Sunday, 25 March 2012

99 Red Balloons... By: Trip Williams

  Legends are born unto themselves. Created by man - myth or fact, these iconic symbols of our lives can become something that transcends time.

Facts are often distorted. Blown out of proportion, they usually are embellished to the perception of the teller.

This story is about just that. A band of young airmen destined to become  Legends. It was truly a time of glory.

99 Red Balloons Go By....

It was a Sunday morning at the end of a hot July in 1976. Fog covered the fields of wheat around Canadian Forces Base Penhold, as the sun cast out across the Alberta prairies.  The Air Cadet League of Canada was winding down their first intake of cadets at the base during the summer training program and the proud band of flying scholarship candidates were getting ready for their wings parade.

Traditions are born from the actions of those few who have a vision. On this base, it had become such a tradition. The cadet band marched each and every Sunday morning between the twin barracks that housed the cadets at 6:00 am.  Awakening everyone to the bugles, trumpets, saxophones and drums as they proudly paraded off to base commanders home to play a morning revelry in his honor.  After six long weeks, this event was growing thin. 

That was me in the front row, 2nd from the left.  I was one of the proud few.

The band, you must understand, had become our enemy!  Flying Scholarship was the elite - we were gods among the cadets.  The chosen few who had passed all the exams, and review boards had earned our place at the top of all scholarships.  We were being trained to be pilots.  With this very expensive program came a few elitist privileges. This was, but far from being limited too, being at the front of the line at lunch in the mess hall, wearing civilian clothing on the base when not at flying school, taking the weekends to leave base and escort fair young maidens into Red Deer or Sylvan Lake for a day pass and our most treasured of them all; sleeping in on Sundays!

This is where the war began. You can imagine the irritation that one would be subjected to? listening to the cadets first learning to play those bloody instruments, and then listening to the continued cacophonous noise blaring each and every Sunday as they marched between the barracks! While we were trying to sleep!

The band by all means had their well earned dues forthcoming and I was surely not one to object. At first, the band complained that we should not be allowed to push our way into the mess line at lunch. After all, they didn't see the importance of us returning back to the flight line. Then, we lost our privilege to be wearing street clothes on base. The push was also on for us to loose our weekend forays into town as well.  They had gone too far! It had to stop!

By our last week, our obligations had been met to the flying school and we were now in fact full fledged pilots.  Our wings parade was on the Friday before and we were officially  graduated from flying scholarship. That meant that the last Sunday before we left, was free game. We had only a few more classes to attend that upcoming week to complete a few hours of ground school and then it was then homeward bound.  What a delightful thought.

A plan was proposed - bold and never attempted.  One of daring and total disregard for any of the base authorities and regulations.  Or was it?  Seemed to us that such an endearing had never been attempted and most certainly executed. They say that revenge is a dish best served cold. We couldn't think of anything colder!

Our barracks for flying scholarship was on the north end of the west building; third and top floor.  We had two rooms that bracketed the north end washrooms giving us a perfect killing zone. The Sunday prior had been the trial run.  Timing was everything as we laid out our plans.  180 water balloons were to be launched from our windows raining down a cold and wet tribute to our beloved band cadets!

The morning sun glinted on the horizon as we set up our ambush. It was time.  Beds were pulled into position as the band formed up on the north road. Balloons filled and placed on the lower bunks adjacent to the windows. Twirps and tweets began emitting from the pigeons below as they warmed up - the windows were opened. Loading crews stood by to pass the balloons to the firing teams.

It was show time.

The Sergeant Major hollered out. "Band! By the left - quick march!" The noise exploded as instruments rang out to the Royal Air Force March. Now practiced and accomplished the music was uplifting and emboldened us as they proceeded along the road; turning to march between the two rows of buildings and between the windows of the killing zone.

"Stand By!" was hollered down the hall.  Cadets from their rooms further down the hall emerged; unsure of what was unfolding.


The band noise was too great - we couldn't hear the order.  There was hesitation. The balloons remained locked and loaded.

"FIRE!!!" was hollered again.  No one heard.

The first balloon sailed free and through the crisp morning air as it soared high overhead of the band.  As if on cue, the sky became dark as what seemed like a thousand balloons soared from the windows. The first balloon hit a flute player in the front row.  Crap!  It was my girlfriend! The second barrage rained down exploding all through the band as the music subsided under the wave after wave of balloons exploding and showering them with ice cold water. Screams erupted form the band cadets as the popping sounds of balloons exploding covered them in the deluge. 

