Monthly Archives: September 2009

So, it’s good-bye yellow brick road …

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Bureaucracies are, as unwilling as I am to admit it, a kind of necessary evil. Societies need systems in order to continue functioning, and those systems must have drones to administer the regulations so that you and I can get licenses to drive, or passports, or pay our taxes so that bureaucracies can continue to exist.

Yet, while we must have bureaucracies, a particularly loathsome element of society is the element known as the bureaucratic mind. That is, those uber-drones who not only revere the system, but love imposing their pettiness on those that they are supposed to ‘serve’, as in civil servants, who are rarely civil and never regard themselves as servants. You run into them a lot at airports these days, working either in security or customs and immigration. 

Sometimes bureaucratic minds, if unfettered, can wreak uncaring havoc on the lives of decent and defenseless people. Take the case of Elton John and Baby Lev. Elton John (you’ve probably heard of him) and his partner had made a bid to adopt an excruciatingly adorable munchkin in the Ukraine named Lev. This tyke was housed in one of the factory-like orphanage institutions in that bailiwick that hold thousands like Lev, many of whom are HIV positive.

All was going well for Mr. John and his partner David Furnish – if you have spent time residing on the planet Neptune in recent years it may come as a revelation that the former Reggie Dwight is gay – until they ran up against Ukrainian bureaucracy in the form of Yuriy Pavlenko, the minister of family, youth and sports – and maybe all nite Laundromats, I understand. Mr. Pavlenko in his Eastern European fledged bureaucratic impulses (before which all lesser bureaucracies in the western world must pale) denied Mr. John the right to adopt wee Lev.

The reasons were, Elton is too old (he’s 62) and furthermore Mr. Pavlenko did not entirely approve of Mr. John’s, ahem, lifestyle. Felt two dudes just couldn’t give little Lev the right sort of environment for the betterment of his life. Yep, two multimillionaire westerners just couldn’t provide something better than a seedy orphanage’s borscht and black bread for our Lev. So, tough patooties, kid. But, someday you’ll thank us for looking after you like we did.

In truth, I am not making light of this sad story. Here we have a very rich entertainer who had chosen to share some of his wealth with a particular child for the mutual benefit of all, and he is denied because of chronology and lifestyle. He has already given greatly to other charitable concerns but wanted to have some personal fulfillment. And we know that if the aspirant ‘heterosexual’ parents were 35 and stinkin’ rich, it would have been OK, despite a rumored cocaine habit.

I mean, think of what the future would hold for this child. He would move to England and live on a lovely country estate; he would go to the absolutely best schools, and (considering Mr. John’s age) he would stand to inherit an utter fortune at a relatively early age. Not a bad gig.

I haven’t followed the story further to see if Elton and Co. are going to pursue the matter. I hope they do, but right now they have been kind of blindsided by not being Brad and Angelina. That Sucks.

So, to conclude, here’s a suggestion. Elton, you could adopt me. Albeit I’m a little older than Lev, but I’m quiet about the place, I’m clean, I really like your music – especially the early stuff you did with Bernie Taupin – and I could turn my hand to a few chores. Truly, I am quite pleasant to have around. All you would need to do in return for my unswerving loyalty would be to write me into the will.

Just a thought.

Some day my prince will come!

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William with a commoner who’s ‘not’ his main squeeze

Former French premier Valery Giscard d’Estaing has written a novel that revolves around a French premier having an affair with a beautiful English princess.

With impeccable Gallic urbanity, the doddering geezer (he’s about 106, I understand) asserts that any resemblance of the characters to real people is purely coincidental. Oh, come on. You had the vapors for Princess Diana. So did every heterosexual male on the planet, with the possible exception of her husband. Camilla (see photo below right)  over Di? Shudder.

PrincessDiana10Anyway, this offering has nothing to do with randy Frenchmen (kind of redundant, I guess) and the lustrous and lamented Diana Spencer, but more about her No. 1 son and his role in the world.

William-William-William, what are we to do with you? No Prince Hal are you; that literary metaphor can only be applied to your hell-raising kid brother. No you, Wills, are the ‘responsible’ one. The ‘wet’ one, if you will. I don’t mean that in a really bad way. Well, maybe I do. What do you care? Last I heard you don’t read my blog so very much. You even turned down all my Facebook entreaties to link up. Come on, kid, ‘friend’ me and I’ll say only nice things about you and your pretty bride-to-be (maybe). Oh, and I’m sorry if you took umbrage about any horny things I wrote about your mom. I’m only human and it isn’t as if she actually kept her own sexuality hidden. That must have been kind of embarrassing, huh? Well, better than your old man – Prince Tampon Boy (yuck) – that must have led to lots of razzing at school for you.

