Friday, November 30, 2007

Dumber, Dumberer and Dumberest

At the risk of being seen as an unrepentant over-the-top contrarian, let me say right now that I am less-than-on-side regarding the 2010 Winter Olympics to be held here in British Columbia.

In the first place I detest what the Olympics in general have become in recent years, what with doping, steroid use and retaining that farcical myth that the Olympics have something to do with ‘amateur’ athletics. They are as much about amateur sport as is the Indy 500.

They are a money making proposition for more candidates than I would care to even think about. A case in point would be the utterly nauseating looking so-called ‘mascots’ that were revealed the other day, amidst huge fanfare and following weeks of secrecy.

Secrecy? Over what? Over a bunch of tacky looking plush toy figures that are a hundred metre dash from anything resembling cute. They look like grotesque little anime figures that are, as far as I can discern, not remotely connected with anything spawned in BC. These guys find their origins somewhere in a Beijing neighborhood. Hey folks, the Chinese got the 2008 Olympics, we have the 2010 ones. Why are we flogging their critters, or reasonable facsimiles thereof? What on earth do they tell visitors about British Columbia? We have north coast native art that is revered and respected worldwide. Where did that go? Oh, right. Hucksters and good taste. I keep forgetting the contradiction in that.

So, we’re flogging ‘Miga’ described as a snowboarding sea bear (huh?), and 'Quatchi', a shy and gentle Sasquatch (sorry, I like my Sasquatches to be mean and ill-tempered), and ‘Sumi’ an animal guardian spirit (guess that is supposed to have a connection with northcoast native Indians, though I don’t know why since it has a name reminiscent of a fat Japanese wrestler; maybe because it looks like one?).

What do these bits of repulsiveness have to do with us? They are almost as bad as that stupid Inukshuk (that boringly ubiquitous Inuit pile of rocks) that was chosen as the Olympics symbol. Paint the sucker green and it looks like Gumby, and it has as much in common with southwestern BC as do Navajo turquoise belt buckles. Come to think of it, the Navajos are much closer geographically than are the folk who pile rocks into Inukshuks.

Well, in answer to that initial question about what these icky little aliens have to do with us, I guess the they have this to do with us: They are making a ton of money for the Olympics organizers. Those guys were astute enough to know you must never underestimate the intelligence or taste of the buying public, and people are snapping up these ‘Beanie-Babies Gone Bad’ like hotcakes. Go figure.

Anyway, this whole Olympics hysteria thing has left a sour taste in my mouth from the beginning. The province is forking out dumptruck loads of money, and constructing sports facilities all over the place for the ‘lesser Olympics’ (the summer ones attract much more public interest), and they are expecting the entire province to be collectively wetting itself over a thing that will last for a brief time and will impact only one small area of BC.

Added to which, and to be consummately sceptical, Olympics hardly ever make the sort of money that enters the realm of break-even, let alone turn a profit. They are a lousy business proposition except for the guys that capitalize from them. And there are lots of those. They just don’t happen to be the taxpayers of BC.

Excuse the rant, but when I saw those ‘things’ being unveiled earlier in the week I just shuddered and thought: “Well, I have to say something.”

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

My 'Magnificent Seven' bits of weirdness

The terribly clever, original and beautiful Liz at Los Angelista’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness tagged me with this particular meme. Hmm. I found it more challenging than I thought I might have on the surface. Then again, I wasn’t so sure about how candid I wanted to be about me. But, for what it’s worth, here I am:

The object of the exercise is to tell you seven ‘weird’ things about me. I guess that means, seven things that may be unique to me. I don’t think I am weird at all, but others may have a different opinion. Not fair to check this out with ex-wives, by the way.

1) I stood at a urinal next to a future prime minister of Canada: His name is Jean Chretien and I had just completed an interview with him when he was federal Justice Minister. Considering his later shenanigans, there is an irony in that cabinet position. Anyway, at the end of the interview he said that he wanted to know where the restroom was. I showed him and realized that I too had to visit the porcelain. We continued our chat while we tended to our personal vital affairs to state. Despite a certain infamy later in his career, I found him to be a highly agreeable man with a great sense of humor.

2) I can still awaken late at night feel sad and guilty about my goose: When I was about 14 I kept chickens, ducks and geese. My favorte was a great, grey Toulouse gander. As ganders often are, he was a mean and vicious bastard. Mean and vicious with everyone but me. He would climb onto my lap and caress the said of my head with his neck and look at me adoringly. One day he attacked a toddler cousin and she was in serious jeopardy of having her eyes pecked out by the gander who seemed outraged at her presence. My mother was horrified and order me to kill the gander. I was aghast at her demand, but I followed through and did it. I don’t think I ever fully forgave my mother for making me do that, and I am still sad about the gander. As an aside, I don’t think I have ever taken a warm blooded animal’s life since that time, and I even gave up fishing a number of years ago. Hell, I rescue spiders. But no, I am not a vegetarian.

3) Rolf Harris advised me to grow a beard: The name Rolf Harris might not mean much to American readers, but those in Canada and the UK will know him. Anyway, the Australian born comic singer (best known for the songs Six White Boomers and Tie Me Kangaroo Down was performing in Vancouver when I was about 20. I went back stage to meet him. We chatted for ages and he (bearded himself) said: “You know, mate, you should grow a beard. You have a good face for a beard.” So, a few years later I did so. I had it for five years. It didn’t look bad, but I never really liked the feel of it.

4) We had a family ghost: Let me begin this by saying that I do not essentially believe in ghosts or other metaphysical manifestations, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist (if exist is an operative word when it comes to ghosts). My grandmother made my hair stand on end when she told me of the family ghost, whom she had first seen in her childhood home in England. The ghost is a redhaired woman of ghastly white face and frightening smile (sort of like the Joker in Batman). If she appears then there is to be a death in the family. My grandmother saw her twice, once in England, and once in Canada. She gets around that redhaired lady. In both cases, my grandmother lost brothers immediately afterwards. I’ve never seen her – yet. Though, my first wife was a redhead. Nah!

5) I fell in love with a photo of my second wife: Once I was editing a special newspaper supplement that was to go with our paper and another sister paper in a town 30 miles away. I was sorting through photos and there was a picture of a beautiful young woman who worked in the advertising department of the sister paper. I was struck by her appearance. Quite overwhelmed by her looks. After the paper had been printed I pilfered the original paper and stuck it away in a drawer in my desk. Thirteen years later we had a new employee in the advertising department at my own paper. I passed her in the corridor. She stopped, introduced herself and said: “I know you from somewhere, don’t I?” Yes, it was the lady in the photo. Later, when we were together I showed her the photo and told her the tale.

6) I still make a mental note of birthday of the saddest little kid in our neighborhood: It’s February the second. This little boy, about five years younger than I, was the neighborhood cry-baby. Kids could make him cry just by looking at him in a certain way. He was always in slovenly clothes and his nose was always running. He was a mess. He was also from the richest family in the neighborhood. They live in a great white house that was so splendid that it was later used as the mansion in the movie Cousins with Ted Danson and Isabella Rosselini. They had three or four cars, servants, hounds for the hunt, and all that stuff. The father was a raging alcoholic bastard who regularly abused his children, a girl my age, and that waif-like little boy. When he grew up he moved to the US and the former cry-baby joined the army. He did two tours in Vietnam. He came back with a heroin habit that would fell a horse. He offed himself a month back from his last tour. I always say a silent prayer on Feb. 2.

7) I had a Chinese playmate when I was about 6: There was a Chinese produce farm up the street when I was very young, and the man who owned it would employ recent immigrants from his homeland. This little boy’s mother was one of the field hands. He would come to our place to play while his mom was toiling. My mother told me how she would delight in our chatter as we pushed around our trucks in the sandbox.. “The two of you would natter away for hours,” she said. “What fascinated me was that little boy couldn’t speak one word of English, and you obviously didn’t know Chinese. That never seemed to be a problem.” The tale fascinated me when I was older because I remembered playing with him and always assumed we talked to each other just fine.

OK. There’s my seven. To truly follow the protocols I am supposed to tag seven people. But, I get a bit shy about that, so I am just going to suggest that if you want to do it, please let me know. And really, try it. It’s fun.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ultimate forgiveness from ultimate tragedy

Katy Hutchison had it ‘all’.

Ten years ago she was married to an upcoming lawyer, who was not only a handsome, successful and immensely charming man, he was also a world-class triathlete, and the two of them had also produced an adorable set of twins, a boy and girl. They were five-years-old back in 1997.

Katy and her husband Bob lived in the town of Squamish, a smaller community on the way from Vancouver to the mega winter sports resort of Whistler, which is to be the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics. They loved their life. They loved the outdoors. And, more important than all of that, they were madly in love with each other, and had been for over a decade.

Then, on New Year’s Eve, 1997, it all fell to pieces.

