The Funny 5


It’s been a hectic six months for me as I made the decision to run for City Council back in September and then ultimately getting elected in October. The learning curve is huge. Acronyms in this world drive me nuts as I try to figure out what the difference is between CSD and MSI funding not to mention being asked if I was going to attend AUMA or be on the OEG committee. FYI when one goes “in camera” it’s not a photo shoot. There’s also a lot of research one has to do to make informed decisions and it’s something I don’t take lightly. I confess that it’s a bit of a struggle at times comprehending everything from how the city borrows for various projects, what an off-site levy is and how it impacts the house building business to listening to the various residents who are concerned about the new London Road Redevelopment Plan. And while I was trying to absorb everything I can in the civic politics arena there was the death of my mother-in-law before Christmas followed by the death of my father just after Christmas.

It’s a weird thing but I find solace in writing this Blog. It’s my form of therapy to kind of escape from the realities of what’s going on in my life and just write down a few “random thoughts at random times.”

Since most of my life has been trying to find the humor out of everything I vowed that one of my exercises in this blog was to occasionally write down a few humorous thoughts. I came up with the feature, The Funny Five: Five gags that hopefully will give the reader a bit of a chuckle. If you do, great. If not…won’t be the first time I failed in that regard. I haven’t done one in a long time so as part of my self-inflicted attempt to make at least one person laugh, here’s today’s Funny Five:

  1. It’s been a weird day. When I came to work, I got a call from the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Apparently I got traded to Swift Current.
  2. I get the feeling we’re going to have a cold spell. I saw a deer in the coulees yesterday wearing a touque and little knitted booties.
  3. I’m writing a new book about sasquatches called Fire and Furry.
  4. It’s award season in Hollywood. Usually in my house the most common phrase heard is, “Never heard of it.”
  5. New England and Philadelphia are in the Super Bowl. The only chance Philly has is if Rocky Balboa pays Tom Brady a visit in a meat locker.

Going For Gold

I was thinking about the Canadian Men’s Olympic Hockey team that was just announced. We’re not going to have Connor McDavid, Sydney Crosby or fill in the blank of outstanding Canadian NHLers yet I’m finding myself quite excited about what could happen in Korea. Don’t get me wrong, I always want Canada’s best when we’re playing international hockey but since that’s not going to be in the cards this year let’s give the opportunity to guys who have been in the trenches during their careers knowing that while they may have been good enough to play in the NHL for a time they were never consistent enough to keep the gig. They were well aware they would never play for their country in an Olympics as long as the best hockey league in the world allowed their players to participate. Now that has changed. These guys have been given a tough assignment and I have no doubt that each and every one of them wants to prove to the world that they are quality people and players and in a short tournament like the Olympics, Gold is absolutely attainable. Case in point: 1980. Gold to the Americans. They could have played the powerful Soviets 50 more times and they probably would have lost all 50 of them. But one night magic happened. (By the way, the US didn’t play Canada during the round robin that year. Just sayin.)

And there was Canada’s own little Miracle on Ice when Sean Burke who helped select this team played goal for Canada at the prestigious Izvestia tournament in 1987 and almost single-handedly won it.  Read about it here:

I think about the famous quote from the father of Russian hockey Anatoli Tarasov. when referencing Canada playing his Soviet squad:

“The Canadians battled with the ferocity and intensity of a cornered animal. Our players were better conditioned physically and stronger in skills than the Canadian professionals. But we could not match them in heart and desire, always the strongest part of the Canadian game.”

This 2018 team may not be the best skilled team Canada has ever had but I predict there won’t be any group of guys who will have more heart and determination.

I’m especially thrilled to hear that Rob Klinkhammer of Lethbridge who is playing in the KHL has made the team. I’m hoping that he can repeat what Billy Gibson of Lethbridge did in 1952 in Olso when he was picked up to play for the Edmonton Mercurys who represented Canada that year and won gold.


Canada just has to get to the elimination round and anything can happen. I totally believe in Willie Desjardins (another Lethbridge connection-played for the Broncos here) and what might happen. Can’t wait.

A “Phantom Life” A Chat With Musician Richard Coombes

During the run of the radio play It’s A Wonderful Life that I was involved with last December I had the chance to talk to Richard Coombes. He was our very talented piano player for the show and I discovered he’s had quite a career in the professional theatre world including seven years with Phantom of the Opera. Thought I’d find out a little more about him.

Where are you from originally and how did you first get to Lethbridge?

I was born In Cirencester, Gloucestershire in England.  We lived there until I was 11 years old and at which point we emigrated to Canada and came to Lethbridge because my father had a sister and brother living here who could sponsor us for the time required by the government.

