Official music page and soapbox of Matt Snell

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Untitled - New Track

I just finished a second track for my new album, hot on the heels of "Who's Rustling in my Woods?" That one is a cartoon, so I thought I'd even things out a little by posting a sincere followup. Although "Untitled" will ultimately have more impact as a late-album closer, I think it stands up well on its own for the time being.

I wrote this one a long time ago; I assumed at some point a title would suggest itself, but nothing ever seemed to fit. It's been around so long a new name would make it feel foreign, and thematically I suppose lacking one is appropriate. Lyrically it's one of the songs I'm most proud of, and I hope you think the arrangement suits. Without further ado, here is:

Sunday 27 May 2012

A Comprehensive Guide to Eating Greasy Breakfast in Peterborough

(Updated 15/04/13)

I am a connoisseur of greasy spoons. Whether they remind me of the places I dined as a child, or whether I picked up a fascination watching film noir and reading Beat fiction, I cannot get enough. Bacon, eggs, potatoes and toast are not only a one hundred percent effective hangover cure, they are also North America's single greatest contribution to world cuisine. Wherever I travel, I keep an eye open for those out-of-the-way nooks that look like they haven't changed a thing in decades, and that goes double for my home turf. With that in mind I present to you this survey, comprehensive to the best of my knowledge, of the greasy breakfasts available in Peterborough.

After more than two years, I am finally publishing my results. Still, this is not a survey of all the breakfasts in Peterborough. To save time and keep costs down, I have limited my search to only places serving bacon, eggs, potatoes and toast, although I did not consider it unscientific to occasionally  order eggs Benedict instead. Very occasionally, when I arrived long after noon, I substituted a reuben (I am also a connoisseur of reuben sandwiches). Although I fancy my palette reasonably sophisticated, food quality was not the only criteria by which I made my judgments. Equally important to the success or failure of a greasy spoon is the quality of quintessence - whether it evokes a sense of dinerly "rightness" or just seems drab, neuter, or contrived. Nostalgia is a huge factor, but any diner attempting to exploit it outright received a punitively low grade. Service is also a consideration, and must be either very friendly or amusingly surly to receive full marks. With that in mind, I present to you my findings.

N.B: the term "greasy" is not a pejorative when used in this sense. "Greasy breakfast" is simply shorthand for bacon, eggs, potatoes and toast, and I mean no offensive to the chefs who serve it up!

1. The East City Coffee Shop: The undisputed reigning champion of the Peterborough breakfast scene. The 'Shop receives maximum points for a quintessential vibe streets ahead of the competition, further enhanced by the banter of the Albanian proprietors, which contains a very real note of passive aggression towards each other and occasionally their clientele. It doesn't get in the way of their serving up a killer breakfast, which includes hands down the thickest bacon in town, a generous helping of their distinctive, spiced-to-perfection potatoes, and lovely runny yolks that erupt from the over-easy eggs when you pierce them with a corner of toast.

Note this is not the cheapest breakfast on the list, but you get what you pay for. Nitpickers might deduct marks for this diner's practice of charging for coffee by the cup, rather than offering free refills. I don't like it either, but in my mind it's made up for by the fact that the place is nearly always full of patrons who never seem to leave. They sit on their stools reading newspapers and ask questions like, "How's Hal today?" "Just fine Gary, how are you?" You can't put a price on that.

Note this place is sometimes mistakenly called "The East City Diner."

2. The Only Cafe: Not exactly a greasy spoon, this trendy joint is nonetheless a Sunday morning standby. More than that, depending on who you ask, the Only is either a hub of Peterborough cultural life, or a cesspool of malicious gossip. Either way, their "Cowboy Breakfast" is one of the few to offer the East City Coffee Shop any real competition, and they make a hell of an eggs Benedict, too (if you opt for the eggs Benedict, get the salad option with it, it makes the plate look a lot less lonely). Unquestionably the place to go if it's a nice day and you want to eat outside, but don't go if you're already starving. It can take up to an hour to get your meal, and woe betide the customer who hurries the staff. The dumpster out back is filled with their dismembered remains.

