized "war", had predisposed me about what I had begun to think of as "a bunch of old farts with no grasp of the real world".
Well, this Sunday, April 10, changed my perception. I was joined at table by Mr. Marchand, a former vice president of this legion, a former town council member and our local "paper boy" who together with his wife has delivered the Gazette, La Presse and the Sherbrooke Record to hundreds of people on his daily 90 kilometer trek. {"I like the Sherbrooke Record, it pays me far better than the Gazette or La Presse")
"After World War 1, there were no psychiatrists, no veterans associations, no assistance to returning soldiers. Thus, the legions were formed, where people with common concerns, fears and ghosts of their recent past could sit together over a beer and try to help each other out", explaines Mr. Marchand. "And you are right, there always has been the feeling that the last war was the greatest. The guys from WW1 rejected the folks from WW2, who in turn later tried to hold on to their "glory" by at first denying Korean war veterans equal privileges. And now, the Korean war vets, feeling that their deeds might be forgotten, reject the people who fougt in Vietnam. It is not animosity, rather it is an ill placed sentimentalism and we have been fighting to overcome this for a long time. In our legion every soldier is welcome, even those who have fought on the 'other side'."

Every other week the Legion has an "all you can eat" brunch for $ 8.- On April 10, 132 people availed themselves of this service and I have to admit that I have rarely had a better breakfast in this restaurant rich village. The sausages were perfect, the bacon crisp, the home fries delicately seasoned. Legion president Ron Caswell, who also doubles as chef explained: "It is a new recipe, I add finely ground dried red peppers to the onion and garlic mixture. The potatoes are pre cooked before they go onto the grill where they brown slowly. Nancy ate heavenly pancakes and I went back for some home made beans and excellent ham.
I digress, this is after all not a restaurant review but a story about dedicated people who play a large role in this small community. Right now the legion has 165 members. It was founded in 1946 and first was housed in a rented facility on Maple street. Since 1981 the group has owned the current location on Curly street, across the street from Sutton's storied curling club. In summer the huge parking lot and adjoining grassy expanse becomes the "Sutton Flea Market" every Saturday and you can find volunteers from the legion setting up tables in the morning and cleaning up after the last vendors and buyers have disappeared in the afternoon.
"We are service oriented" explains Mr. Caswell. "When the ice storm hit the town in 1998, we cranked up our powerful generator and people had a place to go to, to get coffee, clean up, get warm, meet their friends. We are always ready for such emergencies and the hall is open to all in need". "Maybe we should run the generator once in a while" chimes in good humored Abby Marchand, a neighbor of ours and in charge of the cash at brunch time. Abby is 66 and tireless in assisting, Ron is 65 and his wife, 15 years his junior works the kirchen alongside him. So are a brother in law and other family members. "There are always about 12 people around to do the cookling and cleaning for brunch" explains Mr. Marchand. Of the membership, about 10% volunteer for active duty, "the rest get to eat good", chuckles Caswell.
The full service bar is open Wednesday to Sunday after 4pm and is the unofficial headquarters of the legion where chicken and biscuit supper, (May 7th,) the silent auction with live music, the bingo nights and the newest addition, hamburger and hot dog nights are being planned and plotted. Not exactly a military strategy but the friendly people here take it just as serious from the purchase of items for the auction, to the purchase of the food for brunch."Not to many restaurants with just a self tought volunteer staff can handle up to 200 guests for breakfast on a Sunday morning, plan it out, have the hall ready and make sure there is enough for everyone without there being too much waste on the end of the day" states Abby Marchand.
Sounds like sound military strategy to me, but of course, that is where it all began and the many citations and medals and photos that adorn legion hall bear full testimony to this more serious side of the legion.
On the end, "Lest we Forget" ,encompasses the ongoing mission of these dedicated people. And today I am mailing in my check and membership application.

