What the ‘Quartet’ brings to me

dscn1068Hanging high on the living room wall across from the chair whence I have my morning coffee are four paintings, all created by me. I mean to say I have other self-generated paintings hanging on our walls, but these four have become quite special to me.

They are acrylics and they present scenes that have been inspiring at different times. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Wherry cross the Broads: An old wherry wends its way through very flat Norfolk farmland on the River Yare. On its way to Norwich to do something wherry-like. My year in Norfolk meant a great deal in my life and I wanted to depict a scene that captured the bucolic beauty of this unique place.

2. Croteau Beach walkway, Comox: A favorite local scene and a much-favored walking venue for dear old Max. Nothing much more to be said about it other than if you live locally or are visiting, take yourself down to Mack Laing Park or Macdonald Woods and take to the plank trail which skirts Comox Bay.

3. Departing the lovely Isle of Kauai at dusk: The aptly-named ‘Flower Island’ is the most beauteous of all the Hawaiian islands in my esteem. Have spent a great deal of time there through the years and always long to go back. In this instant we were departing via a cruise ship and I could hear the strains of Aloha Oe in my mind at the time. Always hated leaving Kauai.

4. The Cliffs of Moher: County Clare on Ireland’s stark west coast is a marvel, as is much of Ireland. These dramatic sea cliffs that plummet to the cold Atlantic evoked a powerful sense of wonder within me when I was there in the spring of 1981. Ireland gets into your blood and genes and I have always wanted to return. I can still hear the cries of the seabirds there.

What do these paintings give to me each morning with my booster-shot of caffeine? Just a time of quiet musing during which I picture myself at each spot and try to recapture (usually successfully) what they meant in my life. It’s a form of meditation and one that works for me.

Oh, and please disregard the intrusive Norfolk Island Pine frond. That’s where the tree is and nothing much I could do about that.

Rescue me! Or a tale of two puppies

nelsommax-in-de-snowWe have now had two rescue dogs – Nelson the current one and the by now immortal but always loved, Max. Prior to those chaps we had cats (I am allergic to them which is why we switched to dogs) and they too were all rescues.

In future, should we ever want another dog, possibly even in conjunction with Nelson – I mean, he’s mighty small and doesn’t take up much space so there would be room for another – he or she will be a rescue.

There are a number of reasons for rescuing a pet. First and foremost, to give a wanting animal a forever home. Secondly, they are cheaper than any breed-specific animal and are not subject to all the afflictions pedigreed pups can invite – they’re tough, they’re survivors, they’ve been around. Thirdly, they’re perpetually grateful. If you cannot tell if a dog is grateful, you haven’t been around them enough. Finally, to rescue an animal feels good for the soul.

Of course, with your rescue, you have no idea what you got. These are mutts, mongrels, combos of many breeds. With Max we had him DNA tested. Turned out he was predominantly smooth collie and malamute and the combo led to one of the handsomest canines in the known universe. He was big and imposing but never aggressive. There were other bits thrown in, too.

We haven’t had Wee Nelson tested yet, but we suspect beagle, possibly dachshund, maybe a smattering of chihuahua. Remains to be seen. What has also become apparent is how different the two dogs are in their responses to life.

I shall start with Max:

Max was effusively friendly. Everybody who met him loved him. His presence made one feel good. His name was widely known in the area. He was gentle, he was sweet dispositioned and we knew nothing about his background when we got him. Supposedly he had been abandoned, which is beyond my comprehension that somebody would abandon such a fine creature. We got him in Nanaimo but do not know if he originated there. He had obviously never been abused, but he did have his neuroses. The most predominant being that he could not bear being confined in a room. He also had very little sense of play. You could throw a ball until your arm fell off, but Max would not chase it. He did not ‘get’ children and disliked both puppies and teenage boys and was slow to warm to men. But once he had warmed to you, then you ‘had’ him for keeps.

