Monthly Archives: November 2009

Sometimes you shouldn’t let all your sleeping dogs lie

Got an email yesterday from my ex-sister-in-law. It was my first direct communication with her in over a decade. It was more than nice to hear from her.

She and her husband live down in Lake Jackson, Texas – a little more than spitting distance from here – and we had basically lost touch. I didn’t want to lose touch with her forever since I really like her very much. In fact, I like her enough that I would still like to consider her my sister-in-law, even though her big sister and I divorced over 15 years ago. I mean, I didn’t divorce her, just her sister, so I think I would like to keep her in place as my actual SIL. With that end in mind, when I was talking on the phone to my ex a week or so ago (yes, we converse very pleasantly after all this time) I asked for her kid sister’s address and she thought it was nice that I wanted to get in touch.

I have had other sisters-in-law in my matrimonial adventures, but she was the first and most important. As for my others, nah, not so much. Trudy’s sisters have never made any attempt whatsoever to contact me, and Wendy’s sister, as much as I love Wendy and cherish our relationships, is a pretentious asshole whom I quite frankly can’t stand. That’s OK. Neither can Wendy. In fact, it would only cause domestic stress if I actually liked Wendy’s sister.

Anyway, my ‘real’ sister in law is very bright. She’s a fantastic artist, and is also fluently bilingual. She’s cosmopolitan, and did graduate studies in France and elsewhere, and she has a riotous sense-of-humor. Damn it, I’m even missing her more as I write these positives about her.

So, I learned from her letter that her erstwhile ankle-biter kids are now graduating from college, though in my mind they must always be five or six years old because I have no point of comparison; much as she must look exactly as she did when I parted from the nuptial fold with her sister.

As wrenching as that divorce was at many levels, I have no regrets about it. What transpired was for the best for the two primary parties involved. But the point that bites is having to divorce the other people that were important in my life, like my SIL.

Past a certain age life’s losses tend to increase exponentially and in that regard I think it behooves us to hold on to the people we have or become reacquainted with those who have left our scene and who we might like to have back. I think to a degree that can be done, and we should endeavor to do so if it’s important to us. In saying that, I know that we can’t necessarily go home again; nor should we want to. But, the idea of putting a new dynamic onto an old relationship just might have some virtues in terms of human contentment.

The folks that are dead are assuredly that, but those who are still alive should just maybe be cultured and even courted to a degree.

As crass and false as some people see Facebook to be, I have been able to contact individuals long since gone from my life, and have been delighted to do so. So have they to be in touch with me.

It’s not so much that I definitely want to hang with these people, it’s just good to know they haven’t yet dropped off the planet.

So, I am glad I emailed my sister-in-law, and even happier that she took the pains to respond with a chatty, informative and lengthy return email. Maybe I’ll just find myself in Lake Jackson sometime and I know I wouldn’t feel weird about calling her up.



From here to eternity and back again

The older I get, the less certain I am about the whole Heaven thing. It’s not a matter of whether I believe or disbelieve, for that is such a personal matter, but if I conceptualize what is to come, what will it look like?

Within our culture, we are proselytised from virtual infancy that if God decides to snatch us back, regardless of where we sit in the lifespan allotment, we will not really be dead, but just transformed to another place where we will dwell in bliss for eternity just hanging out with Jesus and all.

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep;

If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

Yow, that’s a pretty frightening prayer for a tiny tot. Reassuring Mom cajoles and says emphatically, “That doesn’t mean you’re going to die tonight,” but the wise kid knows the lines wouldn’t be there if there wasn’t just the teeniest chance. Such terrifying thoughts tend to compromise the parental goal of dry sheets every night.

“But wait,” says Mama, trying her damnedest to soothe, “that only means that when you die eventually – when you’re very, very old, you will go to a lovely place and see Grandpa again and be very happy.”

Unimpressed with his mother’s theological grasp, the kid eventually nods off into a fitful sleep after having been emotionally bribed by being promised a new Play Station for Christmas. “Hope I don’t die before Christmas,” he can be excused for thinking.

