Filklore Posts

June 18, 2004
Get up early, at 05:30, and am down in reception by just past 6am. My ride is booked for 06:30, and the hotel staff offer coffee first, but I prefer to get down to the station, so they take me down there. Arrive to find the train is delayed by an hour, and won’t be in until 08:30, but no matter – I am there on time, and my luggage is checked in. There are vending machines for snacks and drinks, so I settle down to wait.The train arrives, and we are loaded on. In some ways, the train is more like air travel than UK trains, even with an optional baggage check, which I use for my case. A guard/steward supervises the boarding, insisting on taking families and couples first, so they can be seated together, and ensuring that seats are filled up in a logical way. He later tells us that it is Amtrak policy, particularly in the case of mothers with children, and although single travellers may gripe, and try and jump to the front of the queue, it is one that is enforced, even if it means moving people to accomodate families boarding later. Today, it is fairly orderly, and I am lucky enough top get a window seat by and emergency exit, which gives me legroom. I am joined by someone even taller than myself, who also appreciates the space.The train finally moves off at aboout 08:40, and I am on my way. According to my GPS, we are doing about 80mph between stations, and 20-40mph on approaches to stops.At Syracuse, they announce a smoke stop, a stop of about 10 minutes at the station, for people to have a cigarette on the platform, or just stretch their legs. The train itself is no-smoking – there is a rush for the door, some folk getting ready to light up while still wallking down the aisle.The journey continues, without anything of particular note. I call ahead to Robin’s friend, Victor, to let people know the train left an hour late and appears due to arrive late as well. Unfortunately, what I dont realise (and the guard doesn’t tell us) is the train continues to be delayed, and is eventually two hours late on arrival. On arrival I am met by Robin and Victor. Robin’s boyfriend, Jonathon, was also expected, but is missing – we later discover that he didn’t get the message about the original delay, and was there at the station two hours earlier. We walk back with my bags to Victor’s apartment, where I meet his SO, Lara, and the four of us go to dinner at a place that does barbecue. It is a bit loud for talking (there is a quieter basement, but it is closed today), but the food is great.After dinner, we go back to Victor and Lara’s for a while, then Robin and I hit the road for Nasua, which is about 40 minutes drive to the north. We arrive at Robin’s house, and, as Robin want to prepare some food for the following day, chat while she works. In fact, we end up chatting until 3am.

June 17, 2004
My last day in Canada, and we start off lazily, as we have been active for the last two days. The weather has changed, and it is raining.After a late brunch, we head off to the Woodland Cultural Centre, in Brantford. Judith has quite a lot of contact with the Native community, in her work, so has developed and interest, and quite a bit of knowledge. The Woodland Cultural Centre has a museum which tells a brief history of the Six Nations, the largest indigenous community in Canada, and there is also an exhibition of Native art.Next, we move onto the village of Ohsweken, which is in the Six Nations Reserve – the weather cheers up for a little while, so we stop brieflly to look around. I do some shopping at the Sunrise Trading Post, a treasure house of handmade items, such as dreamcatchers and art items. We chat with the proprietor, who is fixing a wooden flute as we enter, and on finding we are musicians, plays for us. Some more shopping at a more conventional tourist store, Country Image, and it is time to head back to Hamilton.Judith has to work in the evening, so we have an early dinner, of salad with ordered-in pizza. After, I say gooodbye to Judith, and the Dave drives me down to Buffalo. It is raining again, but the journey is easy enough, and Dave gets me to my hotel by about 19:30. He sees me to my room, and the we make our goodbyes.The hotel has WiFi, but it is flakey, although I do get some emails out. Unfortuately, while trying to fiddle with it, my Palm hangs, requiring a hard reset. This rarely happens, but is an occassional hazard with Palms. The hard reset wipes the Palm’s memory, and although I have backup of important data, I have lost my notes of the last week, which I have still to upload. However, I have a 12 hour train ride ahead of me, so will have time to rewrite my journal for those days. I intend to have an early night, but the HBO channel is running the film “Bruce Almighty”, which I haven’t seen before. So I get some pop and snacks in (a hotel room with a microwave and vending machine popcorn!), and settle down for the movie, finally going to sleep just before 11pm.