Katy and Bob had a few friends in for the evening, as people tend to do on New Year’s Eve. It came to their attention that in the house, owned by a doctor friend of theirs, there was a party in progress. A house party. A mega house party. Since Bob and Katy knew their friend was away in Mexico, Bob and a couple of friends decided to go an investigate what was going on. That was a very, very bad decision by some right-minded citizens.

The long-and-short of it was, Bob fell afoul of a couple of the uninvited guests at the melee. They were heavily into booze and dope, and would countenance no interference in their out-of-control bacchanal at a house to which they had not been invited. Bob, we can assume, was outraged.

He proceeded to try to chuck some of the young animals out. That was a fatal error. Stated simply, Bob was literally kicked to death at a party in a relatively high-end neighborhood.

Bob left his own social gathering that evening. They next time Katy was to see him, also on that same evening, was in the morgue. All the wonderment of their charmed lives was blown away within a few moments.

I had always wondered about Katy, since that time, since her subsequent story is even more amazing. You can read about it here, and I'd strongly recommend it.

Last evening I met her.

She’s a pretty blonde, nearing .50, but looking a decade younger. A bit reminiscent of a fading ‘flower child’. She is extremely pleasant and extremely ‘together’, as the saying goes. While some of us might assume we would either be in a rubber room, or addicted to booze, or in some other way falling to pieces over what had happened, that’s not true of Katy. Indeed, it is the farthest thing from the truth about her. Anyway, as she put it, she had two little children to raise. Children whose eyes are as vibrantly blue as were those of husband Bob.

Katy was in our community to speak to an audience of parents and kids, as an aspect of Drug Awareness Week here. She was sponsored by the Community Drug Strategy Committee, of which I am a long-time member and media liaison.

And she spoke, and she told her tale, and people were astonished not just by the horror of her story, but how she has come out of it. In one of the strangest twists of all, she has established a long contact with the young man who murdered her husband. She has established such contact, and found him to be not a vicious psycho, but a screwed-up kid who made a number of dreadful choices in life.

She believed that his only hope for salvation would come from his full-acknowledgment of his crime, and to devote his energies to seeing that others didn’t fall into his trap and destroy not only their lives, but also the lives of others. He agreed. And, ironically, and mustering more power of forgiveness than any of us could conceive of managing, Katy and the young man who destroyed all that she knew and loved, actually have worked together. Have made presentations together, and have established an odd sort of bond.

In a testimonial to Katy’s book, Walking After Midnight, a person no less than the Dalai Lama states, in effect, that Katy exemplifies the true beauty of human forgiveness. A forgiveness that he (and she) believes we should strive for. This, she says, is what ‘restorative justice’ is all about, and she is one of North America’s leading advocates of the philosophy that is having impact in a number of communities.

Could I be as forgiving as Katy? I don’t think so. Could you?

On the other hand, I sit in such an awe of her that it verges on disbelief.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Oh, Mr. Stewart. The things you get up to in your room

Poor Robert Stewart of Ayr, Scotland.
I mean to say there is ‘not getting lucky’ and ‘really not getting lucky!’ Mr. Stewart, you see, has been convicted of, sentenced to two years probation, and put on the UK’s Sex Offenders List because he was caught, wait for it, having sexual congress with a ‘bicycle.’ That’s right. Velocipede Carnality! You can’t make this stuff up, and if you are doubtful, you can read about it here.

Man, oh man. I pity Mr. Stewart’s shame for his hotel room transgression. I think the lads at the pub are going to have a field day at his expense.

“Ach, Bobby, was it a 10-speed, or just a homely old three-speed?”

“Nae, Angus. I think he fancies the sporty type. It was a mountain bike.”

I don’t mean to make light of the matter (oh, yes I do, because it is just too funny, despite Mr. Stewart’s misfortune. But, at a more serious level, isn’t this a case of the Nanny State having gone utterly bonkers?

What’s next? Suspicions that the Tour de France now doesn’t just involve steroid abuse? Will this lead to a scanning of newspaper classified ads in order to find hidden meanings in messages sent by bike perverts?

“For those seeking that soft and voluptuous pneumatic sensation of a ‘ride’ that’s in her prime, you can’t go wrong with this beautiful 1955 Schwinn.”

“Sleek and sensual, sporting high-end titanium frame. This baby is crème-de-la-crème. Truly the Victoria Beckham of bicycles for the discerning and mature rider.”

And finally, will cases of adult males searching for trikes bring suspicions of pedophilia to the fore?

What I want to know, from a scientific perspective, is how one goes about having sex with a bicycle? What does one actually do?

No, wait. Maybe I don’t want to know that at all.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

The world is awash in a sea of plastic

I don’t mean to be indelicate here, but if you want a sure sign of the aging demographic within society look not just to all the wonderful pharmaceuticals designed to address the ‘unable to get it up’ syndrome, but also to all the TV advertising devoted to incontinence garments.

Nothing wrong with either per se. Indeed, they provide a little proof that not all is bad with the modern world in that randy old goats can continue to be randy even longer, and nobody needs to suffer the embarrassment of wetting their knickers in public – at least so the public knows about it.
(As an aside, and not bragging but I don't happen to need either -- yet)

But, I will now go to a campaign that is gaining momentum, and that is the hopeful decline of the ubiquitous use of plastic bags for every shopping trip. We have just gone through years of frivolously utilizing these environmental abominations, and then we have discarded them, heedless of the fact that even if the apocalypse should transpire, the bags will go on, and on, and on, right along with the cockroaches.

While I am not environmentally hysterical, I applaud admonitions against (so called) throwaway plastic bags. They are evil. They clutter the environment and landfills and they don’t break down. They abound in the seas of the world from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and everywhere in between. They choke the wonderful sea turtles (and don’t mess with my sea turtles, I love ‘em) that mistake them for jellyfish. They’ve been known to strangle dolphins, and so on, and so on. They’re terrible things, and we don’t need them.

One alternative has been the provision of reusable grocery bags. I like that concept. We have a whole bunch of them in a cupboard and, of course, I invariably forget to bring one along when I got to pick up a few items. Give me time. I’ll learn. I can see how these store bags have a potential to become snobbery items. You know, should you have a bag from Harrod’s or Neiman Marcus you are going to use such bags to impress neighbors who sport bags from, say, ‘Sam’s Grocery’. But, that’s OK. People are who they are, and as long as they’re not using plastic bags, I am happy. And, we should take time out to commend the merchants who will no longer provide them. Here in Canada, SuperStore is eschewing their use. I'm sure there are merchants in your community doing likewise. Encourage them.

But, back to those disposable grown-up folk nappies. We have had the so-called disposable ones for infants, but now we have larger ones for much larger folk. Quite seriously, as the years go by, what are we to do with those? Many brands are meant to be peed in and chucked, not laundered. Well, that’s not entirely environmentally responsible. My suggestion is that if you or somebody in your family needs this product, then get ones that can be laundered. Otherwise, we're still behind the environmental eight-ball.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

"Oh No, Ma. Not meeee"

Children are vulnerable creatures. This is due to their tenderness in years, small stature, wound-inducing rough play and susceptibility to all sorts of affections and woes due to the fact they haven’t yet built up major immune defences. It’s just not all that great being a kid, and most of us can remember time off school due to various ailments, not to mention injuries.

But, as bad as those things were, they weren’t anywhere near as ominous as the widely-held beliefs and myths that punctuated juvenile fears and produced agonizing nighttime panics. Nights were the worst, of course, because that was when monsters were under the bed (meaning you must never leave your hand dangling outside the covers), and bogeymen were in the closets.

The point was, we invariably believed the myths to be utterly true, and we agonized if we had transgressed, believing that our futures were now to be limited in duration because we had screwed up.

When I was a child, we believed the following. You, I am certain had your own myths that might have been similar to mine, or owned entirely by you and your friends.

Consider these:

- If you accidentally swallow grape seeds, or apple pits, you will get appendicitis. How those seeds might get into the appendix was never questioned. Somehow it happened, and you knew somebody’s cousin who had died of a ruptured appendix. Grape pits were the culprits, no doubt.

- If you swallow chewing gum your intestines will get all clogged up and you won’t be able to poop, and you’ll die in mortal agony.

- If you jab yourself with a ballpoint pen or a pencil and break the skin you will immediately get blood-poisoning. You will die.

- If you stifle a sneeze your lungs will explode and you will die.

- If you burp, fart and sneeze all at the same time, you will die instantly. Again, somebody heard of a distant relative to whom this had happened.

- If you don’t wait an hour after eating (anything) and then go swimming, you will immediately be afflicted with agonizing cramps and you will drown. This was guaranteed, and happened to thousands of unfortunate kids every summer.

- If you are a boy and you get mumps it will always transfer to your testicles, which will grow to elephantiasis size, and you will either die in agony, or you will never be able to get married because your testicles will be perpetually humongous.

Those are but a few that we believed. What about yours?

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Friday, November 23, 2007

I think maybe I was to blame for World War Two as well

I have my very own built-in Jewish mother. This is not because I am of Hebraic persuasion, but because somebody is always looking over my shoulder, shaking her head, and then dumping a great dollop of guilt on me.

