It’s a true blessing when something lives up to each and every expectation

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It’s a normal human impulse to have yearnings; to suffer under the belief that if certain things happen then a wish will have been fulfilled and the rest of life can be spent basking in the glories of something that was truly great.

Be careful of what you wish for,” quoth my Granny, “For it might just come true.” Maybe she didn’t cite all those maxims but it seems appropriate to attribute them to her. She was a smart and realistic cookie. Anyway, it seems to me that she said that, and who is to quibble?

So, today I want to consider basically just one of the things that happened in my life that made it all just a little more worthwhile. That doesn’t mean that everything else in my personal history has paled in comparison. No-no-no. Falling in love has been everything it is meant to be in song and fable; making love has been even more than that on not a few occasions; living abroad for a year was superlative and broadening; travelling to Hawaii has never grown old; travelling to the genuine South Pacific even more so, and so on and so on. Lots of good stuff has happened.panamer

But there was one sojourn that allowed me to fulfil a dream I’d had since I was a kid and that happened a year-and-a-half ago when I finally went through the Panama Canal. From the time I was a kid I was intrigued by the idea of passing from the Pacific to the Atlantic (Caribbean) and entering a new realm of the world after a traverse of only 77 kilometres. I also liked the idea of being in a place that marked the dividing line between North and South America. Indeed there is the recent Bridge of the Americas that crosses the canal to emphasize the point. And just south of that bridge the traveller enters the famed ‘Darien Gap’ that the Pan American Highway has yet to be completed through.DSCN2755

As we gathered at the Pacific entrance on the approach the the first locks and Miraflores, we joined many other ships sitting in wait. In the distance we could see the skyline of Panama City with its exotic highrises which leave an impression of Dubai so huge and modern are they. And then through to the first locks at Miraflores, opened in 1914 and still as watertight as they were over a century ago. Anyway, I was enraptured by the whole process and intrigued watching the little locomotives that tugged us and the huge Chinese freighter in the next lock to the destination.

The Panama Canal was no tiny feat as workers toiled and strained and died DSCN2772traversing a yellow fever infested jungle. In all for the American aspect of the venture, some 5,600 workers died (4,500 of them being West Indian, hence black; the much smaller remaining dead being white guys, go figure). Once you are through the initial locks you have a sideshow seat for the remainder of the journey. It’s quite pretty; jungly; and abounds in wildlife from egrets to coati mundis to crocodiles. In the middle you pass into Gatun Lake and this flooded section of the isthmus looks like ideal boating countries with little islets pinpointed throughout.DSCN2777

At the end it is out through the Gatun Locks and you enter the Caribbean, and then it’s over. It had been so anticipated by me I had hopes the trip would take longer. One of the little ironies of the canal is that the Caribbean exit lies actually to the west of the Pacific entry point.

Anyway, I have done the canal once and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Every expectation was met but sometimes a revisit of a good thing can be in order. Oh, and if you have ever toyed with making the trip I strongly advise it.

Principals with principles somehow decided to become ‘pals’

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I don’t know what has happened with secondary school principals. So many of them seem to be rather nice guys – and girls; the lovely lady down the street is a secondary principal.

In being ‘nice’ I think they’re letting down the side. My principal when I was in high school was a right prick, not to put too fine a point on the matter. He was cold, aloof, had absolutely no understanding of the minds of the adolescent. He wasn’t cruel or sadistic, just an unfriendly zero. And we, as students, truly disliked the man. Sad for him. And sad for us. Our high school ‘adventure’ would have been much more agreeable without him at the helm.Gale_Gordon_Eve_Arden_Our_Miss_Brooks_1952

But, he was etched in the model of such principals as Mr. Weatherbee in the Archie comics. Another guy who didn’t get the shenanigans of young people and showed no sense that they were ever adolescent. The spoofed Weatherbee in the Mad Magazine spoof of Archie was always a favorite of mine and that’s why I gratuitously pictured it here, and for no other reason really. Just a big of blogger freedom.