Anyway, it has been reported that you, my lad, want to make your way in the world 288px-VPL_Visible_Panty_Line_2and take a rightful place. That’s noble and noble thoughts must be foremost in the minds of princes, despite the ignobility of an awful lot of your princely forebears.

You have set forth three “main aims” for you life, so that you can move past being seen as just “an ornament.” Good thing. I was getting tired of that Royal Doulton figure of ‘you’ on my mantel. So, your three main aims are:

1)     Helping disadvantaged young people;

2)     Sustainable development to combat climate change;

3)     Supporting British troops.

He says he was inspired by the tireless work of his grandmother (AKA da Queen), his father, the eccentric and egocentric POW with odd taste in women, and his Mama. But, he adds, he wants to inject his own style to his good works.

Now, about those disadvantaged young people (whom will no doubt welcome a princely incursion into their lives). William has come to realize there is a stunning lack of nannies in their lives and he might consider this a start. You know, a kind of national Nanny Registry. That’ll get the yobs off the streets, no doubt.

Sustainable development to thwart climate change. I think there are already people working in that realm, though I’ll admit Al Gore has been remarkably quiet of late, so maybe there’s an opening. Oh, and maybe don’t fly to polluting sites in Royal chopper. Just a thought.

Supporting British Troops. Well, since he has been a ‘troop’ I guess he’ll have a kind of inside track on this puppy. It remains unreported as to what he’ll actually do to offer that support. Maybe a rousing “What ho, lads!” when they pass in review might bolster morale somewhat. Or, perhaps that side-venture of gun-running might actually begin to pay off.

However it works, one cannot help but admire both his pluck and his stiff-upper-lip. That’s what it’s all about in the realm of princes.

From a jack to a king — to the poorhouse

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I’ve never been much of a gambler. Throughout much of my life I’ve eschewed games-of-chance (except maybe in matters of the heart and/or loins, but that is an entirely other matter) primarily because I’m not good at them, and secondarily because I have really crappy luck.

I’m not embittered by this reality. In fact, I fully accept it and I just don’t venture into such realms. Truly, I buy the odd lottery ticket for the hell of it. But, I am of the Fran Lebowitz school that holds the belief: Your chances of winning the lottery about the same whether you do or don’t buy a ticket.

In that context, I never understand those who are tempted by casinos, poker games, playing the ponies, and so forth. Just doesn’t do it for me. Consequently, a place like Vegas, for example, would only appeal to me as a convenient overnight stop on my way to Boulder Dam, or maybe to hang out with Grissom & Co. down at the CSI lab. And showgirls. Showgirls are good. I met a Vegas showgirl once. She was about 6-feet-tall and utterly gorgeous.

But, as far as addictive gambling goes, I am staggered. I understand, for example,  there are obsessive female slot players who wear Depends when they play the machines so they can pee themselves like babies rather than leave the infernal mechanisms that are sucking away their dollars. Dollars that tight normally go to buying Depends for their actual babies rather than pee-pee pants Mama. 

But, I do not judge. Such sad souls are addicted to games of chance. And as an addictions counselor I understand the nature of addiction and how it surmounts any semblance of common sense or intelligence. Gambling addicts are obsessive-compulsives, and just like a heroin junkie or advanced alcoholic would sell out the family and the domicile for the sake of indulging a pathological need, so would a compulsive gambler.

 And if you don’t think gambling takes a hideous toll on the addicts, check out some of the stats on the Internet. As I say, I don’t get the compulsion from a personal level. The only time I ever gambled to any degree was on a cruise years ago with my ex in which we decided to set ourselves a casino limit of $100 each evening. That was, a C-note between the two of us. We didn’t win anything much, but it was kind of fun. That was because we weren’t addicts. We were easily able to stick to our limits.

A social drinker can walk into a bar, order a heavenly dry martini straight-up, savor the drink and then leave. The alcoholic will be there until closing time with many martinis under the belt. The addicted gambler walking into a casino is just the same as the lush. 