Spring Bicycle Tune-Up

Spring is here - Prepare your bicycle properly

by Manfred Rieder

If your bicycle "wintered" outside, I sincerely hope you will contemplate getting a new one, because rust will appear inside the frame, cable housings, crank shell and even in the pedals. If you kept it inside, there is a good chance that you will only have to spend a couple of hours to get it ready for that great first ride of spring.
Start with checking the tires. Inflate them fully and if you do not have a gauge on your pump, pump them up until they feel hard but still have some "give" when you pinch the sides. Now examine the tires for cracks on the sidewalls. If you have them and they appear to be flaking or if they open wider when you pinch the tire surface near the crack, your tires are toast. Get new ones and while you are at it, buy new tubes. The tire size is marked on the side of the tire and you will have to match the tube size to the tire size. At this point let me point out that it is my experience that buying tires and tubes from a bicycle shop will in almost all cases be less expensive than your local department store ! I just purchased a set of 27 1/4" tires and matching tubes for my wife's bike for $ 48.- at a local shop. At a department store they wanted $ 64.- for the same set. They may sell you a crappy bike for $ 125.- but they do not service it and if you need parts they "get you".
(As an aside: Department stores do not have mechanics on duty. Most of them hire a gang of mostly inexperienced people to come in and assemble bikes for them, often at a low fixed rate per bike. As a former bicycle shop owner, I have spent hundreds of hours fixing those ill assembled pieces of crap and eventually refused to even work on them because I did not want the liability which comes with any repair. If you value your life and want value for your money, go to the professional shop which will serve you as long as you own the machine!)
If the tires are good follow my advise and do the following: Wash your bike with warm water into which you have added some dish washing liquid. Let it dry and then spray the whole frame with WD-40. Never use this product as a lubricant because as it dries, it will attract dust and dirt. But it is excellent for cleaning the frame. Use a lint free cotton rag (any discarded tee-shirt will work. I use old socks because I can get my hand into them and have a good grip when I slide my hand around stays and frame rails. Let the bicycle dry for a few minutes and lightly buff it with a clean cloth. This should take care of most surface problems on the frame. If your bike has steel rims and they are showing rust, spray them with WD-40 and use a fine steel wool pad while the WD-40 is still wet. You will be able to remove most of the rust from all chromed surfaces and spokes. Do not forget the cranks or the chrome seat post.
Next, lightly oil the chain and put a drop of bicycle oil on the outside of each axle where it enters the hub. The axles have grease in them but a bit of external oil sometimes helps to keep water out.
Now to the next task at hand: the first thing I do is, go over the basic stuff like checking if the brakes work fine, check if the pads are not worn out, at the same time I turn the wheels to see if they are true, using the brake pads to eyeball this and check the general condition of the brake pads. If they squeak, use some sandpaper to "scuff" them. This works well most of the time. Next I shift all the gears front and back to see they needs any adjustment. If you are not confident about this, or if the chain tries to ride too high up to the spokes, go to the nearest bicycle shop!
After that I check if the cables for brake and shifters are frayed or rusted. If they don't require to be replaced, I lube the exposed portions using ATF or regular bike oil. I then go over the entire bike to tighten everything that can be, keeping an eye out for less obvious stuff like missing bolts, cracked metal, loose parts or anything out of the ordinary. This is also a good time to see if any of the main bearings are loose. Rock both wheels from side to side and if you feel any movement or clunking, the bearings are loose and require your attention. In the case of the main pedal axle, or bottom bracket, grab one of the cranks and try to shake it from side to side as well. If it moves, grab the other crank arm and try again. If both of them jiggle in unison, you have loose bearings. If only one jiggles, your crank arm is about to fall off. Adjust and tighten as needed.
Important. When you are done, grip the front brakes tight and push the bicycle back and forth. If there is a rocking motion in the fork, you have loose bearings in the crown of your headset. Tighten the lower ring by hand as much as you can and then tighten the upper nut (this will probably need a large adjustable wrench or slipjoint pliers, until the fork does not move back and forth but still rotates from left to right without binding. If you have any problems with this - again my advise is the local bicycle shop.
Lastly, let me please tell you that you should only attempt any of the above if your bike was in decent shape when you put it away last fall. Do not try to resurrect a bike you found on the side of the road. This is the fastest way to make the local ambulance service rich.
Enjoy your riding!