Guilt! What a wasteful exercise of human energy. From the time I was a child I always felt that whatever I was doing was suspect, and that there was someone off to the side tut-tutting about my transgressions and lapses of good behavior.

I don’t remember feeling particularly guilty in childhood, other than having to face the normal report card admonitions that indicated (consistently) that “Ian is not working up to his capacity.” I mean, otherwise I got yelled at a lot, and possibly even deserved to.

By the time I was in my teens guilt became a little more full-fledged. I still wasn’t working up to my capacity, and there were a few ‘other’ things happening that all red-blooded and healthy boys and girls got up to in idle times that are not only causative guilt ingredients, but stood the potential of making one blind, as well. Or so some believed.

And, feelings of guilt and shame (or outright defiance as a counter to guilt) persisted through much of my adult life. I mean, there were a few (very few, right?) things I should have felt horribly guilty about, and sometimes I did. But, for the most part I lived a respectable life as it should be lived.

But then, recently, somebody asked me if I was retired. Far from it, I asserted, almost indignantly. Retirement is either for geezers or people like schoolteachers who get big fat pensions at age 55. Can you believe it? Fifty-five and you decide your productive life is over. I only grouse about that because if I had stayed a schoolteacher, I too would have that big, fat &%$#@ (symbols are euphemistic expressions for the word ‘fucking’, which I chose not to use in this family-oriented blog) pension today.

Anyway, I am not retired, nor do I have any desire to be so. I have lots to do and I want to keep on doing it until they throw me into the flames. But, I am self-employed. I am self-employed as a professional writer and freelancer, and that suits me dandily.

Yet, that is also where the guilt comes in. I don’t feel guilty when I am writing an article somebody has contracted. I feel utterly fulfilled putting in labor that has dollar signs connected to its completion. But, I feel guilty when I am writing my ‘own’ stuff. Book type stuff. All my life I have dreamt of having the freedom and wherewithal to be able to finally work towards getting something between covers other than whatever person of the opposite sex happens to be in my life. I always wanted to be a ‘writer.’ I mean, I am a writer. That’s what I do. But, I always wanted to write my own things, not at the behest of another. But, when I devote a day to doing that – I feel guilty. I think that others might regard me as a bum, sponging off my wife. I mean, I know I'm not. I earn an income (that varies, as it always does with freelancers) and I have reasonably good investments. Yet I still seem to worry about what others, including my Jewish mother, might think.

Wendy goes out to work every day. She likes her job and for her it’s no hardship, so she encourages me to devote as much time as I can to ‘real’ writing; ‘my’ writing. She throws no guilt in my direction, and believes what I do is as worthy as what anybody else does; even if the outcome is nebulous.

“It’s what you always wanted to have the freedom to do,” she says. “So, why aren’t you ecstatically happy about it?”

“Guilt,” I tell her. “I always worked for somebody. I have worked hard all my life. To have the freedom to get up and do my own stuff seems slothful, unworthy.”

“Hemingway was a full-time writer,” she says. “Norman Mailer was a full-time writer. Do you consider them unworthy?”

“Hemingway stuck a shotgun in his mouth and Mailer wrote an awful lot of drivel in his later years, but still got paid well because he was Norman Mailer. That’s scanty consolation.”

She shakes her head and walks away, leaving me with my guilt and an overwhelming impulse to procrastinate. That’s something all writers do, and I’m good at that. Maybe I just have to get my head around the other stuff.

By the way, I do have something off at a publisher right now. Maybe they’ll look at it and make me feel worthy and guilt-free.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

A little bit of London nostalgia

As follows is a reprint of a piece I wrote for the Vancouver Sun a number of years ago. It only came to mind because I recently read that the Sex Pistols were embarking on a world tour. Sex Pistols minus the late and utterly unlamented Sid Vicious, I might add. And, think what you may about them, a tour by the Sex Pistols is much more pleasing to me than a tour by the overfed, overpraised and hubristic Sting (what kind of a name is that for a grown man) and the outdated Police. At least, that's what I think.

To grow tired of London is to grow tired of life, or Dr. Johnson’s words to that effect, indicating all that was happening of worth in the 18th Century was indeed happening in Britain’s capital. Probably it was.

What was true then, may or may not be true today, because one ‘can’ grow weary of London very quickly. It is too big, too crowded, too congested, too noisy, too unfeeling, and too obsessed with the belief that it just may be too stuck on itself. At the same time, as one might grow fatigued with all that is there, one can never be uninterested.

As is the case with New York City’s residents, Londoners frankly don’t give a damn what any outsider (or even resident) might think or feel. They do what they do; whether Chelsea toff or Whitechapel villain, and they know that life is harsh and fundamental, so don’t bother interfering.

However, one aspect of la vie de Londres that has always prevailed is existential trendsetting nature. Existential in that, to the Londoner, it exists for itself, with no heed about what the outside world might think or not think. ‘Swinging London’ of the post-Beatles 1960s set trends all over the world, in music, fashion, literature, film and much more. Knickers-flashing, Mary Quant-skirted dollybirds offered a certain flair that the rest of the world aped, but never got quite right.

A similar phenomenon transpired about a decade later with the rise of ‘punk’. While punk extended beyond the confines of London, London remained the spiritual home of the movement in music, style and attitude. And it remained the home for jolly good reason. That reason being, there was little need for it elsewhere.

I lived in England at the peak of the punk phenomenon and, quite frankly, as a colonial boy, I was fascinated. Furthermore, I was interested enough, in those slightly cynical days of Thatcheresque Britain, that I wanted to see the punks and punkettes in their natural setting.

My motivation was somewhat sociological. Punkism, as a collective categorization of anarchistic defiance by disenfranchised and disenchanted nowhere boys and girls, had fascinated me for some time back then in 1981, by the very overtness of its nature.

Before my expedition to England, my exposure to punk had been minimal, and indeed I believed the movement to already have become passé – that it had left the scene with the demise of Sid Vicious (who “died for our sins,” according to a graffito I saw etched on the wall of a derelict factory near Dagenham, in the East End.)

Quite frankly, on the west coast of North America punk was never really a factor. While it had a big impact on the New York scene, with the Dolls, Blondie (bless Deborah Harry, I still have erotic dreams about her) and the Ramones, among others, it didn’t translate easily to, say LA, and the other La-La Land wannabe places up and down the coast, like my own (not so) laid-back and resolutely stuck-on-itself Vancouver. Punk was ghettoes and anger, not Starbuck’s and smoked salmon.

One time my wife and I were staying with a friend in North London -- we were down for a few days from our temporary home in Great Yarmouth (where punk was not much of a factor, either) – and one of my motivations was to see punks in their glory. I had made earlier tries, including a vain attempt to secure tickets to a Siouxie and the Banshees performance that ultimately ended up being cancelled due to Miss Sioux’s perceived antagonism towards the draconian censorship rules of the day.

I had also walked through Piccadilly and had spied plenty of spikes adorning the pates of the chronic glue-sniffers in that London focal point. But, I wanted to walk among them on their home turf.

So, I got in conversation with my friend. I always enjoyed conversing with her, as charmingly neurotic as she was, because she was a true free-spirit who had once been married to a very well-known movie star (who shall remain nameless), so I loved her gossip. Anyway, I asked her where might be the best place to see the punks in full flower in their natural habitat.

She said Piccadilly was indeed the most popular spot, but so many remnants of the 20th century dream were inclined to gather there that the place was neither savory nor entirely safe. Furthermore, a lot of the Piccadilly punks were poseurs – there to encourage the tourists to take their photos, and then to seek payment for the photos on threats of bodily mayhem if the pounds and pence weren’t forthcoming.

So, she recommended the street markets; at such places, she said, the punks were out for show, and there was also less chance of the unwary tourist being mugged.

Camden Market, complete with the ghost of Bob Cratchit and winos in the doorways of the shabby and filth-littered high street – only a stone’s throw yet a million miles from the Bentleys of Hampstead – was the venue of choice.

The market punks were all that she had promised they would be. The cliché of ‘Fellini-esque’ was unavoidable as garish face after garish face crossed one’s line of vision, in painted, pierced and piercing waves, as one wove amongst stalls cluttered with overpriced leatherwork and exotic ‘eastern’ jewelry that had likely been turned out on the domestic assembly line of a bed-sitter in Hackney.

Dress was ill-defined, as was gender, unless one made an uncomfortably close perusal of the crotches of the bondage-leather pants that ran a close second to the paramilitary school of trouser modishness. With the baggy camouflaged fatigues, it was excruciatingly difficult to tell boy from girl.

Most striking was the hair; multi-hued, shaved, ducktailed, mohawked or teased into a tressfallen Deborah Harry look-alike – at least in the days of ‘The Tide is High’ – and none of it truly inviting to the eye. But the disagreeableness was, of course, part of the intention in punker fashion.

Punk was protest, and the hair and garb were part of that protest. But, it was in the faces wherein ‘anarchy rules’ (as the popular slogan went). The contradictory punker credo had to be reflected in a deformed, violent and defiant visage that attempted to both fascinate and frighten – much as does a clown’s face, if we honestly grant him his purpose.