As an aside, compulsive gamblers have an inordinately high suicide rate. Tells you something. Tells something to everybody except those that should get the message. Those that should get it are those who comprise the increasingly amoral government of British Columbia.

To offset a financial crisis this government – the one to which I ‘have to’ pay taxes – has been busily slashing and burning all over the place. It has been slashing and burning little non-profit programs that do a ton of good and cost little. It has also been decimating government-created bodies designed to aid in the general weal.

What inspired this rant was the recent announcement that the limits per player for online government sponsored gambling options was to be raised from the scanty sum of a $250 daily limit to $10,000!! This is astonishing. I mean, who online gambles? Those who are addicted to gambling, of course. Regular folks don’t. Those who cannot afford it now have a virtually limitless ceiling to play games of chance that some people who know about this stuff say have worse odds than gambling offerings by the mob. Talk about house advantage.

But, get this. At the same time they have cut funding to the government gambling addiction assistance program by a third to date, and are threatening to cut it more.

Thank you for indulging my rant. I don’t feel any better about it since I also might have mentioned that the swine have, speaking of lottery tickets, slashed the amount of money being sent to sports, school, health and other groups so they can suck it all into general revenue.

What can I do? I hear you asking that, or at least I hear those who live in BC asking that. One thing you can do, and I am quite serious about it: absolutely cease under any circumstances buying lottery tickets. Unless you are perhaps happy to be bolstering government coffers while shortchanging your community. So, cut out the lottery tickets and maybe give that money to the folks that need it. There’s a plan. The only prize you’ll get will be a nice feeling within yourself.

Those were the days — when men were men and money was paper

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The Chinese once manufactured their coins with holes in the middle so that the possessors could run strings through them and carry them that convenient way in lieu of owning a change-purse.

When the Canadian two-dollar coin appeared in 1996 (dubbed the ‘toonie’ in a collective unimaginative continuation of the pop title given to the one dollar ‘loonie’ of a few years earlier) the early versions had a tendency to fall apart. I thought at the time it might be wise for my compatriots to embrace the old Chinese practice, and string coins through the big empty spaces in the middle of the so-called toonies. It would provide a practical way to carry the cumbersome coins, and also offer the side benefit of a tinge of nostalgia for recent Asian immigrants.

Now, the (since rectified) falling apart business was pretty stupid, when you think about it. It came about because of the initially dumb idea of using two different metals in one coin. Whatever federal mint wonk arrived at concept (in the name of esthetics, one assumes) didn’t have a basic understanding of the properties of metals – which is, that they tend to contract at different rates when exposed to cold.

Metallurgical ignorance on Ottawa’s part (there’s lots of ignorance in the federal capital, so why should metallurgy escape the buffoonery of the overpaid and underworked who ostensibly toil therein) notwithstanding, I have never liked the concept of the two-dollar coin. It’s big and cumbersome, and it leaves me with a tendency to think I am broke, because all I have is change in my pocket. Coinage, frankly, doesn’t seem like real money, only folding money does. I like foldin’ money. That’s ‘cash’, ‘lettuce’, whatever you want to call it. A two-dollar coin somehow seems less valuable than one of those old red bills of yore.

In truth, I don’t really understand why we even hold on to a two-dollar denomination at all. The Americans don’t use them any more. Once upon a time they had two-dollar bills. Once upon a time they had them, but the denomination was defeated by superstition. Somebody, somewhere, decided the denomination was bad luck, maybe even satanic, and voodoo could only be assuaged by ripping off the corner. Eventually the treasury decided to phase them out. Anyway, they thought, who the hell needs them? A dollar bill and a five-dollar bill will work fine. Actually, as a postscript to this, when we were in San Diego in June I actually got a two-dollar-bill in change, and it didn’t have the corner turned off. Personally, I think the store clerk thought: “Stupid Canucks, they don’t know about the curse, That dumb tourist doesn’t know he is doomed for all eternity to have intense sexual fantasies about Sarah Palin at the most inappropriate times.”

But, moving right along, likewise, the British don’t have a two-pound note. They go from one to five, and none of it makes much difference, since the purchasing power of a fiver there is about the same today as was that of the long-defunct farthing in its day.