Friendly and obliging staff do work there, but the reputation is not exactly undeserved. Rebecca once ordered without specifying how she liked her eggs, and the waitress replied, "Details, I need details!"

3. Mark's Finer Diner: Technically this place is outside of the Peterborough city limits, but no list of this kind would be complete without it. Go for their "Breakfast Marché," served Saturdays, Sundays, and holiday Mondays. You can watch a real chef make your omelet to order, or just keep ordering rounds of eggs Benny until you burst. There is also a vat of comingled breakfast meats (the usual suspects - bacon, sausage and ham), a waffle bar, all the potatoes you can eat, and various other goodies such as croissants and fruits. The impression is that they genuinely care about serving up a good breakfast, and at $9.99 you can't really go wrong.

There is so much interest on the walls you can feast  your eyes as well on bow and arrows, mounted muskies, and old road signs. I've had to deduct a few marks for quintessence that occasionally goes too far, though. In one booth there is a sign that says "Sexual Harassment Will Not Be Reported; However, It Will Be Graded," and in the bathroom there is a poster listing "Ten Reasons It's Great to Be a Guy."

Queensway Restaurant (685 The Queensway): After the East City Coffee Shop, the Queensway earns the highest marks in quintessence. If I ever shoot a movie about the converging life stories of a hardscrabble trucker, a preacher who just stole $100,000, a returning war vet in love with the struggling single mom who works double shifts as a waitress, the worst bowling team in the league fighting to finally win that trophy, a plumber addicted to back pain meds, a dignified deaf mute and a brilliant blogger, I'm going to shoot it in here. I can forgive a lot for quintessence, including a breakfast which isn't really in the same league as some of the best on this list. Everything was good, but our potatoes were dark brown verging on black. They didn't taste burnt, and it's possible we hit it on an off bad day.

The Queensway also earns the distinction of having the highest marks for service on this list. Rebecca and I noticed the welcoming vibe as soon as we walked in, and later we heard a member of a weekly breakfast club sing the praises of Pam, the best waitress in town. She deserves an award of some kind, because said breakfast club changed joints just to follow her. We also liked that the place was full to bursting even though it's in the middle of nowhere.

Docker's: On the surface, there's nothing to Docker's that sets it apart from competition, but Rebecca and I have been back several times. Maybe that's because it's kind of a median diner, meeting all the criteria with a pleasing unpretentiousness and serving good eats cheap. If you're just looking for a place to pass a quiet Sunday or nurse a hangover without in-your-face kitsch and snappy banter, try Docker's. You'll command a magnificent view of heavy traffic on Landsdowne St., a view so bleak it almost seems soothing.

Fifties Good Time Cafe (590 Monaghan Rd): Usually abbreviated to "The Fifties Cafe," I knew I would like this place as soon as I saw the "Good Time" on the sign outside. It's not a quintessential diner, more like a shrine. There's a good helping of authentically old furniture, along with posters of more recent vintage showing sockhoppin' teenagers. The effect isn't overwhelming, but it manages to be tacky and sweet as opposed to corporate and contrived. I seem to remember a steady stream of doo-wop coming over the radio.

I was prepared to put this baby in the top five, but unfortunately the breakfast didn't really impress. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, but the meagre serving of potatoes forced me to steal from the plates of others. Prices are fair, though. I'd recommend this place to diner completists and anyone drawn to roadside attractions.

P.S: Know why it's called a sock hop? Because they used to make kids take off their shoes so they wouldn't scrape the gymnasium floor with their crazy dance moves.

Two Fifty Cafe (250 Sherbrooke St): Granted I visited this place a long time ago, but I don't remember much about it and I have a suspicion that's not my fault. Neither the decor nor the food make a statement you'll remember ten minutes after you leave. There's a rumour going around that breakfast is only two fifty a plate, but I'd encourage anyone who's spread it to look at the address.

