Ken Thorne is still rockin’ after all these years

Long-time London musician Ken Thorne’s musical journey began in his native England playing the Recorder in elementary school before taking up the Violin and then the Viola in his secondary school’s orchestra. 

“I don’t even remember the names of the strings on those instruments.  But it was great fun being part of an organized orchestral sound,” he recalls.

The young Thorne joined his family’s Church choir where his musical efforts paid off financially.

“It was a bit mercenary actually as one got paid for singing at weddings and funerals,” he says. “It taught me a lot about vocals.”

A local youth club held Saturday night teenage dances where Ken and his friends could listen to the latest records of the day.

“Just before we came to Canada in November 1962, kids in woodworking class started building their own guitars as everyone was really into the guitar groups like The Shadows. I don’t think any of them were ever playable,” Ken laughs.

The music bug really bit him in Grade 11 at London’s Wheable Secondary School where he befriended guitarist George Attrill who could play tunes, like “Walk Don’t Run” by The Ventures. They decided Ken would get a guitar and play rhythm while George would play lead.

“Dad got me a Kent guitar and a small amplifier from Eaton’s. I paid a schoolmate a pack of cigarettes to teach me the E chord, so I could play the song “Bo Diddley” by Ronnie Hawkins.  I thought it was great that you could play a song made up of one chord,” Ken recalls.

In 1963, the British Invasion spearheaded by The Beatles and Rolling Stones hit the airwaves. For teenage Ken Thorne, it was a defining moment.

“One just had to learn to play those tunes you heard everyday and lots of guys got into guitar-playing and forming little cliques. Some even had the aim of playing music. George and I recruited a singer and drummer and learned enough songs to bluff our way through a Teen Town gig in the basement of All Saints Church on Hamilton Road.  We were called The Tek-niques and it soon became a regular occurrence.”

Following The Tek-niques came A Small Experience with Ken on rhythm guitar and vocals, George Attrill, lead guitar and vocals, Rob Pugh, bass guitar and vocals, and well-known London drummer Graham Lear, who would go on to play with the likes of George Olliver, Santana and Paul Anka.

“We played British and American rock cover tunes while most of the other bands in London were into the Soul R & B thing,” says Ken.

They played University Frat Houses, Wonderland Gardens and the teen dance circuit in halls and arenas.

Eventually Ken was told by his parents that he had to get a “real” job, and the band dissolved shortly afterwards. 

“I ended up working at London Life Insurance Company and then left that and returned to University and Teacher’s College, eventually taking a position in Elgin County to teach Science and Math to grades 7 and 8.”

A call from Rob Pugh in 1973 led to the formation of a new band called Daybreak that worked the Southwestern Ontario arena and dance hall circuit and local bars for 23 years before folding in 1996.

Ken’s present band, Tom Cat Prowl, was formed in 1996. The lineup consists of Ken on rhythm guitar and vocals, Chet Risser, lead guitar, Robert Keener, bass guitar and vocals and Gene Vandevyvere on drums and vocals. 

“We mainly play danceable Rock’n Roll music,” says Ken. “All of our songs are recognizable and great for audience participation and sing-alongs.”

Ken also does solo “Acoustic Rock’n Roll” performances which give him an opportunity to play different tunes from the group format.

In addition, he belongs to a mentoring group called Ruby Tuesdays (organized by Jake Levesque, another long-time London musician), which meets once a week to give interested musicians opportunities to develop their performing skills in front of others.

Calling himself a self-taught Rock’n Roll guy, Ken likes well structured organic songs that tell a good story and have an identifiable hook with a good melody and harmonies.

In 2015 Ken released a solo CD of 10 personally written and arranged tracks titled “Red Light Go.” It can be downloaded from CD Baby and other streaming sites.

When not performing, Ken keeps busy with his online business, Thorne’s Insect Shoppe Ltd., importing and exporting specimens of dead, dried insects to collectors, institutions and artistic workers all around the world. Visit https://thornesinsects.com/ for more information.

