Sunday, June 18, 2017

Canto (Or Won't-o)

Last month, at my birthday, Pete confessed in a somewhat embarrassed fashion that he really enjoys singing as a part of Rock Band. I was delighted for him, but a little sad as well.

Singing, like sports, seems to have become one of those things that most of us are far happier to watch than we are to do ourselves. I'm comfortable speaking in front of large audiences, but the thought of singing solo feels me with apprehension.

It's understandable, I suppose. I have a colleague at work with a background in musical theater who says, "Sing, and show me your soul." I suppose most of us are reluctant to make ourselves so vulnerable, and besides, there are so few real opportunities.

Friday night, Audrey, Glory and I went to see the ESO's production of Carmina Burana, which Fenya's choir was performing in. In all, there were 200 voices in support of the orchestra, and it was an intense musical experience to say the least.

Before the show, Cantilon performed in the Upper lobby of the Winspear, and one of their selections was a Finnish folk tune they had competed with earlier in the year, in which Fenya has a solo.

Like most of us in the household, Fenya is her own harshest critic (yes, even more so than her own musical director!), but she was actually very happy with the job she had done in the competition's recording, and had received quite a bit of good feedback on it. I was delighted to hear her perform it in the lobby, same as I was when she did it at her spring concert back on Mother's Day:

Today at church she had been asked to sing, and given free rein to choose her tune and little time to rehearse, she chose "Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go", a melancholy Scottish folk song. I had chided her a bit at breakfast about the lack of a spiritual component, but in the context of the service, which dealt with both the Season of Creation and Aboriginal Sunday, it worked out beautifully:

Oh the summertime is coming
And the trees are sweetly blooming
And the wild mountain thyme
Grows around the blooming heather
Will ye go, Lassie, go?

And we'll all go together
To pluck wild mountain thyme
All around the blooming heather
Will ye go, Lassie, go?

I will build my love a tower
Near yon' pure crystal fountain
And on it I will build
All the flowers of the mountain
Will ye go, Lassie, go?

And we'll all go together
To pluck wild mountain thyme
All around the blooming heather
Will ye go, Lassie, go?

If my true love she were gone
I would surely find another
To pluck wild mountain thyme
Grows around the blooming heather
Will ye go, Lassie, go?

And we'll all go together
To pluck wild mountain thyme
All around the blooming heather
Will ye go, Lassie, go?

After listening to an elder from Alexander First Nation talk about the importance of collaboration and forgiveness on the road to reconciliation, the words "And we'll all go together" resonated deeply within men, and of course, it sounded beautiful too.

But afterwards, as we sung from the same hymnbook together, her voice soaring while mine plodded along, I felt myself carried along. Dozens of voices, working together; some gifted, others less so, but all keeping the tune, all showing the souls of their owners.

And better still, on the way home, with the windows and sunroof open, singing along with Stan Rogers and company to the choruses of Barrett's Privateers, oblivious to what other might have thought, and not caring at any rate.

Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar liked to say, "We don't sing because we're happy; we're happy because we sing," and I believe this to be true. It's a shame our egos lead us to deny ourselves such a simple, natural joy, but I guess there is always karaoke and Rock Band.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

You Are Who You Follow

It was a bittersweet day at work last Thursday, as we said goodbye to our CEO for the past 5 years, Karen Adams. A lot of people had anticipated last year that she would be leaving after the completion of our massive technological project called Compass. We implemented it early last year, but she announced last fall she had been asked to stay on and had agreed.

However, that was before the new provincial government rolled out new guidelines for the heads of agencies, boards and commissions (ABCs). Since staying on after that would have meant a 30-40% drop in pay, well, I don't think anyone blamed Karen for taking another CEO position with a mutual fund company back east.

It's difficult for me to articulate my relationship with Karen. When she first arrived, she was my boss's boss's boss's boss. She spent the first 90 days just trying to learn as much about the place, and the work we did, and the people who did it, as she could. She met with me as I was developing our first quality assurance program. I was pretty excited about it, as well as the work I was also doing on our engagement committee, and I guess it must have showed, because near the end of the meeting, she looked directly at me, and said, "I bet you're a great dad."