Smitty's (139 George St. N): Even though Smitty's is close to our house, Rebecca and I left Smitty's until near the end of our explorations. It exudes a Corporate Family Restaurant atmosphere antithetical to what a good diner should really be all about. Still, it's the only place we've had to wait for a table. The designers have done a fairly good job of using freestanding brick walls to break up a huge space into something that feels reasonably private, but the shades of paint everywhere else will suck the life out of you. The best part of Smitty's is undoubtedly the menu, which is full of pictures of people having screeching laughing fits at packed tables or spoonfeeding each other eggs. It gives the impression they are working very hard to be as good as Denny's.

Unfortunately, the high cost of models has driven up prices, because everything in the menu is at least three dollars more expensive than anywhere else. I had the eggs Benedict, and they served it with a few potatoes on a plate so large I felt a distinct tug of horror vacui. Their only other interesting practice is leaving a carafe of coffee on the table, which is good if you are fiending but bad if you are looking for forced banter or trying to see how many extra cups you can squeeze out of the waitress before she starts avoiding your table.

Captain George's Fish and Family Restaurant (91 George St. N): I might not go far out of my way for a plate of Captain George's, but as far as breakfast joints go it has cornered the tacky nautical niche. The deals are so irresistible I was compelled to order three eggs, a thing I never do. Something about those checkered tablecloths always inspires me to be lavish.

Incidentally, if you're looking for fish and chips in faux-maritime surroundings, I'd say Jeff Purvey's has it over the old Captain (I can't do a complete survey of fish and chips restaurants, my gut won't handle it).

The Aviemore (398 McDonnel St): The Aviemore has the air of quintessence, but nothing you can really hang your hat on. When I visited it had a fresh coat of paint and the decorations were fashionably neuter. I arrived late in the day so I ordered a reuben instead, and although I've never met a reuben I didn't like, I had to slather each bite with mustard before it really started to savour. To me the Aviemore seemed to typify an all-too-common Ontarian belief that strong flavour is to be mistrusted. Several people I know speak affectionately about the Aviemore, though, so it probably deserves a second chance.

The Monaghan Cafe (1017 Monaghan Rd): The Monaghan Cafe reminds me of the Aviemore, one rung further upscale. The colour scheme is dark instead of light, and the wall hangings - flowers in bloom - are a tad more distinctive. It's not indispensable in terms of atmosphere, but I did find it cozy enough and appreciated that the Hollandaise sauce on my eggs Benny was spicy. I think if were with a group of family and friends and didn't know how deeply their taste for quintessence ran, I'd steer them towards the Monaghan Cafe.

Starlight Dining Lounge (809E Chemong Rd): I confess that I came to the Starlight long after dark, so its inclusion on the breakfast list is not entirely fair. I don't care, I can't go back. When we first slid into the booth we giggled over our find because it seemed to have quintessence in spades, right down to the Christmas decorations hanging from the ceiling tiles that should've long since come down. The longer we watched, however, and saw the wheezy clientele undo their pants to fit another bite of Salisbury steak, or shuffle past the counter to grab a fistful of mints as they made for the door, the more the atmosphere became indistinguishable from a retirement home cafeteria. As this form of squalor began to seem my ultimate fate as well I found less and less joy in my reuben. When I went to bathroom, the most featureless I have ever seen, I noticed someone had scrawled the single solitary word "Penis" on the new paint beside the hand dryer. Not recommended.

Speakeasy Pub and Eatery (362 George St. N): I wanted to like the Speakeasy more than I did. It's right downtown, a little scruffy but not unsanitary, and an odd shape. You may not notice the latter until you actually enter, because the windows make it hard to see in. There seems to be some nascent Prohibition theme, but it is confused by artwork featuring roosters and fat Italian chefs that gives you the lurking suspicion you've seen it before in other restaurants. The service is friendly, the coffee flows, but the fries are freezer fresh, and that I cannot forgive. A completist will enjoy their stay, but anyone in Peterborough for the weekend could do better.