What was your life like growing up?

Life growing up was fairly normal. At  age 8 I started taking piano lessons in England, and the rest of my career stems from that.

What got you first inspired to pursue music?

Both my grandparents on my mother’s side  played the piano  , and I remember at a very young age watching my grandfather  playing piano in a small group that he played with and was inspired by that. Music was always playing where they lived and I grew up listening to mostly soundtracks of musicals like Carousel and Oklahoma.

What made you decide on getting your music degree at UBC?

I ended up at UBC because while I was in my last year at U of L ,  a professor from UBC came and gave a master class, and after the class was over, he asked me where I was considering doing my Master’s degree. I was thinking of U of T, but he was able to get me a scholarship to UBC so that was the University I chos

What was your first gig after graduating.

My first gig after graduating was as rehearsal pianist for Vancouver Opera chorus and main stage production

Talk about your time with Phantom of the Opera in Toronto. Describe what you did and what was a typical day.

Phantom of the Opera ran for 10 years in Toronto , and I was part of that production  for 7 and a half years after joining the tour in Montreal in 1991.   Because of the size of the production, a typical day was doing clean up rehearsals, rehearsals for understudies and a ballet barre every morning because there were ballerinas in the show

There were many phantoms playing that role during your time. Who stands out for you?

There were in fact many Phantoms during my time , but the two that stand out for me are still the brilliant Colm Wilkinson and Peter Karrie who was absolutely captivating in the role.

All those years with the same music night after night. How did you not go insane?

To answer the question, how did I not go insane doing the same music night after night, my answer is, no 2 shows were exactly the same. I started conducing the show when on tour in Winnipeg , and after that , depending on who was understudying a certain role, or who swung into another part made a difference to how the show  felt.  I started out as associate conductor , at which point there were 2 of us, so we never could copy exactly how the other person led the show, so always a challenge. I also spent time with singers doing other repertoire, either opera or music theatre outside of the show to keep us fresh.

You did a lot of touring with the Phantom.

I did the Canadian tour which I started in Montreal, the Winnipeg, Saskatoon,  Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, then joined the Toronto production. The International tours sent us to Hawaii , Alaska, Hong Kong, and Singapore, and an Asian tour of “Cinderella” which  I joined in China, then on to Hong Kong , Singapore and Bangkok.

What would you say are the big differences between doing a professional show in Toronto compared to doing a show in a place like Lethbridge?

There a quite a few differences between doing a professional show in Toronto and doing a show in Lethbridge.  The biggest difference would be the size of the audiences and the amount of theaters that are in the 2 cities.  At one point in the mid 90’s, there were 5  or 6 shows running at the same time in Toronto and the size of the city was able to support those productions. Also, that decade was when the mega musicals were being produced , like Les Miserables,  Phantom. Miss Saigon etc.

How tough is it to be in the arts and live in Toronto?

When I was living in Toronto, it was still quite tough to be in the arts. As is the case in most big cities, it was quite competitive and lots of actors, dancers and musicians were competing for the same jobs. In which case, when you had one, you tended to hang onto it.  Some members of the Phantom orchestra in Toronto  stayed with this show for the whole ten year run.

Best moment you’ve ever seen on stage?

One of the best moments I have seen on stage was watching Chita Rivera and Brent Carver interact in “Kiss of the Spiderwoman” on Broadway.  Both were absolutely breath taking.

Everyone’s got an on-stage blooper. You must have one as well.

The biggest blooper I ever had to deal with was when I was conducing Phantom in Toronto. There is a part in the 2nd act when the Phantom shoots fireballs from his cane which is totally choreographed so nothing could go wrong. During this particular show, the fire ball hit the other leading man’s wig which caught on fire. I kept conducting as I watched our Christine grab a blanket and put the fire out. As they say “the show must go on”.

Any regrets taking this particular career path?

I have no regrets in taking the career path that I did. When I was at UBC , I was spending 7 hours or more in a practice room by myself getting ready for recitals etc  which is a very solitary life. Now, after 25 musicals, I am very happy to have been surrounded by people who love and are passionate about what they do as am I

What do you think of the theatre scene in Lethbridge?

I am very impressed with the theatre scene here in Lethbridge. There is a vast amount of talent here in all disciplines that I did not expect when I moved back here.

What advice would you give to anyone doing what you did?

My advice to anyone doing what I did, is to never give up and follow your passion  because you never know where it will take you.

Top 5 musicals of all time.