But truly the ‘Riverdale High’ principal was archetypical of the understood realm of the head honcho who roamed high school corridors in the day. His equivalent on television was Mr. Conklin from Our Miss Brooks. Mr. Conklin was played brilliantly by the perpetually cranky Gale Gordon and he handled the task with elan. starchie

Now fortunately when I was teaching high school I had a great principal. Hank Schellinck was a marvel and the perfect choice to be Vanier’s charter principal. Rivetingly bright and remarkably fair, always, and I good guy to boot I found him to be a huge departure from the man I’d experienced in high school. My only problem with Hank was that he was such a ‘science guy’. His specialities were math and physics and at those he excelled, but he didn’t seem to much ‘get’ the humanities. He once opined to me that “anyone can teach English.” Well, since I was English department chair at the time, I was relatively uncharmed by his declaration. But, I got over it because the other elements were good.

Personally, I never had aspirations to be a principal. I preferred staying a classroom teacher. And I strove to be a good one. And of course when you get the Peter Principle in action the only place for an able classroom teacher to go is into administration, even though the two callings don’t necessarily equate. So, I never wanted to go there and that was just one – aside from the 3,700 other ones – reason I left teaching when I did.

So, as years have gone by I have found principals to be increasingly human and I suspect that is a good thing. Nice people at the helm of a school. What a concept.

I am sorry, but it’s not acceptable for my dog to be sick, and if only he’d told me

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It will likely come as no surprise that I am a heavy-duty animal lover. So is Wendy. To be frank, I wouldn’t have gotten together with her if she weren’t.

In my love of animals – all kinds of animals; domestic pets, livestock, critters or the wild, fish or fowl and all the mammals – I’m not neurotic about it. While I converse with Max I don’t really anticipate a return comment.

But, throughout me life, from the time I was a young child, I always had animals. Sometimes I think I have liked my pets more than most humans. They don’t give you no shit – except the kind you are expected to pick up, and I always do. They are honorable. They don’t deceive or tell lies. And they never, ever judge no matter how crappy a body’s behavior might be. “Hey, that’s not Mom, so why are you hugging and kissing her? But, I’m cool about it. Won’t go any further than me.”

So, I had cats, and I had dogs, and I had chickens, and I had ducks and I had geese. And it was all a worthwhile experience.

And in my love of animals there is one thing about them I don’t like. When they are ailing they cannot tell you what’s wrong. They can’t describe their symptoms or offer opinions on said symptoms. That’s frustrating.DSCN2225

All last week Max was unwell. Now we love Max almost neurotically, so we were disconcerted to say the least as he was lethargic, looked deeply depressed and gave meaning to the term ‘hangdog’. He didn’t want to eat. He didn’t want to go for walks. He had the blahs big-time. And of course I, in my own neurotic response to such things ended up thinking the worst. He’s nine now. He’s a big dog. Big dogs have shorter life expectancies, etc, etc. Worst-possible-scenarios running through my mind at fever pitch.

To the vet a week ago today and the assessment was that he was suffering from muscle inflammation from something having been pulled. He was put on anti-inflammatory stuff. That worked at the time and after giving him some time to relax he picked up a bit. At the same time, he wasn’t eating. He got to the point that he didn’t even want ‘treats’. Entirely unlike him. He was spending his days lying sequestered under the dogwood in the back yard. Like a depressed person, he didn’t want to mix-and-mingle.

Back to the vets again this past weekend. A further attempt to get to the bottom of it. We parted with a goodly sum to get blood tests, x-rays, an ultrasound and other stuff. A possibility exists that for what was deemed a gastrointestinal thing antibiotics might yet have to be prescribed, but at the moment he has been given the equivalent of human antacids and he seems to quite like food again. Not in huge quantities, but, you know, puppy-steps.

Now if only he could have told us what was wrong he might have saved everybody a lot of grief – not to mention money.

What am I to do when I just don’t ‘do’ headgear?

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The weather, in case you haven’t noticed, has turned a bit torrid in these parts. The sun beats down relentlessly as we continue with a summer that kind of began in March and has just kept going. It’s the sort of weather that calls for folks to wear head covering.

All good, you know, skin cancer and all. In that context, and considering how torrid it is, I should be covering my pate and no longer be letting my wonderful silky hair (which I still have, blessedly) waft in the breeze.

And I would, except for one thing – I don’t ‘do’ hats. Nothing against hats – except for ballcaps and that was a disgusting vogue that seems to be waning – they fulfil a function and sometimes they are part of a costume that designates importance – like the pope or someone like that. Or a crown on some tyrant.