But, really, all we do end up being left with is a relatively bland concept of what Heaven might be like, and many of us have formed our own ideas about what we’d like it to resemble, even if we don’t really believe in it. I mean, if you subscribe to the “fire and brimstone” view of religiosity, then you specifically believe in it, much as you believe that the alternative (either for sinners or for those subscribers to cultural groups we don’t really like) is too ghastly to be imagined. Therefore such people strive to be in that select few of ‘saved’ folk.

But, what does such salvation mean? What does it look like?

Somebody once said that while so many people long for eternity, most of them have no idea of what to do with themselves on a wet Sunday afternoon.

A couple of years ago, I was reunited with my oldest friend in this world after a hiatus of more than 15 years. I mean, we’d kept in touch, but hadn’t actually been in each other’s presence for nearly two decades. So, the encounter was wonderful. We discussed this and that and just had a fabulous time. And then we reached the point of starting to grasp for conversational items. I mean, our lives had diverged a long time before. We may have still loved each other, but we had little life stuff in common.

From there I go to thoughts about Heaven, about the afterlife, an afterlife that will last for eternity. My dear friend and I had a challenge making it for two hours.

So, you see, part of my vision of Heaven has included being reacquainted with those who have gone beyond long before us. How wonderful to once again see those whom we’ve cherished, like:

–         My grandparents. I still miss them. I still find some spiritual solace in reaching out to them in my heart. Yet, Granny died when I was 14, and Granddad when I was 15. I was pretty unformed. We might not have a lot in common.

–         My parents: Oh, probably a lot of unfinished business there. I mean, I do have a lot of questions for both of them, but you know, then we’d end up in an argument, and that sort of behavior is probably frowned upon in Paradise.

–         A dear friend who died when he and I were 37. Great guy. Loved him dearly. But, in looking at some material about him, I now realize that he and I diverged somewhat in our political views. Wasn’t apparent at the time, but is now.

–         A beautiful lady who was just one of those ‘flings’ and who passed away very prematurely. Would love to tell her how much I cherished a ‘brief encounter’ but, in Christian context at least, our ‘friendship’ would fall into the ‘sin’ category, and might be frowned upon in Heavenly circles. It would just be too complicated.

–         On the other hand, I can heed the great wisdom of James Thurber and think how I would utterly cherish seeing my dog, Murphy again, and how we could run and he could chase sticks through the Elysian Fields forever. Meanwhile, the presence of Max in my life keeps me connected.

But, seriously. Eternity is an awfully long time. Forever? Truly, bend your thoughts around that. Barring reincarnation possibilities (in which we have to do this crap all over again), we must be in some sort of place and state of spirituality in which time and space are no longer relevant.

Dr. Who, being a Time Lord and all, understands that stuff, but I still have a problem.

So, what is your view of what lies beyond, even if you don’t truly believe and it’s all just speculative on your part? I mean, let’s face it, that’s all it can be in any case.

Comfort food: a sea of calm in a tempestuous world

Comfort Foods: Certain foods that people associate with their formative years, or with “home”; frequently simple home-cooked style food, and often the staple of diners and other informal restaurants; Food that one eats to feel comfort or alleviate stress rather than to receive nutrition

I found that definition on-line and I think it captures the essence of what food is all about for so many of us. And what food is all about rarely has anything to do with good nutrition, but everything to do with enhancing one’s sense of well-being.

We can get those things from other sources as well, such as being in love, a wonderful sexual encounter, a glass of fine wine, or even a walk in the park on a sunny afternoon, but I think comfort food is the shortest line between discontent and serenity.

What is most important about CF is that it be simple. No haute cuisine in this realm. The closest any of my CF choices would be to haute cuisine would be in eggs benedict where good hollandaise can be challenging for the novice. That’s despite the fact it’s actually dead easy to make. The French aggrandize themselves too much (in Gallic fashion) about their sauces. Most of them aren’t that difficult once you’ve mastered the basic ground rules. Just ask Julia Child, she dispelled most of the cuisine myths. But, as I say, simplicity is the general rule for CF.