The assault was a success! 180 water balloons were launched in 37 seconds!

Cheers erupted from the cadets watching from their windows and cheers echoed the halls as the flying scholarship had once and for all, wreaked havoc on the band!

Needless to say, there was a fast and furious reprisal from the band squadron commander as he petitioned to the base commander to have us all stripped of our scholarships and sent home in shame.  I somehow think that the base commander must have seen the humor in it.  Our own squadron officer after the meeting and assumed berating, appeared to us laughing, when he finally got hold of us and although he tried desperately to be serious - it didn't work. The message from the base commander - don't do that again!

As the years have gone by, I think about this battle from time to time, and each and every time I do - I smile. A big broad smile, that etches its way across my face. I ran into a cadet about a year ago and I asked him about how he liked summer camp and we got to talking. As I began to tell him the tale of the water balloons, I was taken aback as he finished telling the tale of our exploits. He too relished in the pride of such an adventure and told the tale as if he was right there firing off those balloons himself! That happened before he was even born.

As I said my goodbyes, I was left alone once more to my thoughts and the extreme pride I felt, for the what we had all done that fateful Sunday back in 1976.  A legend had been born that day. And with it, heroes. Those magnificent bastards who dared to defy the strict protocol of military discipline and deliver a well deserved blow to an annoying enemy.

I had heard years later that the band never did march again through those barracks on Sunday mornings, and that some of the instruments had to be even be sent off for major repairs. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how saddened I was to hear of such news.  

At least..., that's the way I see it.


The Eye's Have It... A Trip Williams adventure.

Hello everyone.  I have been absent for the past while from my blog and for that I truly apologize to you all.  Life has been a bit interesting for me and I think I should explain this absence. I have been off having some surgery! Eye surgery...

As we get older, our bodies seem to not keep up with the demands we still place on it [sheesh - isn't that, an understatement!].  The first thing I noticed with myself was actually a double whamy! My knees from years of abuse were starting to act up and fail me in particular instances.  Nothing more serious than torn meniscus sacks between the caps and joints.  Okay..., serious enough that you start to loose strength in your knees and Stair-Masters are out! Gone were the days where I believed that I could actually continue to do the stunts you see in movies [well maybe I am a little touched upstairs! Lol]. One thing I use to love to do - my one parlor trick; was to stand at the edge of my deck, which sits at exactly 40", and without the use of another step or my hands, spring jump onto the top of my deck and land on my feet.  Yeah..., I now carry scars along my shins from my last heroic efforts! Lol. That was my final attempt at my youth. It was definitely encouraged by a few brews but what the hey..., it was a little less painful at the time! My knees were definitely a factor in this little stunt.

So - my knees are now scheduled for surgery to repair the years of abuse.  That will be June 18th. [Don't tell anyone, but I'll probably start that nonsense up again!  lol!].

The next aspect of my failing youth, comes in the form of my eyes. Yup, happens to most of us but regardless; in saying that, it doesn't make it any less of a nuisance or contain any less regret.  Growing old is not a great thing!  So let's cut the bullshit! Even with working out at the gym and staying fit - it sneaks up on you and slaps you upside the head, Hard!

The year I turned 40 was the first time I could no longer see anything close up. Now that was alarming!  This revelation first came to me on Christmas eave while I was trying to repair a roof top unit for one of my suppliers.  The heat was off and they needed it fixed before anyone could go home for the holidays.  There was a beautiful heavy snowfall that year and as I had my head stuffed inside the pitch black blower compartment of this heating unit, I wrestled with my flashlight in hand and finding a motor rating plate.  It was then, that I discovered I could no longer read the bloody plate to assess what I needed for the new motor! After trying my best to push the rear steel panel out of the way with the back of my head, I gave up and used a mirror to read the plate allowing the distance I needed to see it.  Yup - it was backwards to boot!  Lol.  Day one of becoming blind. My life was changed that day.

That is where my journey began on the road to new eyes.

My correction, is that I can see [rather could at least] at a distance but couldn't read.  That washed out the prospect of laser surgery. Leaving only two choices.  Live with a life of glasses or have new lens installed in my eyes.  For me - there was only one option.