So, why doesn’t Canada get rid of the denomination and join the rest of the grown-up world? I really have no answer, but am reminded of the fact that we are dealing with the same people who thought years ago that the fifty-cent piece made no sense. What a boneheaded decision that was. Fifty-cent pieces are highly useful in an inflationary time. Get rid of the damn quarters instead. And dimes? What a pain-in-the-ass they are. They so little and thin a body is always losing them. If you are going to drop a coin, it’ll be a dime.

A four-bitter, on the other hand, would still retain a bit of cachet at the till, much as the fifty-pence coin does in the UK.

When the toonie did arrive over a decade ago, there was much debate over what to call it. ‘Two-dollar-coin’ was too cumbersome, even for Ottawa bureaucrats, who normally thrive on cumbersomeness – witness ‘Human Resources Development’ for the old and I guess politically incorrect ‘Manpower’. So, they had to think of something more user-friendly. Again, a typically bureaucratic response to a situation. This is vox populi stuff. Civil servants don’t make such decisions, the public does. Titles for currency, as for many other institutions, are ‘folk-art’ of a sort, never something imposed from above. Nobody in the ranks of officialdom ever decreed that a dollar should be called a ‘buck’, or the pound, a ‘quid’ in another jurisdiction. ‘Smackeroo’ was quite beyond the ken of a tiny mind with even less imagination or sense-of-whimsy.

Even the public was uncertain at the beginning, and for a while toyed with the name ‘doubloonie’. That was in respect that the coin was the value of two loonies, and it had a certain piratical air about it, no doubt. “Yaaar, it be talk like a pirate day!”

My personal preference was  ‘Queen with a bear behind.’ Not out of disrespect for Her Majesty, but because it described the coin – the Queen was on the face, and there was a wandering bear on the obverse. I mean, if the Queen can handle the Cook Islands currency with her head on the front, and the hugely phallic hung-like-a-horse sea-god ‘Tangaroa’ on the back, she can take anything.

Eventually ‘toonie’ prevailed, and I suppose we are stuck with them, even though I retain my displeasure with the concept. Now, however, we have to keep the bastards from tampering with the five-dollar bill, which they have also threatened to do away with. I’m sorry, but my upper thigh is already bruised from lugging loonies and toonies around.

What does a guy have to do to get a bit of recognition?

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Just goes to show you that some people just shouldn’t buy the green bananas.

Had a phone call from a friend on Monday. He asked me if I had yet written a particular story that was to come from an interview he had set up with an acquaintance of his. He thought it would be an interesting story, especially with November 11th coming up in the not too distant future.

 So, he set me up with this man. The man being a former merchant seaman in World War Two. He was 82-years-old and in not the strongest health, so my friend thought it was time he told his tale. I agreed. I like human-interest stories, and especially those from individuals who have led colorful, not to mention courageous lives. I told him I would do the interview with pleasure.

The fact that these stories almost write themselves, especially if the subject is loquacious, and most people are when telling their own tale, was also a motivating factor for me. And, not to brag, but I do have a certain ability as a journalist, to get people to open up about themselves.

But, unfortunately my friend had another reason to call me on Monday. It was to tell me that my interviewee had died the previous Saturday.

That is, he had passed only a mere week after the interview. It was one of those I knew he was sick, but didn’t think he was ‘that’ sick, moments. I was both very surprised and saddened. I was especially saddened because the man would not get to see his tale in print.

My friend also passed on to me the fact the old sea-dog enjoyed his encounter with me and he liked the fact that I actually knew a bit about what he was discussing. He told him that very few younger people had any appreciation for what the so-called merchant navy did in wartime. While the real navy got the glory – and deservedly so, he was quick to assert – those who worked on the freighters and tankers were equally valorous, but very few nations have accorded them the respect they deserved.

These were the guys who sat – often as proverbial sitting ducks – in the North Atlantic convoy ships as they ferried everything from meat to bananas to oil to fresh troops just prior to D-Day. On the North Atlantic route they were under constant threat from German U-Boats and as they neared British shores the Luftwaffe would take up the slack. The merchant ships were only slightly armed, and had to rely on the destroyers and Corvettes to protect them.

The worst, he said, was the winter, as they chipped the ice from the sea spray that would build up on the ships and threatened them with turning turtle if the crew didn’t keep on top of it.

“We ate well,” he said, “We ate much better than the poor bastards at home with the rationing and all. We were paid very badly, but we got good meals.”

The convoys were slow, he said. About 16 days from New York City to the UK for a trip that normally takes four or five days, even in winter. “We could only go as fast as the slowest ship in the convoy.” To break ranks with the convoy was, of course, to court U-boat attack.