Consequently, paint, though part of the package, was secondary to laceration (the mark of the borderline personality disorder, by the way), which was permanent and seemed to indicate a greater devotion to the cause. The entire point of mutilated noses, ears, cheeks and even breasts lay in its pointlessness. Oglers would regard with horror an ear pierced in a dozen or more places (now as commonplace a fashion statement as thong undies, even among respectable kids), and the punks were pleased with the response. It had worked! Small children, equally socially impotent, gain the same perverse satisfaction over a parent’s horror over a gashed knee.

At the time we were there, the press reported an incident in which a punk was charged with assorted counts of vandalism and general mayhem. He appeared in court in a swastika-emblazoned leather jacket, and it was reported that each ear was pierced in 25 places.

“Why do you dress like that?” asked the nonplused, yet bewigged and robed judge.

“Because my aim in life is to shock people,” the punk replied. “I shocked you, didn’t I? Anyway, why do you dress like you do?”

It was not reported whether or not the judge was shocked, but the eloquence of the punk summed up the philosophy of one who might not be able to spell anarchy, but understood it well enough to melt the heart of Groucho.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gimme a little kiss, will ya, hon'

You must remember this ….
A kiss is just a kiss.
A sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply as time goes by.

And a kiss, being just a kiss, is also a fundamental thing. It is the base-line for one human caring for another, either superficially, or as deeply as one can feel.

First, I’ll be clinical and look at the blissful buss for what it is. Come down to it, at its barest elements (and if you are actually bare, it can be more enjoyable, especially if you are bare with somebody you really like being bare with, so bear with me) kissing is an odd thing.

If it is a romantic kiss, it is a matter placing one human mouth upon another for a length of time that is determined by time, place, nature of relationship and whether or not children or extraneous family members are within proximity. In other words, this can be a kiss as an isolated event, or as a prelude to enchanting amorous endeavors.

Yet, if I were to be even more clinical, I might mention the fact that the human mouth is an ideal breeding-medium for a lot of less-than-agreeable bacteria. Yet, here we have people going around and flagrantly kissing one another even though they would balk to the point of nausea at the idea of using another person’s toothbrush, chewing gum or soda/beer bottle.

That considered, the fact remains that the kiss is an age-old manifestation of love, trust, respect, and a thousand other positive things. Actually, nine-hundred-and-ninety-seven, but you get my drift. Kissing is practiced in almost all cultures, even though our majority, essentially European in heritage, probably developed kissing’s romantic connection to its highest form. However, to give the complete picture of the kiss, we should consider it in all its expressions, from the prosaic to the sublimely poetic:

* The obligatory kiss: This is reserved for aged aunties at Christmastime. This represents the first instant in a child’s life in which he or she becomes aware of the fact that not all family obligations are necessarily fun, especially if the aged auntie has whiskers on her chin.

* The family love kiss:
These are the kisses between parents and children and grandparents and the family dog and all others that go to making up the unit. These are good kisses, as long as they’re not ritualized, because they indicate to the individual throughout his life, even if he ends up lying in the gutter at the wrong end of a bottle of rice wine, that somebody once cared, because his mom kissed him.

* The kiss of respect: This is reserved for the Pope’s ring, the Queen’s hand and the Bible. Such kisses indicate that the symbolic personages or icons are the keys to civilization as we know it and should be accorded the highest gesture of love and/or fealty. This is probably the most ancient form of kissing.

* The kiss of death: This is a curious perversion of the basic idea that a kiss must be a positive gesture. The kiss from a Mafia boss to an underling indicates that he accords complete trust in the hit man to carry out his grim task. If the kiss is from the Mafioso to a perceived traitor, said traitor knows to not bother buying the green bananas.

* Kisses between members of the same sex: This is largely a cultural matter. Women in our society are permitted, and even encouraged to kiss each other. Men, on the other hand, would be violating a significant taboo unless they either happen to be related, or are in a gay relationship. Otherwise, male-male kisses matter of a cringeworthy nature among straight men. Indeed, most men become stiff and awkward and uncomfortable and go out to buy popcorn at such moments in Brokeback Mountain, for example. Straight men also start to talk in much deeper voices under such circumstances. But, it is cultural, as I suggest. Go to an Italian railroad station at arrival or departure time and you’ll see guys puckering up for each other all over the place.

* The social kiss: Usually a pleasant act of trust and friendship between compatible people at a time of arriving or leaving. This kiss is often accompanied by a hug and is directed at the cheek, just so there is no misinterpretation of what has gone on. Other than my wife, I have two long-duration female friends with whom I mouth kiss. It's always a brief peck, but they are of more importance in my life than my 'cheek-kiss' female friends, who are likewise more important than hug friends, who are more important than handshake friends. It's a complex business, human affection.

* The party kiss: Much like the social kiss, but usually the disinhibiting element of booze has been thrown into the mix, such as on New Year’s Eve, and this can sometimes lead to social kisses getting a bit out of hand to the degree, in certain cases, that other amorous behaviors ensue between non-spousal individuals, leaving any divorce lawyers present to rub their hands in venal glee at the possibilities of new employment on the immediate horizon.

* The blown kiss and the tiresome air kiss: Hardly kisses at all, or kisses at their most symbolic levels. Both are popular with movie starlets and society matrons who really don’t give much of a damn about the recipients. Mere gestures that should be ignored.

Now that we have considered all those other kisses, let’s look at the real thing: the romantic kiss. These are the kisses about which songs and poetry have been written. These are the good ones, expresses ultimately with a definite conclusion in mind.

* The first kiss: This can happen at sixteen or sixty (for late bloomers), and in both cases if it is with an especially coveted and desired person, it is pure magic. This kiss is the test, as well. Does it measure up to all prior expectations? After all, you’ve probably been anticipating this moment for ages. Did the sparks fly? Was it sweet and promising; lusty and demanding, or maybe a tad disappointing? Relationships have truly been made or broken at this pivotal point. Just a reminder to newcomers, always lick your lips prior to that first kiss. It will go much better.

* The good night kiss: The bane of every teenager’s dating life (and some older daters, too). Should I or shouldn’t I? Should I let him or not? It’s an important decision. If he is too pushy, will she shy away? If he shies away, will she think he’s kind of a dweeb, or possibly gay? It is a quandary, but fortunately one that usually works itself out.

* The unexpected kiss: You are expecting a soft and sweet meeting of the lips of the sort that has been promised by a certain biological impulse manifested from lingering eye contact and other gestures from a person with whom you have never indulged in this activity before, but he seems completely amenable to such an oral coming-together. When the kiss begins it is indeed soft and sweet, and then it becomes more and more urgent and powerful and promising.

If that happens, lucky you. Have a wonderful time and I won’t expect to hear from you until sometime tomorrow afternoon at the earliest.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

And it's six from me

This one comes from Heart in San Francisco and rather than tag, she just suggested that if you want to do it, please do so and let her know. So, I am doing it and following her number meme theme, in this one the consideration revolves around the number 6.


1. When alone or even in company, I sing. I sing all the time. I don’t know if it’s an OC tendency, or just that I like singing. The only difference is, I tend to sing obscure songs (like Muleskinner Blues and Mairzy Doats) and songs identified with women, like My Guy. This used to piss my ex-wife off because she thought it made me sound gay. I ignored her. Everything pissed her off.
2. I eat ice cream mid-evening virtually every evening. Usually vanilla, but ‘good’ vanilla.
3. Being a contrarian because I detest being told what to do. I get inwardly very angry if somebody is trying to control me. I am a decent and law-abiding citizen, but if somebody is just throwing his or her weight around then I am most unimpressed and I just damn well won’t ‘play’ if I see no reason to. I think this goes back to unfortunate schooldays experiences. Most bad things do.
4. Getting crushes. I am very happily married and resolutely faithful, but I am still susceptible to schoolboy crushes on certain females.
5. Very foul-mouthed when angry. Not much of an admission for a former English teacher but I don’t believe God would have given us the F-word if he didn’t want us to use it at appropriate times. And, at such times, loggers and stevedores could probably pick up some new expressions from me.
6. I detest vulgarity for the sake of vulgarity. I don’t find crudity or baseness diverting or amusing. But – if a gag is really funny, regardless of profane nature, then I am all-agog to hear or see it. I think I am tasteful, but not a prude. Bawdiness, on the other hand, I love.


1. Scuba. Wendy has scuba certification, I don’t. I love snorkelling, but have never gotten around to doing it. I don’t know if fear deters me.
2. Chucking it all and heading out on the road or to sea and just see where life takes us.
3. Learning either the piano or another language. In this one I have to convince myself that it is never too late to gain mastery of something appealing. Do I have the self-discipline? I don’t know.
4. Going up the Amazon by boat. Not a little canoe, but a nice air-conditioned boat.
5. Overcoming my fear of heights. It’s not exactly crippling, but it certainly thwarts my pleasure when I have to deal with certain chunks of geography that are otherwise immensely appealing, like gazing down into Waimea Canyon (see photo) on Kauai.
6. To gain complete confidence in my writing, and damn any torpedoes that come my way. I mean, I have made a living in this wretched trade for 30 years, but I never approach it with complete confidence in my skills.