My top 5 musicals of all time are “Into the Woods”, “ Miss Saigon”, “Chess”, “Sunday in the Park with George” and “Ragtime”.

Top 5 musical songs of all time.

My top 5 musical songs are  “No one is alone” (Into the Woods),  “She’s a Woman” ( Kiss of the Spiderwoman) , “Never go back to Before” (Ragtime) , “Someone Else’s Story” (Chess),and “Move On” ( Sunday in the Park with George).

Is there a show you’d really love to do that you haven’t had the chance of doing?

The musical I would really love to do that I haven’t had the chance to do is “Chess”

What’s next for you?

Next for me is “Titanic” here in Lethbridge when the Yates re- opens.

Trying To Get Back To “Normal”

It’s going to feel good to get back to some sense of normality. The Christmas season always brings on some added stress as we try to find the perfect gift, get the tree up and down, make sure the turkey is cooked right and don’t say anything stupid to a relative when you’ve had one too many drinks. And for me my mother-in-law passed away in California just before Christmas and then on December 29 my father passed away. So, this hasn’t been the most joyous time. The thing about a loved one dying is that you have to try to take out the emotion as much as you can because there is so much to do. Thankfully, my dad had a pre-arranged funeral but you still have to make a number of decisions, cancel things, call people and clean out his apartment. It’s a real whirlwind and it leaves you little time to grieve. Sometimes you think you’re the only one who’s going through this but you only have to read the obituaries to realize it’s happening quite frequently. It’s been heartening to hear from so many people these past few days who offer their condolences and support. It really means the world to me.

I talked a lot to my dad about life and death and while his passing was sudden and unexpected I’m confident that he was at peace with the life he had and was willing to accept that his time had come.

When cleaning out his apartment my brother and I chose what we wanted (which wasn’t much) and threw away everything else. That filled the dumpster at Martha’s House. It is amazing what we keep. Again you have to take out the emotion and just get realistic about what you should and shouldn’t keep. I think I’m going to do some purging in my own house over the next few weeks because I’ve got so much crap. This is where downsizing is a good thing. We decided to call the Salvation Army to pick up all of the furniture which I was grateful for. They didn’t pick up the mattress because there was a bit of a stain on it but I called St. Vincent De Paul and they said they would take it. For anyone going through a cleansing like this, I recommend those two agencies. They come with trucks and do all of the work for you for the donation.

I’m still coming to terms with everything that has happened. Each day it gets a little better. Booze helps. And it would be really nice if Canada wins the World Junior Hockey Tournament today.

Post Noel Thoughts

It’s a cold -21 December 27 as I sit in front of my computer. A couple of neurons have fired. It’s like my brain just got a boost from the AMA. A few thoughts have transferred to the page here:

Remember when it was a scandal for businesses to be open on Boxing Day here in Lethbridge? If they did, they would get fined by the city. I remember 5th Avenue Electronics saying, “We’ll take the fine. A Boxing Day sale is worth it for us.”

I remember being at the West Edmonton Mall one Boxing Day. (I’ll never do that again.) I specifically recall that it was so crowded I turned my head to the left and got elbowed by someone. Parking was a nightmare. (With due respect to those of you who have to park at the U of L)

As an addendum to that, remember when no bars were open on a Sunday so those of us in need of splashing a few over the breath would take the drive to Sweetgrass? Who remembers Curly Bobs or the Glocca Morra? (sp) And by the way, the 5 bars there were usually packed with Canadians.

I was sad to see that former Leaf goalie Johnny Bower passed away. I still recall an amazing save he made on Jean Beliveau in the 1967 Stanley Cup finals that helped the Leafs win that year. Do any Leafs fans know that 1967 was the last time they won the Cup? (He said very sarcastically.) And how did goalies ever play without a mask?

I was also sad to see that the actress who played Louisa Von Trapp in the Sound of Music, Heather Menzies-Urich died on Christmas Eve. She was 68 and had brain cancer. Her older sister in the movie Liesl played by Charmian Carr died over a year ago. I’ve watched that movie a thousand times and I will probably watch it again next year along with It’s A Wonderful Life.

Canada won its first game at the Spengler cup in Switzerland. If anyone wants to get me a gift, can you please fly me to Davos next year to watch this tournament? It’s on my bucket list of things I want to do but can’t really explain why I’d like to do it. I have talked to a couple of players with Lethbridge connections who have played there. They say it’s a great event and quite the atmosphere. Plus I can visit my old pal Urs Burkler who is from Switzerland and I haven’t seen him since we spent Christmas together in Motueka, New Zealand in 1978. That’s a story for another day.