Monday, April 11, 2011

All about Crosswords


by Manfried Starhemberg
The New York World newspaper has a lot to answer for. In its 1913 Christmas edition, published on Dec 21st, Arthur Winne, a Liverpudlian puzzles & entertainment editor for the World, published the first ever crossword puzzle.  Wynne's puzzle (which can be seen online at http://www.crosswordtournament.com/more/wynne.html) differed from today's crosswords, in that it was diamond-shaped and contained no internal black squares. During the early 1920's other newspapers picked up the newly discovered pastime, and within a decade crossword puzzles were featured in almost all American newspapers. It was during this period that crosswords began to assume their now-familiar form. Ten years after its birth in the States it crossed the Atlantic and re-conquered Europe.
Surprisingly, despite their instant popularity, for years crosswords in the United States appeared nowhere else but the New York World. Then, in 1924, a couple of newly qualified graduates of the Columbia School of Journalism named Dick Simon and Lincoln Schuster set up a publishing business. Looking for something to publish, they settled on a book of puzzles from the New York World. This book was an immediate massive hit, and launched the crossword craze worldwide.
So much for history. For 38 years, whenever possible, Nancy and I have started out the day with the ritual of the crossword.  While I read the paper, Nancy gets to do the regular daily puzzle of the Gazette, which is then erased so I can have it as she starts on the New York Times. Since the NYT normally takes a litle longer, I download and print two copies of the L.A. Times puzzle; thus I get to do the NYT while she enjoys the LAT, and so on. (Now that I have a subscription to the Sherbrooke Record, I get the L.A. Times puzzle without all that downloading.)
Now, why did I state that the "World" has a lot to answer for? Simply add about seven hours per week spent "puzzling," which amounts to 364 hours per year, then multiply that by over 38 years. That's 13,832 wasted hours. Without the crossword we could have been productive members of our society! Add to this the fact that we each read at least three books a week and you must come to the conclusion that we are complete losers in the socio-economic matrix of our times. In this context I must also admit to making paintings, building ship models, and taking time out for "Saturday Afternoon at the Opera." (If I mention the frequent abuse of late night "Turner Vintage Movies" on the telly we will probably be ex-communicated.)
What have I gained from all this? Well, I know all the regular fillers such as "Aloe," "Adieu," "Sloe," "Elk," "Aida" (which was not a bloody Verdi princess but a slave girl, you New York Times nitwits), and all other twenty daily repetitions. However, often I get bamboozled by something like this: "Last Army Post Abandoned in 1956." I went on Google to see which "Post" the Army had closed in 1956 to no avail. I didn't get it. The answer was "Five Star General." Cute.
Where I am lacking is baseball players and movie stars or their directors. I know Aaron Copeland (met him in Tanglewood in the early 70's), but I do not know any rappers, which makes me a lucky person. And a book published in 1952 that was made into a 1962 film escapes me even if I finally know how to spell Athabasca. I am still weak in the sixth month on the Jewish calendar or the eleventh Pope, but Nancy did coach me on sports starts such as Orr or Sosa while I tell her about Bobby or Al Unser, Mario or Michael Andretti, and the whole list of first names of my beloved opera stars from Feodor Chaliapin to Kirsten Flagstad (after whom our youngest daughter is named).
So, where does all this get me? Did we have time between all this hedonism to procreate? Hell yes, the kids enjoyed the puzzles with us. Now they teach music, literature, and one is a doctor. They never thought they missed out by not being dragged to the basball stadium or watching football with dad on Saturday afternoons (another one of Nancy's favorites, but only enjoyed now that we are by ourselves again).
Well, I have to cut this story short. M.A.S.H. is on in ten minutes on the History Channel and I cannot afford to waste another minute, because tomorrow's puzzle shall surely ask me about "actor Alda" or "actress Loretta," and I will not wear the dunce's cap!