1. Coffee: I love it and am not in any way motivated to give it up regardless of what new boneheaded finding ‘scientists’ come up with. Screw them. I needs me my caffeine and I’m shameless about it.
2. Alcohol: I used to love to drink, socially, affably. I was a fine connoisseur of good wines, single malt scotches and cognacs. But then I decided, over a decade ago, that I loved it far too much. It was an escape and it was costly. So, I stopped. I miss it not at all. Never even think about it.
3. Spending money on expensive travels: I have spent a lot over the years to go to far away places with strange sounding names. But, then I asked myself if I regret having spent so much in that regard. I realize that I have no regrets at all. I love travelling. I do believe it’s broadening and increases tolerance at many levels. I can tell immediately when I am conversing with somebody who hasn’t traveled, and I believe it diminishes them.
4. Missing my stepdaughter. At one time I thought it was a pointless exercise and that she had treated me grossly unfairly. Having communicated with her a year ago (finally, after many years) I learned that she believes she had her reasons. I don’t necessarily accept her reasons, but they are her own and I’m good with them. Acceptance is the key.
5. Not hesitating to confront people who litter, who let their dogs crap on my lawn or on footpaths, and who spit (yuck – double yuck if they are girls). I say not hesitating, but it does depend to a degree on how big they are. I’m not a fool.
6. Unhesitatingly offering my seat on public transit to a female, or always permitting her to proceed through a doorway before me, rising when a female enters a room, and all those old niceties are who I am. I am unapologetic about this. If this is an affront to somebody’s feminist impulses, then so be it. I like old-school manners and am not about to change.

If you want to do this meme, you're tagged. No pressure. But if you do, please let me know so I won't miss it.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Sing a song of redheads

“So you – my friend – are going away -- for a very long time. Remember – we never – ever – sleep!”

This is stated to the apprehended sleazy Colombian crime-lord and is punctuated with the mandatory removal of the sunglasses by the utterer. It all takes place right out there in the steamy and torrid Miami sun, with all those stunningly pretty art deco buildings in the background and the azure sea beyond. The world is a little bit safer because Horatio Caine has bagged big game.

Yes, excruciatingly mannered Horatio Caine – is this a Biblical metaphor, you know, considering that Horatio has a missing/dead brother? – as played by the inimitable David Caruso on CSI Miami.

My brother is one of the nine people who watches CSI New York, mainly because he detests the ‘excruciatingly mannered David Caruso.’ I don’t. It’s the mannerisms and the voice that so rarely rises in cadence that make it work for me. This is a cop I could trust.

We both agree that the original CSI, the Vegas version, as delectable as ‘Catherine’ might be, grows old and tiresome, and Grissom is a pompous pain-in-the-ass. Nerd triumphant, as it were.

However, the reason for this treatise is not to extol the virtues of David Caruso, but to consider the matter of redheads.

It has been said (truly it has) that redheaded men are not to be trusted, and Caruso is a redhead. It has been said that male redheads are duplicitous, weak, mean-spirited, and devious. Not that there haven’t been redheaded males of accomplishment. Winston Churchill, who possessed auburn locks when he had hair, was a man of some attainment, I understand. And who could accuse Red Skelton, or even Red Buttoms of being duplicitous? Not I. Even though I never found Red Skelton remotely funny.

On the other hand, the kid who delivers our newspaper is tonsorially on the rouge side, and I wouldn’t trust the little bugger around the corner. Just something about him. I think it’s the way he throws the paper at the front door with sufficient force to chip paint that has something to do with it. That, plus the chronically nasty look on his face. I suspect he's a future felon, but that's just me.

I’ve read that redheaded kids in the UK (where redheads usually go by the term ‘ginger’) have a hard time with bullying at school, and regularly have the snot beaten out of them, just for the hue of their hair. That’s mean.

Interestingly, redheaded women get no bad press, and are considered often to be extremely desirable. Mainly because they are.

I was once married to a redhead, and she had flowing auburn tresses that ran right down to her cute bum when first I met her. I think I initially fell in love with her hair. And, there are things about redheads that only one who has been in very close quarters with a ‘true’ redhead knows to indeed be true. No more about that, however.

And, even though I am no longer married to a redhead, locks of auburn or titian will still invariably turn my head. They even did before I met my ex-wife.

Redheaded women often have fiery and feisty temperaments, but there is nothing wrong with that. I like forthright women. They are sometimes mercurial in temperament. That’s OK. Keeps a fella on his toes.

And now that I have run through all my clichés and stereotypes, I’ll just recall the loveliness of Rita Hayworth or Nicole Kidman, or assorted others of such a tone who have made impact. Even if the sunset tresses have come out of a bottle. It always works.

Here’s a toast to the redheads of the world!


Sunday, November 18, 2007

It's not just a matter of 'spending a penny'

I guess it's a case of 'watch' while you wee with this baby

When you first swung your feet over the edge of the bed this morning it is likely that your first order of business – before coffee even – was, well, your first order of ‘business’. That is, you went and had a pee. Most of us do. I confess, I do.

You go into your nice appointed biffy, all chrome and porcelain, and clean and sweet smelling, and you do what nature demands that you do at that precise moment, with not too many moments to spare past that precise moment.

But, the point is, you probably don’t think of yourself as being remarkably privileged in being able to spend your first interlude of wakefulness tending to your needs in pleasant surroundings.

I mention this because, and you might not have been aware, that tomorrow, November 19th is World Toilet Day. That’s right. This year the international convention is being held in Bangkok, and this UN sanctioned recognition of global tinkling needs is far from being a frivolous one.

In that, it is much more important than National Hot Dog Day, or Dill Pickle Month. What it addresses is the deadly serious reality that while most of us in the First World have pleasing sanitation options, some 2.6 billion people worldwide have no form of improved sanitation.

That means that when they need to ‘go’, they either go to the bush, or some sort of vile outhouse contraption. Those of us who have traveled in destitute countries know well how challenging, not to mention obnoxious, such rudimentary facilities can be. That is to say, this isn’t just outhouse use while camping, this is for those who live there, all the time.

It’s not all about esthetics, either. Anyone can get over bad smells and fears of rats coming up through the hole our bare bums are hovering over What the conference strives to address is how rudimentary sewage disposal despoils potable water sources and spreads such diseases as cholera, dysentery, and polio.

The old ‘jokes’ about not drinking the water in Mexico are much more serious than ripostes about turista, or Montezuma’s Revenge, they reflect that here is a society that, especially in rural areas, is not yet dealing adequately with human evacuation. My ex-wife got amebic dysentery in Mexico when we were on there on vacation. It was utterly unamusing, and the residuals lasted for virtually a year afterward, and depleted her already challenged health (she has MS) radically.

So, as I say, enjoy your comforting potty visit (as will I) but lend a thought to the reality of the day. And realize that we live lives much more charmed and safer than elsewhere in the world.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Found me a million dollar baby at the dollar store

In the bathroom there is a bottle of shampoo called ‘Jazid’. It’s a sort of pink confection that smells a bit like cotton candy. The label says it’s made in Canada, but I don’t believe that for a second. It’s probably made in Kazakhstan or Upper Volta. Not that I mind. It cleans my hair and it cost a buck.

I got it at one of the ubiquitous ‘dollar’ stores that abound in my community and every other community. They go by various names, such emporia, but they’re all the same. Go to one in any city, town or strip mall and you find the same kinds of eclectic stuff. I love ‘em. I love them because they’re cheap and entertaining at the same time. In that they remind me of some of the girls I dated at an earlier stage of my life.

Part of the entertainment comes from the labels. Whoever turns out this stuff tries to make it look like the real thing. So, you might have ‘Heenz Beans’ or Kambell’s Soup with a remarkable facsimile label. Or, you will get remaindered products that sell well in Poland, perhaps, but are not well-known this side of the Atlantic.

At the same time, many of these products are surprisingly acceptable in quality. I found, for example, that dollar store spices (with esoteric branding) are every bit as good as the name ones at the supermarket that retail for about five times the spice. Sage is sage. Why do I care who made it?

I also like the fact that dollar stores often sell off remaindered items; lines that have been dropped for reasons best known to the marketing weasels at some company. In this context I try to scrupulously avoid developing affection for a certain line of product because if I do I know the company is going to stop making it.

For example, and back to the shampoo theme, I used to particularly favor Alberto Balsam. Bought it all the time. Then, one day, it disappeared. I have no idea why. But, a couple of years ago I was in a dollar store and there was AB. I bought three bottles. They’re used up now, and today I can’t even find it in a dollar store.