Asked if he ever considered making music his full-time job, Ken replied: “I’ve always considered myself a part-time professional musician. I just did not run off on the road and get stuck in that rut with all its pitfalls.  I have many interests and things to do, so I strive for a nice balance in life. This way I meet so many wonderful people, have fun and keep it going.”

Readers can go to the Tom Cat Prowl website — www.tomcatprowl.com — to check out the band’s upcoming gigs and they can contact Ken at mrtomcat@gto.net  to be put on a mailing list for news of his solo performances.

This story originally appeared in the monthly online publication, Aging Well. To subscribe to Aging Well, contact Pat Moauro at patmor123@gmail.com

Celebrating mental health every day

It was one year ago that I embarked upon a fruitful year of mental health wellness after struggling with a bipolar depression episode that lasted almost two years.

I outlined my struggle in detail in a Blog I prepared for Let’s Talk, an advocacy program by Bell Canada to promote mental health education, research, and awareness.

Entitled Living with Bipolar Disorder: Let’s Talk 2018, the Blog can be accessed here. 

Since that time, I have appeared on The Morning Show on 1290 CJBK with Lisa Brandt and Ken Eastwood to discuss my experience and I have spoken to numerous people about their personal struggles.

Every day I wake up, I thank Dr. Akshya Vasudev, Assistant Professor of Geriatric Psychiatry and Medicine of the LHSC Geriatric Mental Health Program, the man who helped nurture me back to good mental health. I will forever be in his debt.

I know that the holiday season is an important time of the year for many people.

For many it is a time to get together with family and friends and take stock of another year come and gone. For others, especially those struggling with mental health issues, it can be a time of loneliness, personal isolation and pain.

The Canadian Mental Health Association has some suggestions for dealing with a family member or friend whom you think is struggling with mental illness:

How can I help a loved one?

Supporting a loved one who is experiencing holiday depression, anxiety or stress can be difficult. You may not understand why your loved one feels or acts a certain way. Some people who experience this feel like they have to do things a certain way or avoid things or situations, and this can create frustration or conflict with others. You may feel pressured to take part in these behaviours or adjust your own behaviours to protect or avoid upsetting a loved one. Support can be a delicate balance, but you should expect recovery—in time.

Here are some general tips:

  • Ask your loved one how you can help them.
  • Be patient—learning and practising new coping strategies takes time.
  • If your loved one is learning new skills, offer to help them practice.
  • Listen and offer support, but avoid pushing unwanted advice.
  • Set boundaries and seek support for yourself, if needed.

To access the entire article, click here.

I wish you and yours good mental health this festive season.

Rick Young

December 21, 2018

Remembering Sights, Sounds and Smells from the Past

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Recent scholarly studies suggest that sights, sounds and smells from our past can evoke emotionally charged memories.

For example, the sound of children playing outside could bring back fond memories of playing on a schoolyard, while the sound of a dentist’s drill might remind you of “scary” visits to the dentist as a child. And visiting a landmark from your childhood will no doubt remind you of time spent there.

As the holiday season approaches, I got to thinking about some of the sights, sounds and smells that I remember from Christmases past. Things like neighbourhood Christmas Tree lots, the annual Santa Claus Parade, singing Christmas Carols at school and the smell of a Christmas turkey cooking in the oven.

This led me to reminisce about the broader myriad of familiar sights, sounds and smells which were a part of my everyday experience as a child growing up in London’s industrial East End in the 1950s and early 1960s

To be sure, many of the sights, sounds and smells from my 1950s working-class upbringing would be foreign territory to most children in 2018.

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One of these sights/landmarks is Ealing Public School which I attended from Kindergarten until Grade 7. Driving by the historic school today conjures up many childhood memories including playing marbles with my pals on the schoolyard, community Christmas Bazaars, a school assembly during which I and some friends dressed up and lip-synced the words to the Monster Mash on Halloween in 1962, Field Days, and the time I got the strap for spitting on my younger brother.