The Old Henhouse Country Kitchen (597 Monaghan Rd): This is another seemingly-out of the way joint that packs 'em in like you'd never expect. If I were to remove my food critic's cap and don my anthropologist's hat, I could fill pages wondering about the breakfast rituals of Ontarians. Unfortunately I'm still dressed as a food critic, and I didn't like the Old Henhouse much. Because it was so crowded, Rebecca and I got a table by a noisy standing fan and a freezer the cook was constantly opening and closing. Unlike the Only Cafe, which justifies long wait times with a relaxed environment, I just wanted my greasy breakfast but it was long in coming. The meal was fine when it came, but with so many other options I think we'll leave the Old Henhouse to its stalwart regulars.

The Hide-A-Way (540 Romaine St.): Although we usually pass over the Hide-A-Way in favour of some of the heavy hitters on this list, it's a nice joint and worth your time. Like Dockers, the quintessence won't strike you in the face when you first come in, but it is genuine and cozy. They offer a potato casserole option in addition to the usual hashbrowns that's pretty tasty, and your breakfast won't break the bank.

Thurston's (769 Lock St.): It took us awhile before we discovered Thurston's, but it turned out to be worth the wait. Like the Old Henhouse or the Queensway, locals come out of the woodwork every weekend for breakfast. The owners have personalized the quintessence with a hockey shrine along one wall, and in general the vibe is casual and lived-in. The meal didn't quite challenge the top three, but the ingredients were quality and the plating harmonious.

Charlotte Anne's (390 Queen St): Charlotte Anne's is located in by far the nicest building on this list, a renovated old brick home with high ceilings, soft lighting and rich old wood. Every order comes with a complementary side of treacle, served on the walls in the form of inspirational quotes such as "Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take out breath away," "A day is lost... Without Laughter," and "To Enjoy the True Flavour of Life Take Big Bites." The quotations are nothing if not upbeat, but so prescriptive they begin to feel oppressive and cheapen the elegance of a stately old building. Whatever quibbles I have with the decoration, Charlotte Anne's is undone by its freezer fries - you simply cannot to expect to top this list without making your own homefries. Although we couldn't say for sure, we strongly suspected that our gnarly, dried-up bacon had been deep-fried. I won't be back for the food, but at least I know where to go when I need my fix of motherly platitudes.

Van Veen's (190 Simcoe St.): Van Veen's gets a bad rap because it's inside the bus station. To fans of quintessence, however, that's a major plus. Inside, it has all the right trappings for your last meal before catching that Greyhound to the great unknown. It also scores big on service - for awhile we though the waiter was just a friendly fellow patron, until he finally asked us for our order. We liked the homefries, which were served with tomatoes and green pepper. If you like the East City Coffee Shop but aren't in the mood for caustic banter, Van Veen's might be your next best bet.

Planet Bakery (374 Water St.): The Planet doesn't really qualify for a spot on this list, but in fairness to my vegetarian friends I decided to include it. The Planet has bold, funky decor with a strong Mexican influence, and the vintage touches are the real deal. If my ethics or digestion prohibited me from enjoying some of the other breakfasts on the list, I'd be at the Planet all the time. You'll pay a little more than most of the places on this list, but get it back in food, atmosphere, and service.

The Whistle Stop Cafe (141 Charlotte St.): I have been told that the Whistle Stop serves a good breakfast, but truth to tell I haven't had it. I have been in after last call, when the place fills up with jostling, vomiting drunkards lined up for a bucket of poutine. You can get "gourmet" poutines with toppings like marshmallows, smoked meat, and ravioli, but most of it ends up in the garbage cans and doorways of George St fifteen minutes later. To be fair, this has very little to do with the Whistle Stop and much to do with hard-drinking culture, and a city needs places for late night eats. That said, the nacho poutine I had once was an error in judgment, and one I'm not ready to forgive quite yet.