Knowing that Dr. Robert Mitchell was the pioneer in Canada for all procedures, left no other choices for who the surgeon would be.  Now it just came down to me.  So with my stomach in my throat and nerves of spaghetti noodles, off I went for my first consultation.  Still it was a no brainer but I have to tell you, the idea of someone digging inside my eyeball was pretty hard to take! I actually took another nine months before I went back and booked the actual surgery. Yeah, okay..., I'm not ALL that brave!  Seriously... someone routing around in your eye!?! I don't think so.  Not without some major hesitation and soil searching. What if...

The surgery itself, finally took place, and was very successful; also, rather painless.  They only freeze the eye and then you get to watch while an incredibly bright light blinds you. This is the one time, they want you to "Go to the light"! Lol. In a manner of speaking. You do however see the cornea being removed and lifted away and the eye.  Now THAT, is a freaky experience!  Although you are told to continue staring in one direction - at the light - you're eye all of a sudden, starts to going crazy as it's looking everywhere!!!  Lol.  [okay..., only laughing now!]  That is when the lens is being removed.  It is rather alarming but it stops very soon and then, as with the cornea, you see it float away into a blurry oblivion.  At this point, you get to relax as the new lens is inserted and the cornea returned to it's proper place.  All total - only about 40 minutes in the surgical ward. Not too shabby. The whole procedure from start to finish is only an hour and a half, and that includes the pre-op dilation and prep.

Now that the second eye has been done three weeks later, I can finally focus properly and see rather well.  My surgery was elective so I purchased the top of the line lens.  Yup, they are not all the same.  Cataract surgeries only get the basic lens which is covered by health care here in Canada. That lens is for distance only and not designed to allow for much lens flexibility or adjustment in the future.  You basically have to have reading glasses after the surgery.  The middle lens is not used as it's an intermediate lens and not much more value for the cost.  The last lens, and the one I selected, allows for re-training the eye to work just like your baby blues were when you were a kid.  Full adjustment from reading to distance and..., this part is cool, the night is not so dark anymore! That is something I was really blown away by!

So if any of you folks are thinking about this type of surgery, don't hesitate.  It is expensive when it is elective so be prepared!  10K to be exact!  My personal thoughts however, it's your life and your eyes lead the way in your journey. Make the most of it.  If you are getting cataract surgery and if you can afford it, do the upgrade; it's well worth the money spent. The government here covers [I believe, if I remember correct] $1,500 per eye. That's the basic lens.

Now I have been asked this questions a bunch of times - does it hurt?  Not much during the surgery. More of a mild pain twice during the actual surgery.  After all, they can't really freeze the inside of your eyeball. [I won't go into details at this point].  After the surgery - not much either. More an irritation from being itchy and you want to rub it; which you can't. Other than that, that's about it! With each passing day, my eyes are getting stronger and clearer. In another two weeks I can begin the training process and life will begin anew.

Hope you found this little segment interesting. It's not something that we cross in our lives until we are very much older and with eye problems. I feel very fortunate that I have been able to have this surgery done now, at this stage in my life so I can now explore a whole new world without the cumbersomeness of glasses. Many thanks to each of you who have taken the time and read this little story and I hope you have found it interesting and educational. It sure was for me,

Take care and God speed on your journey through this life.


Sunday, 4 March 2012

Life is Fun - Roll With It! By: Trip Williams.

So often I come across situations that make you stand back and ask the question - "Really?" You can be sure that when you have to ask that question, you have a smile on your face.  When this moment happens, I find I can't help myself; I have to take advantage of the situation! That's right, the bullshit starts flying when there is hay to be made!

Back a number of years ago, I was working the summer down in Leamington Ontario.  This was back in my seismic days. Yeah okay, I can see some of those raised eyebrows again.  Well, let's step out of this story for a sec. Seismic refers to seismic exploration. The underground seismic survey of the earths geological subterranean formations. Yeah okay... how about oil hunters? That should work.  We were the guys that find the oil! In this case, we were actually looking for gas deposits but it's the same thing.

Leamington is the capital of Canada for tomatoes.  I have never seen so many bloody tomato fields  in my life!  When harvest time comes - you can't stomach a bottle of tomato sauce or ketchup for months! During the time we were working there, we would be constantly asked the same thing.  "What are you folks doing here?" We in turn would politely reply; "We are looking for oil and gas." That's when they would all start to laugh and ask us... "What are you really doing here?"

Now understand that what I'm about to say does not in anyway diminish the good folks of Leamington or imply that they are a little slow.  The fact is, what we were doing there was unheard of at that time and therefore - not believable.