It saddens me to hear that Ealing may be closed due to declining enrollment at some point in the near future.

Another landmark was the old General Steel Wares building that I walked by everyday on my way to G.A. Wheable Secondary School. It was immense and straddled both sides of Adelaide Street. Once known as McClary Manufacturing, the firm manufactured home appliances like stoves for years. It is long gone.

Then there’s Silverwood’s Park where my friends and I spent our summers in the public pool and our winters on the outdoor skating public skating rink.

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One of the sounds I remember were the factory whistles which went off several times a day to mark the starting times, break times, Lunch time and quitting time at the factories and plants where many of our parents worked.

Another sound were the steam and diesel locomotives that chugged their way through my neighbourhood several times a day and blew their whistles as they came and went.

One of the sights I recall vividly was the moving of retired steam locomotive Engine 86 from the CNR shops at York Street and Rectory Street to Queen’s Park on the Western Fair Grounds in 1958.

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The move took four days using sixty foot sections of rail, which were moved from the rear to the front as the locomotive was pulled along with a winch. Its progress was covered in great detail in the local media.

Once located at its permanent location facing Dundas Street, the engine soon became a popular attraction for East End children. I spent many hours clambering over the locomotive with my friends and ringing its bell incessantly.

Alas, it was all too good to last.  The Public Utilities Commission disabled the engine’s bell after late-night ringing awakened the neighbourhood, and later sealed its smoke stack after a kid was found sitting in it. Today, Engine 86 is enclosed behind an iron fence sending the message that it is off-limits for any curious child.

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Although it has fallen on hard times and become increasingly irrelevant in recent years with competition from bigger, better out-of-town attractions, the annual Western Fair was a big deal for kids growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s. We were even given a day off from school – Kid’s Day – to take in its sights, sounds and smells.

To be sure, the Fair was the ultimate sensory experience for London and area kids of the pre-digital era. Sights I remember include the crowded midway and rides, Crown & Anchor games, displays of farm equipment, free grandstand shows and farm animals there for the petting.

Sounds I recall were people screaming as they went around and around on the Himalaya, a very popular ride, and as they steered towards each other on the Bumper Cars.

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The smell of onions frying today takes me back to the Western Fairs of my youth as does the “greasy” smell of french fries, corn dogs and other deep-fried delicacies.

I could go on and on with many more memories, but I think you get the drift, Dear Reader.

This holiday season, take time to recall the sights, sounds and smells of the past and make some new ones for the future.

(Editorial Note: Do you have some of your own historical sights, sounds and smells you would like to share? Please feel free to share in the Comments section of this Blog. Thanks.)

Rick Young

December 20, 2018

100 Christmas Songs from Worst to Best

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“If you are on the Internet long enough, there comes a year when you will be forced to rank something. Now it is my time. So I am taking the liberty of going through the 100 holiday songs being foisted upon us everywhere and ranking them from Most Especially Heinous to Best. This is probably a good idea, and I feel fit and confident! I bet this will be an easy, pleasant process. I’m amazed I haven’t already compiled several lists just like this!” — Alexandra Petri, The Washington Post.

In light of the recent kerfuffle over Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Alexandra Petrie’s list is certainly very timely.

You may see songs you have forgotten about or you may see some that you’ve never heard of.

For example, I didn’t know there was a song called “I Farted on Santa’s Lap (Now Christmas Is Gonna Stink For Me).” I’m not sure I needed to learn this!

Feel free to identify your Best & Worst Christmas Songs in the Comments section.

Click on this Link to read Alexandra Petri’s List of Holiday Songs from Worst to Best Holiday Songs:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2018/12/07/ranking-yes-christmas-songs/?utm_term=.cbe61bc27d01&wpisrc=nl_ideas&wpmm=1

Enjoy!