The other thing I like about dollar stores is that they’re cheap. The items are all inexpensive. For example, I paint. I don’t know how well, but I take great pleasure in it, so that’s what counts. I buy frames and mats from the dollar store. They cost at the very least half, and sometimes a third as much as they cost in mainstream stores. My paintings aren’t insulted by being cheaply framed, and nobody else can tell the difference.

For a while, when they first came out, some people were a bit ashamed to be seen in a dollar store. But, no more. Getting inexpensive items has become almost trendily acceptable.

And, they are one step above thrift stores. Mind you, even there, if you know your labels you can be amazed at what you can acquire. Hanging in my closet is a literally like-new and perfectly-fitting Pierre Cardin sport coat that I bought at the Sally Ann for five bucks. Who needs to know where I got it?

But, that’s a whole other topic.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Hey -- let's take off our clothes and get naked

They weren't exactly as shown

This particular item is taken from a piece I wrote for the Vancouver Sun many years ago, and is currently part of a possible (and hopefully publishable) collection of my various writings over the years. The ultimate collection will include pieces from my 20-year column in the Comox District Free Press, as well as other bits from my column in the Great Yarmouth Mercury, in Great Yarmouth England, for which I wrote in the early 1980s.

“Bracing” is the term they use in Norfolk, England for the prevailing North Sea wind that wafts over the flat coastal plains of East Anglia. Bracing, you must understand, is a term that represents English understatement of the highest order.

The prevailing wind, “straight out of Siberia,” as the locals would have it, predominates through much of the year, and it is also said that such a wind as this, again according to the locals, “Can make a grown-man weep.”

I experienced such a wind as this one autumn day in 1980 when my then wife and I were joined in an expedition to the seaside with two friends, a married couple, visiting from Canada. My wife and I were already resident in the village of Bradwell, near Great Yarmouth, a resort town on that aforementioned coast. We were to be there for a year while my wife carried out a teacher exchange from our Vancouver Island home.

The day in question was, in fact, a little less than ‘bracing’ (for a welcome change). There was a distinct autumnal nip in the air, but the sun was shining brightly, and we felt a beach excursion was in order. Especially in light of the fact we had held a bit of a mini-reunion with our Canadian friends the previous evening. A reunion at our newfound local pub that included introducing our compatriots to liberal dollops of an exquisite local brew known as Norwich Castle Bitter. Consequently we were all slightly in the rigors of some self-inflicted injury, and there is nothing like salt air to neutralize that residual impact.

We checked out a number of seaside spots along the Anglian coastline that day, as we headed south into Suffolk. While the North Sea, in terms of immersion, is excruciatingly cold at virtually all times of the year, the beaches themselves on the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts are just as inviting as strands of golden sand as those of Hawaii.

We finally settled on the beach at Corton, a few miles to the south, about halfway between Yarmouth and Lowestoft. I hadn’t been there before, and thought it was a splendid looking place. We walked along for some time, watching the scudding blackheaded gulls and pondering the geographical provenance of a North Sea freighter that was wending its way towards Yarmouth – Hamburg? Bremen? Perhaps even Leningrad, as it was called still. All very romantic. Next to this same sea there was a time when spotters watched from the shoreline in horror as Viking raiders approached. In 1916 a Zeppelin came across and staged the very first English aerial bombardment, with Yarmouth as the chosen target.

Lost in my reverie, a nudge to the ribs snapped me back to reality. It was my friend calling my attention to a sign on a post immediately ahead of us. It read: It is not necessary to wear clothing on the beach past this point.

Our none-too-quick minds were a little befuddled as to the meaning of the sign. Then the message, so discreetly stated, hit home. This was a nude beach! We could get ‘nekkid’ here on this lovely beach right on our own English doorstep. Wreck Beach Anglo-Saxon style. My mind became inflamed with images of assorted Julie Christies, Jenny Agutters and other lovelies of the day, showing in plain view their rosebud tipped breasts and all their nether trappings. What a wonderful thing. How civilized.

We were actually a trifle nonplused. Nudity one expects in Germany, and it goes without saying on the Riviera. England somehow seemed different at that time, the London strip clubs notwithstanding. In our minds, nudity seemed about as out-of-place on Blighty’s shores as a licensed bar at a Mormon convention.

My wife, bless her heart, suggested that perhaps we could stay on the south side of the sign. However, masculine will, combined with an affirmation by my friend’s liberal minded wife, prevailed, and we decided we should forge on, just to see what might lie before us. Would it be a dissolute debauch of Chaucerian proportion, or would it be as sedate and sophisticated as a tailgate champagne picnic at Ascot?

The nude beach, I must confess, was a disappointment. The visions of lithe, oiled, California-tanned limbs were supplanted by the reality of a man, easily the far side of 70, who sported a physique not unlike that of a Holocaust survivor, huddling against a canvas windbreak, obviously trying to keep the ‘bracingness’ of the day from aggravating his hypothermia. I suspect he was too cold to have considered the fact that there might be those who would consider him a symbol of all that is evil and depraved in the world.

Sitting beside him on the beach was a rather lumpy looking older couple, fully clothed who, by their attire and general demeanor looked as if they had just stepped out of a Giles cartoon. I suspect they had become resigned to the fact that poor eccentric Uncle Bertie was possessed of an overwhelming passion to doff ‘trou’ at the simplest excuse, and they were merely there to make certain he didn’t get up to anything even sillier.

Realizing that we were there in the off-season, I looked around, hoping to spot tell-tale signs of previous orgies, just to give myself hope for the following year’s spring and summer. Alas, there were no discarded undies or any other hints of frolicking alfresco. There wasn’t even so much as a discarded beer bottle. In fact, it was the cleanest English beach I experienced during my stay there.

This either attests to the fact that nudists are scrupulously moral and reasonable folk, or that the North Sea is so consistently bracing that only the bravest and maddest venture forth. Such mad courage might indeed have been concentrated exclusively in poor old Uncle Bertie, the sole member of the UK naturist brigade.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

A testament to my buddy, Griffin

Griffin in repose, a favored position 23 hours of the day

Mr. Griffin is, like his master, getting old. He walks stiffly and seems to have some sort of arthritic thing happening in his hindquarters. He is (at an estimate) about 18, which, in cat years, is around 278. But, he is alert, seems to be happy, consumes massive amounts of food, and still manages to get up to puke on the hall carpet. Such are the ways of cats.

I’m sorry that he is getting old. I’m even sorrier that he won’t be around indefinitely. I am sorry about all of that because he and I are ‘connected.’ And, that is saying a great deal for me, since I’m not, in the purist sense of the word, a ‘cat person.’ Essentially, I’m a dog guy. Always have been and always will be. But, dogs are a pain in the ass, too, because they are so needy. Cats are low maintenance. And that’s why I have a cat.
And therein lies a tale:

I got Griffin (he’s named after a local pub, is what the shelter people told me when I acquired him) back in February 1997. I was recently separated, living in a nifty condo, and oh so lonely. I was then in the midst of pissing matches with my recently ‘ex’ and we were still inexcusably soaking each other to excess. At the same time I, being a relatively outgoing person, wanted company. I mean, what I really wanted was female company. That was what I wanted. That is what I’ve always wanted. But, considering what I had just gone through, I felt it prudent to not want to share my digs with somebody who was going to be hanging pantyhose over the shower rod. Nice thought, but I was still too raw. Anyway, I’d done the ‘rebound’ process before, and that – and I cannot emphasize this enough, is a really STUPID! Motivation for linking up with anybody no matter how enticing they are – wasn’t what I needed. Not just yet.

So, I checked with the condo manager about having a pet. No dogs, he said, but you can have a cat provided it was clean and with the understanding that I would cover all the damages for anything that might get clawed, shredded or puked upon.

So, a cat was what it was to be. I went to the SPCA and was truly specific. I wanted a well-behaved 'adult' cat. The lady at the helm I think could have French kissed me because she was so happy I wanted a grown-up cat and not some cute little kitten. Kittens get adopted. Cats, rarely. So, that meant there were a lot of ‘dead cats walking’ around that place.

“We have such a cat for you!” she said, exultantly and probably not with a Jewish accent. Then, she introduced me to Griffin. Griffin was an adult male, probably about seven years old, well behaved, neutered, and extremely affectionate. He was all of those things. I was sold virtually immediately. And that was how he came into my life.
I’ve never looked back. A few months later he moved in with me, I took up with Wendy. After she and I had dated a few times, she came back to my place for the first time She met Griffin. Griffin immediately took to her. Like his master, he likes dames. “You’re a cat person,” Wendy said, her voice filled with delight. “Man, are you going to get lucky tonight.” She didn’t actually say that at all, but I thought it added color to the story. Suffice it to say she was well pleased, since she had two cats of her own.

After dating for a few months, we moved in together. She was apprehensive about the mixing of the felines. I assured her Griffin was a gent and would cause no trouble with her existing neutered females. He never did. They blended perfectly.

Wendy’s cats were quite old and cranky at the time, and have long since shuffled off this mortal coil, but for the time they were together, Griffin was always respctful, let them pass through the doors before him and metaphorically tipped his hat to them always. After hers had gone, we got Stumpy, the bizarre and fabulous little Manx, just to keep Griffin company. They got along famously. But then Stumpy (sigh) died very prematurely a couple of years ago.