Wimpy's (228 Charlotte St): I was prepared to dislike Wimpy's far more than I actually did. Being a chain, I figured I would be force-fed a sanitized nostalgia along with a little processed meat. Instead, they brought me a hearty eggs Benny with a side of real potatoes, and they were quite friendly about it. The signage that covers every surface is gimmicky, but there is enough of it to keep you occupied for some time, and a few good surprises. If you had a mind to, I suppose you could eat in a different booth every day and take it all in a little at a time. As far as chains go, Wimpy's is streets ahead of Smitty's.

PJ's Diner (Somewhere on Highway 7): This place is a little ways out of town, but on a route we drive often to visit our families. Eventually we succumbed to the temptation and pulled over, into the little gas station-cum-diner on 7. PJ is obviously enamoured of Wimpy, because he has copped the latter's decor and thin-sliced potato recipe. Having fewer zany signs means that the kitsch is a little more strained, and I docked marks for one sign with faux rust around its edges. I started wondering if diners actually looked like this in the fifties, before everything had faded and warped, then I began to wonder if people sixty years ago were really this infatuated with advertisements. I did chuckle at one sign that said "Coffee: If Your Hands Aren't Shaking, You Need Another Cup," or something to that effect, and you can't deny the quintessence of a diner on an open stretch of highway. The meal was good, and as an added bonus on your way home from PJ's you can stop at Nostalgic Journey antiques emporium, which is the place to go if you need a hurricane lantern or vintage cattle dehorner.

Pete's Subs and Burgers (241 George St. N): Pete's has an attractive sign out front, and abstract art hangs on the walls inside. These little flourishes are nice but don't quite jive with the rest of the ambiance. The place is quite large, but I've never seen it fill up. The few clientele we saw sat alone looking unhappy. The chef was friendly, however. Breakfast is cheap and can be customized at about fifty cents per item for those who are really minding their pennies, but is served on a styrofoam plate with plastic cutlery. I was tempted, but did not order, the "chicken caeser." While you wait for your food you can amuse yourself with the aging arcade game, Police Trainer, which challenges you to shoot pixelated targets with blue and red light guns. We played, and the lefthand slot inexplicably cost more quarters than the right. There is a genuine type of quintessence to Pete's, but maybe not one you need to pay for, at least not if you've ever sat in a bus terminal before.

Piccadilly Restaurant (1080 Lansdowne St. W): The Piccadilly advertises an all-day breakfast, which I suppose is appropriate because the setting isn't really right for the early morning. It's quite dark inside, the better to show off their nifty hanging lamps. Apart from those, and a salad bar along one wall, there isn't really much to hang your hat on. I ordered the eggs Benedict, which came with the stingiest serving of Hollandaise sauce I've ever had, maybe a tablespoon between two English muffins. Chefs be warned - if you do that to me, you're bound to get flamed on The waitress also asked how I liked my eggs and what kind of toast I wanted with it, which should've been my clue they were clueless. Nothing was terrible about the place, but I'd have to think hard for a reason to go back.

Kelly's Cafe (1135 Lansdowne St. W): A better option for people stuck on Lansdowne in the AM is Kelly's, though the form it's quintessence takes may be too hardcore for some. There's virtually nothing on the walls, and the couple that were working when I was there were getting on in years, to the point I felt a little guilty asking them to wait on me. There were almost no customers when I went in, and they turned on the radio after I arrived. To relieve the emptiness I bought a paper and read up on the events of the day, so at least I left the place a little wiser. Breakfast was decent but nothing remarkable - some chewy bacon and slightly overcooked eggs, but at least the homefries showed they were still trying. 