 

 

Conflict to be expected on City Council

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Is it me, or does anyone else see a pattern developing already in reporting on the new city council by the local media? That is to say: Freak out at any sign of discord or disagreement among the Mayor and the councilors.

I’m not sure why this is happening.

Isn’t this type of political conflict to be expected when you gather together 15 individuals, all with their own constituencies and agendas, to make decisions for the common good?

Now, I know Mayor Ed Holder ran on a platform of being the “Great Conciliator” who would be able to bring the 14 Councilors together for a consensus to emerge on decisions which have to be made — some of them being very contentious. But to expect consensus on every issue is naive and just plain silly.

Having run on what for all intents and purposes was an anti-BRT ticket, Holder’s choice of Councilor Jesse Helmer — the BRT Project’s biggest cheerleader — as his Deputy Mayor may at first chance seem odd. But, to be sure, it is a calculated political attempt to bring Helmer into his fold and perhaps burden him with so much work he won’t have time to do a lot of lobbying for the project.

Maybe the local media and Londoners grew too used to the homogeneity of the last council which seemed to march lock-step on most civic issues.

But, as I learned in my first-year Political Science class at UWO way back in the mid-1970s: “Politics is conflict, and the resolution of that conflict.”

Given the differences of opinion on major issues like BRT and supervised injection sites on this new council, I’m sure we can can expect more conflict rather than less over the next four years.

Londoners, including the media, better get used to it.

December 6/18

Reflections on attempts to ban “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

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(CNN) Star 102, WDOK-FM, calls itself “Cleveland’s Christmas station.” But its listeners are discovering that one holiday chestnut has been kicked to the curb.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” the duet in which a man tries to dissuade a woman from leaving a party despite her repeated protestations, has been pulled from the station’s Christmas playlist amid concerns about its predatory nature.

Penned by “Guys and Dolls” writer Frank Loesser in 1944, the Christmas song is perceived by some as unworthy for the most wonderful time of the year — particularly in the age of #MeToo.

“People might say, ‘Oh, enough with that #MeToo,’ but if you really put that aside and read the lyrics, it’s not something that I would want my daughter to be in that kind of situation,” midday host Desiray told CNN affiliate WJW-TV.

“The tune might be catchy, but let’s maybe not promote that sort of an idea.”

(Source: https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/01/us/baby-its-cold-outside-cleveland-radio-trnd/index.html)

When I first read this on Facebook, I thought it was either a hoax/gag or a publicity stunt on the part of the radio station to draw attention to itself.

But no, it’s on the level.

Apparently, some people including listeners of Star 102, think that this old holiday chestnut offends modern #MeToo sensitivities and is not appropriate for this day and age.

Other more vociferous detractors have labelled it a “Date-Rape Anthem.”

“Date-Rape Anthem?”

Seriously?

Just look at the lyrics they say.

Okay, let’s look at them:

I really can’t stay (Baby it’s cold outside)

I gotta go away (Baby it’s cold outside)

This evening has been (Been hoping that you’d dropped in)

So very nice (I’ll hold your hands they’re just like ice)

My mother will start to worry (Beautiful what’s your hurry?)

My father will be pacing the floor (Listen to the fireplace roar)

So really I’d better scurry (Beautiful please don’t hurry)

Well maybe just a half a drink more (I’ll put some records on while I pour)

The neighbors might think (Baby it’s bad out there)

Say what’s in this drink? (No cabs to be had out there)

I wish I knew how (Your eyes are like starlight now)

To break this spell (I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell) (Why thank you)

I ought to say no, no, no sir (Mind if move in closer?)

At least I’m gonna say that I tried (What’s the sense of hurtin’ my pride?)

I really can’t stay (Baby don’t hold out)

Baby it’s cold outside

Ah, you’re very pushy you know?