The other important aspect of CF is that healthfulness cannot be a consideration, any more than obsessing about what it’s doing to your waistline. You’re eating it because you need comforting, not ruminating about your cholesterol. Such ruminations make a body uncomfortable, and sometimes CF is needed to smooth a fellow or girl out. Anyway, maybe you’re an odd sort who finds comfort in a salad, in which case you’re well ahead of the game.

Finally, CF must be an individual choice. I cannot impose mine on you because you are a product of your own formative years (CF always relates to earlier times in our lives) and I am of mine. So, if I like shepherd’s pie, and you were raised with enchiladas, you probably still hanker after them. Yet, individual choice notwithstanding, CF is usually transferable so that most of us will also enjoy the CF choices of others. They assume a certain universality in that regard.

So, why am I writing about comfort food? Because I am hungry and lunchtime is beckoning. As follows now is a list of some of my favorite comfort foods. Would love to hear about yours.

–         Hotdogs: any kind from chilidogs to Coney Islands. The lowly tube-steak figures highly in my salivation-inducing treats. Mustard, relish, mayo but never ketchup.

–         .Bangers and mash: Pork sausage and mashed potatoes. Park of my Anglo-Saxon heritage. A delightful and hugely unhealthy alternative is toad-in-the-hole, which is pork sausages in Yorkshire pudding. To die for.

–         Meatloaf: I have a brilliant meatloaf recipe that includes equal parts of sausage meat (or hot Italian sausage) and ground beef. It’s wonderful and almost better cold in a sandwich.

–         Potato Salad: I like most people’s potato salad, but like mine the best. Two elements I add are horseradish and English salad cream along with the usual mayo, relish, radishes, hard-cooked eggs, and chopped pickled peppers. I defy you not to like mine.

–         Spaghetti: Just good old spaghetti bolognaise will take the dents out of your psyche on a cold wintry day.

–         Steak and kidney pie: An acquired taste I’ll admit it, but once you acquire it, you’ll never look back. The key to tasty kidneys, as my late lamented mother-in-law used to say, is to “cook the piss out of ‘em!” Meanwhile the curst should be the flakiest you can concoct.

–         Batter fried chicken: I’m not talking about KFC crap (is it just me, by the way, but did KFC not taste much better a few years ago?) but genuine homemade beer-batter chicken.

–         Fish and chips: Few outlets have real mastery of this, and the batter is too often soggy and nasty, and frozen ones are quite beyond the pale, regardless of brand. But, if you check out any seaport town (never buy F&C inland) you might luck into an out-of-the-way joint that will give you what you’re seeking. You’ll know you lucked out the instant you tuck in.

–         Chili: I love me a good homemade chili, and there are so many variations on the theme. I prefer the Mexican (sans-beans) but Tex-Mex is pretty good. I lieu of kidney beans try making it with baked beans. By the way, this is one dish in which I am guaranteed to pay for my sins. The heartburn I now get from chili generally makes me refrain.

–         Hamburgers: Only homemade and barbecued if you please. And, if you have a source of absolutely reliable ground beef, or best of all, grind your own, then prepare them medium-rare. You won’t believe the taste difference. Traditionally for me a raw onion slice was part of the equation. Alas, no more. See heartburn above.

–         Homemade ice-cream: I have a Donvier ice-cream maker that I should pull out. Its product is better than even the most expensive commercial concoction. The key is to go big on the coronary inducing stuff. For example, where it says on the maker to use a combination of milk and half-and-half, I advise using a combination of heavy cream and whipped cream. When the EMTs come around to pick you up you’ll be smiling in your pain.

–         Watermelon: This is just a personal bias, but to finish off I cannot think of many thinks I like more than a slice of really crisp, really sweet watermelon on a summer day.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on comfort foods, and now I am going to get me some lunch. I made fresh cornbread yesterday. Hmm, cornbread. That should be on my list, too.

It’s difficult to choose a hero in an unheroic world

Some hold that it is well for people to have heroes. You know, inspiring role-models who might, via their wisdom and courage lead us through the vicissitudes and torments of life. Heroes are a good idea in a way, since life contains no paucity of vicissitudes and torments. In fact, that’s mainly what life is, interspersed with the odd oasis of serenity, and ever-so-rarely, happiness.