Now, I don't believe I've ever actually claimed to be a great dad, but I've made it no secret that I really want to be one. I was gobsmacked that this stranger, four levels above me on the org chart, could not only see my true priorities so clearly but could also make a casual assessment about me that I would find so gratifying.

So, yeah, from that moment on, Karen had a pretty loyal follower in me.

Shortly after that we had our first corporate summit, a company-wide meeting at the local Cineplex where everyone could hear the same message at the same time, something else I am a firm believer in. Later summits had skits and tremendously involved presentations, often mimicking popular tv shows like Oprah, or Late Night with David Letterman, but the first one was a bit more stripped down.

Karen needed to go over her speech a couple of times because she doesn't like to work with notes, so we retreated into the higher seats, away from where the sound board was being set up, so she could rehearse her content, and even asked me for feedback. It wasn't until afterwards I wondered why she would pick me for that, when there were executive assistants and vice-presidents galore for her to choose from. Regardless, I was flattered and grateful for a chance to contribute.

I worked with Karen and her staff on several summits afterwards, and even got to give feedback on off-site speeches she often gave, which is what eventually led to me taking a job in our Stakeholder Relations department (formerly communications), and reporting directly to her for a few months prior to getting our own director.

As a leader, Karen has a firm idea of what is important to an organization (people) and what isn't (autocracy). She knows what she wants, but is always willing to listen to alternative points of view. Unlike several leaders I can think of, Karen can have her mind changed on a course of action, provided you can make a good case for a better one.

Despite having all the drive and focus you would associate with anyone at her level of responsibility, Karen's leadership included tremendous amounts of joy and whimsy. Within 24 hours of getting into it with a staffer over the merits of Coke vs. Pepsi, she had arranged a lunchtime Pepsi Challenge that over 150 people participated in. She could often be found cracking jokes with members of the staff as she made her way about the building, and her speeches included a number of well-delivered quips, as well as a genuine feeling of sincerity. I was astonished and touched when I saw she had written a glowing recommendation on my LinkedIn profile earlier in the week.

The combination of her departure and fear of the unknown in terms of our next CEO has taken its toll in many ways, so Thursday's send off was pretty bittersweet. We (mostly) respected Karen's wishes not to have too gushy or emotional of a farewell, limiting the commemorations to three short addresses by our three other executives, each accompanied by a small gift.

I guess because of my involvement in Toastmasters and my work with Karen on the summits and some of her speeches, I was asked to have 3-4 minutes of material on hand in case we got rained out and had to entertain folks indoors. The initial ask was a little vague ("I dunno, some jokes or a poem or something...") but after thinking about what I might say to acknowledge Karen's leadership and what her absence might mean for us going forward, I had an outline I was happy with and figured I could flesh out the rest on the fly if need be.

Last Thursday was the warmest day of the week, so I guess I needn't have worried.  I also knew that the EA who had asked me to be on stand-by had already caught some side-eye from Karen about the scheduled presentations, so I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't get a chance to do my little bit.

They did need someone to get things started and keep things moving, so I did a minimal amount of emceeing and then stepped out of the way so the thankings and the giftings could happen. Some of those voices were thickened with emotion, and I was grateful for the minimalism of our tributes. Afterwards I mingled with other staff while eating cake shots.

Eventually Karen wandered over to thank me and say goodbye, and I mentioned that I had been asked to speak if we got rained out. I told her that somehow I had managed to come up with a short bit that I felt captured most of how I felt about Karen's leadership and how it has prepared us for a future without her, and  I said, " if you ever want to hear it and you have 4 minutes to spare, you just need to let me know."

"Like a command performance sort of thing?" she asked.

"Exactly!" I laughed.

She looked at her watch for a second, then back at me. "How about now?"

"Like...right now?" I stammered.

"Like right now," she confirmed.

I hesitated, pointing her to a group of staff that I knew had been waiting for their chance to say goodbye, but as soon as she was done with them, she came straight back to me, and one of the Executive Directors who had wandered over.

"So you really want me to bust this out on you right here?" I asked, a bit nervously.

Karen nodded. "I really want you to bust it on me right here." She looked around, asking, "Do we need a bigger audience for this, or...?"