I like to think of it as opportunistic

I simply must go (Baby it’s cold outside)

The answer is no (But baby it’s cold outside)

The welcome has been (How lucky that you dropped in)

So nice and warm (Look out the window at that storm)

My sister will be suspicious (Gosh your lips look delicious!)

My brother will be there at the door (Waves upon a tropical shore)

My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious (Gosh your lips are delicious!)

Well maybe just a cigarette more (Never such a blizzard before) (And I don’t even smoke)

I’ve got to get home (Baby you’ll freeze out there)

Say lend me a coat? (It’s up to your knees out there!)

You’ve really been grand, (I feel when I touch your hand)

But don’t you see? (How can you do this thing to me?)

There’s bound to be talk tomorrow (Think of my life long sorrow!)

At least there will be plenty implied (If you caught pneumonia and died!)

I really can’t stay (Get over that old out)

Baby it’s cold

Baby it’s cold outside

Okay fine, just another drink then

That took a lot of convincing!

According to its detractors, some of the troublesome lyrics spoken by the female include: “My mother will start to worry,” “My father will be pacing the floor,” “Say, what’s in this drink?” and “I ought to say no, no, no, sir.”

Her male counterpart responds with: “Mind if I move a little closer?” “What’s the sense in hurting my pride?” and “Baby, don’t hold out.”

A little historical context here, if you please.

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The song first appeared in the 1948 movie, Neptune’s Daughter, and it was sung by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalbán in the traditional call and response format, and later in the film by Betty Garrett and Red Skelton in a reversal of gender roles with Garrett being the caller. It was perceived as playful, flirtatious and a bit naughty by audiences at the time, which is certainly the spirit in which it was written by composer Frank Loesser. Its popularity won its composer an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1949.

(Watch the original rendition of the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRGZULIkfwE)

However, by the 2000s, some people began suggesting that what they were listening to sounded a little too much like sexual coercion and date-rape on the part of male caller.

With the viral spread of the #MeToo movement in 2017, criticism of the song’s lyrics renewed with claims that the man may have spiked the woman’s drink and wouldn’t take no for answer when the female didn’t immediately acquiesce to staying.

One social media post even likened the song’s lyrics to some of the things said by Hollywood producer and accused sexual harasser Harvey Weinstein in an audiotape made public by one of his accusers.

Let’s take pause here.

I guess if one approaches “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with a predetermined, jaundiced eye, the lyrics could possibly be dissected and interpreted to imply sexual entrapment.

But, indeed, if that’s the case with this silly old song, just imagine if the same “analytical” lens was turned on songs of the Rock era! That would entail a lot of expunging of the radio airwaves.

But I digress.

What concerns me most in this whole debate is the role played by historical revisionism,  defined here as the call to change, remove or erase personalities, events and objects from our collective past in order to reflect contemporary changes in a community’s values and sensitivities.

Originally intended for Loesser and his wife to perform at private parties, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” evokes a bygone era when gender politics, if they were brought up at all, were considered humorous and provided the material for many stand-up comedy routines like Henny Youngman’s, the American comedian and violinist famous for his best known one-liner “Take my wife … please.”

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With reference to the spiked drink claim, “Say, what’s in this drink?” was a well-known phrase commonly used in movies of the time period and it generally referred to someone saying or doing something they thought they wouldn’t in normal circumstances. It was a nod to the idea that alcohol may make them do something unusual. But the joke was almost always that there is nothing in the drink. The drink is simply the excuse. Today, the question has much darker connotations.

In short, the song is a product of his age.

For close to 70 years “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was considered no more controversial than other old secular holiday chestnuts like “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.” Numerous artists, including Ray Charles and Betty Carter, Pearl Bailey and Hot Lips Page, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton, Holly Cole and Ed Robertson (of the Barenaked Ladies), Michael Bublé and Anne Murray, and even Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, have recorded the song over the years.

And numerous generations of listeners have enjoyed it.

Other than different artistic interpretations over the years, the song itself hasn’t changed since it was first penned in 1944. No lyrics have been deleted or revised.