Champ's (203 Simcoe St.): I avoided this place for a long time because of a disgusting exchanging I saw outside of it once. A drunken woman in a red shirt was sitting cross-legged on the front stoop, barfing into her lap. A man stumbling out of the bar nearly tripped over her, and seized the opportunity to ask, "Hey red shirt, wanna breed?" That wouldn't have been consensual or evolutionarily advisable, so I waited until the girl's friends came to her rescue before I continued home.

That little exchange made we wonder what exactly went on inside Champ's, but I never found out until a freak April ice storm knocked out our power. Rebecca and I hadn't had coffee or breakfast yet, so we braved the storm in search of a hot meal. The electricity was out in every block south of Simcoe, so Champ's was the first establishment we came to that was open. I was relieved to find it was kind of nice inside. Sports bars aren't my thing, but this one didn't have the kind of barren corporate atmosphere I've come to expect. The servers were friendly, and apparently on good terms with the clientele - our waitress asked the man at the next table, "Are we having beer or water today?"

The breakfast came with french fries instead of homefries, which disqualifies Champ's from serious competition. The cook hadn't quite managed to get the eggs over easy on any of his four tries, but he sprinkled them with some herbs to make up for it. I wouldn't go back for the breakfast, but I might consider going for a sporting event. Fingers crossed Canada makes it into the international axe-throwing finals.

Square Plates (836 Armour Rd): We checked this place out on the recommendation of a friend who said it specialized in Eastern European cuisine. I was ready to brunch on a bowl of fresh goulash, but the breakfast menu was strictly in the Canadian style. I asked to see the lunch menu, and the waitress handed me a flyspecked list of the same type of fare. I figured the specialties must be hiding under "Brunch Special," so I asked about that. The waitress said, "He doesn't do that anymore... the menus are pretty old." So we went with good old eggs and bacon. It did the trick, but didn't impress - the potatoes were glistening with oil, and the coffee was a bit sour. The owner obviously does care, because he came over to our table to apologize for running out of peameal bacon, and explained it was because he special orders a low-sodium variety. We overheard him telling the table next to us how he prepares gluten-free fish and chips. Unfortunately, Rebecca said her elbows were sticking to the table, and the atmosphere was pretty lifeless. The menu claims they chose the name Square Plates because "they do things a little differently," but we couldn't find much evidence to support that. And the edges on the plates are rounded, anyway.


If your breakfast ritual has begun to stagnate, I hope I have provided you with a few fresh ideas. Likewise, if you're from out of town, I hope I have inspired you to visit Peterborough one bright morning and sample our eggs and bacon. I have tried to be as thorough as possible, as well as ruthlessly honest, but if I have missed a spot please let me know ASAP and I will rush to correct my mistake. I feel a bit empty now that my quest is over, and I'd be thrilled to know there's still another greasy breakfast waiting for me somewhere I haven't tried...

Thursday 24 May 2012

Who's Rustling in My Woods? - New Track

I've been promising for weeks that I would release some tracks recorded with my new and improved recording setup, and though it took me far longer than I'd anticipated, I am pleased to announce I wasn't lying and the first track has finally arrived.

I've upgraded from my old studio-in-a-box hardware contraption to proper monitors, a better microphone, full-featured recording software, and acoustically treated my little room as much as possible. Although there's still plenty to learn, I think the results in terms of sound quality are a major improvement on anything that's come before. For my first release I've chosen the closest thing I've got to crowd-pleaser, "Who's Rustlin' in My Woods?" If you've ever helped out on the chorus live, I hope you like the way I've fleshed it out for the album.

One of the hang-ups that delayed new recordings was that while I sweat over technical details, the tracks became creatively inert. For this track I came up with an ingenious solution to counteract the problem - the mandolin that provides the hook is very, very broken. Until a few days ago, I had never even tried to strum it - it is ancient and belonged to grandmother, passed to me by my aunt as an heirloom. I never heard my grandmother play it, and I never took it out of the closet much myself. As you may or may not be able to tell from the photo, the bridge is half gone, the strings are rusty, the soundboard is warped, and some of the pegs are missing. There is also a massive crack that runs all the way up the back.