I took a look; most of the staff had left, and the majority of those who remained were board members I didn't know and a handful of executives, and I didn't want to make too big a deal of this than it was already becoming. I looked at Jon the E.D., who nodded his willingness to stay, and said, "This is good right here," and I started before a crowd could form.

Leadership is a funny thing. You can find yourself leading from a variety of places, like in the middle, or from the rear, especially if you are herding sheep. You might find yourself at the front of a group because everyone else around you took a big step backwards. 

But there are some people who need to be at the front, who have that combination of vision and persuasion and charisma that make it easy for other to follow them, even if they aren't precisely sure where they are being led to.

I think a lot about a Confederate general during the U.S. Civil War, Lewis B. Armistead, who fought at Gettysburg under Robert E. Lee. During Pickett's Charge, Armistead led his brigade from the front, taking his men across almost a mile of withering Union fire: bullets, cannons, and grapeshot. The smoke from the black powder weapons was so thick and the terror so palpable that he fashioned a makeshift standard by sticking his sabre through his own hat and yelling, "Follow me boys, and give them the cold steel!"

Armistead's brigade was the only unit to break the Union lines that day, but they could not hold it, and he himself was mortally wounded during the counterattack. There is a stone marker where he fell, and roses are left there to this day by admirers of his bravery. Those who followed him boasted about it for the rest of their lives.

Karen leads from the front too, under far less dangerous circumstances, obviously, but not without a degree of uncertainty and fear. She brought a clarity of vision to our workplace, not just about the kind of business we want to be and how we go about it, but the kind of environment we want to work within. She has had a profound impact upon our culture, and the way we interact with each other.

An organizational structure is kind of like a nervous system, and if you look closely at a group of nerves, you'll notice that they never actually touch; there's nothing there, it's a gap called a synapse. That space between is the most critical part of our neural impulses, the same way the interactions between us help define the organizations we work within.  Karen has built a culture of openness and respect, a breeding ground for new ideas that can come from anywhere, and not just the top.

We talk a lot about "you are what you eat", but I am beginning to think it might be more accurate to say, "you are who you follow". We should be careful about where we place our loyalties, and proud when we do so judiciously. But when you get to the top of the structure, who do the leaders follow?

If you are lucky, they follow values.

Karen has been a champion of values-based leadership since coming here, and not just our corporate values like Quality, Service and Accountability, but other, personal values I have come to expect from the leaders I choose to follow and not just work for. Values like honesty. Courage. Humility. Gratitude.

Karen has these values in spades, and has pointed to them throughout her time here as our leader. Now she is leaving, and that sucks, but the values remain, easy for us to find because Karen has pointed them out to us, like a compass. Navigating the way to a secure future, a better way of doing things, is the greatest gift a leader can give to her subordinates, and Karen has given us that.

Thank you Karen, for the leadership you've shown us, the gifts you've given us, and the values that will keep us moving forward after you've gone.

Karen's face was kind of crestfallen when I finished, and I was terrified that I had either overstepped my bounds, missed the point, or disappointed her with my hastily cobbled together speech, but this was not the case. "We totally should have had everyone hear that!" she cried. "Why didn't you say that when you were at the mic?"

"Well, it might have been because somebody was getting pretty upset at the amount of presentations and speeches already being done..." I offered.

A chagrined nod of complicity, "It was me, wasn't it?"

"I'm afraid so."

She thanked me for my words and my assistance over the years and gave me a hug. We had a few more words, and then said our goodbyes. I'm dearly going to miss that lady and the conversations I had with her.

I've been lucky to have had some great bosses over the years, all of whom have taught me something about leadership in some fashion, albeit in very different ways. I'm fervently hoping that this continues to be the case, but the truth is, Karen's shoes are not only big ones to fill, but have heels on them too. Here's hoping for the best!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Ballistic But Balanced - Wonder Woman, Reviewed

Adaptations are a tricky business; oft times the work being adapted is from a different time, perhaps with an ethos or morality which has shifted or become unpopular over the years. Or maybe there is a political subtext needs to either be incorporated or disregarded, or a Balkanized fanbase that can't stop arguing with itself long enough to determine what it really wants from an adaptation.