Yet, I have always had a problem with heroes. All too often heroes prove to be unheroic in much the same manner that saints aren’t always saintly. But, I ‘get’ the idea; I just have a difficult time aspiring to the wisdom of so choosing. It’s in a similar context to a friend of mine who had always suffered traumatic misfortune in the realms of amour. He just never seemed to be able to keep a damn relationship going. Personally, as another guy, I could never get that. I mean, jeez, broads, go figure. He was a prince of a fellow, a talented artist, witty, intelligent, charming, cultured, and pretty decent looking.

Anyway, to make a long story short, he decided he needed a role model. He chose two friends who had successful long-term relationships as mentors. I wasn’t hurt that he didn’t choose me, as it wouldn’t have made much sense, all things considered. But, these two guys he picked. Married for decades to wonderful women. There must be a formula and those guys had found it. What better mentors? And then, just as my friend was on the verge of asking them to be mentors in a fine male bonding ritual, both hit him with the news that their marriages were breaking up. One due to a relationship that had grown stale, the other due to the fly on a pair of Levis that just wouldn’t stay zipped in the presence of ‘other’ women.

That’s the problem with heroes. Being human they’re flawed and often have feet of clay. Albert Schweitzer supposedly had an ego as big as the Congo, Mother Theresa was kind of a publicity hound, Charles Lindbergh was a crypto-Nazi and JFK simply couldn’t keep his boy parts out of the girl parts of random females, including Hollywood actresses and gangster molls.

So, I have finally pared down my possible heroes to just one, just so I might avoid the old clay-feet syndrome. My hero is as flawed as they come, but he is also very courageous and absolutely cool at almost all times. I have chosen Bugs Bunny as my hero.

Bugs is a slick-talking Brooklyn-accented wiseacre who fears little on the planet. He can look straight down the barrel of Elmer Fudd’s 12-gauge and, unrattled, offer the earflapped little lisping jerk an unperturbed “What’s up, Doc?”

Bugs is mendacious, larcenous, vengeful and lazy, but he’s no Homer Simpson who shares the negative traits. That’s because Homer is a moron, Bugs is very wise. He has a profound ability to assess a situation and decide on a course of action that will invariably play out to his advantage. That’s because he’s not just wise, he is streetsmart, and that’s vital survival skill.

I do believe in a day such as this when we are all put upon by bureaucracies and nanny-state rule mongers, that Bug’s most appealing trait is that aforementioned vengeful nature. If Bugs has a mad on for you, you will suffer, and you will deserve to suffer. 

The poor sap that has crossed the now enraged hare never realizes what he has done, but we do when the wascally wabbit turns full face on to his audience, raises a finger and utters: “You realize, of course, that this means war!”

Would that I had that kind of strength and resiliency sometimes.


I wanted to be a beatnik but my parents wouldn’t let me

At some point in my teens I decided that I wanted to read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. That was the book, published in 1957, of which Truman Capote said: “That’s not writing; that’s typing.” For me, understanding little of ‘hip’ or its progenitors, I persevered and finished the book. Did I ‘get’ it? Not much of it, but at least I had completed the beatnik bible. That was important because I aspired to be one of them, as callow as I was at the time.

As an aside, and to go back to Capote’s bitchy crack, On the Road was typing. To produce the tome the archetypical human symbol of the Beat Generation, Kerouac got himself a roll of teletype paper, spooled it under the roller of his Remington and went to work typing and typing and typing the archetypical literary symbol of the movement.

As I grew out of my mid-teens I became increasingly enchanted with the beatniks and what they seemed to represent to me. I never was a beatnik, but I liked to think I had the bearing, somehow. Beatniks were cool. They were irreverent. They gave the finger to the older generation and seemed to have values that revolved around pacifism, smoking reefer, screwing indiscriminately, saying “like” a lot, snapping their fingers, listening to odd poetry, drinking cheap red wine out of wineskins only if you please, dropping names like Garcia Lorca, and being decked out in black turtle necks, goatees, shades and berets for males, and tit-emphasizing black turtlenecks for females, along with white lipstick, heavy eye makeup and Mary Travers-style ironed hair.

