Monthly Archives: March 2021

Retention Rate

My father, Harold, served on the regional school board for western Prince Edward Island from 1975 to 1987, and was chair for seven of those years. He and my mother sold their general store in 1971, so both had ample time for volunteer pursuits. For a few years, my father was in meetings nearly every day as the school board worked on the creation of a new amalgamated high school.

That school, Westisle, was created to achieve many goals, both educational and fiscal, but one my father often cited was to improve student retention rates. I had never known exactly what those rates had been, but he gave an idea in a speech he made at the fourth Westisle graduation in 1983:

I would like to very briefly outline some of our achievements since the completion of the MacDonald “Drop Out Study” in 1974. 10 years ago, this study showed our retention rate to be only 31% (for every 3 children who entered grade 2, only 1 completed grade 12), whereas most recent figures show it now to be the reverse, which is very close to the national average.

Westisle Composite High was built to accommodate 810 pupils. However, due to the great flexibility of this facility in being able to offer a fairly comprehensive program to our young people, our high school enrolment reached 872 this past year, compared to 610 [at the three separate high schools] one year before Westisle opened.

Of all the things my father accomplished as a school board trustee, keeping young people in school for as long as possible was the most personal and made him most proud. He had to leave school at grade eight and always regretted not having been able to further his education, so he was happy to have helped others achieve that dream.

Hon. George Henderson, Unit One School Board Chair Harold Phillips, and Hon. Robert Campbell (aka The Great West Wind) turning the sod for what became Westisle Composite High School circa 1978.


Oliver! has been stalking me for a few days. The 1968 movie was on Turner Classic Movies last week, and earlier today, the enjoyable Lost Vinyl from the Internet Archive Twitter feed offered up the original cast recording as its hourly gem.

I played the Artful Dodger in a high school production because there weren’t enough males to play all the parts. Our show was pretty good because our school, Westisle, has a large, professional theatre, and as the principal’s wife was the drama teacher, we had a very generous budget!

My first year of university was a disaster, so I took a year off and went to London to work, becoming an usher at Theatre Royal Drury Lane in the fall of 1985. The musical 42nd Street was playing and it was a big hit. When I started, the older female role of Dorothy Brock was played by Georgia Brown, who had originated the role of Nancy in the original production of Oliver!, and when Georgia left the show, Shani Wallis took over, and she had played Nancy in the 1968 movie.

I had a nodding acquaintance with both of these women, and they were lovely. I worked for a while at the main souvenir stand in the Drury Lane rotunda, and Shani would come through just to get out of the rather dismal backstage area during a long break, and she always said hello. I would sometimes see Georgia walking through Covent Garden in the afternoon before a show, no big deal.

During rehearsals for that year’s Royal Variety Performance, which was held at Drury Lane, I snuck into the theatre during a break to watch from the back of the stalls. A small woman with dark hair walked past and stood in front of me, dressed in sort of a safari-style pant suit and hat (remember, mid-80s), and I thought, oh, there’s Georgia, she must be in the show, too, lovely.

The woman left and there was a bit of a pause in the rehearsal. I was talking to another usher when someone announced “Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Joan Collins!” and there she was, the lady in the safari pant suit minus the hat, appearing for a publicity photo call. She was one of the biggest stars in the world at that time because of her role on the prime time soap Dynasty, and was one of the many stars appearing on that year’s show. Every time Joan would move and strike another pose, the 35 mm cameras would all go off, volleys of shutter bursts chukachuakachuakachauka shshshshshhshsh, like someone squishing cellophane in their hands. It was transfixing, and a little scary.

I should have been far more impressed with having a nodding acquaintance with Georgia Brown than I did when I was 19, but I wasn’t, and that’s the silliness of youth. Her theatre and film credentials were solid, but perhaps most famously she performed with her Oliver! co-star Davy Jones (later of The Monkees) on the same 1964 Ed Sullivan show that featured the US live television debut of The Beatles. Ho hum.

As for Joan Collins, she never blocked my sight line with her big safari hat again, but her sister, Jackie, cursed at me and another usher at the end of the Royal Variety Performance when we wouldn’t let her leave the auditorium to join Joan backstage right after the curtain fell. That story involves the Queen, Andrew Lloyd Weber, the IRA, and a dust pan, but that will have to wait for another time because I just pulled something trying to pick up all those names I just dropped.

Everybody after the 1985 Royal Variety Performance. If you look about 200 feet to the left and through a couple of walls, you’ll see me. I also have a Lauren Bacall story…and a Patrick Duffy story (his is short – he came to 42nd Street and was very sweet for a famous dude).

Newsy Nerdy Notes

I had a calendar subscription for moon phases that disappeared, so I went looking for a new one and found this lovely astronomy calendar from Canton Becker. He’s a website developer and electronic musician, and also includes his personal projects on his website. I love his Peace Channel dedicated to his father and inspired by his father’s Electric Sheep screensaver usage.