As a devote follower of my own church of life in which life can and should be fun [this goes way back to my earliest memories!] I felt it was prudent to help these good folks along with understanding just EXACTLY what we were doing there in their fair community.

One night while coming back from dinner at our favorite Greek restaurant, I was stopped at a set of lights. Hot summers night - of course the truck windows were down. A fellow pulls up beside me.

"What's on your truck?  Did you find a sale somewhere?"  Laughter ensued.

Now a seismic line truck - which I was driving, has racks of geophones hanging from the sides of a big bin mounted in the middle of the truck bed. Think of a giant Bobby-pin with black wires strung through it with orange small round pods with a steel spike on one end of each.  That's a string of "jugs" as we call them - the geophone sensor array.  They are placed on the ground and they pick up the underground vibrations for mapping of the earth.  The truck was holding about 120 of them!

I told him the truth - he laughed and asked what they were really for? So I told him. "Well... they actually, are used for measuring the content of maple trees.  We hammer the spikes into the trunks of the trees and by hooking these up to our instruments, we can tell how rich a harvest we will get from each tree! We are working for the Ontario forestry services. No one is suppose to know."  He believed me.

Later on that week, I was asked what I won my buckle for? Back then I was a very western kind of lad. Cowboy boots, western style shirts and of course a well worn silver and brass buckle of a calf roper. So I explained... "This 'ol thing? I was the 1988 Alberta BSA Gopher Roping Champion!"  Now he was impressed! "How do you manage that?" he asked. I replied... "With a very small rope!" Apparently that warranted a pat on the back. For those of you that don't know what a gopher is, its a small furry animal also know as a Richardson Ground Squirrel [Actual name].  Some - call them prairie dogs.

The Coup D'etat was when a man stopped by my recording truck [I suspected a local farmer] and asked what we were up to?"  Seen us working along the roads and had never seen this type of thing before." I told him the truth.  You guessed it, he laughed and asked what we were really doing?

Well... [I'm really smiling here for this one!] I asked him if he could keep a secret? He nodded yes. I asked him if he had ever heard of seismic surveys? He had a basic understanding - but didn't believe we were looking for oil or gas down there. Already heard that tale!

"Well you see," I said seriously, " we are actually looking for underground caverns."


"Nuclear waist disposal site."

Okay I admit it... I went a little to far that time!  He went straight to the county. They held an emergency meeting and two days later there was a knock at my recording truck door. It was the RCMP!

Although he was laughing about it, he politely asked me to try and refrain from getting too carried away in my tales.  He had heard all of them thus far and was enjoying them all and yes, he understood that the good folks simply did not want to believe the truth; but..., A NUCLEAR WAIST DISPOSAL SITE!  He felt that was getting a little too carried away.

We did have a good laugh and visited for another 20 minutes before he left.  I of course had a much clearer understanding of what Leamington was all about! Lol.

So you see guys and gals..., life can be an extremely good time if you have the right outlook on things.  Never get too serious!  Avoid getting road rage and bent out of shape trying to control others and their actions. Let the water run off your back... Life is too short for being too serious all the time.  I have just commissioned having a silver buckle made to my specifications as I had led the poor guy in Leamington to believe. BTW... BSA stands for 'Bull Shitter's Association'.

So next time you see a cowboy out here in the Alberta wild west, take a closer look at the buckle.  It may just be a cowboy roping a gopher!

Take care folks and have a great weak and remember - smile!