Well, I couldn’t grow a goatee yet, I looked stupid and risked bodily mayhem in the ‘hood had I dared to sport a beret, but I could do the black turtle neck and shades. I only knew of reefer by literary reference, but I was capable of puking on cheap red wine.

And, of course, all I knew about the beat world was what I perceived through my white kid uptown eyes, being resolutely unfamiliar with the New York streets of the immediate postwar years, the coolness of Parkeresque and Gillespian bebop, the racial undertones and the finger being waved in the face of those who would revere the stodgy and bourgeois Eisenhower years, or the evils of McCarthyism.

Beat was all about hip, and it was all about freedom, and all about experimentation with the extremes of life, denouncing what went before but, by design, experimenting with what was out there, and not necessarily suggesting alternatives. Life was to be lived in all its complexions and complexities. Yes, to say that I did not get it, other than to be charmed with the superficialities would be to state the case mildly.

Added to which Vancouver in the day, despite boasting a couple of really rather cool coffeehouses, like the Inquisition, was not ‘the’ westcoast place for beat. That had to be San Francisco. San Francisco, which always pushed out the jams on any movement, be it beat, be it hippie, be it gay. SF was the new Sodom in the eyes of so many, as the film Milk showed vividly. But, in my earlier days, if you couldn’t do New York (people were much less mobile then, and poorer), then the city on the Bay was within possibility.

In the early 1960s my parents took a trip down the coast – to actually visit relatives in San Jose – and we were to pass through, and hang out for a while in San Francisco. Even though I was with my parents, and my kid brothers were all there too in the old family Chevy, I was ecstatic. My particular goal was the visit the City Lights bookstore. City Lights, it was owned and operated by Ferlinghetti, buddy of Kerouac and Ginsberg and Gregory Corso and Ken Kesey and so forth. Beat heaven on the west coast. I may not have been hip, but I was astute enough to know my icons even at that tender age. My parents, however, had a schedule to keep and my old man simply stated “I’m not going to waste precious time looking for a %^$## bookstore run by *&%@$ beatniks and drug addicts.” Long story short, I never got there. I did years later, but a lot of the patina of the golden age had worn off by that time.

What happened to the beat movement? In my understanding it went in a couple of directions, though I may be wrong in my appraisal. First, and most unpalatably it went uptown. That was a killer. Middle class society glommed onto the superficial trappings and used them. It wasn’t all bad in itself. There were a couple of good TV shows that were definitely ‘beat’ inspired, those being Peter Gunn (great theme music), and the slightly less known but much cooler Johnny Staccato, starring John Cassavetes before he became an interesting and definitely beat inspired filmmaker.

And then, of course, there was Dobie Gillis. It was actually a very funny series and tried to offer a palatable beat character in Maynard G. Krebs, played by Bob Denver (Gilligan in a later characterization). Maynard was cliché hip but amusing and highly sanitized. No reefer around the Gillis household. Maynard was too sweet for that.


When beat really turned to crap was when the older generation (which was ironic in its way, since Kerouac was my parents generation and he was a merchant seaman in World War Two) grabbed on to what they saw as ‘fun’ but with no understanding of the meaning behind it all. My understanding (at that time) was scanty. My parents and others of their ilk had none at all. They knew from beat about the same way a Nebraska farmer of today would understand the motivations for hip-hop and what “all them goddamn dirty words” are really trying to express. A lot more than just a collection of dirty words, I might add.

The ultimate mortification for me was when my parents (when I was about 18) decided to have a beatnik theme party. That I regarded as an unspeakable violation and insult to have a bunch of middle-aged farts co-opting something about which they had less than zero understanding. To me they were poking fun, they were taunting, they were baiting. Fortunately I cooled down and now just regard it as a theme party they once held, with no malicious intent.

But, it also indicated to me that beat was dead 

Eventually Kerouac drank himself to death in his mother’s parlor, Neal Cassady lost when he played matador with a freight train, and Kesey wrote a blockbuster novel that earned him tons of money.

Secondly, beat did not die entirely, it just went in other directions. After all, for beat to have died, iconoclasts would have had to have been written off the face of the planet. One realm only vaguely connected to the beat movement was the hippie realm. Not so, according to those who know. While it made sense at one level to think that beatniks morphed into hippies, there were actually conflicting values afoot.