It sounds sublime. I love playing broken and homemade instruments, they come with fewer expectations. My grandmother's mandolin is too mangy to perform Bill Monroe-inspired licks, so I can't be disappointed by what I'm capable of making it do. I think it clinched "Who's Rustling?" This one's a backporch pseudobilly hoedown, and I've even thrown in a little something extra at the very end, because you've been so patient. Here goes, hope you dig it...

Alternate Link 

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Spelunking in Harold Town Conservation Area

My spiritual metabolism requires I visit new places on a regular basis; when I don't my soul gets fat and depressed. It gets harder to do the longer I live somewhere, but there are always new niches. With a bike and fair weather it's easier to root them out, and this week I found some oddities worth relating.

The Harold Town Conservation Area may or may not be defunct - there are few references to it online, and no official signs to mark it on Old Norwood Road. There is, however, space for parking and lots of clear trail. I found the park through a friend's description and Google maps, and there is at least plenty of information on its namesake. Harold Town was a Canadian abstract painter in the style of Picasso, famous enough in his time to have work acquired by the Guggenheim and the MoMA and to win awards in Yugoslavia. He died in Peterborough in 1990, when I'm guessing he  granted his property to the city to create the park.

I didn't confirm that last part, but while I'm guessing, let's assume he was also an avid mountain biker. The Conservation Area seems most popular among mountain bikers, and there are at least two places where you could bomb downhill for a good long time. On foot the climb is tough enough, and on the north and east sides there's not much shade to be had. As a walking trail I wouldn't give it five stars, but there are a few interesting sights along the way, including some rusty human remnants:

I climbed the hill twice, after the trail on the eastern slope turned to marsh and spat me out on the road. I looped back and explored the alternatives. The west side has some creaky, shadowy trails through cedars, and after I had ambled around on the high ground I followed them down.

They let me out in front of an old warehouse, with boarded windows and rotting garage doors. I shuffled through the grass up to it and peered in a hole - inside, skateboarders or stunt bikers had decorated the walls and retrofit the building with ramps, rails, and filthy mattresses. I walked to the side of the building, where I found my means of ingress. Ducking carefully around the broken glass and jagged wire, I slithered in:

Means of ingress
The room was drafty and squalid, but anyone inclined to practice tricks would find hours of entertainment. It's the perfect repurposing for a building in its waning years, and exudes a certain rebel charm. Here is the view from within:

Interior view

I sat on the ramp awhile, whistling and admiring the echo. A flycatcher flew in the window, flew a circuit round the room, and left the way he came. I also noticed, except for the word FAG liberally spray-painted everywhere, the skaters had done a great job decorating:

 Notice the bear is wearing a "100 Years of Flight" pin. After I had explored the main room, my curiosity drew me to the locked door at the far end. I tried the latch, but it had rusted shut. I had to crawled through the hole instead:

The second room was very dark. I kept imagining I could hear people coming around the building, but it was only the weeds sloshing against the outside walls, or the plastic sheet on the floor rustling, or the wind shaking the old garage bays. Once my eyes had adjusted and I'd conquered the urge to flee, I saw there was a large pallet of insulation on the floor and an enormous furnace swaddled in the stuff against the far wall. It was damp and rotten and hanging in straggles from the pipes. To the side, there were a number of split and spilling boxes.

My first thought was that they were empty, but as I approached I realized they were full of Christmas bows. Dozens and dozens of fluffy bows in a variety of colours lay among the insulation and broken glass. Why they would store so many bows next to the furnace in a warehouse in a conservation area I couldn't guess. If they had ever stored anything else, it had long since been pillaged. Usually I am against robbing abandoned buildings of their setpieces, but I stuck a bow in my pocket as a momento.

