Ken Simons: web designer, editor, and archivist

A streetcar named Oslobodenje


This is a ticket from the Sarajevo streetcar system circa 2002. One of the main streetcar lines runs down Bulevar Me¨e Selimovica and passes the building where the daily newspaper Oslobodenje was published.

Oslobodenje means “Freedom” or “Liberation” in the Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian language. The paper was founded by supporters of Tito in 1943, and for most of its history it was a fairly safe Communist Party paper. During the 1992-1994 seige of Sarajevo, it came out daily — with only one exception — under some of the worst conditions imaginable. The building itself was shelled several times.

“A streetcar named Oslobodenje” was the title of my personal (but fairly inactive) webpage from 2002 until I started this new site.

La tarte des demoiselles Tatin


I used to draw a lot of cartoons, but I’ve been off my form in recent years. I blame the internet.

This strip was my first ‘toon since about 2002, and went out to a few selected people for Christmas 2007.

Happy box


happy box, beside 720 Bathurst St, Toronto

This box is happy. I hope you are happy as well.

Abril em Portugal


It’s the anniversary of the Carnation Revolution and a Portuguese national holiday. Here’s a link to the song which started it all, Grândola vila morena. The song, a celebration of workers’ solidarity in the small Alentejo town of Grândola, was written by José Afonso, the celebrated left-wing Catholic singer-songwriter. [Afonso, popularly known as Zeca or Zé, died in obscurity in 1987.]

The Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA) actually sent out two signals for the 25 April 1974 rebellion — first, a piece of Eurovision pop called A depois do adeus, which didn’t alert the censors, and about an hour later, Grândola — a banned song by a banned artist.

We were on holiday in Lisbon at the time of the 20th anniversary of the revolution, but somehow missed every occasion where Grândola was sung in public. But we did get hold of a great souvenir — the tribute album Filhos da Madrugada, featuring about 20 hip young bands doing covers of Zé Afonso’s most famous songs.

[comment added on 2008/08/01: I just saw a charming little claymation video of the song, put together by some Portuguese schoolkids. You can play it here or link to it here. The old oak tree, which has a background role in the song, is a featured performer in the video.]

Warning sign


I spotted this sign in Eglinton Park just minutes after reading a story in Metro about a 100kg bear stuck up in a tree in downtown Winnipeg.

P'edants corner


do not feed pigeons, or other birds So what’s with the comma? Nothing much, really — it’s not one of those errors which changes the whole sense of the sentence. But you have to admit, it does look a bit odd.

I like the artwork on this sign as well — nice detail on the breadcrumbs.

Variety store, Queen and Ryerson


Perhaps he’s a monster because he is incapable of showing emotion. Or maybe it’s just the pointy head.

All manner of things shall be well


Lady Julian This is Lady Julian. She is named after Julian of Norwich, who was in turn named after the Church of St. Julian (where she lived as an anchoress), which was in turn named after a saint who may have been fictitious.

Julian is nine months old and very sweet-tempered. She used to live in (or around) an auto-body shop. But now she lives with us.

Evil! censorship! by the evil! state!


nothing to see here, folks

I was waiting for a streetcar outside 180 Queen Street West and I noticed the big (about 3 metres high) Haida sculpture in the lobby of the building.The figures at the bottom of the carving looked a bit peculiar — were they eagles with strange facial expressions and what looked likwe cravats around their necks? I went through the revolving doors to get a better look. Turns out that — this being a modern Haida carving — they were meant to be lawyers (legal eagles, anyone? Groan.) And the building was, among other things, a federal courthouse.

A security guy saw me taking a picture with my Palm Pilot and told me to cease and desist, as photography is never permitted inside federal courthouses – even in the lobby, which is basically spillover seating for the local Starbucks. So I deleted the photo, hence the empty frame on this page.

How Julian got her purr back



Julian the cat has had quite a week, as have we. On Monday, she went in for a spaying and died while under anaesthetic, or so we believed at the time. The vet stopped performing CPR on her when it seemed to have no effect and then she spontaneously (bless her little heart) started breathing again. Warning us that she might not make it through the night, or might be severely brain-damaged, they called us to pick her up that evening, as they had no night doctor on duty. So we took her home, watched her slowly experiment with moving her legs, head, and tail, and waited for hopeful signs.

