BOOMERBROADcast

The voice of baby boomers, the silenced majority. Rants and reflections on lifestyle, fashion, current events, books and more . . .


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French Exit nearly had me exiting the book, but I’m glad I didn’t


Any book set in Paris is irresistible to me. French Exit by Patrick deWitt, who also wrote The Sisters Brothers, is a contemporary novel that reads like a 1930’s farce. When I first started reading, the language struck me as peculiar; the characters were caricatures and the plot implausible. But the further into it I got, the more intrigued I became. French Exit was short-listed for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize, so there were obviously people much smarter than I am who thought the book worth finishing so I soldiered on.

The story begins with Malcolm Price and his widowed mother Frances living in New York City. After the death of her husband, Frank Price, Frances sets about blowing through their considerable fortune as quickly as possible. This is where the implausible comes in. Why is she doing this when she will need money to live on? When her banker informs her she’s broke, she’s forced to liquidate her remaining assets and sets off for Paris with her son Malcolm and their peculiar old cat, Small Frank.

Frances, Malcolm and Small Frank borrow a friend’s Paris flat and their little threesome soon grows to include an eccentric assortment of characters. We learn more about Malcolm’s’ unconventional childhood and his mother’s unconventional approach to mothering during a story-telling game conducted one evening under the influence of much wine.

I always enjoy authors taking me on a descriptive journey through the streets of Paris and deWitt accomplishes this beautifully. The narrative picks up speed as it nears the end which comes rather quickly as the book is a fast read. I was tempted to stop reading shortly after I began the book but my curiosity about where the story was going keep me going and I’m glad I did. It was fun, quick and quirky. It didn’t win the Giller but, as they say, being nominated was an honour and justifies reading it. Patrick deWitt (born on Vancouver Island and living in Seattle) has a strange imagination, reminiscent of another Giller nominee, Heather O’Neill. I’d give it 7 out of 10.

To order French Exit by Patrick deWitt from Amazon, click here.

To order my new book BOOMER BEAT in time for Christmas, click here.


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Anna Porter’s memoir is a gift to Canadian readers


If you’re a lover of Canadian literature, then you’re in for a treat. Anna Porter, author of In Other Words, How I Fell in Love with Canada One Book at a Time, is an author and former publisher extraordinaire with a pedigree spanning decades in the book business. I first became aware of her in the early seventies when she was profiled in Canadian magazines and newspapers as someone to keep an eye on. As a baby boomer and working mother of two young girls Anna Porter moved in the exalted circles of the rich and powerful—someone we followed in hopes we could learn from her success.

Born in Hungary, Anna Szigethy escaped during the revolution with her mother (separated from her father, a survivor of the Russian gulag) to Austria where they then emigrated to New Zealand as refugees. As soon as she finished university, she left for London, England, mecca for young baby boomer women looking to begin exciting new lives. Her fluency in several languages and appreciation for literature landed her an entry-level job in publishing. When Anna Szigethy arrived in Canada from the U.K. in the late sixties in her mauve mini-dress and white vinyl boots, she’d already chalked up experience working with Collier Macmillan International’s UK office.

When she joined McClelland and Stewart, the company was already experiencing serious financial problems. Working long hours for little pay under irascible patriarch Jack McClelland, she helped grow the company and despite their stable of famous Canadian authors, M&S was constantly on the brink of bankruptcy. When she married high-profile Toronto lawyer Julien Porter, her struggles with balancing a career and young family will ring familiar to any boomer woman trying to do the same thing in the 70s and 80s. There’s no magic solution. It’s hard work, both at home and on the job.

Authors like Margaret Atwood, Peter C. Newman, Margaret Laurence, Farley Mowat, Marian Engel, Conrad Black and Pierre Berton were regulars in the offices of Anna Porter as she juggled not just the publishing of their new books but their fragile egos and creative personalities. The famous names are too numerous to list here. As an early feminist, she challenged the old boys’ network and supported women writers like Doris Anderson, Naomi Wolf and Sylvia Fraser.

Author/publisher, Anna Porter.