What has changed, however, is how some people interpret the song and a vocal segment of society is now attempting to convince the rest of us that we should perceive “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” the same way it does — as an inappropriate song for this day and age.

Now, I don’t think even the most rabid historical revisionist would argue that the song was written about date-rape. Or at least, I hope not.

And, to be frank, I think it is a bit of a stretch to interpret its lyrics today as a so-called Date-Rape Anthem.

Therefore, in my opinion, all calls for its banning from the radio airwaves and holiday canon are unfounded and should be resisted.

Indeed, nobody and nothing is safe from the type of cultural revisionism that never ends. And, at the risk of sounding too alarmist, it is indicative of a slippery slope to a 1984 Orwellian type of world where he who controls the past controls the present, and he who controls the present controls the future.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to listen to Holly Cole and Ed Roberston perform ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside” on Cole’s 2001 album.

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December 3, 2018

Note to Gordon Lightfoot – It’s time to hang ’em up

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Overheard at Saturday’s Gordon Lightfoot concert at Budweiser Gardens: “Oh my God, he’s so old!”

I don’t think the young woman who said this comment about the 80-year-old octogenarian troubadour as he returned to the stage for one encore meant it as a disparaging description of the Canadian music legend’s talent as a singer/songwriter.

She was just expressing what many people in the audience – including this writer – were thinking: Mr. Lightfoot is simply too old and too tired to be touring and performing anymore.

Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones – all of whom are pushing 80 – have just announced a 13-show US stadium tour in 2019.  Seriously, does the world really need another Stones tour?

For many people, the image of 75-year-old Mick Jagger prancing around the stage belting out “I can’t get no Satisfaction” like it’s 1969 is just too much to stomach.

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I came of age in the 1960s and was lucky enough to see many of the decade’s rock legends in their prime – including the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Deep Purple, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, Neil Young, The Who, Johnny Winter, James Brown, Bob Dylan,  The Amboy Dukes, The Rascals, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, The Righteous Brothers, Frank Zappa, The Turtles, and Chuck Berry, just to name a few.

Some of these artists, unfortunately, didn’t make it past the 1970s, succumbing to substance abuse and other inner demons. Some went on to become multi-millionaire super stars touring the world and living in the kind of luxury they could only dream of in their youth. Some have become parodies of themselves relegated to playing nostalgia shows, and some have completely fallen off the musical radar. Some, probably the minority,  are still composing and recording relevant music and performing to appreciative audiences in 2018.

As Neil Young (himself getting a bit long in the tooth at 73) suggested in his seminal song Hey, Hey, My, My (IntoThe Black): “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.”

Perhaps for some ageing musicians, it’s best to know when it’s time to hang ’em up.

This brings me back to Lightfoot’s concert last Saturday.

It’s not that he didn’t entertain the audience. He did.

It’s not that he didn’t play many of the hits off of his 30 albums of original compositions. He did.

It’s not that he didn’t have a talented backup band. He did.

And, it’s not that the audience didn’t show its appreciation with extended applause and a standing ovation. It did.

But only a completely tone-deaf patron would not have been able to discern that Lightfoot struggled with some of the arrangements, unable to hit higher notes and singing almost unintelligible lyrics at times. It was also obvious that he didn’t perform some of his more challenging compositions.

Indeed, as my companion Val Cavalini, a long-time Lightfoot fan going back to the mid-1960s, suggested: He was a pale imitation of himself in his prime and I would have preferred to listen to a couple of his albums at home with a glass of wine in my hand.

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I feel bad because I talked her into going as I thought it might be the last chance to hear the musical icon live before he either retires or, God forbids, passes away.

I hope those around him, whom he acknowledged from the stage on Saturday, will huddle with Gordon after this tour and advise him to call it a career, leaving his indisputable musical legacy intact.

Please don’t hate me for suggesting this.

November 26, 2018