He was a boy of 16 when he joined the merchant marine in 1943. A London lad, he’d always wanted to get into the navy, but he was underage, so he signed on a merchant ship. As a boy, he said, he only got half the pay of those categorized as ‘men’. Consequently, his take-home pay was a grand 5 pounds a month. The ‘men’ got 10 for risking their lives constantly so that the soldiers and folks at home might be fed.

I won’t go into his whole story here. Suffice it to say it was sort of a Boys’ Own Paper bit of high adventure that took him from the North Atlantic and eventually to the Mediterranean, taking GIs from North Africa to Sicily at the start of the Italian campaign and then, after the end of hostilities in Europe, to the Far East where combat against Japan was still raging and supply lines were growing thin near the end of that conflict.

Then he returned to civilian life, married, eked it out in the UK for a number of years and then emigrated to Canada for the remainder of his life. And in all of that he, and his compadres in wartime never received so much as an ounce of recognition for their service. Currently there is a bill before the Canadian Parliament designed to finally grant the due accord long overdue for those in the merchant service.

Unfortunately many, like my newfound and short-duration friend, won’t be around to get their laurels. Somehow that just seems terribly wrong.

‘Close’ may not earn the cigar but it keeps you alive

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Right now, especially after my recent blog, I truly am feeling an urge to get my motor runnin’ and head out on the highway. It’s not going to happen right away, however. So, what I am doing is considering some of the times in which life felt just a little bit threatened during my travels and perhaps that’ll give me a yeaerning to stay home. Probably not, but it’s worth a shot.

 For example, I took a trip to Europe during the tempestuous summer of 1968. It was an ugly period of history. Aside from the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King in the spring, there were the Paris riots, the tumultuous Chicago Democratic Convention, and later in the summer, the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia.

 I wasn’t directly involved with any of those happenings so don’t be blaming me but, in one case, I was close. More about that later.

 A thought that came to me a few years ago when I watched the movie Saving Private Ryan (Also called How the Americans Won World War Two Single-handedly, I believe) and I thought about all those GIs came ashore and pounded up the beach – the lucky ones, scores of them landed face down in the surf before they’d even really stepped off the landing craft – and dodged bullets, and shrapnel and strafing. Some of them made it, and lots of them didn’t. To me, as a safe onlooker with a tub of atrocious cinema popcorn in his lap, it all looked impossible. How did anyone survive?

 Yet, they did. And those who survived were left with memories, and nightmares. Some of them are still around, with those memories and nightmares. Obviously they must look at something like Ryan through different glasses.

 For them, do the horrors of war fade? Do veterans tell their children and grandchildren, cronies at the Legion or at AA meetings, in some cases, how ‘great’ it was? How awful it was? My grandfather spent four years in the trenches in World War One. He never discussed it. He still had nightmares decades later, however, and probably did until they closed the box on him.

 Most of us have never had traumatizing experiences like that, so we don’t have the memories. We’ve all had personal problems and stressful times that may have been intense at that moment, they may have even resulted in residual problems, but none that I have had come close to watching your buddy bite the proverbial dust at your feet,

An older friend, a World War Two bomber pilot told me that once he and his wife were taking a flight to Europe. This would have been sometime in the 1970s. He said he was astonished to find he was feeling nervous about the impending flight.

“It was so strange,” he said. “For three years I piloted Lancaster Bombers and, while I was scared shitless a lot of the time, I still took it up and I never remember being apprehensive about the flying part of the job. But, here we were, flying to Europe on a 747 and I was nervous. I was afraid of crashing. Yet, when I was in the Air Force, there were guys trying to make us crash.”

Again I wondered, what could that be like? How can you be in a little cockpit, with an internal temperature of about minus-40 Fahrenheit, flack bursting all around you, ME 109s on your tail, and not go utterly berserk with shit-in-your-pants terror? Who were these guys that could do that? Were they cut from different bolts of cloth?

I have known men who hit the beaches at Normandy on June 6th, 1944. I have known men who were at Dieppe. How did they do that? None of them came back emotionally unscathed, needless to say, and lots died prematurely of alcoholism or the abuse of other nostrums or lifestyle choices taken up to make the ongoing pain go away. It wasn’t just a matter of coming home when it was over, if you hadn’t died there. Many men came home physically, but never made it back emotionally. They lost their souls over there, and never really found them again.