Saturday, 3 March 2012

Real Men; One Man's Opinion - Trip Williams

          When Dara asked me to write this for the newsletter, I had to admit to myself, that I wasn’t sure I really heard her correctly, or knew what that was?   All the way home from the meeting I was lost in thought and contemplating what exactly should I say!  Now reclining in my wicker-backed office chair and listening to the melodious tunes of Nora Jones, I was hit by an epiphany; or rather slapped up-side the head was more like it!  What was I doing?  Unceremoniously ejecting Nora, I tore off my shirt exposing my tanned and ripped upper torso [at least in my mind it’s that way], slammed-in the sound track for Top Gun and turned up the base.  Now…, I can sit back in my chair with the heart defibrillating wine of jet engines starting to real men’s music.
            Looking down at the epitome of mans stoic visage of power and masculinity I realized something; Gravity had taken over!  I couldn’t see my belt buckle.  Oh well!  I guess this take, on reality won’t work for my introspective.  So…, I guess I might as well begin with the meat and potatoes of it all.  Men… are not like woman!  Take apart the fabric, the essence, the chemical, physiological and biological make-up and you still have a very different person.    As writers, you women need to know this.  We are not like you.  You may have already guessed this one but, I had to make sure.
            So, what is a real man?  If you look back in time, you will find the outer shell of what a man is, as we have taken on the various rolls dictated by the social and moral compass.  But this is not who we are either.  Now don’t look to me as a norm or this will get you into trouble.  I’m wired very different.  Let’s face it – I write romance!  So let us look deeper into the male psyche shall we?  Fundamentally, we think differently.  There are a few different types of men and I think that we need to explore this for a moment.
We can be categorized into about three areas.  Pro-magna man, average Joe and…, well the ones with the feminine side kicking in.  Let us begin with understanding a man’s reaction to something he doesn’t like.  We’ll get to the other stuff in a moment.  With Pro-magna, say the wrong thing and he goes to fists; no discussion.  He’s about beer, boobs and sports.  The average Joe will have words or a discussion with temperance of hostility but will work it out with a beer and the last man will - I don’t know - go off in the corner and sulk?  But he will let it go and have a glass of wine with you!  Now a woman – wow - bad news!  Just watch the e-mails fly!  They will practically hold discussion groups about it!  Sorry, I was distracted there a bit.  Reflection on my daughter and family I guess.
Men have basic needs.  Attract women, have sex and let the women provide for them.  Okay, that’s the lion family.  Really, we do want to do that part.  You know, provide.  It’s a pride thing I guess.  In saying that, the sex part, we think about it all the time.  It drives us as a species.  No kidding!  I believe it was documented that we think about it once every three minutes.  I must be getting old because I’m up to seven minutes.  How often do women think about it?  Once every three days, if that? 
Now comes the other stuff.  As a man, we do care about the little things when it comes to who we are and what makes us who we are.  We want to be masculine.  We groom ourselves and take care to make sure that we look good for you women.  We do preen ourselves for you and try to smell good.  How we do this is based on our perception of ourselves and this is formed over time as we grow up.  This is important.  All men have a formed idea of who they are based upon roll models from when we were kids.  A police-man, fire-man, cowboy, soldier, a dad, etc.  From this, we base our lives and our standards that guide us as men and how we conduct ourselves with women and events in our lives.
That said, how does this apply to writing?  We all need characters whether they are the sideline fillers, the next novels main star or this stories hero.  What makes up a hero?  Let’s face it; Mr. pro-magna doesn’t cut the mustard does he?  After all, he’s a bit too brutish for what we all need.  Now take average Joe.  A man of the 90’s who is form fitted into the new millennia and sensitive to women’s needs and… he has some sense of style.  He cares about how he looks for his girl.  When called upon, he will let her dress him, after all, we seldom have true taste and surely can’t do that properly, but -  he will in turn, be attentive to her needs as well as being mindful of his roll by her side.   He is courageous in the eye of adversity and will gallantly defend her to the death.  Make no mistake; a man will die for a woman.  A man who truly believes, as I do, that a woman is someone to worship, admire and protect, will do just that.  No man should dare speak ill of his gal if he doesn’t want to fire up that boiler.  It will blow! 
Now the man on the opposite side of Mr. “P”, he will not always stand up for the same values but we are not talking about the norm here.  That doesn’t make him less of a man or at times not a hero; he is far more diplomatic and eloquent is all but, will look to other avenues to find a resolve.   Over time, and through history, we have always been the same.  We couldn’t express ourselves in the same way as we can now but we have thought and believed in the same values.  Expression was different, that’s all.  Social constraints – we all have them and most live by them.
So, where does this little blithering lead you?  Hopefully to a better understanding of what a real man is.  We can’t be everything in one package and I guess, that is the short line of it all.  So building a man in your novel has to be formed on a basis that supports who real men are.  Unless men don’t read this stuff and therefore you can build whatever you like!  How does your man fit into these categories?  Does he pay attention to the little things that you do, like the way you whisk your hair out of your eye when you find yourself engaged in a stimulating conversation?  Or the way that you pull at your ear when you’re nervous?  Is he even house broke?  Little things that help bring in a grounded reality.
In retrospect I guess, I find that I now have to ask myself that very same simple question.  Am I a real man?  Hell no!  I’m Bond, James Bond!