I like old pictures of men in fedoras back when all men wore chapeaux. You’ve seen the old movies and you couldn’t imagine a Bogey or Edward G gangster minus headgear. They say JFK’s bareheadedness killed hat vogue, but it has never been proved that there was a hat manufacturer conspiracy behind the assassination. humphrey-bogart-with-fedora

And I am here to say I love hats on women; either nice, wide-brimmed tea in the sunshine hats or cutesy little fascinators at Ascot or other posh gatherings in which babes can say without fear of contradiction: “Hey, we’re rich and you’re not.”

But, as I say, I don’t do hats. I never have done hats. That was the reason I didn’t go into the army – they make you wear a hat.

Sometimes I think I should wear a hat. Aside from keeping the rain off my pate, a hat would be a certain insurance against skin-cancer when the days are torrid outside, as they are now.

When we were cruising in Central America a year and a half ago they advised us that we should get hats for the remainder of the trip; so in Huatulco, Mexico we took the plunge, but as we were heading to ports southerly I wanted a genuine Panama Hat as would befit the geography of where we were headed, and as we were to be going through the Panama Canal then such headgear would be apt. carlin hat asshole

We went into a small shop in Huatulco and got into a bartering session with the proprietor who was unwavering until I unleashed Wendy on him. She’s better at that kind of stuff than I am. And ultimately we bought genuine Panamas. And they looked kind of cool and even I wore mine a couple of times. And then we brought them home and there they have sat ever since.

But, as I want to go to the beach today I just might don it. That’s despite the fact I don’t do hats and the primary reason for that is that once I doff it I will feel like I’m still wearing it hours later.

A great herbal evil has been let loose on the land

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Shades of Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids, but a nearly bestial plant may be residing in your herbaceous border. Unlike the aforementioned Triffids this bit of vegetation doesn’t send you blind – only ‘self-abuse’, as every parochial school alumnus knows, can do that – it nevertheless can devastate your domestic well-being, not to mention wreaking havoc all over the place.

It is known as Japanese Knotweed and could almost be seen as a bit of Nippon revenge by those there still cranky about how World War Two turned out. Maybe you know the plant, hopefully you don’t in terms of actually having planted the evil thing. It turns out that Vancouver Island is a hotbed of profligate growth by a botanical species that does not say ‘no’ to any sort of insult you throw in its direction. Root the thing out and it just comes back in greater mass.Fallopia-japonica-Staude

On the Lower Mainland of BC and on the Island you find Canada’s Knotweed Central, and thus far the only provinces that seem to have escaped its Triffid-wrath seem to be Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Here on the Island you can see stretches of it along the Inland Island Highway, and elsewhere it has encroached on the shoreline, and wherever else it can take root, and that is something it does easily. Uproot the stuff and it comes back with a kamikaze vengeance. On the Mainland it has encroached on highway bridges, into the connections onto the Lion’s Gate and within Stanley Park. They have even found instances along Highway One where it has traveled underground and under blacktop to both sides of the highway. Yikes!

None of the effects here are as devastating as they have been in the UK where profligate knotweed growth has destroyed real estate values in some areas, and has literally ripped apart homes. Knotweed in your area? Good luck selling your home.destruction

Ironically my grandmother had a clump of knotweed, which she saw as mock-bamboo (it is very bamboo-like in appearance) and she liked the plant. Baht was in the days before the stuff went mad and it was still sold in gardening centres as an ornamental accent plant because it grow so quickly and easily. And therein, of course, lies the problem with the stuff.

How to get rid of it if you have it? Excavating doesn’t work worth a damn; it only encourages more growth. What works? Well, you’ll have to swallow your ‘green’ instincts and haul out the heavy-duty herbicides like Roundup. Judiciously applied, it works. And if you object to such an unenvironmental approach and let the stuff propagate and sneak into your neighbors’ yard I guess you’ll have to live with the outcome. Likely not a ‘pretty’ outcome.

If Satan were a plant, knotweed would pretty much qualify.

What’s in a name? Much more than a lot of parents might think

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6Goofing around on Facebook a while back (something I rarely do, goofing around, that is) I suggested a few possible alternate names for the new royal lass. My thoughts were revolving around the idea that this hyperprivileged newborn should be Christened with a nomenclature that departs from the conventional Royal monikers and maybe go a bit working-class in a spirit of inclusiveness and go for Brenda or Martha.