They came home with what was called “war nerves”. In the First World War the same thing was called “Shellshock”. Today those ravagings of the emotional core are known as post-traumatic stress disorder and it’s rampant with Iraq and Afghanistan vets, but it’s still the same old bullshit. People were exposed to horrors that were too great for the average person to bear with. So, somewhere along the way, something shuts down and the end result is a partial human-being.

As I said, my grandfather wouldn’t talk about the war. Neither would an uncle who was involved in the liberation of the Nazi death camps. As a child, I could not understand that. What they had done was the stuff of the movies. It was heroism and bravery, and all the nobler virtues – I thought. Now I understand perfectly why such discussions never came up. Such discussions are reserved for veterans who flew desks in the Big One, not for those that were there.

I indicated I have never been in such nightmarish situations. But, I have been relatively close. Or, I have seen the residuals. Some from long ago, some from more recent intervals of madness.

Way out in London’s East End, out past Dagenham, and getting on for Romford, you can still see the shells of factories as you pass by in the train – or at least you still could when I lived there in 1980 and ’81. They don’t look like much. They are blackberry festooned cavities much like the residual structures you would see in a North American ghost town. They don’t look like the Heinkels overhead in 1940, raining death on thousands of terrified Londoners night after night in that dreadful autumn and winter when the UK stood alone against a massive tyranny after the French had turned-turtle, and before the Yanks came in. I’ve seen that, but that didn’t even put me close.

And in France in 2006 a little memorial in the City of Grenoble reminded us that there really were Nazis and there really was a Resistance, and at times the twain met with awful finality.

DSCN0750I was in Vienna in that aforementioned summer of 1968 when the Russians decided it would be prudent of them to invade Czechoslovakia and bring to an abrupt and dreadful end that brief moment of hope known as the Prague Spring. The meatheaded Russkies came lumbering in with their tanks. I was struck by the fact one could see the Czechoslovak hills from Vienna. I was just off on the wings of the world stage. The skies were filled with jet fighter aircraft. ‘Ours’, even though Austria was a neutral.

A few days before the invasion I found, in conversation, that ‘close’ definitely doesn’t mean you have earned the cigar. Naiveté will not hold its own against experience. I was sitting in a railway compartment on a trip from Munich to Vienna (an Agatha Christie interlude on the Orient Express) when I fell into conversation with medical student, who was just returned from two years of study at McGill. He asked me, since tensions were high if I thought the Russians would invade Czechoslovakia. I fresh out of liberalized university ‘polisci’ sensibilities, suggested not. That they wouldn’t risk western censure. The world had moved on since Hungary in 1956. He laughed. “My friend,” he said, not disdainfully, “You do not know the Russians like I do.” I was soon to learn how shallow was my world experience.

Anyway, as I say, I was close then.

In the summer of 1969 I was in Montreal. This was at the height of FLQ activity. My wife and I were sleeping blissfully in our small hotel room on Sherbrooke, and at about 4 a.m. we heard a “whump!” We thought it might have been thunder. Then, we heard sirens. Then we heard more sirens. I looked down the street, but was unable to see anything of consequence. It wasn’t until the next morning, when we were out on the street trying to find a place to breakfast that we realized what the noise had been. A little over a block away a business premises was blown out into the street. It had been a bomb. Close again.

In April of 1981 we were on a coach tour of Ireland. As we entered the pretty little town of Bundoran, in County Sligo, within about three miles of the border with Ulster, I was struck by the fact that many of the high street shops were blackened shells. They had been burned out. The dirty little Irish internecine war had manifested on these very streets. Very close, except for the fact that had taken place the previous year, and the touring company that ran the coaches was hoping it would be a quieter year, despite the fact Bobby Sands was starving himself to death in the Maze Prison at just that time. And, despite the fact that Lord Louis Mountbatten had been blown to bits on Sligo Bay, just down the road, not two years earlier.

“Sure, and we’re hoping for a quieter year,” said the driver over a pint in the pub the evening we arrived. “The last coach through in the autumn was stoned on the high street.” We were evidently the guinea pigs. Close again, but we emerged quite unscathed, and the hotel proprietors were so delighted to see us. They had trade once again.

I have been close, but never right there. Blessedly. But I sit in awe of those who have and I truly don’t want to be any closer than I’ve been in the past.