Wonder Woman is all that and more; for all the character's longevity, visual cachet and comic-book idealism, transforming her into a summer tentpole blockbuster has been a challenge that has thwarted some of Hollywood's best. Consider, for instance, that the character was created by a polyamorous psychologist with a keen understanding and interest in B&D nearly three quarters of a century ago, and how her brand now has to incorporate a staggering amount of comic continuity, a campy but beloved 1970s tv show, and an invisible jet even though she is an Amazon who can fly. Well, maybe it isn't all that surprising that this adaptation took over a decade to come to fruition, but this Wonder Woman was definitely worth the wait.

Back in 2005, Patty Jenkins was winning accolades for writing and directing Monster, which garnered Charlize Theron an Oscar win for actress in a leading role. She was approached to make a Wonder Woman movie, but became pregnant and had to step down. Joss Whedon was brought in as a writer/director, but some time later had to step away as well, unable to come up with a story that appeased both his inner vision and the commercial needs of Warner Bros.

Getting a woman in the driver's seat has seemed long overdue for this genre, and Michelle Mclaren, with producer credits for both The X-Files and Breaking Bad was brought in, but left over creative differences. Intriguingly enough, the wheel came to a stop back on Patty Jenkins, who had been short-listed for the Thor sequel, which would have been her first feature film since Monster. Given the demands and expectations put upon her by millions of demanding fans, an anxious studio, and the need to play within the continuity being drawn out by the architect of the DC Extended Universe, Zack Snyder, I'm astonished she took the gig, but incredibly grateful she did.

Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg have tied together an entrancing story with one foot set in the classical world of Greek mythology and another in the brutal trenches of First World War Europe. Her direction is solid, taking equal joy in the peacefully martial society of the Amazons of Themyscira and the dazzling action scenes on the battlefield.

Comic history and fan service is woven throughout, but never to the point where a newcomer would feel left out. Diana's comic origins of being sculpted from clay and given life by Zeus is still here, but in the form of a bedtime story told to pacify a little girl who is so much more than she is being told. The origins of the Amazons themselves is told as a bedtime story, with animated illustrations which take their cues in layout from Neal Adams and George Perez, but their execution in the style of Titian or Botticelli. This style gets references time and again during the film, and in the inevitable and anticipated Reveal that all good comic movies have, I couldn't help but think of Botticelli's Birth of Venus.

Gal Gadot is one reason why, and is undoubtedly the best casting coup DC and WB have made in building their own cinematic universe. In addition to being gorgeous (she competed in the 2004 Miss Universe pageant as Miss Israel at age 18), she radiates strength, confidence and animus in her fight scenes (she began her mandatory service in the Israeli Defense Forces at age 20). Her fearsome aspect is almost terrifying to behold, but watching her amazement at hearing a baby on the streets of London or her delight at trying ice cream for the first time is completely beguiling.

Her male counterpart and foil, Steve Trevor, is ably handled by Chris Pine, in his, what, 4th potential franchise now? (Princess Diaries, Rise of the Guardians, Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, and of course, James T. Kirk in Star Trek). Now, I like Chris Pine but he is one of those actors who is almost too good looking to take seriously, and seems suited to bigger than life roles like Kirk and Trevor, but he imbues the character with a well calibrated mix of swagger and humility, of belief and skepticism. He gets a chance to display both action and comedic chops, and he never forgets that despite being a good-looking pilot, soldier, spy and adventurer, he is not the star of the movie.

The film really ticks along and does not drag out its 141 minutes. Part of this is due to great pacing, and quiet scenes that keep you involved and develop characters instead of spelling out exposition (the one where Diana explains that the conclusion of the 12-volume treatise she read on physical pleasure was that men are necessary for reproduction but superfluous for gratification was tremendously welldone), but I think a lot of it is also due to the filmmakers craftily balancing a number of disparate elements.

Before you get bored of the marble of Themyscira ('Paradise Island as Trevor calls it, another great little nod to the comics), we move to the grit of London and thence to the trenches. The gloom of humanity's first global and mechanized war is offset by genuine humour and camaraderie, especially amongst the intercultural dogs of war that end up accompanying Diana and Trevor in their quests to stop both a devastating chemical weapon and Ares, the god of war. Optimism and cynicism are balanced out as well.