In Other Words is a literal “who’s who” of Canadian literature. It’s beautifully and informatively written by a publishing giant who witnessed and was part of an amazing period in publishing. By the time she launched her own business, Key Porter Books, McClelland and Stewart was going down for the third time and is now owned by Random House Canada, a division of German media giant Bertelsmann.

On a personal note, M&S’s financial woes made me feel guilty about not returning half a dozen hardcover books they gave me once on approval. I clearly remember sitting in the grim, dark offices of M&S on Hollinger Road in Scarborough one day in the 1970s when I went there to research a suitable corporate Christmas gift. We ordered several dozen copies of Peter C. Newman’s The Canadian Establishment but I really should have returned the books we didn’t order. I now feel guilty, although I know my keeping those books would not have meant the difference between financial salvation for M&S and their ultimate demise.

I can’t recommend this book enough—perhaps it’s because I’m a book lover, a feminist and a fan of Canadian literature. Anna Porter’s In Other Words is a must-read. I give it 9.5 out of 10. I absolutely loved every single page.

To order In Other Words by Anna Porter from Amazon, click here.


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One ringy dingy lights up my world


A gracious good afternoon. We need to talk about the use of your instrument.

Remember when Lily Tomlin’s character Ernestine ran the entire phone company single-handedly? From her little PBX switchboard she efficiently dispatched installers and repairmen while simultaneously providing harried customer service, challenging delinquent bill payers and dispensing unsolicited advice to business and world leaders. I actually worked for the phone company in those days and understood her loyalty and determination, not to mention her romantic crush on Vito, her favourite repairman. Back then, I too had a favourite repairman. In fact, I married him. But that’s another story.

Then, along came new technology, a.k.a. cell phones. I’m not a complete Luddite; I bought one of the early ones—the size of a brick—in the nineties. Over the years I’ve tried to keep up as new ones came along but I’m rapidly losing ground. In fact, I’m ready to revert, and I don’t think I’m alone. It requires far too much time and effort (not to mention money) to keep on top of all the newest features and apps, and still have time to pluck my chin hairs.

Jake Howell of The Globe and Mail is on my side. His recent article Dumb, but happy perfectly summed up my position when he confessed to giving up his iPhone 5C in favour of one of the old no-frills, basic phones. When he found his addictive use of the smart phone “akin to a glorified fidget spinner”, he went cool turkey—not completely cold, but severely curtailed. When Candice Bergen produced a ‘flip phone’ on the first episode of the new Murphy Brown recently, it was the source of much laughter and derision, but Jake (I presume) and I empathized. We know a good thing when we see it.

Sadly, the world as we know it.

Maybe it’s because I don’t have kids in school or a cheating husband whose emails and browsing history I need to monitor, but give me that old-time phone service any day. I’ve gone entire weeks without using my cell phone and the sky didn’t fall in. I never have to worry about exceeding my data plan. I’m baffled when I see groups of people sitting together having lunch or dinner and everyone’s looking down thumbing their phones. Young people are going to entirely miss out on the art and joy of unencumbered personal conversation.

I’ve had a smart phone for awhile now but I’m seriously thinking about tossing it and digging out my simple old flip-phone that I bought at Walmart for $14.99 back in the aughts. I’m never sure if my so-called smartphone is on or off and just last week I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off in the dark at the movie theatre. Maybe it wasn’t even on; I can never tell. And, I can never figure out how to access WiFi in public places (my problem, not the phone’s). I haven’t set up the voice mail because the phone’s never turned on and frankly I don’t know how. I keep the phone only for emergencies. Imagine that! My monthly cell phone bill from CARP (Canadian Association for Retired People) costs me a whopping $18.31 including taxes.

Many people have ditched their land lines in favour of cell service only. That’s fine if you want to carry it around in your hip pocket 24/7 (which it seems most people actually prefer), take it to bed with you, into the shower, into the hospital labour room and while having sex. I just don’t get it.

I expect smart phones will soon be implanted as a microchip into our wrists. Until then, if you need to reach me, you’ll probably get no answer. Whether or not I respond immediately is not crucial to world survival. I’m probably on my lunch break splitting a six-pack with Ernestine. And if this is the party to whom I am speaking, then I’ll get back to you when I’m good and ready, after our break.


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My queendom for the perfect eyeliner


Is this too much to ask?