Or, how about soothing the Scots — who have been particularly obnoxious of late — and opt for ‘Heather’. My Facebook friend Kate suggested they should go with ‘Princess’ Leia. I mean, a bit of pop culture inclusivity. Why not? Personally I would opt for a particular folk heroine of mine who is as truly British as you can get, and that is Boudicca, after the dazzling queen of the Iceni in days of yore.

But she’ll probably stuck with some boring royal name. (NB she already has with a Catherine, Elizabeth and a predictable Diana thrown together, with Camilla having been rejected, obviously).

There is a particular problem with names, and that is that they are given to newborns by parents with the person impacted having no voice in the matter. And if the parents are trying to show how cool and hip they are, they will join innumerable other parents who are trying to be cool and hip and hence witness all the poor sonsabitches born in the 1960s who got stuck with ‘Dylan’, i mean thousands, maybe millions were so christened. Prior to Bob grabbing onto the name because he thought it sounded more poetic than Zimmerman, the only ‘Dylan’ a priori had been the Thomas one, you know, the Welsh drunkard and poet.

In that context I, for example, never liked my name when I was a child. I didn’t know any other ‘Ians’ so I thought it was a silly name and wide-open to mockery. “Ian-Ian; the big fat pee-on” and other bits of verbal revelry at my expense. Why couldn’t my parents have called me ‘Al’ or ‘Spike’? When I was in junior high I went to a school that boasted a lot of Italiano kids with names like ‘Carmine’ or ‘Mario’ or ‘Sal’. You know, street gang names. How cool would that be? But ‘Ian’?

I got a little more comfortable with my name to a degree when a kid moved down the street when I was in fourth grade and he was also name Ian. Nice kid and became a good friend. But, he was a member of a family that had recently immigrated from England. And, as was the vogue of the day with ‘limey’ kids (sorry, that was what we called them) he wore bloody short pants!english kids

I have gotten to know a few other Ians over the years and am more or less comfortable with the nomenclature, but it was also when I was in fourth grade insult was added to that name injury in that I had to wear glasses. That meant I was stuck with ‘four-eyes’ and ‘goggles’ at least until Buddy Holly came along and rendered specs kind of cool. Michael Caine as Harry Palmer (inspiring name, what?) cinched the deal. He was a cool and hip London bloke in the ’60s. Nothing much cooler than that, then.

Anyway, by the time I became an adult I got comfortable with, and even rather proud of my name. And as things go in life getting older is more challenging than fretting about what your parents called you.

You’ll forgive me but I don’t plan to even attempt to be funny here

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Charleston, South Carolina was named after roistering King Charles II of England. It later lent its name to an equally roistering dance of the 1920s in which bob-haired, short-skirted and uninhibited flappers, having escaped the prim restraints of the Victorian/Edwardian era uninhibitedly flashed their panties before appreciative lads of the era.

And the wonderful Gershwin folk opera, Porgy and Bess was situated very near Charleston. P&G focuses exclusively on black people, by the way, and that was over 70 years ago. So how far have we come?

I am old enough that I well remember the Freedom Riders. I listened to Martin Luther King before a redneck piece of shit blasted him to oblivion and immortality. So how far have we come?rebel-klan

The other day a similar piece of brain-dead shit walked into a black church and wasted nine innocent people whilst spouting racist, neo-Nazi horseshit. How far have we come? Again I must ask that.

So Charleston is a beautiful city and one of those trademark, candy-box, antebellum southern cities. Problem is it’s a place that also contains – I am sure in relatively small numbers (at least I hope so) – an element of antebellum mentality that doesn’t believe they drove old Dixie down back in 1865 and is still content to fly the hideous ‘stars-and-bars’ flag of the Confederacy on state buildings. How far then, have we come?

And I include ‘we’ in this mix in light of the fact that I have met Canadians of an equally vile and vicious mentality. I live in a society in which the native population has consistently been treated as 2nd-rate trash who should have their children taken from them, not to mention having their artifacts and artistry stolen in the name of some fucking white guy God.

Am I angry about this? I am extremely angry and horribly disappointed and already we are hearing apologists for this murderous piece of human excreta who took those unsuspecting lives of folk going about their worship.

How far have we come?