Glad to see Canada also won its first game at the World Juniors. Remember Canada, if you’re going to lose a game in this tournament, lose it during the preliminary round, not in the playoff round. (But you probably knew that.)

I’m feeling guilty for not getting my dog out for his walks but it’s a little too cold for him right now. (Translation: It’s too cold for me right now.)

I’m sad that 10,000 Villages has closed down. I made an annual stop there at Christmas. They had some really cool gifts there plus they would also gift wrap for me. Win-win!!

And I hear that Esquires downtown is closing. That must mean there’s room for another Tim Hortons.

I was at Costco on Christmas Eve to pick up a last-minute thing. I felt like I had to take a picture because there wasn’t a line-up at the till. I was quite shocked.

Here’s hoping that you had a great Christmas and that you won more than $2 on the scratcher you got in your stocking.

And we’ll look forward to a wonderful and prosperous 2018.

A Few Christmas Memories

Things that pop into my head at this time of year when I think of my life growing up in Lethbridge:

-I was really in to Christmas and couldn’t wait.

-The Herald would put the number of shopping days to Christmas on the front page adding to my excitement.

-I loved the day we got the tree and decorated it. It was always a real tree. The smell of pine was the best. Tinsel was aplenty.

-I loved our Nativity Scene. It was in a state of disrepair but that just added to the charm. (A couple of sheep were missing limbs)

-Eatons was the only place I shopped. Probably because I loved the escalator.

-I don’t ever remember a day growing up when there wasn’t snow outside on Christmas Day.

-My brother got all the toys on the left side of the tree, I got the toys in the right side.

-Fav gifts: Johnny 7 gun and a service station garage that had an elevator on it.

-I loved watching the Hoyts Hardware show on TV where Ed Bayly dressed up as an elf and told us what was hot for Christmas.

-Just when I started to believe there was no Santa Clause the NORAD reports they had on the news made me second guess it.

-I loved getting Japanese oranges in my stockings.

-My mom would drive up to Calgary to shop at the Chinook Mall every year.

-One of my most melancholy Christmases was when I was in Australia sitting on a beach on Christmas Day. It just didn’t seem right. There should have been snow and I should have been shivering. (I was also very hung over but that’s another story for another time)

-I loved serving Midnight Mass when I was an Altar Boy. That was our version of “getting to the show.” It was the biggest crowd of the year at the beautiful St. Patrick’s Church. You had to make sure you genuflected smartly and rang those bells at the appropriate time. That may have been an influence in my desire to get into theatre. (Is that sacrilegious?)

-As I got older and had a job in radio, the joy of Christmas became somewhat less joyful for me. I had to read about a thousand commercials from various businesses that had a version of, “May the spirit of Christmas be with you today and every day of the year…” It got really tedious. Plus I had to work on Christmas Day a number of times which sucked. My favorite night was when my pals Greg Rohovie and Norm Hovan snuck into the radio station with some egg nog. (I was only playing tapes-no big deal-don’t tell my boss)

-Christmas is so much better when you have young kids who buy into the magic like I did.

Merry Christmas everyone!!


Making Christmas Wonderful

It was nice to get a call from Ralph Molyneux of the Victory Church. He invited me on a tour of The Shop of Wonders. It’s a wonderful Christmas program where parents who are having a rough financial time at this time of year can register to shop for free while the kids get to make the parent or parents gifts too. It’s a Christmas toy campaign with an extra special experience. This year The Shop of Wonders is located in the old Fire Hall downtown. The staff has done an amazing job of decorating both the upstairs and downstairs guaranteed to get you into the Christmas spirit. All gifts have been donated and there are over 350 people registered for this year. Ralph says that in past years it’s been a very emotional experience. You never know when life deals you a circumstance where you simply can’t afford to buy a gift and pay the rent. The Shop of Wonders will help ease that burden and give families a memorable Christmas.

If you want more information or you want to either register yourself or refer someone for the program you can call Jenn at 587-220-2910 or 587-220-2911. Each family will get a half an hour appointment. Due to the number of people you may have to double up with another family.


On a side note, I hadn’t been in the old Fire Hall since it was the old Henotic restaurant and nightclub. I once interviewed Pauly Shore there when he made an appearance. Take that for whatever it’s worth. (And don’t worry it’s no longer a Hookah Bar if you were wondering). It still has a lot of grace and charm and I hope that someone figures out how to capitalize on the historic building and make it profitable.

A big congratulations to all the volunteers and to the people who have donated so many gifts to make The Shop of Wonders a magical time for many.