Things change as we get older. I won’t go into detail as you know what I’m talking about, but one issue that I haven’t been able to resolve is finding the perfect eyeliner. Back in the olden days (the 60s and 70s), I could execute a perfect swipe of eyeliner faster than . . . well, the blink of an eye. My eyelids were taut, receptive and beautifully enhanced by whatever I applied, in whatever colour. And I applied plenty.

As we age, less is better. We no longer apply foundation with a spatula, mascara with a broom or blusher with a mop. A delicate touch is now the order of the day. But boomer gals still like makeup and we have a sizeable inventory to back this up. Every so often I purge my supplies while trying not to calculate the money invested/wasted on products that didn’t work for one reason or another. Sometimes when I go through my ‘retired’ makeup and skin care products, I discover I own multiples of the same thing.

Eyeliner is my current challenge. While my eyelids are not exactly ‘crepey’ yet (I’m sure that’s not far off), I can’t get the exact result with eyeliner that I used to. Liquid eyeliners are just too difficult to control and the result is a bit too harsh, even after smudging. Pencils scratch, pull and refuse to stay put. I’ve had the most success with wetting a brush and using cake eyeliner or eyeshadow to apply a line that can be softened with the finger or a sponge wand. But even careful application doesn’t give me nearly the result I used to get when my eyelids were . . . well, you know, young.

Can you believe . . . nothing in my vast inventory works.

While I keep searching for the definitive, perfect eyeliner solution, I decided to go through my existing inventory and was shocked at what I already own. Any thoughts of purchasing something new were immediately wiped out by the humiliating sight of an entire tray of assorted eyeliner products. You name it—I’ve tried it. What I’ve invested in eyeliners alone would probably pay off the national debt of a third world country. And that doesn’t include skincare products, hair products and makeup. I’m not proud of it. Just stating the facts.

I recently had my eyebrows microbladed which will hopefully take care of the brow pencil issues. And don’t even suggest getting my eyeliner tattoo’d on. There are just too many downsides to that procedure for me to even consider it as an option. In the meantime, I need to figure out what I’m going to do with a queen’s ransom in eyeliner pencils that I don’t use. I’d be interested to know what brand of eyeliner works for you, my fellow boomers? Let’s share.


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Bohemian Rhapsody will rock your world


To be honest, I really wasn’t a follower of Freddie Mercury and QUEEN so part of my reason for going to see the movie Bohemian Rhapsody was to educate myself. QUEEN rose to fame just as I was passing out of my rock n’ roll phase—by then I was well into my thirties. As one of the early-born boomers I’d certainly heard of QUEEN but by the seventies I was listening to Meatloaf, ABBA and other musicians.

I’d seen Rami Malek who portrayed Freddie Mercury interviewed earlier on The Graham Norton Show , which increased my curiosity about the movie and the man. We’d heard mixed reviews about the movie and at the last minute doubted our choice but decided to give it a shot. And I’m so glad we did.

As the non-traditional son of Tanzanian immigrants to Britain, Farrokh Bulsara/Freddie Mercury joins a pub band in England and soon blossoms into the front man and entertainer who made the band famous. His unorthodox personality and bisexuality were radical even by seventies standards but the power of his singing voice was undeniable. Much of Queen’s music became the anthem for the seventies and their last-minute appearance at the Live Aid concert in 1985 was the pinnacle of their performing careers.

Me and my girlfriends absolutely loved the movie and I won’t over-share the experience here so you can go and judge for yourselves. I think I missed out on something amazing in the seventies.


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How to hamper those Halloween pantry raids


You know what it’s like. Every year we pick up Halloween treats from the grocery store, usually two or three weeks before the big night and for some reason the supply mysteriously evaporates before October 31st even arrives. This strange phenomenon is particularly puzzling when it’s something you like. Boxes of Smarties, tiny Mars Bars and potato chips are highly vulnerable while raisins usually remain safely stacked in the pantry.

We have to be so careful about what we dispense these days. When we were kids, the best treats were the always the home-made ones—sugary maple walnut or chocolate fudge, taffy and peanut butter cookies were freely passed out in little orange and black paper bags with witches on them. Our closest neighbours used to pack “special” bags for us “special” kids who lived next door and they were always the best. Now everything has to be commercially sealed and inspected for tampering before being consumed. It’s amazing we survived.