It’s been nothing but hopeful signs since then — Tuesday she managed to stand up in her litter box (and use it!); Wednesday she ate catfood from her dish and walked all around the ground floor of the house; and today we haven’t been able to stop her from climbing the stairs. Her eyesight is still dodgy — optic nerve damage is a common side effect of post-op respiratory failure — but she does seem to be well on her way back to being a happy little indoor cat.

Happy birthday, dear roundel


Man Ray LT poster The London Transport symbol is 100 years old this week. Here it is, in the upper left of a 1938 Man Ray poster, which appears to offer the prospect of a ride through multiple zones (a tip of the hat to The Guardian website and its gallery of old LT images).

Some (not entirely) unreliable factoids: • “Roundel” is the heraldic term for a circle, though in modern usage it tends to be used mainly for rings or concentric circles, like you see on the sides of warplanes. • Arguably, the LT roundel is much more recognizable than any old airforce’s. • The Toronto Transit Commission’s logo is called a “pylon” but this seems to have more to do with electricity than heraldry.

Out, damned stream, out I say!


On the (so far) ill-fated St. Clair streetcar right-of-way, a historical plaque tells us all about Victorian worthy Samuel Nordheimer, for whom the Nordheimer ravine is named. I suspect they are exaggerating the details of his struggle with Castle Frank stream, however.

Ceci n'est pas un train


old train image from Wikimedia Commons Apologies for running three items in a row about public transit — the thing is, I spend a lot of time on it these days. Anyway, the main point of this anecdote is the way that people with autism frequently have a better grip on the difference between ‘real’ and ‘not-real’ than do the neurotypical.

We were walking to the subway, overhearing an autistic-spectrum boy we know telling his helper what he wanted for his birthday.

— I want trains, he said.

— Real trains? asked his helper.

— No, not real trains, pretend trains. (Pause.) Pretend trains, like in a book about trains, he explained.

About 20 minutes later, we were on the Queen streetcar and a couple of blokes were talking loudly about macho stuff. One of them said how he was going to get a train set for his four-year-old nephew.

— A real train, he said, so he doesn’t have to play with girly things.

The bucolic bagel


A happy, and very Canadian, scene depicted in a mural on the wall of Bagel House on Avenue Road. My one quibble is with the appearance of the bagels. The Bagel House (there’s another branch on Bayview) is justly famous for their dense,chewy Montreal-style bagels, baked in a wood oven. But the bagels in the picture seem to be too large and fluffy by half.

In the bisque


Another food-related mural, this time on the side of a poultry butcher on St. Andrew’s Street in Kensington Market.

Ah, but at least the bottle is recyclable


Still with the food theme as I continue my little series of street-art posts.

I have a great number (well, three or four, maybe) of other grafitti photos which I took during the winter and never got around to posting because I couldn’t think of clever enough captions. Watch this space in case I get my mojo back sometime soon.

Julian's fishcake


birthday fishcake Seeing as how we don’t know when our lovely cat Julian was actually born, we decided to celebrate her birthday on May 8th, since that’s the feast day of Julian of Norwich (and thus her name day).

Alas, Julian wasn’t too crazy about her mackerel and rice cake, though the glowing candle did hypnotize her briefly.

More tales of bears and popes


If you really need to know, the link is here.

The Sea-Cat is to be feared


I don’t want to get in trouble with Julian (our lovely little cat, of whom there is more below) by dissing cats as a species, but an article in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books has reminded me of the existence of a dreaded beast called the Sea-cat.

“The hero is alone at night on the seashore when he hears a terrible, unrecognizable sound … He eventually sees a huge black quadruped like a giant hairy seal with legs. He manages to escape and the following day tries to describe the beast to his grandfather, who asks him to sketch it.”

A crude version of his sketch appears below.The author of the original story (paraphrased here) was Brian O’Nolan (1911-1966), better known as “Flann O’Brien”. The novel which mentions the Sea-cat, An Béal Bocht, is perhaps the greatest (well, certainly the most post-modern) novel written in the Irish language. It’s included (in English translation) in a new edition of O’Brien’s collected novels from Everyman Press.

Turn this image sideways to see where the Sea-cat lives

[Look sideways at the picture to see the Sea-Cat’s secret identity … and be sure to read O’Brien’s bicycle-themed novel, The Third Policeman, if you haven’t done so already.]