Early Bob Dylan might be seen as having a connection with hippies, but in fact he was much more of a beatnik and allied himself with the earlier movement. In the wonderful and ancient video of Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, the one in which he keeps dropping the placards, Ginsberg’s head keeps poking around the corner.

Richard Lester’s rendering of the Beatles frolics in Hard Days Night is hip, but not hippie.

And, the film Easy Rider is truly Kerouac’s On the Road on two wheels in lieu of four, with alcoholic Nicholson’s character representing the declining old order. If you want to consider the film’s view of hippiedom, witness Peter Fonda’s Captain America’s disdain for the hippies in the commune. He is happy to eat their food and smoke their dope and screw their girls, but he is also contemptuous of the naiveté of the values they propound.

Anyway, I got on a roll with this, so I am going to stop right now.


Standing on the PO steps watching all the girls go by

Courtenay Post Office after the 1946 earthquake

We tend to forget the way it was and it’s a human failing to not fully appreciate or even understand the mammoth changes society has undergone in a matter of a couple of decades. We are so immersed in the technology of today, and it governs so much of what we do we lull ourselves into thinking it has always been thus. Hell, as recently as a decade ago it wasn’t anywhere near as ‘thus’ as it is now. Go back 20 and it will be reminiscent of medieval times.

This week’s episode of NCIS captured our tech changes vividly. A mammoth power blackout in DC rendered all of their toys inoperative, and left the team in a state of confusion. That computers were inoperative went without saying. But, that was only part of the agony. There was no email, no faxes, no printers, no electronic searches for bad people, no GPS scrutiny, no DNA profiling, etc. etc. The boys and girls had to resort – and it almost seemed funny in its antediluvian nature – to Polaroid cameras (where in hell they got Polaroid film wasn’t explained) since they couldn’t download digital pictures, and an archaic mimeograph machine. Mimeographs. Remember those, if you’re past a certain age? The teacher would hand out papers and students would invariably inhale deeply to suck in the acetone fragrance and kill a few dozen brain cells.

It was all fun at one level, but it was also a fairly powerful object lesson on how we rely utterly on our technology and how lost we would be without; how dangerous the world would be without it. The only upside, depending on taste or lack thereof, would be the devastating blow to the online porn industry.

But, again it took a body back to how recent all this stuff is and how ubiquitous it has become to the degree it seems like it has always been with us. Even now, as I sit here at my laptop writing this stuff, I also can check my email, or go to Google to seek out information or a photo to run with it, can instantly find out what I need to find for a freelance story I’m supposed to be writing rather than doing this, find a particular YouTube music video for a bit of a break, or even find a very dirty picture or video of naughty girls doing unspeakable things. Not that I would ever do that.

Yet, I only got my first home computer as recently as 1994. We had been working on them for a couple of years at the newspaper so I thought it was high time I had one of my own. It was good to have, though it was glitchy in itself, boasted inconvenient and slow dial-up access to the Internet and operated through a modem that was so slow I could go and make a sandwich while I waited, and then only to find that it had crashed in the process, or that some meathead had tried to phone me and cut out the download process. This was also pre-Google time and the search engines of yore were notably flaw-ridden and limited in their scope.

A couple of years before that a colleague regaled the newsroom staff with a tale of how her 7-year-old son wanted to get a fax machine for Christmas. “Can you imagine that?” she asked. “A fax in your own home? I have no idea where he gets those ideas.” 

Prior to that, as I have said before, we used typewriters in the newspaper biz and the terms cut-and-paste meant literally that.

The world was simpler. It wasn’t much safer, but it plodded along in its own way and we got things done. Still, I continue to be amazed in retrospect, and am only thankful that I have never been a luddite. I appreciate the technology I need and can use, and I shun the crap I have no yearning for. I am not a techno-whore, but I am as current as I need to be to get the job done and keep in touch with friends and family. Just a little example of the gifts of technology; it is a dream for a freelancer. Not so many years ago if I wanted to submit an article to a publisher, I had to send off what was called hard copy in the biz, along with attached actual photos in a big manila envelope. Now, all I need to do is exercise my fingers a bit and she’s a gone.