Nelson: On the other hand is play mad. He never wants to quit and if you don’t throw a ball to him, he will fling it himself and then kind of dribble it like a basketball whilst merrily singing to himself. He likes everybody and has no fear of big dogs. He hates water, whereas Max liked to swim. You can take him anywhere. Max would never climb onto a bed. Nelson demands to. I think his aqua-phobia might stem from the fact he spent his puppyhood in the dry and warm Central Valley of California. Consequently rain is anathema to him. It will be interesting when he has to face a real BC winter. Nelson is very charming. Max was very charming. We have been lucky.

The perils of my becoming a schoolmaster and a little smut thrown in

schoomasterAs follows is a chapter from a sort of autobiography I have labored with for many months but have not finished and perhaps never will, but I should get back to it.

So, I became a schoolteacher. That was an odd and ironic thing. I taught for seven or eight years in the late nineteen sixties and early to mid seventies. I said it was “odd’ because I really had no ambition to become one. But after I got my lowly BA I had to do something with my life. It’s rather a lost feeling to have actually completed an education of sorts and yet to have no focus on the future.

So, I became a school teacher.

I sat through a few months in the Faculty of Education at UBC. And while I was there I mainly thought about sex a lot. After all, I was not yet in my mid twenties and coupling held huge allure.

There was a woman in one of my classes whom I’ll attest to this day was was the most sexually alluring creature i had ever encountered (and ranks still right near the top of ones I have encountered since.) She wore boots. Always wore boots of leather or suede. And her boots gave me a hard-on. She was blonde. Hailed from Kamloops. Was a little older than I was (alluring) and was a divorcee (hugely alluring). She was aloof to begin with but she and I became closer and closer as the year evolved in the class we shared. In fact, and this is no exaggeration or wishful thinking on my part, she came to like me as much as I liked her. In fact we were once actually kicked out of class for indulging in one of our lengthy interchanges rather than paying attention. The fly in the proverbial ointment was that I was (foolishly) engaged. She would not go there. She told me. Her ex had fucked around on her (why?) and she wasn’t going to put herself out as a femme fatale.

Yet, she persisted as my friend. Furthermore, it became apparent to me, that she was as sexually aroused by me as I was with her. How did I know? I could smell it. I shall go no further with this herein, though in the chapter it is a bit more graphic, but for the sake of some sort of propriety you will read a slightly truncated version.

Eventually the term came to an end. I was going off to Kelowna to student teach, and she was going home to Kamloops. To my surprise and enchantment she told me I was welcome to come and see her in Kamloops. To perhaps even spend a weekend with her. I thought I would melt. She had obviously relented in her quest to remain virginal with me.

The thing that is quite dreadful is that I chose to remain virginal with her. I’m not sure why even to this day. And once in a while I miss her and also wonder what might have been.

And that was basically my year of teacher training with a few other classes and a fair amount of beer-drinking thrown into the mix in an eight month period. And then it was off to be a school teacher. I took the Thomas More advice that Richard Rich didn’t and I did indeed “be a teacher.” Of course when Sir Thomas said that to Rich, Rich offered an expression that looked like he had just stepped in dogshit. I can understand that.

Ultimately my teaching career was abortive and hence aborted. The first few years were fine and I am not beyond saying I was a good teacher and a respected teacher. In fact I was a cat’s ass of a teacher. I have a neurosis I think in that whatever I do, I want to be the best fucker doing that thing that anybody ever saw. Probably just one of the reasons I am subject to dysphoria and assorted other neuroses. So, when I was a millhand in my university summer job, I wanted to be the best, when I taught I wanted my students to remember me always (and for the girls to fall in love with me), when I became a journalist I wanted to be Pulitzer calibre, and when I counseled junkies and drunks I wanted them all to be saved, ,thanks to me. Is that too much to ask? Later events would prove that it was.

I liked (most of) my students and still interchange socially with not a few of them. Our mutual regard is a good one.