It was a great time, and the three ladies that I saw it with all loved the film, as well as the fact that there is, at long last, a female-starring superhero film, directed by a woman. If you have a daughter older than 12, you really need to take her to this film. The film's focus on fighting for what is important but the importance of doing so with love really resonated with me, and is a fantastic antidote to the cynical isolationism and populism we see playing out in the news of the world.

It is by no means a perfect movie, with a couple of missteps and some instances of rough looking CGI that permeate this kind of event picture, but in the end, Wonder Woman is a good story, well told, that looks, well, wonderful.

And it seems I am not the only one who thinks so. After playing second fiddle to Marvel ever since Christopher Nolan wrapped up his Batman trilogy, DC and Warner Bros. can finally hold their heads up high, with both a 96% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and early signs of a fantastic opening weekend. A sequel, helmed again by Patty Jenkins, seems all but certain.

Can they sustain this current swell of goodwill through Wonder Woman's next appearance in this November's Justice League? Who can say? Zack Snyder is a gifted visual storyteller who simply has a drastically different view of heroism than I do, but he has left JL following the recent and tragic suicide of his adult daughter. Joss Whedon, currently working on a screenplay for a Batgirl movie he will direct, has stepped in to finish off the film, finally getting a chance to work on the character he had such high hopes for a decade ago.

I am bound to go and see it, of course, and I am bit apprehensive, but Wonder Woman (the movie, not the character; she only goes by Diana in the film) has done what she should always do: she has given me hope for the future.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Water from the Rock

For years now, we've spent the May long weekend with members of our church and their families at Rundle's Mission on Pigeon Lake. It's a lovely spot with a fascinating history that predates a lot of the settlements in that part of the province. We play bocce and bolaball, share meals, and play boardgames in the evenings when the mosquitoes take over the outdoors.

On this visit however, I found my attention drawn to an artesian well found just off the boardwalk that takes visitors to the sites of some of the original missionary settlements from the 1840s.

It bubbles out of the ground unassumingly, meanders down a hillside and then under the road and into the lake.

On our earliest visits here, the girls loved to visit what they called 'the babbling brook'. Many a young visitor trudged back to the lodge with a soaked shoe after their sneaker failed to maintain its purchase on a mossy rock in the creek, but it is far too shallow to cause much more distress than that.

Sunday afternoon, I walked out on the boardwalk and spent some time by the spring, fascinated by the appearance of water, seemingly from nowhere, with only the faintest rippling to indicate any sort of motion at all. The pool itself maintains the same level, as if by magic.

I turned my attention to the path taken by the stream, meandering this way and that, drawn by gravity to the lake, making its way in a shallow bed that alternated between rocky and muddy as it passed underneath some fallen trees.

The sun was bright, when I squinted my eyes against it, it was easier to hear not only the sound of the water, but other sounds as well.
- the whistle of wind through the poplar.
- the tweeting of unfamiliar birdsong, as well as robins and blackbirds.
- the occasional crack as a swaying branch or trunk was pushed past its limit.
- the staccato tapping of a large woodpecker, which eluded my best efforts to spot him.
It's astonishing to me how much sanctity exists in such places. The Irish speak sometimes of what they call 'thin spaces', suggesting that there are spots where perhaps the veil between the world we understand and everything else is more permeable. I'd always imagined such places to be more soulbound; perhaps the site of a great battle or a haunting loss, or a familial tragedy.

Who knows, though; perhaps a spot where geological factors align and allow a subterranean aquifer to trickle forth onto the earth and into a lake could be a thin space as well. I felt no real presence, per se, nor any energy or suchlike, but I did experience a tranquility that has become rarer and rarer in modern life.

I can't tell you how much time I spent there; if I had found a comfortable place to sit, I might be there still.

Monday, May 22, 2017

A Gathering for the Demi-Centurion

Eleven days ago I turned 50.

I don't mind telling you, it did my head in a little bit. I didn't feel significantly different and certainly no wiser on Thursday than I had on Wednesday,but this particular milestone had more of an effect on me than I had anticipated.

