BOOMERBROADcast

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


3 Comments

Princess Margaret comes alive once again in detailed tell-all

If you’re someone who enjoys reading salacious gossip about royalty, then you’ll love Ninety-nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret written by British author and journalist Craig Brown. To be honest, when I downloaded the book, I thought it was a picture book—a photographic retrospective of the life of the Queen’s younger sister. The title was a bit misleading. As it turns out, there were relatively few pictures and hundreds of pages of stories, observations, first-hand accounts and general information about Princess Margaret, her lifestyle, her friends, enemies and her vices. And most of it was not flattering, but I guess that’s what happens when you don’t have the most agreeable or sympathetic personality.

Canadian boomers growing up in the fifties and sixties were generally raised to revere the royal family, including the vivacious and glamorous Princess Margaret. In the olden days we stood up in class, raised our right hands to shoulder height and pledged allegiance to The Queen every morning at the start of classes. It’s tempting to employ amateur psychology to explain why Princess Margaret, the one-time first runner-up to the British throne was the way she was but it only invites the old nature versus nurture argument. Queen Elizabeth was the personification of duty and responsibility while Margaret was the polar opposite. She was temperamental, spoiled and disdainful of most of her royal duties. She embraced the bohemian lifestyle while insisting upon the rights and privileges of being a princess. Even her closest friends and lovers were required to call her “Ma’am” and defer to her royal status.

She chose position and money over Peter Townsend.

After I realized the book was a collection of tittle-tattle, I felt a bit icky about reading it but not so much that I could put it down. It was just too juicy. The good bits began with her relationship with former Group Captain Peter Townsend, equerry to her father, King George VI. Eighteen years her senior, already married with two children and standing more that a foot taller than the diminutive 5 ft. princess, their relationship caused quite a kerfuffle in the royal household. Hoping time apart would cool their ardour, the Queen and her government banished Townsend to a diplomatic desk job in Belgium where he promptly fell in love with and remarried someone even younger than Margaret. That was just the beginning of a lifetime of “unlucky in love” experiences she endured. Toward the end of the book there’s even a chronology of her many lovers over her lifetime including a few surprises like former Canadian Prime Minister John Turner (yikes!), Dusty Springfield (really?) and Mick Jagger (but then, me and the readers of Boomerbroadcast are probably the only people on the planet who haven’t slept with Mick Jagger.).

The book’s content is based on extensive research by the author. In addition to reading dozens of books, interviewing countless people who knew the princess and including details of his own experiences with her, the author gives the reader a pretty comprehensive overview of her life. We learn about her insistence on protocol while often displaying bad manners herself. Her bitchiness about performing the boring ribbon cuttings, official openings and attending formal dinners that are the life of royalty was no secret among those who move in such circles.

Her marriage did not have a fairy tale ending.

There’s a lot of speculation about the why’s of her marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones but it’s ultimate failure and the disastrous fallout are well known. After her divorce, things went from bad to worse. She kept company with an increasingly shady assortment of characters. As she aged and lost her looks and figure, her conduct became easy prey for the media. Her questionable behavior only exacerbated the negative perceptions. Margaret’s love affair with much younger and wannabe rock star Roddy Llewellyn fed the fire.

Ninety-nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret is a somewhat tragic story. On one hand, it’s sad to see someone with so many advantages (position, a title, beauty, talent, money) lead such an unhappy life but on the other hand she was the architect of her own destiny. She could have married Peter Townsend after the one-year waiting period but chose money and position instead. Everyone experiences problems and unhappiness at some time in their lives. It’s what we do with these negative experiences that frames who we are and how we will be remembered. Princess Diana was far from perfect and had her share of unhappiness but she leveraged the same advantages Princess Margaret had into charitable work and being a good will ambassador. I have to admit I couldn’t put the book down—even reading every single one of the dozens of pages of footnotes. It’s gossipy and voyeuristic but I’d rate it 8 out of 10. Have fun dahlings.

To order Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown from Amazon, click here.

To order a copy of my latest book BOOMER BEAT from Amazon, click here.


2 Comments

What’s the real price of economic progress?

It’s all so complicated . . . and expensive.

When I reviewed my recent ‘bundled’ telecom bill (for telephone, internet and Fibe TV) this week, the total nearly knocked me on my old lady ass. It was about the same as the mortgage payments on our first house in the seventies. How did this happen? I’ve tried unsuccessfully to cancel some channels only to reinstate them again because my honey needs three thousand sports and movie channels, the car channel and every news channel from the Outer Hebrides to Inner Mongolia. I’m no better with my HGTV, HBO, various History channels and BBC that I’m convinced I couldn’t live without.