Not sure where I stumbled upon Justine Haupt, but probably from reading about her rotary cellphone while I was searching for a new flip phone. She is an astronomy instrumentation engineer and seems just plain brilliant. I especially love that she has a YouTube channel but doesn’t want anyone to subscribe to it! The rotary cellphone is so tempting, but I don’t need it…if you do, though, buy it and tell me about it!

Out and about

Spring is here, and everyone is feeling fine. Agnetha survived the night and seems mightily improved, keeping up with the five other hens and soaking up the sun. She ate well, seemed alert, and although her crop looks rather enlarged in the photo below, it is much reduced and not full of the disgusting smelly liquid that gives sour crop its name.

Agnetha (Fältskog) leading the afternoon chicken parade, with Prue (Leith) right behind, and Clemmie (Churchill) bringing up the rear.

A plaintive meow as I was taking that photo alerted me to the fact that Sally, our tabby, was on the roof of our outbuilding. She walked back and forth, cleaned her paws, looking over the side pretending she didn’t know how she would ever make it back to earth. When she had had enough dramatics, she hopped onto the pine tree branch that hangs over the roof (and needs to be removed), and was soon scrambling down the tree trunk. Not bad for a 14-year-old moggy.

Help me!


I’m nursing my oldest hen, Agnetha, who seems to have sour crop, a yeast infection in the pouch where food is stored at the start of a hen’s digestive system. There seems to be ten million different methods on the internet for dealing with this condition, so colour me confused. I love being able to find information online, but, boy oh boy, there can be a lot to wade through.

Agnetha is a bit better today, but she is far from 100%, and this can be fatal. I live in St. Brigid’s parish, and Bridie has many patronages, including poultry keepers, so I have sent her my wish that she hold Aggie’s wing as her human tries to figure out what best to do. Bridie kept me safe when I was a milkmaid* and used to drive by her church on my way to and from the farm, so I expect she’ll do her best for Aggie.

I can’t help but think of the generations of women and men before me who would know exactly what to do, even people I knew well who kept hens but who are long gone. My mother doesn’t remember what they did for sour crop as she last kept hens about 78 years ago. For certain a sick hen back then didn’t spend the night in a dog crate in the laundry room being tempted with treats; it would likely more likely have had a date with the stew pot.

Prue, Agnetha and Rosie.

* I know, I know, I was officially a dairy farm worker, but who can resist having a job title that is mentioned in The Twelve Days of Christmas!?

Wifi QR code

With the new Bell Fibe system comes a new wifi network and password. I could set up a guest network for visitors, but opted again to follow Matt Haughey’s instructions to make a wifi QR code.

Thanks to Peter for first sharing this tip. His advice to get your own domain for your email prompted me to do just that, and start this website. Then I started blogging after his 2019 unconference. My advice is to follow Peter!

Nota bene

While looking for the postal abbreviation for the US state of Maine (it’s ME, so you don’t have to look!), I came across this chart from the United States Postal Service Historian that shows the different state abbreviations they’ve used since 1831. It wasn’t until 1963 that the USPS settled on the two letter system still in use today, and which we also use in Canada.

One interesting tidbit from that chart is this note about the abbreviation NB:

…in 1969, at the request of the Canadian postal administration, the abbreviation for Nebraska, originally NB, was changed to NE, to avoid confusion with New Brunswick in Canada.

My knowledge of Canada-US relations is not deep enough to know how often the United States has bent to our will (I suspect not often at all), but this certainly was a nice gesture.

With every fibre of my being

OK, I get it now. “Streaming something” means it flows like a clear fast-running stream, not oozes like snowmelt into a mud puddle. When you press play on something, it plays right away, doesn’t buffer. Someone emails you a 6 MB photo from their phone and it pops right up, not stops your other emails from coming in for minutes. Want to download a movie? Whoomp, there it is!

Yes, in case you didn’t hear the cheers from Lot 11 and see the pigs flying over the frozen lakes of hell, we got fibre optic cable installed today at our house here in the boonies. Fibre To The Home. FTTH. For real. I honestly never thought we would ever have a wired high speed internet service here. I assumed something like Starlink would save us, or that super 5G with 20 Gbps that is said to be coming. Even five years ago FTTH out here was laughable.

A very helpful Bell Aliant technician from Nova Scotia spent much of today running the fibre op cable in our 1,000 foot lane, trudging through 3-4 feet of snow to run it from electrical pole to pole, then laid the final few feet over the snow (!) as a temporary measure until a contractor can return after the snow melts and the frost leaves the ground to bury the cable (maybe June?). The electricity to our house goes underground from the last pole, but we never buried a conduit to run fibre. When we built our house nearly 20 years ago, there was not even an inkling that something beyond the copper telephone wire buried along our lane decades ago would be run into our house.