No, you cannot win an argument by uttering ‘oh yeah!’ Takes a bit more than that

rumpoleMy paternal grandfather was a lawyer. He was also a very bright, well-read and cultured chap. And there was nothing my grandfather liked more – other than listening to the opera on the radio on Sunday afternoons – the entire goddamn opera, if you will – than a good argument.

And, he couldn’t stand losing an argument. Well, that was the lawyer and logician in him. Arguments to him were intellectual calisthenics. Didn’t matter what the subject was, he would persist with his points and with steely logic attempt to defeat his adversary.

When I got into my late teens I came to appreciate the process. That was around about the time I actually – momentarily — considered a legal career myself. The idea of me joining the ranks of the barrister/solicitor contingent appealed to my grandfather greatly and he tried to encourage me. In vain, alas. I obviously never went in the direction of .the bar – the bar of jurisprudence, that is.

Regardless of the direction of my professional aspirations, my grandfather did teach me how to argue a point and he would remorselessly shoot down any violations of the process. If I was to stand up against his points I had better come well-armed because he afforded no compassion for pikers in the realm. I needed facts and, if losing, I must never resort to ad hominem insults. If A equaled B, and B equaled C, then I’d better be able to prove that A also equaled C, or give up the fight. It was an area of mentorship, despite my lack of legal ambition, that did serve me well as a journalist, especially in mounting arguments in aditorial columns.

By the time I was in university I’d gotten pretty good at the process. I recall one argument that took place when my grandfather was visiting my parents for Sunday dinner. I don’t remember the topic of dispute but for the first time in my life I believed I’d beaten the old guy at his own game. I was firm in my resolve and with the smugness of youth I rejoiced in the fact I truly believed I’d vanquished him. While I hadn’t exactly left him sputtering, I did give him pause. The pause seemed like victory to me.

After he’d left for the evening I felt good. I had, I thought, earned my stripes. I had defeated the old master and that, I was sure, gave me some sort of master status. It would never be the same now that he had come up against a foe such as I was at the age of 20 or something equally ridiculous and callow.

I was wrong. The phone rang at 10 o’clock that night. It was my grandfather. He told me that he knew I was wrong but hadn’t been able to find the documentation to validate it. Back at his home he’d found it and shot my illogic to shit. He was prepared to admit, however, that he should have been better briefed before going into ‘court’ that evening.

Regardless of all of that, I have always taken pleasure in reasoned argument and debate and have only tempered that feeling later in life when I came to realize that not only do some people dislike argument for argument’s sake, but they find it somehow confrontational and disruptive of polite discourse. And some people are also given to personalizing arguments with such retorts as: “Oh yeah, sez you, shithead!” Such interchanges truly destroy the intellectuality of the exercise.

I also eventually came to realize that some arguments cannot ever be won and that there is no point in trying to win them, despite the fact that politicians and advocacy groups attempt to do this all the time.

Unwinnable arguments are those that call to the fore human feelings, intrinsic beliefs, bigotries, and plain boneheadedness, regardless of how firmly the arguer believes in his stupid damn ideas.

Yes, argument is a study in logic. When you pour on some human sentiment, then you spoil the broth irreparably and the issue will go nowhere.

Consequently, I have a mental list of subjects not really worthy or winnable of argument. They include:

The death penalty for certain crimes: I’m still primarily opposed, but I make exceptions I realize. I shed no tears for Ted Bundy, nor did I think the State of Florida was in any way remiss for frying the bastard.

– Abortion: I learned long ago to never venture into this realm. It’s much too personal and, as a male, I don’t feel I have any right unless I personally know what it’s like to be facing an unwanted pregnancy.

Homosexuality: I am not gay, but I have always – not just recently after it became trendy – believed that we find love where we do and who am I to judge or argue the point.

Drug Legalization: As an addictions counselor and one who has seen the addicted sitting across a desk from me many times, or going through the agonies of withdrawal (not a soothing sight) I have strong opinions about this. Others have differing opinions. It’s one I have had to learn to live with and it involves genuine attempts to get clean rather than currently in vogue ‘harm reduction’. Experience tells me I’m not out to lunch on this matter. Others in the same field might choose to differ. As for jailing users and the so-called ‘war on drugs’, that’s really worked peachily, hasn’t it?