That got me thinking about all the services that baby boomers did not grow up with that we cannot imagine surviving without today. Tally up what these luxuries add to our monthly budget expenditures and we get an understanding of why we always feel so broke. Here’s a sampling:

Once upon a time we were thrilled to be able to get Roy Rogers on Saturday mornings and Ed Sullivan on Sunday night.

  • I remember when a basic phone line cost $15.00 a month, plus long distance charges, which we were very careful to minimize by calling only on weekends and for short periods of time. We received three television stations through an antenna on the roof. Compare that with $350.00 a month today for hundreds of stations but we still have trouble finding something we like.
  • Speaking of phones, tally up what your family’s cell phones cost every month. Another $300.00? Or more? More importantly, we actually survived without cell phones not that long ago..
  • Mani-pedi’s are de rigueur for most women today to the tune of about $50.00 a month. Many of our mothers never even had a professional mani-pedi and back in the sixties and seventies we always did them ourselves. We also often coloured and cut our own hair to save money.
  • Modern washers and dryers are now capable of doing everything but our income taxes. Growing up, we reused wash water for several loads and hung clothes outside to dry. A clothes dryer alone is a huge energy-eater to the tune of another $60.00 per month and that’s if we schedule laundry for the middle of the night or weekends when hydro is cheapest.
  • Growing up in the 50s and 60s, families were privileged to own a car. Now, vehicles for every member of the family are lined up in driveways like a used car lot. Factor in the monthly payments for the vehicle, gas, maintenance and insurance and we’re looking at an additional $1,000.00 per month per car and many families have at least two cars.
  • Home security anyone? We never even locked our doors half the time when we were growing up and our family lived across the road from a high school. $50.00 per month?

Practice doesn’t always align with the plan.

These few items alone total about $2,000.00 per month ($24,000.00 per year in after tax income) and I haven’t even touched on our astronomical hydro bills, bank fees and interest charges on credit cards for merchandise we’ve ordered on line but really didn’t need and probably threw out a few weeks later. Then, there’s the cost of keeping up with the latest fashions, maintenance costs related to skin care, makeup and gym memberships. Nor have I discussed restaurant meals (which were rare for our parents’ generation), entertainment, overseas vacations or expensive hobbies like golf or skiing.

As teenagers, when our pocket money ran out, we were broke until next allowance day or payday at the drive-in burger joint where we worked on weekends. Now, parents shell out continually and without regard for limits. Seeing high school students with expensive designer purses, jeans or sneakers, leather jackets and even their own cars is mind-boggling for those who lived through the Depression.

It’s natural (or at least it used to be) that subsequent generations do better than those who went before. But there’s still a lot of fat that can be trimmed from our monthly budgets that would go a long way to ensuring a financially secure retirement. Just a few decades ago, the majority of young people did not go to university. That was a huge cost-saving but now a university education is considered essential. When I look at the shortages in skilled trades, service jobs and certain occupations, I question the validity of this but that’s another topic for another day.

Being able to afford a house requires discipline. There’s a lot of room for trimming the fat from monthly budgets to build up that down-payment. And your first home doesn’t have to include granite countertops and be located close to work. Certain accommodations and sacrifices must be made to get a foot in the market. On one hand I sympathize with the challenges faced by young people trying to get into the market, while at the same time I sometimes think their expectations are too high. It wasn’t easy for baby boomers when we bought our first place (especially when you consider that mortgage rates were upwards of 20 percent in the 70s), and just as hard for our parents. My parents sold their used car and went without a vehicle for a couple of years to help scrape together the down payment on their first house, and they already had two kids.

We’ve all grown fat and lazy on the improved standard of living for average North Americans. So many goods and services that were considered luxuries by our parents are now part of our everyday lexicon. In the midst of all this affluence, boomers are also trying to downsize. We’re hauling truckloads of valuable furniture, clothing and other possessions to charity stores and consignment shops. Have we become too smart too late? I’ve started turning off lights to save power, refraining from buying more clothing and shoes I don’t need and generally thinking twice instead of laying down that credit card for an impulse purchase.

It’s always been my belief that earned money is more meaningful than handouts. Spoiled children grow up to be entitled adults. There’s something surreal about swiping our so-called Smart phones or credit cards that has inured us to the real value of earned money. It’s like we’re playing with Monopoly money and sometimes we forget how hard the hard stuff is to come by. A quick stop at Starbucks could cost us the equivalent of fifteen minutes working in our employers’ cubicle. As the gap between the rich and poor widens, we’re going to have to become more aware of our spending habits and face the reality that we’re jeopardizing our future security. We could learn a lot by remembering how our parents (who lived through the Great Depression) handled money. Is the cashless society a good thing or a scam and a deceit that will be our ultimate downfall?