Cowansville's Dollarama

Dollarama - Cowansville's Holt&Renfrew

By M. H. Starhemberg
Wednesday afternoon with nothing to do: no way to clean the yard yet, it's too early to take the plastic off the porch windows and we do not watch TV in the afternoon. Solution - a quick shopping trip to our favourite Dollarama in the Cowansville shopping mall, the local ersatz Holt&Renfrew.
We have done this so many times, and every time we are just going to  "get some of the cheap batteries and maybe a note pad and a couple of 100W light bulbs. This has never worked and wisely, we both grab a basket at the entrance and go a'foraging independently. In the past we would say "each of us gets to spend $ 10.-". This has never worked, so, tacitly it does not get mentioned any more. There is just so much stuff one just has to have...

I remember that I recently chipped a heavy duty drinking glass I liked and had a set of 6 of, well, now I have a set of eight. On my desk at home are two empty ring binders which needed plastic inserts to file "stuff" in and the ceramic frog that sings after I put two button batteries in, was just too cute to pass up. Nancy meanwhile found candles. I agree, one can never have enough of those. And a new shower curtain ($ 2.- complete with rings), because the cats have torn a hole in the old one. Then there were the great long baskets for the barbecue to hold the kebabs in so that no pieces fall on the grill. I scored the last 7 all aluminum outdoor solar light sticks. Three large cans of wet cat food for a buck are nothing to pass up on and it is also good to have an extra six packages of Knorr sauce mix.

It is imperative to pick up a few small toys for our friends kids and it occured to me that a picture hanging set ($ 1.-) should come in handy sometime in the future when I can find a square foot of wall space in the house. Thankfully, I have never gambled because I probably would get hooked on that just as easily as I feel that I am scoring big time anytime I pick up something for a Dollar. I regret that I already own a dozen Dollarama Quartz kitchen clocks because there was a brand new set set with at least two colors I do not own yet. ("What do you mean you still have the ones from last fall unpacked upstairs") Women don't think straight when it comes to planning for future gift occasions. The price may double and where does that leave me then?

I am not alone. While there this afternoon, we chatted with four of our friends from Sutton who, I suspect, were there for the same reason we were, to get out of the house, look around, buy a few useful items and enjoy a lovely drive through the countryside which in the past two days was peopled with deer. We counted 24 this afternoon alone.
But the best part is that when Nancy is at the cash register and smiles...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Computer Bob in Sutton

"Computer Bob's" Presses Keep Rolling on

By M. Helmuth Starhemberg
In Sutton, Robert Stowe, owner of "Reproductions R.S." is generally called "Computer Bob". This is meant affectionately because Bob, in his 14 years at the same downton location, has long become one of the best liked people in town.  At 65, he is not about to change that, he is full of enthusiasm about the future. "I am thinking about selling my two web offset machines, cameras and plate makers and go directly digital, eliminating cameras and plates and printing straight from my computer". This does not sound like a man about to retire.
Robert was raised in Cowansville, attended the DeVry Institute of Technology where he was graduated in electronic sciences. He worked in the electronics department of a geological exploration company in Ottawa and when asked if he got to do any mining, he chuckles,"No, but I got a lot of air time in the old Douglas DC-3 which was a lot of fun".
From 1970 to 1984 he was an industrial electrician for a Cowansville company and a fall from a ladder and two operations later, this job ended. "They offered me the courtesy job as a security guard", he muses. "That is when I decided to start my own business" It was in his house first where the first printing press was installed."This was a good machine, because outside of printing, my wife and I could do heat transfers on T-shirs and other items, even coffee mugs". This was when his breakthrough came; Cowansville High School ordered all their promotional materials from Bob and his wife. "They worked around the clock for 72 hours to get the job done". The school was happy and Bob went on to purchase his first "real" web offset machine, a buy-back from the Gray Nuns in the Laurentians that Gestetner in Montreal had acquired. "They made me a deal, I got everything to set me up for $ 5,000,-"
Bob went to school for a week, had the machine set up and started prining in earnest. This is four machines ago, each new one had more options and capacity than the last. Today's two machines are the newest generation.
A huge bulk of the business is the photocopy service it provides. There are currently 3 machines, the biggest one a $ 50,000.- Canon all digital "Image Runner". It was not always easy though. "When I started here I was $ 100,000.- in debt, but a local insurance company told me that if I set up my shop in town I would get all their business. This was our foundation"
When asked how many colors of papers there are in stock, Bob chuckles; "I am a bit of a packrat, I have obsolete papers in colors that have not been produced for decades but ever so often someone needs just that for a set of business cards or special invitations".