Teenage sexuality: At one level, I think a healthy expression of sexuality is part of the human condition and who am I to stand in the way of a behavior that is intrinsic and was certainly very much a part of me when I was young. On the other hand, if I were the father of a teenage daughter (which I am not) I would be: “Not with my daughter you don’t, you little bastard!” But the always have indulged and always will, God love ‘em.


Religion: To indulge in such an argument is always fatuous, presumptuous and also insufferably arrogant. Whatever the tenets of the beliefs of another is never anybody’s business, and to try to dissuade somebody from the articles of his or her faith is stupid. You may take exception to Tom Cruise’s Scientology, but it remains his business. Go ahead and poke all the holes you want in what he holds dear, but you are wasting your breath. The number of wars throughout history that have been based on violating the religious beliefs of others are innumerable, and they still go on, as we all know. This is probably the most dangerous realm of argument of all.

As I suggested, it is not really worth anybody’s while to debate about the foregoing. At the same time, we shouldn’t avoid honest debate. It can be enjoyable and I have also found that if an argument mounted to counter my thoughts on any matter is well enough founded, I can even be persuaded to assume an alternate point-of-view.

Find out right here what it takes to be truly Canadian

dick-in-janeYou have one Kellie Leitch, vying to head up the Canadian Conservatives and in a rather Trumpian impulse would like to impose a ‘Canadian Values Test’ on potential immigrants who would choose to settle from Bona Vista to Vancouver Island.

To suggest that Ms. Leitch is reactionary enough to make old Steverino look like a wishy-washy liberal is to state the case fairly lightly. Whether she represents some sort of ‘will’ of Tories who thought Steve was too soft remains to be seen. Remember there were those who thought fascistic con-man Trump didn’t stand a chance.

So, what do them old Canadian Values look like? More to the point, what does a Canadian look like? Obviously not somebody wearing a niqab or a turban for sure, and saris remain doubtful and possibly yarmulkes. Scratch the last point. Good Tory Canadian like Israel, but don’t be wearing no fucking fezzes around here unless you’re a Shriner.

But, as for Canadians, I kind of think they look like the parents in the Dick and Jane kellieleitch2014Readers.. They just seem so fundamental and wholesome and, well, you know, ‘white’. And Dick and Jane and Sally, utterly white. I mean, I was raised with those kids as were a lot of Canadian youngsters of a certain generation so you can hardly blame us for looking for prototypes therein. Possibly Kellie Leitch is similar. Possibly someone who is comforted by the unctuous intonations of smarmy Rev. Lovejoy on the Simpsons.

So what are the questions on the Canadian Values test? I was born here, but I have a niggling suspicion I might fail and be deported to the Blighty of my forebears. Retrograde banishment, as it were. I mean, when my grandparents became citizens there was no such test.

On the other hand, Ms. Leitch might have liked my Grandad. Loved him dearly I did, but he was also of the bigoted old ‘Wogs start at Calais’ school of Brit thinking. He never met a Slav he was comfortable with and I was told to pretend that my Ukrainian childhood friend was French Canadian. Franco-Canadians were sort of OK since we couldn’t dispute they were here before he was. And for a man of his generation he was fully accepting of native Canadians, so that was a good thing.

But truly, what are Canadian values that we must cherish? According to what you read people are having orgasms in their jeans due to the arrival next week of royal scion Wilfred and his ever so-comely panty-flashing missus. But how does that translate as a Canadian value? In my esteem they are foreigners who are only coming here due to our pathetic impulse to hang on to a tradition that isn’t very Canadian.

Are we meant to embrace entertainers who have a Canadian connection and hence revere CRTC criteria in which decent songs can be played but only in the Anne Murray version?