Pass the wine. I need to forget.

Our oceans are full of plastic waste; the polar ice cap is melting; certain species of wildlife are disappearing; thousands of hectares are being stripped of valuable trees and our natural resources won’t last forever. It sounds like a depressing prospect but it’s not too late to change our ways. I don’t envy the Gen Xer’s, Y’s and millennials who’ll be left to clean up the mess. I certainly don’t advocate abandoning technology but maybe there’s some justice in the standard of living pendulum swinging the other way for a few years. Let’s hope this old earth survives long enough to rejuvenate itself. Our standard of living may be better than it was for our parents but is life really better? What started with me questioning my telecom bill now has me reevaluating my entire life. Boy, do I need a glass of wine. Time to chill out.

To order a copy of my latest book BOOMER BEAT from Amazon, click here.

 

 


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

How much can a parent withstand?

On October 10th I was honoured to be a guest speaker on The Joy of Retirement at an alumni luncheon for former employees of Coca-Cola Canada Ltd. in Toronto. I was preceded by a former employee of Coca-Cola, Debbie Sands, who had written a book about her family’s challenges with their second daughter, Amy. A Moth To The Flame is the story of Amy’s struggles with what was most likely Borderline Personality Disorder, a mental illness that Amy seemed to display from the time she was a baby but went undiagnosed.

How does a parent cope when they do all the right things and their best efforts are met with extreme anger, defiance, antisocial and destructive behaviours? How could a beautiful little baby grow into such a troubled adult? Debbie Sands and her husband Ed struggled with these questions from the time Amy was born until she died tragically at the age of 27. And they still struggle with the what ifs, hows and whys.

Amy Sands was a sweet baby but prone to unprovoked and intense temper tantrums. She would have periods of calm but they were only temporary and as she grew, the problems also grew. In elementary school she was bullied for being overweight. A couple of years in a closely monitored private school helped but when she returned to the public system, the wheels fell off. Before long she was running with the wild crowd, neglecting her school work and despite being bright, funny and talented in music and dance, the demons ruled.

Before she finished high school, Amy was involved in drugs, drinking and assorted antisocial behaviours. She had also blossomed into a beautiful young woman with little resemblance to the awkward young girl she had once been. With her family’s support she managed to graduate high school but because of her self-destructive habits was unable to hold down a job or attend college successfully. She was a pathological liar who turned her accusers into enemies and was soon involved in a series of abusive relationships and criminal activity.

Debbie Sands was constantly searching for answers and solutions to work through her daughter’s problems. She read books, consulted with teachers, other parents and tried every resource at her disposal to try and help Amy live a normal life. Naturally, Amy’s aberrant behaviour affected the entire family including an older daughter, Stephanie and a younger brother, Michael. All the love in the world can’t fix certain problems. As parents, Debbie and Ed Sands expended extraordinary amounts of time, emotional energy and money trying to help Amy function in a normal way. But she fought, defied and abused them constantly, only to retreat, apologize, then begin the whole cycle over again.

After hearing Debbie’s presentation at the Coca-Cola luncheon I thought I was familiar enough with Amy’s story that I didn’t need to read the book, but when I picked it up one evening and started reading I couldn’t put it down. It’s educational, heartbreaking and yet redemptive, a must read for any parent who is having trouble with a son or daughter who has fallen off the rails.

The panelists on CTV’s The Social recently discussed a 13-year-old boy who had been an ongoing problem for his parents. He’d stolen the family car (not the first time) to go visit his girlfriend, after first disengaging the home security system and internet/phone system. His mother was criticized for taking his bedroom door off its hinges, grounding him indefinitely and actually taking off her belt to hit him when she caught up with him. While it’s tempting to condemn her for using physical force, it’s easy to understand her frustration and lack of options. This was not an isolated incident and parents of difficult teens are frequently stretched beyond normal boundaries.

Mental illness is chronically under-diagnosed in many young people and parents are often unaware of the root of the problem and the resources available to help families with these struggles. I commend Debbie Sands for writing this book and encourage you to read it or pick it up for someone you know who has similar problems in their family. It has already helped parents with daughters like Amy and will not doubt resonate with others who read it in the future.

To order A Moth To The Flame by Debbie Sands from Amazon, click here.

 


Leave a comment

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!