For most of my adult life, I've striven to maintain a certain degree of immaturity in a number of small ways, including the title of this very blog. The expression, "Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional" has become a bit of a rallying cry for me and many of my friends, it seems.

It annoys me to no end when people are exceedingly coy about their age, and many seemed surprised to hear I was turning 50, which is extremely gratifying, but then encourages me to let even more people know. By the end of the week, the clerk in the grocery store saying, "That will be $124.50," would be likely to hear, "I'm turning 50! Crazy world, innit?" in response, and that's not right either.

Mind you, others would crack wise about me not looking a day over 58, so perhaps it all balances out.

Quick sidebar: on the day of my birthday, my co-workers also completely surprised me with a Marble Slab ice cream cake! Working with awesome people is simply tremendous!
Jenny put the impromptu celebration together, as well as captioning the photo; I warned her that she is required by law to advise her subjects that her iPhone has a mind-reading app.

At any rate, after almost a decade of smaller scale birthdays, I decided it was high time to expand a bit. With Pete willing to loan me his kegerator (and facilitate the purchase of 20L of Alley Kat Amber), I hoped a night of burgers and brews would be enough to draw people out to our modest abode.

Previous parties had tapped out my theme ideas though (Hawaii Four-Oh, a Big Lebowski night with housecoats and Wii bowling), so I went with something accessible and asked people to Party Like Rockstars, and to wear their favourite band or concert shirts.

The day before the party I decided the burgers needed to be amped up a smidgen, and bought a whackload of bacon at Costco along with the cake, salads, and the other party staples.

Glory helped me to prep some cookie sheets so we could cook all the bacon at one go, which is good, because grilling up 60 burgers took a bit longer than expected (and over a liter of Cattle Boyz bbq sauce).

However, after a couple of Rammstein-looking hours, they were all tucked into the oven awaiting deployment, and I had just enough time to fish out the concert videos I wanted playing and stick up the last of the decorations.

Now, my appreciation for my friends is a matter of public record, but I had never attempted to mix so many different social circles together before, even at our Oscar party. We had two or three fairly distinct socio-cultural sets, plus my mum, my sister and her family, plus people from church  and a cohort from my workplace. One old buddy was coming all the way from Calgary and I hadn't even seen him in person yet this year! Would they have anything to talk about? Would they get along?

Turns out I needn't have worried.

After a false start with the keg followed by a rapid away team mission searching for CO2 in the west end of the city, it seemed like no time at all before a ton of well-wishers were ensconced in my basement (and a handful upstairs to boot), chatting, having a pint, and watching Muse in concert from the Rome Olympic Stadium.

I spent much of the evening just trying to catch up with folk and thank them for coming, but there was also time for laughs and toasts, and selfies with as many people in concert shirts as I could manage. I missed a lot and wished I had been more on top of things, so if I didn't get a chance to selfie it up with you, my apologies!

I was especially impressed with the church folk who got their offspring to help dress them and committed so wholeheartedly to the theme. Y'all genuinely ROCK.

Truth be told, our place is probably a bit small for three-dozen partiers, but the cool, wet weather conspired against us and restricted us to the indoors. I wouldn't have described it as crowded necessarily though, maybe just cozy.

Soon enough the cake was brought out, the song was sung, and after some teasing, I was asked to say a few words.

And you know, what? It was HARD. So many feelings about the scope and scale of wonderful people in my life; I tried to convey the sense of gratitude and privilege and inadequacy at being the hub of such a magnificent wheel. I don't think I did it justice, but I think the feeling came through anyways.

And besides, it's not like I'm going to stop articulating my thanks just because my birthday is over.

Not as many people stayed on to play Rock Band as I had hoped, but the usual suspects still got a few licks in before we finally pulled the pin at 3:30 am. Not bad for an offically auld fella, eh?

Best of all though were all the comments I heard afterwards:

"So nice to finally meet the friends you are always talking about!"

"I loved talking to your Mum, and her dog is ADORABLE."

"Glad you brought the church folk over to liven things up!"

"You work with such awesome people."

"Your sister was a treat to talk to!"