Since then, Griffin has been on his own. He doesn’t seem to mind much. He’s back to the way it was in the beginning – just him and me most of the time, since Wendy works out of town during the week (which I seem to hate more than he does). He seems OK with it being just us guys.

And that is my little Thursday testament to my very old cat.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hostelries can be hostile

The current vogue is to refer to upscale hostelries as ‘boutique’ hotels, giving the desperate-to-impress traveler visions of shopping on Rodeo Drive or some other equally posh Mecca of extravagance. The word boutique is simply French for small store, or department within a larger store, but it exudes, in translation at least, a hint of having arrived. Something very important to arrivees. ‘Arrivee’, by the way, is French for pretentious bastard with more money than sense.

A few years ago hotels and motels (which used to be called auto-courts until the owners of such decided the term was a little too reminiscent of images of the Joad family making their way to ‘Californy’) came to be called ‘inns’. Actually there are still a lot of inns around. Most of the places that aren’t boutique hotels still stick with the nomenclature.

I expect the idea of co-opting the world inn was to give the impression that this was something of a cozy Dickensian hostelry, rather than a heartless steel and glass tower. However, if you study authentic Dickensian inns, you would find the heartless tower much more agreeable. But, the Dickensian of myth suggests goose-down duvets, brass bedsteads, and copper bedwarmers, and a crackling fire right within the room. The décor wallpaper and duvet cover would be, of course, Laura Ashley with an unremitting vengeance.

But, I say call hotels, motels, or flophouses what you will, they are ultimately just places that for a certain paid sum, one can hit the sack and hope for a reasonable night’s sleep, without being too distracted by noisy guests in adjoining rooms, drunks in the corridor, sirens in the streets, screams in the streets, or developing obsessive thoughts about just how stained the mattress might be beneath all this seemingly spotless linen. Oh, and why should items in the mini-bar cost more than a case of the stuff in a liquor store?

Regardless of such concerns, I have generally enjoyed the places I have stayed in over the years. I have put my feet up in many North American hostelries, as well as throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, Hawaii, and the South Pacific. They haven’t all been splendid, and many were far from luxurious, but they fulfilled the function they were called upon to fulfill at the time. And, my demands are few. So are my personal caveats. I shy away from places with cute names like Bide-a-Wee, and I want no truck with a place that calls itself ‘Kozy’ anything. People who substitute a K for a word that should have a C are either excruciatingly twee, illiterate, or raging international Trotskyites. Not to be trusted, any of them.

The less expensive rooms of my experience are basically cookie-cutter in accoutrements. They all generally have the same chenille bedspread, with the only variation being in color, as long as those colors are pink, white or beige. They will also have the same vinyl headboard, simulated wood desk; orange, yellow and brown curtains that invariably fail to keep out the flashing neon light of the bowling alley across the street. There will also be a few questionable, though not horrific, stains on the carpet. Oh, and there will be a fake oil painting of a quaint bucolic scene bolted to the wall. As if anybody would actually steal one of those hideous things. Oh, and a TV. A TV for which the remote, as often as not, won’t work.

Each time I enter a new room I follow a basic routine. My first stop is the bathroom, sometimes out of necessity, but more usually out of curiosity. I flush to make sure the mechanism on the john works. I regard the bathtub, usually with certain dismay, since they are invariably midget-sized. I scrutinize the toiletries, the little shampoos and soaps just to see if they will be worthwhile pilfering. There is always a shower cap. I imagine few shower caps get ripped off.

My next stop is that aforementioned television. Have you ever noticed that motel and hotel TVs are often some obscure brand like ‘Eddie’s?’ Expensive rooms have big flat screen top-end sets that make one feel a bit cheated upon returning to the crappy and archaic home TV. Cheap rooms are better in that regard because you don’t suffer TV envy when the vacation or business trip is over. A lot of hotel/motel TVs have extra-cost cable connections that will bring you relatively recent motion pictures or sleazy porn right to your own home-away-from-home. Some sort of a nod to contemporary mores, more for the lonely commercial traveller than anyone else, I suspect.

I never really bother much with the ‘in case of fire’ escape routes. If there is a fire, I am going to be in such a blind panic that I won’t remember the diagram, in any case. I just know one rule, therein: Don’t take the damn elevator!

Mini-bar equals rip-off. Designed only for those too lazy or afraid to go down to the lounge, or for those who were silly enough to no bring their own supply at a fraction of the cost, or for alcoholics who have finished all their own stuff and who are still not ready to call it a night. Lushes are notoriously bad planners.

As I suggested, my observations, and in some cases, caveats, apply only to the middle ground of hostelries. I have stayed in some really crummy places, rarely, and some very high end digs, equally rarely. We stayed once, at off-season rate, at a very, very posh Waikiki hotel. My basic feeling was I didn’t even want to hit the beach. I just wanted to stay in the room. It was a room that put to the lie my long-held belief that a hotel room is just a place to lay one’s head, so why pay the big bucks? I know now that if I had the big bucks on a regular basis, I would go top-drawer all the way. But, I digress.

But, even with cheaper forms of accommodation, I do have my standards. When I am paying hard-earned money to avoid sleeping rough on a park-bench or in a railway station, I expect a basic value in return for my expenditure. For example, I would never think of staying at the following places:

- A room with more than three beds. One of which seems to be already occupied.
- A room with what looks like bullet holes in the wall.
- A room in which the door to the hallway only locks from the outside.

- A room with no window. Even if it overlooks the local stockyards, I demand a window.

- A room in which there is a gas heater that suggests ‘Use at your own risk.’

- A hotel or motel with hourly rates, with a notice saying 'Mandy' is available from 9 p.m. to midnight.

- A hotel of which the clerk at the travel agency has told you: “Well, if there’s nothing else available, we can always get you into the Buena Vista. You do not want the Buena Vista, believe me.

- A hotel of which, when the address is given, causes a cabbie to shake his head with dismay and cross himself.

- A hotel that asks you to leave the names of next-of-kin when registering.

- A hotel in which the fire-charred areas above the windows have been inadequately covered by cheap paint.

So, maybe before you begin your next vacation, you might want to take this guide with you. Just some of the stuff they don't tell you on

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

'In the room the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo'

I like the general idea of art galleries. I like the fact one can browse unimpeded, sure in the knowledge that even if one is a cultural cretin, nobody else in the room knows that. All that is necessary is to stand reasonably well back from a painting, scratch one’s chin pensively, nod, utter a “Hmm,” and even the most stalwart fine arts snob will not have a clue that you had formerly thought Escher was the name of a contemporary singer.

It is also beyond refute (at least in myth) that galleries are great places to meet members of the opposite sex.

“So, do you like Turner, or what?”

“Ike or Tina? Oh – right – that Turner. The painter. Yes, I’ve always admired his – uh – intensity. And maybe, dare I say, his passion?”

“Ooh, you flirtatious devil, you.”

See. It's ever so easy, if you're looking for that sort of encounter. And now that acquaintanceship has been established, you can then – this works especially well if you’re in a European gallery – ask your new ‘acquaintance’ if she would like to saunter down to the bar and discuss Turner some more and maybe -- if you are feeling especially brave and worldly -- Modigliani. You know, what with pubic hair showing and that sort of stuff. Risque, yes, but you are deucedly cosmopolitan.

If you are on a genuine quest to establish an aura of culture (not to mention some more new friendships) you can hang out at the gallery on a regular basis, and also convince yourself and your loved ones you are not wasting time. How can you waste time surrounded by works of art? You will actually impress others by the intensity of your cultural acumen, and they will never suspect you of being the deadbeat you actually are.

All you need to do to pull off this ruse is to master a few stock phrases like: post-impressionist, neo-cubist, proto-classicist (this calls for a certain mastery of the well-tuned adjective), and then throw around statements like: “Well, Cezanne is Cezanne, but Matisse always expressed it better, in my humble esteem.” Now, who can argue with a guy who says things like that? At best, your enthralled public will even nod their heads in agreement.

Now, I don’t mean to convey the seemingly cynical idea that there might be some pretentiousness afoot in the world of the finer things, but perhaps you might want to check out the gallery scene in Woody Allen’s Manhattan, where he says much the same thing – only much better than I do, no doubt. Of course, if you happen to think that Woody is a tad pretentious in his scathing indictments of pretentiousness, then we aren’t getting anywhere, are we?

There are rules to be followed whilst in galleries. Laughing out loud is frowned up, and automatically categorizes you as hopelessly philistinic. Laughter is in especially bad taste (as is pointing and exclaiming loudly “Will you get a load of that thing!” or, "Look at the rack on her!") when the artist is present. And, no matter how much you might like to believe it, your eight-year-old simply cannot paint better than David Hockney.