In quick time the technician set up the modem and wireless television receivers. We kept a landline phone, and with a few taps on his mobile phone app, our phone was connected and ringing.

By coincidence, I had more coffee today than usual, so I was already very wired, but being able to zip around on devices gave me a different kind of jittery magical buzz. I downloaded MacOS Big Sur 11.2.3 on my new M1 MacBook Air in just a few minutes, in the middle of the day, no less, while lots of other things were running in the house. Knowing that the fast connection was coming my way, I had ignored the update as it would take hours, and then usually stall.

We got Fibe TV because that is my mother’s entertainment. We’ve had ShawDirect satellite television (and its predecessor StarChoice) for probably around 25 years. It was fine because we had no other option, but every few years the dish had to be upgraded and then the television receivers, and it was expensive and not a very advanced system, so won’t really be sad to say goodbye. The Fibe TV is so fast, and live tv can be watched on any device, recorded, rewound, video on demand, and on and on. I especially won’t miss trying to clean off the dish during a raging snowstorm so my mother can watch The Price Is Right!

I was even able to get my old Apple Airport Extreme and Express to hook into the new system, so that is acting as a janky mesh system for our non-WiFi printer and some other devices.

As long as we don’t mangle the very delicate cable on the ground (I have covered it with a piece of wood until I can fashion something more ramp-like for the furnace oil delivery man to drag his filler hose over), we will be connected to the modern world in a modern way. I see what you’ve all been talking about. It’s pretty nice to be zipping around with you.

The new normal. We’re supposed to be getting “up to 500 Mbps” down, but this is just fine for now. The jitter reading is my present level of caffeination, I guess.
The last few minutes of the old high speed. Yes, that was .756 Mbps down and .327 up. To be fair, we usually got around the 1.5 Mbps down that we paid $107 plus taxes and fees and nonsense a month for.


Alice Marie Bramfitt was born on this day in 1886 in China, where her English parents were working as Christian missionaries. The family had returned to England by the 1891 census.

Marie served in England as a nurse in the First World War, met and married a Canadian soldier, and travelled with him back to his home province of Prince Edward Island in September, 1919. They settled with his parents in Harmony, a community a couple of miles from Tyne Valley.

Marie never celebrated her birthday with her new PEI relatives as she died on January 7, 1920. The official cause of death was suicide, but her husband, Thomas Corbett Ellis, was later tried for her murder. He was found not guilty.

I learned about this story last summer when I noticed the name of Dr. John Stewart in an article about the Ellis trial on the front page of the June 21, 1920 issue of The Charlottetown Guardian. I collect articles mentioning Dr. Stewart as part of my interest in the history of the Tyne Valley hospital that was named in his memory, so it was he who led me to this sad tale.

It was probably the family connection that drew me in further as I worked out that Thomas Corbett Ellis would have been my maternal great-grandmother Eva Hardy’s second cousin. Eva probably knew him, and certainly would have known about Marie’s death, but my mother hadn’t heard this story before, and she was raised by Eva and often talks about Eva’s talent for storytelling and sharp comments about others. This would have been both a compelling story to tell and pass judgement on, but because my mother, who was born in 1922, would have been so young when this story was ripe, other current events might have knocked this gruesome story off Eva’s setlist as the 1920s passed. Or it could have been just too terrible and shameful a tale to retell.

As soon as I read about Marie last June, I was compelled to go to the Presbyterian cemetery in Tyne Valley to visit her grave and pay my respects. I walked up and down the rows of headstones, saying hello to lots of my long-gone ancestors as I went, but her grave seems to be unmarked (a fact I confirmed with a friend who is working on a history of Tyne Valley and also knew Marie’s tale). I was disappointed, but not surprised, as I’m sure the Ellis family wanted both the memory of Marie and this story to disappear, just as they themselves did to other parts of PEI and the United States not long after Marie’s death.

There’s a lot more to this tragedy, but today I’m only thinking of Marie, married late in life for the era and probably looking forward to a great adventure in Canada. What she found instead seems to have been a sad existence living with Thomas’s parents and sisters in the back woods of PEI, cut off from all she knew. My heart aches for her.

I have lit a candle tonight for Marie.

I’m not the only one who thinks there is more to this story. From the RCMP case file via Guy Bramfitt.

“Lets you tape like a rock star!”

While searching on a big box retailer’s website for a binder that comes with preprinted tabs for corporate records, everything but the desired binder popped up, including, for some strange reason only known to the algorithmic gnomes, this pleasing bit of plastic:

The description assures me it is well weighted for easy dispensing, and it sure looks like a fun bit of kit, but as I’ve decided I’ve contributed far more than my lifetime’s allotment to the non-biodegradable burden on Mother Earth, I will just appreciate that someone thought of it, and also chose the perfect catalogue number to boot.