June 16, 2004
We drive south to Niagara Falls for a spectacular day. Dave drives us through the tacky tourist area, which has to be seen to be believed. However the area around the river and falls is beautiful parkland, and protected.The day is hot, so we don’t mind the spray one bit, as we walk around. After walking alongside the falls for a while, we take the “Maid of the Mist” boat, which heads upriver towards the falls, and holds its position against the current for a long time, before swinging around and heading back. It is incredible, and is a truly exciting experience.As we take the elevator back up from the boat jetty, the guide tells us that someone has just complained that the trip was too wet. We all laugh, and I suggest the run a special trip once a week with the falls “turned down a bit”. Apparently this is not as silly as it sounds. At night and in the winter, an appreciable amount of water is diverted from the falls to drive the two power stations there.Later we take the tunnel behind the falls, which allows you to stand first behind the falls and also to be right beside the water crashing down. It is loud and very wet! Next we take the Whirlpool Aero car – a small cablecar that runs across and back over the Niagara whirlpool, which gives great views along the river.

June 15, 2004
We drive up to Toronto, and visit the CN tower, the tallest building in the world. The views are extraordinary, as is the speed of the elevator. We spend quite a bit of time just looking at the view, particularly at the stadium next door, which is slowly opening its roof. We have a drink in the tower restaurant, but go elsewhere for lunch.A visit to what claims to be the world’s biggest bookshop is interesting, although I think Foyles of London may be bigger. I’m trying not to buy too many books and things, to keep the weight of my luggage down, but I enjoy looking at the books, and noting titles for a future Amazon order. We meet up with Debbie Ohi, and drive on to Thornford, where Sally Headford is hosting a housefilk. I discover I have left all my lyric sheets behind in Hamilton, but I also have them on my Palm, so it is no great problem.We have a great time, the head back to Hamilton, dropping Debbie off at a station on the way.

June 14, 2004
I meet Dave and Judith at breakfast, before we all get ready for the long drive to Hamilton, Ontario. We hit the road, but before we leave the area, Judith wants to visit Silver Springs, to see the Penguin mural.The mural, which is of a busy Metro station, where all the “people” are penguins, was painted years ago, as a temporary measure while work was done to the station. However, whe it became time to replace the temporary hoarding, there was a public outcry, and there is now a campaign and fund to renovate it.Having seen the mural, Judith wants to find the shop she has been told of, that sells t-shirts and mugs to raise money for the fund. We eventually find it, but it delays our journey a little.The drive itself is largely uneventful, but with enjoyable conversation. There is amusement at the border when the guard is told there is an Englishman in the car. “Where is he from?” we are asked, to which Dave replied I had flown in from London. “London, Ontario?” asks the guard, puzzled. As Dave replies “No, London, England” I reflect that things wouldn’t have been any less confusinng if we had said I was from Peterborough – Ontario has one of those too.

June 13, 2004
The long-dreaded second half of my workshop. Today we have to find a tune for our new lyric, which is looking good. Gary McGath cannot make the session, but has given me some ideas for the chorus.The session takes a while to get going, as we fix some lyric problems and typos. We are working on a fairly standard folky tune, when someone (whose name I am currently blanking on, but I will credit here when I get my notes out of my suitcase) asks if she can try something. She sings the lyric to a wonderful blues melody, that we quickly agree to adopt. This gives us time to actually arrange and rehearse the song for a later performance.The original plan was to perform the song at the closing ceremony, but some people need to get on the road, so we make a quick lyric change to enable us to enter it into the “Bugs” song contest. The song goes down well, but (to my relief) does not win the contest.There then follows the one-shots, and the closing ceremony, where I am asked to lead “Sam’s Song”.After a couple of hours, while the committee do committee things, they take Jordan and myself to dinner at Roy’s, a sandwich place, although sandwich does not do justice to what they serve there.When we get back, I find a filk going on in the con suite, including Dave, Judith and Erica.