Sometimes a body needs to just hit the road

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Ran into friends at coffee this morning and they informed me that next week they are embarking on a Mediterranean cruise – the bastards! I mean, they are very nice people, deserving of the trip, and I’ll happily wish them bon voyage – the bastards!

I only say that because I want to go on a Mediterranean cruise, too. I told one of the barristas after about the pending trip the other people were taking and mentioned that I was seething with envy.

“Well, Ian,” she said in her sweet, pretty and charming way, “You’ve been to a lot of places I can only dream about. I know that. I’ve checked you out on Facebook.”

OK, touché. I have indeed been to a lot of pretty fine destinations, but that doesn’t mean for a second that I don’t want to go again.

Traveling has both high points and nadirs, but fortunately I have had few of the latter. I can honestly say I have never been to any place that I have found horrid. Some I have liked better than others, but I have never come home and said: “God, did I every hate that $#%& place and I’m truly sorry I went.”

At the same time I find I have liked different places for different reasons and that’s a good thing. It means we should adjust to our realities and needs before we go a-wanderin’. Do we want relaxation, a different culture; culture in general, bright lights – big city, roughing it in the boonies?

As follows are some of my fave-raves over the years, and they are favorites for various reasons. I would love to read some of yours and why they endeared themselves to you. I just might want to take your advice.

Favorite place to return to: Kauai, Hawaii. I know it almost as well as my own neighborhood. I can chill thoroughly on the beauteous Garden Isle. I have been there with three wives, and the place has never lost its charms for me. Give me a bright morning at Kealia Beach and I am in heaven.

Favorite big city: No contest for me, it’s London. “To be tired of London is to be tired of life,” said Dr. Johnston and I, living 200 years after the slobbish lexicographer can still appreciate his wisdom. I have visited London off and on for decades and it never fails to fascinate. Hearing the sound of an Underground train rumble to my platform is instantly familiar and evocative no matter how long I’ve been away.

Favorite middle-sized city: San Diego. It’s attractive, relatively safe, has a heavenly climate and the best damn city park and zoo anywhere. I could spend a week in Balboa Park alone.

Favorite small city: Palm Springs. Palm Springs is ‘California Dreamin’ come to life with the most fabulous retro-chic architecture and healing desert air. It always enchants and the Thursday evening street market is almost worth the price of admission. And, fabulous Joshua Tree is not so very far away.

Nicest people: The Maoris of the enchanting Cook Islands are arguably the most gracious and welcoming people I have ever met. The beauty of the place, with its azure lagoon and palm-laden islets is only enhanced by the folks who live there.

Most surprising city: Brussels. I had this image of stodginess and boredom. I now only wish I could have expanded my three days in the Belgian capital to at least a week. It is a fabulous and vibrant city and boasts some of the best foodstuffs I’ve ever taste, from waffles to mussels and everything in between.

Most romantic spot: This is a toss up between Annecy, France; way up in the Alpine foothills not far from Geneva, this is a fairytale town in the real world. The other would be the west coast of Ireland. When I arrived in Killarney I thought: “I could spend the rest of my life here.”

Place I’d return to in a heartbeat: France. Let’s be candid, the French are not the most welcoming people in the world, and that’s their right. It is their country. But, screw them. I love the culture, the galleries, the food, and the general atmosphere of a place that says if you book a restaurant table at 7 p.m. it is yours until midnight if you wish. Ain’t nobody waiting to take it. If I was just a tad more bilingual I could stay there for a long time, and I thoroughly understand the impulses of my expat blogger friends here. Oh, and the trains. Magnifique!

Most striking city: For me a toss up between my own hometown of Vancouver and Vancouver’s sister down the coast, San Francisco. The cities are both similar and different at the same time.

Favorite place relatively close-at-hand: The Oregon coast. If you have never been there, you simply must go. I can leave Victoria in the early morning and be in Cannon Beach by mid-afternoon. That’s a nice thing at many levels.

The most awe-inspiring natural places: A tossup here between the amazing Na Pali Coast of Kauai – which travel writer Paul Theroux has deemed the most exquisite view in the whole of Polynesia – and Crater Lake, Oregon, which is equally astonishing in its own right.

So, there are more, so many more, but I shall stick with these for now. Please share yours here. I’d love to read about them. We all seem to be a pretty cosmopolitan lot here, so it shouldn’t be difficult to come up with suggestions.