I actually love being Canadian but I do get frustrated and a bit bored. A little Anne Murray or God help us, Diana Krall can go a long way. I doubt that Ms. Leitch would find that I sufficiently espouse Canadian values.

A very human condition for which the only reliable cure is death

boredomBoredom: See also weariness, ennui, apathy, unconcern, restiveness, lethargy and so on and so forth. I always liked the German word Weltschmerz (world weariness). It somehow seems to capture the feeling and should be accompanied with a huge sigh.


Hey, this is getting kind of boring in itself. And
BOREDOM is the topic of this screed. So here we go and I shall try to keep your interest. In my opinion boredom arises from two sources: 1) the subject is not that interesting by its nature or 2) excessive familiarity has bred contempt and a desire to be rid of the matter. I have also found that boredom with any situation can be thwarted by bringing in one or both of the following elements: humor or sex. Otherwise you are stuck with tedium.

I also harken to the case of the late actor George Sanders who, in his suicide note, attested that he offed himself because he was bored.

OK. What aspects of daily living are boring in their essence?

Grocery Shopping: I have an ongoing nightmare of being stuck with my wife in the yogurt section. Well, not so much a nightmare. It’s yogurt, for heaven’s sake. What’s to ponder incessantly? It’s yogurt and it’s disagreeable stuff, in my esteem. And it has to be in my esteem since I am writing this thing. I don’t even remember yogurt existing when I was a kid. I don’t think my mother bought any. She mainly bought gin, but that is an entirely other matter and I will cede that excessive volumes of gin are probably less healthy than excessive volumes of yogurt. Which is why all those old Balkan people who use the shit live to 200.

Almost as boring is the produce section. I mean, I eat my veggies but I don’t need to linger in those aisles. A carrot is a carrot. I like to conserve my energy for the meat, cookies and cake sections.

And the worst aspect of grocery shopping, especially with my dear wife, is price-checking. You’re buying good stuff. Why do you want to spoil it with finding out that this brand of canned corn is more expensive than another?

Some other things that can be excruciatingly boring:

Waiting for an airplane departure: You sit in that stifling lounge where you have been sitting for hours. You’ve read the magazines you bought to read on the plane. You’ve scoped out the people who will be on your flight, including the squalling babies. And the time goes on and on and on. Eventually the boarding call comes and you feel your little heart go pitta-pat. It will be soon, no?

First the call is for the Biz Class bastards who will be going to the plush seats and guzzling champagne and scarfing steaks. The the something or other club members, and then the aged and infirm, and then folks with kiddies, and a few other sub-categories that get to go on before you. And then they call for the steerage passengers (ie you) and thousands of people seemingly stand up and shuffle to the boarding spot. You hope for an upgrade. Upgrades never happen for the envious. And the process has been just as stressful as last time and you rue the fact you stopped drinking a few years earlier. Being blitzed would just make it so much easier.

Being stuck in a traffic jam: You are merrily cruising along on the open highway and then you no longer are. It’s all at a dead stop. Far-far up ahead you see flashing emergency vehicle lights. You know it isn’t going to move for ages. What can you do? Furthermore you realize that the coffee you had at Starbucks or Timmy’s is having its revenge and your urge to pee is the most dangerous it has ever been.

Church: I have visited many of the great cathedrals and even little parish churches of Europe and the UK and have rejoiced in their ecclesiastic antiquity. Wonderful. Just don’t plunk me in the place for a service or a sermon. I honestly cannot recall having been in such a situation without agonizing with boredom. Thank God for the odd hymn to break the tedium. Personally I think (especially after having seen and heard the wonderful Harlem Gospel performers a few years ago, that that is the sort of church that would ease my boredom “Black God rules!” as Bart Simpson once said.

Now, for fear of boring you, I shall end this treatise.

If we are as sick as our secrets some of us are pretty damn sick is all I can say

secrets I found during my stint at addictions counselling that the rehab business is filled with cute – sometimes trite, sometimes clichéd and boring, but periodidcally relatively wise – slogans, sayings and aphorisms.