It's all a bit humbling but an encouraging reminder of the sheer number of tremendously awesome people I am fortunate enough to be able to call my friends. If you couldn't make it, no worries, we will catch you another time, but if you did manage to make it, even for a little while, I am grateful that the Venn diagram of my demicentennial could bring us all together, even for a single evening. Cheers, all.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

G&G XII - Races, Chases, Fights, Escapes and Coins

Due to a particularly overscheduled May this year, Gaming & Guinness XII was moved to the first weekend of the month, but this did little to prevent us from having a wonderful time, as usual.

What began as a Fri-Sun event over a decade ago has undergone significant schedule creep in the intervening years, to the point where most of us were on site and ready to go late Wednesday afternoon. In fact, most of us got together for lunch at Five Guys before splitting up: Pete to deliver the keg to the venue, Jeff and Rob to the Airport to pick up Island Mike, and myself and Totty to the dealership so he could pick up his sweet Focus RS which had finally arrived.

Pete and I were the first ones back to the house, and kicked off the event with the first of many pints of the black stuff.

Once we had all reconvened at Belongamick, we got into the games, with a couple of unconventional debuts. The first was Vintage Miniature Deathmatch, a homegrown concoction utilizing an old set of man-to-man combat rules (The Fantasy Trip: Melee) designed by Steve Jackson before he started his own company, combined with some of the oldest miniatures I possess.

Some of these had come out of the old Grenadier D&D characters box I had persuaded my folks to get me when I was 13, most were pretty awfully painted!

Melee uses a fairly elegant set of mechanics, actually: 24 points spread across 2 stats, Strength and Dexterity. The higher your Strength, the bigger and more damaging a weapon you can use, but you have to roll under your Dexterity to score a hit with it. Armor negates hits, but modifies your Dex even further downwards and slows your movement as well.

Jeff's platemailed fighter with greatsword spent most of the game just getting into the fight, and still found it difficult to connect.

The idea is that once a miniature is killed in the arena it can never return, so if we ever return to this game, three players have to find new models in the motley assortment I had provided. I almost immediately regretted taking a slinger, but will push him into the fracas much more quickly the next time we play!

After devouring the pizzas we'd ordered for dinner, Rob and Island Mike unveiled this year's commemorative swag: beautifully executed challenge coins!

These are a military tradition that has been picked up by many other groups, including the Residence Life program at my alma mater. The idea is that once you receive such a coin, you can be called upon any other bearer to produce it, and if you cannot, you are on the hook for buying the next drink or performing some manner of service.

Since we have two teetotallers and drink communally when together anyways, we need to sort out some parameters pretty quickly here, but it was fun doing 'coin checks' for practice anyways.

After supper we played JenG&Ga, an upscaled version of the tower blocks game with drinking rules written on various pieces (give one, take 2, etc)

Strangely enough, we have never played a drinking game at G&G (never needed to!) but this one was pretty fun, and I am confident it will make a return appearance as well.

The dice-based version of Bang! made an appearance, as did Exploding Kittens for the first time, and perennial favourite and guilty pleasure Pimp: The Backhanding.

The evening was fun but ended at a civilized enough hour that the next day, we were able to actually get a game in before lunchtime, and played 7 Wonders. It is a wonderful game, combining luck and skill in an intriguing manner, and supported by cards with wonderful art. It can also make you carefully choose where you sit, as you can only trade and war with your immediate neighbours.

An even rarer occurrence that pre-noon gaming was time spent outside, but the weather was too nice to pass up, so we enjoyed some time in 'the blue room' as some call it, and played a few games of Bolaball.

By the end of this year, half of the eight members we had on hand will be at least 50, but it was still a bit discouraging that so many of us found ways to excuse ourselves to take naps in the afternoon after the fresh air and sunshine had exacted their toll on us.

After supper, Earl arrived from his new job, enabling us to get in a big game of Star Fleet Battles in an every-man-for-himself, random objective match.

My D-7 got caught in the explosion from another Klingon ship that I caused with (frankly) excessive disruptor fire, and was vanquished shortly thereafter. I believe Scott's Constitution Class and Island Mike's battlecruiser were the only ones left standing by games's end, and Mike was juuuust outside the range he needed to claim his objective. Rob's USS Poltava may have survived as well.