Every year I’m never sure how many kids we’ll get at our door but I plan and hope for plenty as I love seeing the little ones stuffed into their costumes stretched over winter parkas and toques. We live at the end of a dead-end courtyard and are very tricky to find, despite leaving all the outside lights and illuminated pumpkins on. Last year we had only two visitors; one little boy from two doors down and another little 3 ft. superhero of indeterminate gender. I’d stocked up on chips and chocolate bars, then at the last minute sent my husband out to buy red licorice—just in case there was an unexpected deluge.

The bottom line, to my everlasting shame is that last year I ate 90 little bags of red licorice during the first few days of November, all by myself. How else was I supposed to get rid of them? Consign them to landfill? Then, at lunch the other day, my friend Deb made an innocent comment which is a brilliant solution to the annual problem of preventing the inevitable evaporation of treats before the big night, and how to dispose of Halloween candy afterward.

JUST BUY WHAT YOU DON’T LIKE!

Genius! Why didn’t I think of that? One of the guys I used to work with was mortified every Halloween when he was a little boy because his dentist father handed out toothbrushes to his trick or treating friends, and their house inevitably got egged. That’s one approach.

Or, I could distribute sealed bags of kale chips or packets of hand sanitizers. Even stickers might work but I’m afraid of my home being egged if I gave out something like pencils or pens. I’d be happy with that but kids today are far more affluent, more discriminating and not as happy with any old thing as we boomers were. And furthermore, I’ve already stocked up on Smarties and little chocolate bars. Maybe I could eat the Smarties and chocolate immediately (for the sake of the children, of course ) and replace this year’s handouts of candy with recipe cards. Parents and their little ones could then make their own politically correct, nut-free, non-GMO’d, gluten-free, fair trade chocolate treats. Heaven knows, I’ll never use the recipes. And, hold the eggs!


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White Teeth are regular characters in Zadie Smith’s British romp


British author Zadie Smith is not everyone’s cup of tea. I gave up on her novel NW after several tries (thought it was an absolute mess) but I enjoyed Swing Time. I was in a bit of a reading dry spell waiting for several books to become available at the library so I decided to have a go at Smith’s first novel, White Teeth. It’s the multi-layered story of three generations of immigrants living in Birmingham, trying to cope with blending old country cultures and values with their new life in England.

Story lines are built around Archie Jones and Samad Iqbad who first met during World War II when they were both serving in Greece. Working class Archie from Birmingham and Muslim Sammy from Bangladesh bond over a moral dilemma during the war and when Sammy immigrates to England he naturally seeks out his old army buddy Archie. Sammy meets his young bride Alsana on the morning of his arranged marriage and they set up house in London near Archie who is now married to his second wife, a much younger Jamaican girl by the name of Clara, daughter of a devout Jehovah’s Witness.

While Alsana doesn’t think she has anything in common with Clara, they find themselves both pregnant at the same time and soon become friends. The British-born second generation of the two families is when the real fun starts. Archie and Clara’s daughter Irie is slightly less peculiar than her mother, the lapsed Jehovah’s Witness. Sammy and Alsana’s identical twin sons are opposite in personality which causes no end of anguish for their parents, particularly Sammy who vainly wishes them to be traditional and devout Muslims.

Author Zadie Smith.

The book is written in a somewhat satirical style and Zadie Smith has a brilliant ear for local slang and contemporary teenage dialogue. I could so easily picture the conversations and conflicts that transpire between the parents, their offspring and the other colourful characters in the story. She beautifully articulates the Caribbean patois of Clara’s religious mother Hortense, who grew up in Jamaica, with brilliant tongue-in-cheek exchanges between Hortense and her granddaughter Irie. Sammy’s wife Alsana is one of the most interesting characters and I would have liked to see more of her. She’s opinionated, has a temper and is unpredictable.

I really enjoyed White Teeth. For something different and a taste of satire, give it a whirl. I’d rate this book 8 out of 10.

Click here to order White Teeth by Zadie Smith from Amazon.