June 12, 2004
Saturday morning, and time for my workshop. I think I was probably more concerned over the workshop than my GoH set, as it isn’t something I do a lot; and of the dozen or so that attend, a few seem perhaps a little dubious about the aim – to write a new and original filk in just two 1 hour sessions. But everyone soon shows enthusiasm when, after a slow and unorganised start (note – next time have a whiteboard or flipchart), things start to happen. There are a few suggestions of subject matter and genre, and someone says “There’s always dragons”. After a brief discussion, we find ourselves writing a very self-referential lyric about a group of people arguing about “The Subject of the Song” (which is the eventual title of our song). We finish the 3-verse-and-a-chorus lyric with a few moments to spare, and everyone seems happy with the result. Tomorrow we will be working on a tune for our song.I want to hit the business centre and get the lyric typed up, while it isstill fresh in my head and I can decypher my notes; I also need to grab some lunch. Gary volunteers to run me down somewhere, but I decide to save time – the hotel shop sells frozen macaroni cheese, and I have a microwave in my room, so I buy that and some snacks. I will be eating a proper meal later, anyway.In the afternoon, there are several goodies in the program. I catch Erica Neely’s spot, and then Lady Mondegreen. I then go off to my room to prepare for later.Tonight is the night of the Banquet, followed by Jordan’s spot, and then my own GoH set. I want to catch Jordon so I do my preparation before the Banquet. At the meal, I have a pleasant conversation with Bob Esty, our Toastmaster, amongst others.Jordan’s family has come to see him, and he is quiet and very focussed when I speak to him. Once on stage, he comes alive, gains a big beaming smile, and just takes off. The best way I can describe him is filk in the style of showtunes and song & dance. Which is not surprising, as he is an accomplished actor, and has performed his share of musicals.It is not a musical genre you encounter that much in filk – at least, not this polished – and I enjoy it immensely. Although how he performed his Marquis de Sade material in front of his mum, I don’t know (yes, she *was* laughing).I enjoyed Jordan so much, I didn’t have a chance to worry about my own set – a five minute mike setup, and we were away. I had worked out my set, and rehearsed and timed it, weeks ago, but then made changes at the last minute, due to my newly written (and very topical) song “Cicadas”. At one point, I was planning to save this song for the song contest, themed on “bugs”, but thought it would be such a good set opener, I dropped my “cyberpunk” songs (“Biosoft” and “Lord of the Roads”) in its favour. It was a good decision – although much of my material is serious, I like to lighten it with some comedy, and starting with the audience laughing is always a good thing to do.Another success of the set was my X-Man filk “For Magnus, Wherever I May Find Him”; my more recent material “Wakeup Call” and “Eternal Sunshine” also went down well, and I ended on two old favourites – “Dragon Flight” and “As Close As Night To Day”. Earlier in the day, I had begun to worry that I had got my set timings wrong, and would under-run. At the last minute, I pencilled in some old favourites, in case I needed them. I shouldn’t have worried – the set, as planned, ran just a minute over time.The Interfilk Auction then takes place, and I secure my British reputation by bidding for and winning a bottle of Aiglet’s alcoholic cordial.Open filking follows, and I finally crawl to bed at 3am.

June 11, 2004
A lazy morning, after which we drive over to the convention hotel at about midday. Check in – I have a nice suite with a separate lounge and full kitchen. Suites are more common here in the US, but to me, this is luxury.Gary and Sheryl have committee things to do, so I have something to eat, and investigate the hotel. There is a good business centre, with two net connected PCs (which I wish I had used to update this journal, before I lost my notes), and a printer and copier.In the front lounge there is a grand piano, which I had earlier heard the committee discuss using. I go to investigate, but there is a hand-written sign saying not to play it, so I find something else to do.Aside from the committee, who I have had a chance to get to know over the past week or so, there are a few familiar faces – I discover Kathy Sands setting up the dealer’s room, Erica Neely is here, who I haven’t seen for ages, as is Gary McGath. There is also a chance to meet folk that I know of through the Internet, but have never met in person, amongst them Keith Lynch, Joe Kesselman, Matt Leger and Aiglet.I bump into Persis and Talis at the reception desk and say hello. Then Spencer walks in, and I end up giving him a hand unloading the tech gear and setting up the main room. There is a lot to do, and we have some problems, which Spencer manages to overcome before the program starts.I discover that I have missed all but the end of the opening social, in the lounge – unlike me to miss out on free food, but I am glad I helped Spencer. Crystal asks if I am going to play the piano, and I mention the sign – she goes off to talk to the hotel, as they had agreed we could use it, and then she comes back and removes the sign in triumph. But it is now 8pm and the first item is about to begin.Maugorn plays a delightful set of songs mostly based on a theme of fairies, including a number by Pink Floyd (actually Sid Barret, as he points out).There follow the 2 x 10s – 3 performers each with a 2 song/10 minute performance. One of my future hosts, Judith Hayman, has a spot, and her husband, Dave, spots me and gives a wave.There were two themed circles in the main program. Jordan started off with a circle based on “Science and Scientists”, which I managed to sneak in my “BrundleFly” (“A man called Seth Brundle turned into fly, He didn’t know why…”)I then lead a circle about songs inspired by movies, which was very productive, with movie filks continuing long after we opened the circle up to open filking.The circle continues until past 2am, when I decide to go to bed.