Other rules include eschewing any thought of stating: “But, I know what I like.” No you don’t. Certainly not in pretentious artsy circles, you don’t. You may know what you 'think' you like, but you would be wrong. They ‘know’ because they are authorities on art. They may even be, critics. Many critics innately sense that they (the critics) know much more about the work of, say Jackson Pollock, than Pollock himself did, when he drew the odd sober breath.

Something else to consider when looking at any work of art. Master widespread use of the word ‘interesting.” It works for almost all contingencies. It’s non-committal, and it suggests knowledge when absolutely none, in fact, is present.

In gallery protocols, there are other rules to be observed. Do not attempt to take surreptitious photos of paintings and other works of art. Galleries are businesses. And part of their business is selling prints, books and postcards of the works within. They will, of course, hand you some sort of BS about the light from the flash having negative impact on paintings, but its mainly about separating you from a bit of your money if you are seeking a souvenir.

Of the latter restriction, I have a bit of firsthand experience. I once tried to take a clandestine photo in a gallery, and this resulted in a bit of a contretemps with a guard. My encounter wasn’t as severe as the one I observed a few years earlier in a tour of the Vatican, in which a young female American tourist, who had dared to sneak a photo within the Sistine Chapel, was challenged by a thuggish looking Swiss Guard, who grabbed her camera and ripped the film out of it. Swiss Guards may have cute clothes, but they’re mean mothers.

Anyway, my encounter was with a rather venerable chap who looked like he might have served in the Boer War, and then spent many years as a model for Giles cartoons. You get the picture.

It was in the Fitzwilliam Gallery in Cambridge, England. The subject I wanted a picture of was a delightful Hogarth engraving – part of the Rake’s Progress series – that showed a rather zaftig young woman with a most fetching flush on her face, who was obviously pleasingly satiated by a sexual encounter with the rake in question. It charmed me, so I thought I would grab a quick photo, since the aforementioned guard was obviously dozing.

As I raised my camera a Lazarus-like transformation came over the man and he marched (using the term ‘marched’ advisedly) over to me and demanded, in a rather churlish manner, that I desist. Others in the gallery turned and looked disdainfully at me. I felt like someone who had inadvertently tracked dogshit onto somebody’s front foyer carpet.

"Bloody colonial rubbish," I thought I heard an onlooker mutter.

What I had been about to do was obviously “not done” and all those judgmental bozos staring at me obviously knew that. I mumbled something about just checking to get a light reading, and smartly made a hasty exit.

As a closing thought, I have often thought it must be nice to be a full-time artist. A successful full-time artist. A full-time artist who makes lots and lots of money and is a darling of the pretentious everywhere. The sort of artist who has enough of a repute and backlog of work that I could spend the bulk of my time, either attending openings, in the South of France, or in the tropical Pacific, a la Gauguin, pretending I’m painting.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

We met, we paused, we moved on forever

Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing, only a signal shown, and a distant voice in the darkness; So on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another, only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

During the course of our lives we meet and get to know many people. Some of these people are relatively inconsequential, being classmates, colleagues, store clerks, neighbors, and so forth. Others, however, strike a chord within us and enter the realm of the ‘consequential’.

These include ‘significant others’, certain cherished friends, mentors of worth, and ‘ships that pass’ but do not stay around for long. Just a wave and a blown-kiss, and then they are gone. They are gone except for the place they burn in the memory-bank – for whatever reason. As follows is one such tale.

This particular ‘ship’ was a colleague in my second year teaching. A fellow teacher for only a few brief months she was. She was an English girl, tall, blonde, exquisitely proportioned, with a wonderful ‘plummy’ accent, very intelligent, and with the bawdiest of senses of humor. She looked remarkably like the English actress Patricia Hodge (pictured), whom I can never see in something like Rumpole without immediately thinking of my special friend.

She was very flirtatious, and slightly exhibitionistic, and a toucher, and a hugger. What red-blooded lad in his mid-20s couldn’t have been smitten? I know I was. The fact that I was also married didn’t detract from my fantasies about this Miss from the English Channel Isle of Guernsey. I wasn’t alone in my carnal mental meanderings. After she had left, a friend said: “It was a good thing she moved away. I think there would have been broken marriages all over the place if she hadn’t.”

She too was married. She was married to a handsome, brilliant, highly-creative, and intensely moody Welshman. He was also intensely jealous of her – which seemed to fuel her shenanigans even more. I yes, quite a psychological profile happening there. Stuff of novels. Hey, I might even ‘use’ her in some future creative endeavor. Oh, and he was also a physical abuser, I was later to find.

I recall sitting next to her in a staff meeting on a hot June day. She was sucking on an orange Popsicle. I won’t describe what she was doing with her ‘lolly’, as she called it.
We were invited to dinner at her place one evening. After a fine meal and some good wine, we settled in to chat. She sat directly across from me. She was wearing a tiny mini dress (as she always did, and which showed off her very long legs to fine advantage). As she sat, she made herself ‘comfortable’. Comfortable meant hiking her skirt up well above her knickers, which were fully exposed. Her husband was not pleased with the show, and mentioned it to her.

“Oh, it’s only Ian,” she said. “He’s a friend. He doesn’t mind.”

Esthetically I didn’t mind at all. But, at a personal level, I rather did. My wife and I grew increasingly uncomfortable, and her husband grew increasingly broody. Eventually we made our excuses. We didn’t want to be a part of whatever game was going on.

Shortly thereafter they moved away. They moved to Vancouver. She passed her telephone number and address onto me a while later. The following summer I gave her a call. “Oh, you must come over and visit,” she said. “I’m moving back to Guernsey, and I’d love to see you before I go.”

We went to the address she gave. She answered the door. We were both shocked. She sported two black eyes. She’d left him and he’d punched her out. It wasn’t the first time, she told us, resignedly. That was why she was leaving.

That was the last time I ever saw her. But, as I said, I thought about her and wondered if I’d ever see her again. I wasn’t in love with her, but I confess I was fascinated at many levels, including a lustful one.

I did hear her voice one more time. When I was living in England in 1981 I phoned her on Guernsey, whence she’d remarried and as raising a family. She was thrilled to hear from me and insisted we had to come to visit. My wife was on a break so we set in motion plans to cross the Channel. The channel, as it turned out was hit by unspeakable storms in the time we had free. We couldn’t make it. I called to tell her. She sounded dreadfully disappointed.

I’ve never heard from her since, and she never responded to any letters I sent to her. Sad. Ships, as I said.

Do you have any ships that passed in your own night?


Friday, November 09, 2007

Too easy to forget

The mud, blood and filth of Passchendaele in 1917

"...I died in Hell(they called it Passchendaele)

my wound was slightand I was hobbling back;

and then a shellburst slick upon the duckboards;

so I fellinto the bottomless mud, and lost the light"

. . . Siegfried Sassoon

Almost exactly a year ago we rolled into the railway station in Lille, France, to change trains so we could continue on our way to Brussels. As we pulled away from the station the pastoral beauty of the peaceful and bucolic countryside struck me.

Ironically, this journey took place on November 12th. That is the day after November 11th, which isn’t a silly statement at all, because November 11th is in Canada and the Commonwealth, Remembrance Day. I believe it is called Veterans’ Day in the US. Names don’t matter, but events do.

What I found almost unforgivable in myself was that as I was luxuriating in the comfort of our sleek Eurostar train – the same one that whisks passengers to London via the Chunnel, or Paris, if you’re going the other way – is that I was on charged ground. For, just a few miles to the north of this farm country, in the direction of Calais, lay the etched forever in time, horrors of Passchendaele. Passchendaele which, in a scant four months in 1917 in order to gain two paltry kilometres of German held turf half a million Commonwealth soldiers died. Of those 500,000, 17,000 were Canadian boys. Indeed, in the first day of Canadian involvement, 2,500 kids from Vancouver, Toronto, and Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan paid with their lives.

So, here I am, sitting in a sleek train, enjoying my European tour, and I’m not cognizant of an earlier trip to the same bit of sod. I have a degree in European history. I chastise myself for my obliviousness.

Over the years I have written innumerable pieces on Remembrance Day and its meaning. When I began as a journalist, in the late 1970s, there remained a goodly number of World War One vets in our town. They’re all gone, and the numbers from World War Two, and even Korea are diminishing. “Gone off to join their comrades,” the old vets are fond of saying.

There is, of course, a certain falsehood in my writing such musings (one is in our local paper today, and it concerns a young man who died at the aforementioned Passchendaele – he was 19) and that is based on the fact that I, blessedly, have never been in combat.

I am happy I have never been in combat, but I can’t help wondering what it must be like. I can’t help wondering about the guys who hit the beach at Normandy in 1944 knowing their life expectancy was maybe 15-minutes, or less. How do you resolve that in your fear-ridden mind? Do you just say, “Oh, what the fuck – let’s go?” Or do you live on the expectation that you will be one of the charmed, one of the survivors? After all, despite the immoral toll on young lives, more survived than didn’t. Survived after a fashion, at least.

Today we have young men and women in Afghanistan. Young men and women in Iraq. Some of them won’t be coming back.

Spare them a thought on November 11th.