 Unfortunately the lighting wouldn't let me take a decent shot of the bows, but the above should give you some idea. The price tag on them says eight-five cents, but they are available now at quite a discount.

I left shortly thereafter, but not before taking a field recording of the eerie sounds of the furnace room, which will show up one day in a suitably horrific composition. I have been back since, and even when the wind is quiet, the impression of someone approaching from outside is intense. On the eastern side of the park there are more ruins, but they are much worse for the wear. Judging by the rusted cable and ruined electrical equipment in one not-quite collapsed shack, though, there must've been a ski lift there at one time.

If you're new to Peterborough, Harold Town Conservation Area shouldn't be the first place on your list, but anyone looking for a few new trails, or interesting in spelunking an abandoned building, should give it a try. I'm afraid this post will be of little interest to anyone reading from further away, but if you send me a self-addressed stamped envelope I will return it to you with a vintage Harold Town eight-five cent bow inside.

Thanks to Will Lalande for the tip!

Saturday 5 May 2012

Signs and Symbols of Peterborough

The Internet is full of bizarre and hilarious signage from around the world, so I never much bothered to look for it when I actually went outside. Walking around in the warmer weather, though, has opened my eyes to some of the subtle eccentricities of Peterborough's signmakers. I present to you the things I found while I wasn't updating the blog last week:

You might have to squint a little, since that's as big as I can make it. The sign on the left says: "Coming Soon: The Scottish Shop." Now you know where to go when you need a tin flute and a meat pie. Unfortunately I assume this means that Lunch is gone, which had the best reuben in town. I guess there's a bigger market for sporrans than sandwiches.

I took this one near Jackson Park. I'm not sure a broken Mitsubishi is the ideal medium if you're trying to contact the earth, but I appreciate the sentiment. A few paces on, I found a much more horrifying message:

This threat is even more disturbing being so near a lean-to, a corner of which you can see in the "Speak 2 the Earth" photo. Though I hope it was made by a bored teenagers and not a woodland stalker, I doubt they will grow up to be model citizens. The paint has already faded, and I hope this will vanish mercifully in the next good rain.

The next bit of graffitti is more intriguing:

This one is a puzzle. What kind of person is acute enough to understand the concept of dishonour, but too sloppy to spell it right? The accusation was made directly in front of the minister's parking space, so I assume it was meant for him. Who did this minister dishoner? Does someone know he broke a vow to God, did he abuse his station? Or did some confused war vet or metalhead spraypaint this in error? There may be less to the real story than the one I've concocted in my head but I can't quite shake it.

This isn't really a sign, I just wanted you to know I'd seen some dilapidated teddy bears recently.

Peterburgers, the next couple of signs may be familiar since they're from the main drag, but if you haven't found 'em yet here's your homework:

The above is from the window of a rundown discount store on George St. There is also a For Lease sign posted beside it, and I believe the above may have had something to do with scaring away business. It couldn't be the merchandise: this is the place to go for movie tie-in party favours from decades past. I bought some shrinkies here last winter, and I noticed an aisle dedicated to Godzilla napkins and Incredible Hulk party hats, snack food that has quite possibly expired, cleaning products, several empty aisles, and unless I dreamed the last bit, a freestanding upright piano. It had a quality you don't find in most retail chains.

Photo by Peter Vance
I'm in this one for a bit of human interest, but the real attraction here is the mysterious eye someone has painted on the side of the culvert. I never noticed it until I passed by the day after a major rainstorm, and the culvert was transformed into a great barfing sea monster. The joke requires perfect timing to get the full effect, and afterward lies dormant for months on end, so kudos to the artist who figured it out.

That concludes the tour for this week, but I'll keep an eye out for more. Speaking of Peterborough tours, every time I promise my guide to greasy breakfast is almost finished someone tells me about one more diner in a hidden niche. I eat eggs doggedly every weekend, so I remain confident "A Comprehensive Guide to Greasy Breakfast in Peterborough" will be published in May.