June 10, 2004
A day of rest, before the convention. I run through the set, and make some changes to it, as I have just written a new song that will be a good set-opener.Later i the morning, I make some changes to this journal, so each entry appears as a seperate page. I’m only on the 9th entry now, and the “one page” format is already getting unwieldy.For lunch, I take the bus down to the local mall – The Washingtonian Centre – which I have passed each day on the way to the Metro. I find a place called “Joe’s Crab Shack” and order clam chowder, followed by their crab cake dinner. I skip desert, as I am aware we are going out to dinner tonight.During my shopping expeditions, two of the things I have been looking to buy is a decent hat for the sun – however, I don’t want a cap, but a soft rimmed hat – the kind I think of as a fishermans hat; and a small backpack.Up to now, I haven’t seen what I was looking for on either front. What I didn’t know was that, for the last 5 days, the bus taking me to the Metro was driving past the biggest sports and hunting store I have seen – Galyons. I get the hat, and discover “Camel Hump” backpacks – a range of backpacks with an integrated insulated drink reservoir and drink tube. Just the thing for walking, and unlike anything I have seen in the UK.I look round the other stores, and head back, for another set run-through, as Sheryl gets home from work. A little while later, Steve arrives with Gary, and drive to a restaurant where Crystal is already waiting with Jordan Mann. Jordan and I haven’t met before, but we hit it off well. I order a cheese-stuffed pretzel for starters, and follow with the restaurant’s fish special – I didn’t catch the name, but it was similar to swordfish.Gary has a beer, which pursuades me to do the same. Later, when the others have desert, I have my third beer.

June 9, 2004
Last day of my rail pass, so I decide to make the most of it. I think it would be foolish to hit the City centre today – it is blazing hot, and the arrangements for Reagon’ funeral are bound to disrupt things.I head down to Springfield, where my guidebook says there is a good mall, with a free shuttle from the metro. Unfortunately, the shuttle has been recently cut to just commuter time, but I (and several other) only find that out after waiting in the sun for 40 minutes. We work out which of the regular buses run to the mall, and I arrive just in time for lunch, dining on a couple of Auntie Anne’s pretzels.The mall is large, but I find it unsatisfactory – the shops are fairly regular high street stores, and nothing that really excites me. Perhaps its my mood, brought on by the wait at the station.Anyway, I decide to move on, and take the metro to Crystal City, where there is a small but interesting range of shops and small boutiques. Then I move onto Pentagon City, where I discover what I consider to be a *real* American mall. I can’t put my finger on the distinction – this place has glitz, and you could easily spend a day here.Gary and Sheryl are at dance class tonight, so I eat dinner here – bourbon chicken, with muddy rice and corn.For once I think I am going to get back at a reasonable time, but just outside Shady Grove station, the metro train breaks down. We are stuck for about half an hour, but the train driver keeps us both informed and amused over the announcement system, and everyone takes it in good spirits. “I just want y’all to know that this is not my fault, but I do apologise for the delay, and if any of you wanna come over my place for a beer afterwards, you’re welcome.”The delay makes me miss the last bus (7:40pm), but I get a taxi easy enough.

June 8, 2004
“I don’t think the bus runs outside the rush hour” says the driver. I explain it does, up until early evening. “Oh well, I can take you to the station anyway”.

My driver is taking her granddaughter to a day centre, then going shopping. We have a pleasant conversation during the drive, punctuated by the four-year-old demanding attention from this strange man.

June 7, 2004
Observation Number 1I had been told by friends that I wouldn’t easily find out about UK news and world events by reading the US newspapers and watching TV. They couldn’t been more wrong – there were plenty of reports on Tony Blair’s comments on Ronald Reagan, and how sad Gorbachov was to hear the news.For more important news, I relied on emails from mum, telling me who had been voted off the TV celebrity chef reality show we had both been watching.Observation Number 2There is no doubt about it: as I found in my last visit to the US, service – in shops, restaurants etc., is more observed here than in the UK. To be sure, I know of quite a few places at home where your glass is filled for you automatically, or shops where you get attention from sales when *you* want it, but here it is universal.As a result, I am easing back on my habit of thanking people whenever they do something for me. It is not that I’m ungrateful, but otherwise I find I don’t actually have time to eat:[on being given meal]
“Thank you”
“That’s OK, sir”
[water topped up]
“Thanks”
“That’s alright, sir”
[teacup moved two inches closer to me]
“Um, ta”
“That’s quite alright, sir”Ultimate service today was in the shoe store, where ringing up the sale of a pair of sandals I had bought, the salesman thanked me and then commented on “what exquisite taste” I had. Well, I knew that, but it is nice that someone else shares my opinion.