“You’re only as sick as your secrets,” is a prominent one of those. And, in that, there is a certain wisdom. The wisdom involves denial, and if you are denying to yourself and others a behaviour or something that’s eating you up, then you will not get well until you face your reality. Well, you might not even then, but the attempt will give you a better shot at a more fulfilling life. Are you knocking off two quarts a day? Have you sold the family farm to finance a crack addiction? Are you screwing whoever has a pulse even though you are married or in a relationship? Well then, pal, you have some pretty heavy-duty secrets to address.

We all have secrets. Even the most saintly do. The Dalai Lama’s got some, I suspect, and that old Mother Teresa was just rife with them, including neglecting to mention her years as a liquid hash mule in Iran. I mean, who would’ve suspected. But, truly, life revolves around secrets. Gossip mags would do no business if they weren’t revealing so-called secrets; politicians would be in unemployment lines if they revealed all that they know or actually told the truth (for a change. I was in the ink-stained trade for a long time. And, while my paper never overtly lied, there were sins of omission prevalent in what we wrote. Or indeed could write, due to libel laws. I could tell people stuff I know about some politicians locally and farther afield that could keep us all in courts for decades and make litigation lawyers even richer.

Mind you, there are also certain things about me and my past that people could spread around but, bless them, (mostly) they haven’t. Phew.

In that context, there is the matter of keeping secrets. Somebody reveals an item to you “in confidence.” Well, of course, it is not going to stay in confidence. It is going to be passed on at the earliest possible instant. In fact, if you’re a normal human being, you probably can’t wait to reveal it to “somebody you trust won’t tell a soul,” which they will do as soon as they get the chance. Why not? I mean, the first person to break the code of secrecy was the one who told you in the first place.

And, with electronic communications of today it will go viral on the social net. Stepping out on the missus? Check out YouTube, or Facebook at the very least.

We like knowing ‘secrets’. To know a secret is to be empowered. You know something somebody else doesn’t and it’s at your discretion to reveal it – or not. But, you will in all likelihood.

Human secrets generally fall into various categories in terms of seriousness. They include:

Harmless secrets: Nothing spectacular here. Sort of guilty pleasures. Maybe you take some kind of kinky pleasure in the lingerie ads of the Sears catalogue, or maybe you secretly listen to hip-hop when the kids are at school.

Secrets that you will only share with the privileged: Your spouse knows many things about you that you would not like revealed to the general public unless you’re some sort of a sleaze. This is where doctors and therapists can come into the picture, too. In such cases, you may hold certain items back from you spouse that you might tell a shrink. TMI situations come into this, too. People will glibly reveal some bit of esoterica about themselves (especially if they have been tippling a little too extensively), and then utterly regret what they told another. Especially prevalent in drunken 3 a.m. phone calls.

Secrets you don’t want revealed: These include such items as childhood sexual abuse, infidelity, breaches of the law, substance abuse, spousal abuse, incidents of driving while intoxicated, inappropriate sexual overtures to others. The ‘elephant in the room’ sort of secret falls into this category. Thank God none of those apply to me or any of my readers. Right?

Secrets you have difficulty admitting to yourself and would be mortified if somebody else were to ever find out: Surprisingly enough, or maybe not surprisingly, we all have these. These are found in our innermost thoughts (and agonies). Such secrets are highly guilt-inducing and will sometimes prompt expressions of disgust or even behaviors in which others are assailed for beliefs that the assailant actually holds. Here you get gay-bashing by the closet gay-in-denial, anti-pornography crusades by the porno-addicted; and racist or sexist jokes (“Hey, it was only meant to be funny; I don’t really believe that”) by people who ‘really do believe that.’ Such secrets can also involve sexual feelings or attitudes that might be anathema to others, so those who hold on to such secrets are often in a deep moral struggle.

As for me, my life is an open-book. At least those aspects of my life I choose to reveal.