The next day saw us travel to Escape City to partake in their breakout room, Neurological. This was only the second time I'd done an escape room, and it was a first for most of the G&Gentlemen. A clever idea, that is brilliantly executed, the game is set inside the mind of a woman injured in a piano accident. You are immediately broken into two groups and sent to the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and need to establish contact with the other half in order to escape your respective sides and reconvene in the center for the final puzzles. Neurological only has a 20% success rate, but we managed to squeak through with two minutes to spare! Highly recommended.

Earl again joined us for supper after work, but the mysterious disappearance of the host's tortellini put a number of the group to work cobbling together a delicious spaghetti dinner. Such fellowship is the real core of G&G, more so even than the titular drinking and pastimes it revolves around, and I couldn't resist asking Scott to commemorate it with a photo from my selfie stick.

After dinner we broke out Formula Dé, a favourite of mine because it lets up to ten players game at once. It was also our first on the Circuito De Estoril in Portugal, a blisteringly fast track in places.

I managed to eke out a win here, but others were more disheartened by the Oiler's loss to the Ducks due to a controversial call.

Afterwards we played some Jackbox party games on the PS4 I had brought along, including a combative t-shirt design game called Tee K.O. Most of the entries ended up being unsuitable for publication, but one winner used my slogan and art, referencing a gaming quote that has been in our circles for probably thirty years now.

Yeah, I think we will very likely need a future post to decrypt that particular reference.

We kicked off Saturday with a game of Wits and Wagers, an exceedingly clever game that combines trivia with betting, and I provided the questions for that, culminating with "The President of the U.S. is always accompanied by an officer with a briefcase called the 'nuclear football', as it contains the codes necessary for launching America's missiles; how much does it weigh?" Players make their guesses, then they are arranged in order on the board and players bet on what they feel is the closest answer without going over. The extreme ends provide the highest odds, and the person who guessed closest gets a bonus as well. (Oh, and the briefcase weighs about 45 pounds, according to Wikipedia.)

In the afternoon, Earl trotted out a well thought out X-Wing scenario, with prearranged ships and pilots with all their respective upgrades in place. This accelerated things immensely compared to last year, and finally gave the elegant mechanics of this prepainted miniatures game a chance to shine.

Sadly, our Rebel's attempts to race off with a prototype TIE Fighter and defecting pilots was undone by the Empire, who withstood our attempt to run an oblique line on them, and gunned us down with ruthless efficiency. (Apparently the pilots have better gunnery instructors than the Stormtroopers do...)

After a run for propane and the resulting later-than-planned steak dinner, the most highly anticipated event was held: the Circvs Maximus chariot race!

With three of the eight contestants fielding heavy chariots (with scythed wheels), I fully anticipated a full-on bloodbath, but this year's event had a well balanced mix of racing and ramming, with everyone focused on finishing the race, not just eliminating their opponents!

Once again the walls proved to be a deadly element, and three players ended up wrecking their chariots in the corners.

Jeff has his name on the Circvs Maximvs trophy more than anyone, even finishing first in a heavy last year, and tore through the turns with reckless abandon this time, including one roll at seven over the safe speed. Alas it was enough to get him to the podium but not to the top, as I won the event for the first time ever (and probably only my third CM victory ever in the 10+ years we've been playing it)!

With the game finishing as late as it did, there was not much else to do afterwards, and so we called it a night, although some of us stayed up until an unreasonable hour.

The next day, after the out-of-towners had been ferried to the airport, and I had packed up a Flex-load of games and suchlike, Mike, Pete and I sat down for a final game of Turbulence, possibly the best three-player game I have ever encountered.

And then it was done.

Some years it feels like there is more emphasis on gaming, some years it is more about the Guinness (or this year, Pete's divine keg of Alley Kat Amber this), but Gaming & Guinness XII felt like one of our better efforts to balance game-playing, beer-drinking, and shared fellowship.

The event persists as a basic and yet sublime reminder of how much all of us enjoy each other's company while partaking in simple pleasures. I'm already looking forward to G&G XIII, and I know I am not alone!