So why do the locals call Robert " computer Bob?" First, as a side line, for the past ten years as a hefty part of his business, Bob has repaired, sold, upgraded and maintained approximately half of the computers in the area. He also sells scanners, routers,keyboards and all the other paraphernalia required in this digital age. "I always had computers, I started with a first generation Texas Instruments unit in the 80s and kept myself abreast of all the development. If I did not know what to do I went and took a refresher course"
At any given time there is a heap of hard drives being tested, computers sit on the bench with their innards hanging out. Sometimes this looks like a science project gone awry but on the end of the day a satisfied client will be able to take the machine home, innards restored, brain working again and hopefully not in need of Bob's service until the next upgrade is due.
But if there is a problem, Bob also makes housecalls. "I will do this as long as my health allows" states Bob. His many clients in Sutton count on it.

An amusing aside is, that on many nights after Mr. Robert Stowe has departed for dinner, local teenagers can bee seen sitting on his nicely refurbished porch, laptops humming. Apparently they found out that there is a wireless internet connection operating nearby...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Velo Brome Back in the Saddle After Devastating Fire

By Manfried H. Starhemberg
On April 22 of 2010, an arsonist set fire to the long established bicycle store Velo Brome on rte. 139 in West Brome. Owner Charles Riordan (51) was sound asleep when the police called. At this moment, a one year long odyssee begun for the much respected businessman, who had built his store over 16 years of hard work to be one of the premier bicycle stores in the Townships.
"When I got there, I tried to save my computer and all the data. I made it upstairs and then the lights went out. At this point I decided that I was more important than my files and got out", recalled Riordan. By sunrise it was clear that the business was a total loss with most of the bicycles scorched, parts burnt and tools melted. All that is left from this mess now is a pile of semi-burnt bikes which hopefully will yield some useable parts for the rebuilding uf used bicycles.

The police immediately called the fire "criminal arson" and one year later, the case file is still open. Interestingly, two days after this fire someone "salted" the local bike paths in the greater Sutton area with tacks which cost more than 350 flat tires. This case is also still open. Unfortunately, in case of arson, the insurance company does not cover the losses of customer bikes. Riordan had thousands of Dollars of repair pending and apart from his own drama, had to inform his customers that their bikes were an uninsured loss. "Some took it well, others not so", tells Riordan. "At least the majority of my clients were covered by their home owner's insurance, but they still had to pay the deductible. Net loss to Charles? "Approximately $ 350,000.- with $ 100,000.- not covered by insurance.

"I work as supply teacher at Massey Vanier school in Cowansville in the off season, but last year I had no time to teach, I could not even go for a bike ride. I was too busy with the construction and the never ending discussions with my insurers, an issue that is still ongoing At least I did not have a previous mortgage, we had just paid it off. Now it starts all over again".
The new building is superbly laid out inside with heated floors even in the huge basement which now holds approximately 50 new Miele and Rocky Mountain bikes in boxes, to be assembled in the next two weeks. The store is clean and bright and the only major problem is that the parking lot is a sea of mud. As soon as this dries, the gravel trucks will come and lay a thick gravel layer down.
"Much has yet to be done but we are open again, we have our first crop of repair bicycles in the shop and I do not seem to have lost any of my regular customers", explains Riordan."Last year, operating out of a rented trailer, we lost 65 percent of the normal business volume. Hopefully, with this new facility we shall see some daylight at the end of the year"
Velo Brome is back in the saddle, like Phoenix from the ashes, a new beginning for Charles and his clientele.