But, sometimes I also get wistful and a bit staggered by the changes that seem to have happened so quickly – and conveniently forgetting what a relatively old fart I am and how many years have actually intervened in this process of change.

In my wistfulness I think of how I first came to this community from the big city and was appalled to a degree with how ‘quaint’ everything was. In those days the community had about a quarter of the population it has today. Our communication hub was the old Courtenay Post Office. There was no home mail delivery. You rented a box at the PO and picked up your mail there. This was staggeringly foreign to me, and I didn’t realize it was the norm in many small communities in both Canada and the US. For a while I muttered profanely about rubes and hicks and stupid little towns.

But then I changed. I got more used to the community and I came to like going to the post office on a daily basis. I came to learn that you met everybody at the PO. It was a strong human link that gave a sense of belonging. Sometimes it would take nearly an hour to break away because of the other folks there. Local news and gossip thrived, and not a few romances began on the PO steps.

And the building itself was kind of cool. A big old brick edifice, it looked official, but still sort of warm. If you looked up one wall you could see the scars at the top from where a big chunk fell off into the street during the 1946 earthquake (as pictured above but long before my time of standing on the steps talking to pretty young ladies of interest).

Would I long to go back to those days? Not for a moment. I likes me my access, not to mention cable TV, but sometimes it seemed so much simpler and, dare I say, warmer.

Could you do without contemporary technology? What would you miss most if it were taken away?



Excuse us for wondering when Iggy’s gonna pop

I was struck by a comment offered on a recent blog of mine by erudite and always interesting blogger friend, French Fancy, in which she wondered about the Canadian political fortunes of Michael Ignatieff. What I will do here is quote her query directly and respond as best I can:

  • On another note I recently noticed in my Guardian International that Michael Ignatieff is putting in a bid to become your prime minister . He used to be on tv a lot in the UK – those late night clever cultural programmes. Is he in with a shout do you think?

The difficult part of the question here is attempting to explain Canadian politics to non-Canadians. It’s difficult enough to explain the system even to Canadians, so you can imagine my challenge. Therefore, I am not about to go much farther than to say that Michael Ignatieff (or ‘Iggy’ as he’s known to friend and foe alike here) is the leader of the Opposition in Canada. This is a system in which the losers theoretically get to cause difficulty for the governing party.

Ignatieff was a highly-regarded and well connected academic in international circles. In fact (and this renders him suspicious in the eyes of all parochial Canadians) he is both an intellectual and has spent 98.3% of his life in either the US or the UK (doubly suspicious). As FF suggests he was a considerable mainstay on Blighty telly in one of his earlier incarnations.

He came back to Canada a while ago amidst great foofrah by the Canadian Liberal Party. Those who thought they had a handle on what Canadians wanted and needed (federal Liberals always think that) knew that they had to replace his almost terrifyingly inept predecessor named Stephane Dion (not the guy who sang Runaround Sue, too bad it wasn’t, actually) with a ringer. So, Iggy was the annointed one.

I actually had the opportunity to interview Iggy about three years ago. I was looking forward to the gig becasuse I knew his academic creds, and I also knew he was controversial – for example, he supported the US venture into Iraq, and had once let it be known that maybe a teeny bit of torture wasn’t a bad way to deal with terrorists. Wow, this should be a good story, thought I.

So, we were seated on a lovely lanai in front of an appealing B&B overlooking the Strait of Georgia on a sunny August day. Assorted members of the party faithful were present and tinkling in their undies with their excitement at having this really notable guy in their presence.

To make a long story short, the interview was a disappointment. I mean, he was a really nice guy. Polite and gracious and filled with the sort of platitudes that soothed the partisans present. And, he spent a lot of time marvelling at the setting and what a nice place this was to be: “Oh, you people are so lucky to have this at your doorstep; what a beautiful place, etc. etc.” His comments were reminiscent of those of any tourist that ventures to someplace lovely, like Hawaii, marvels over the sand and sea and jungle, and all the good things and is able to ignore the bad stuff like poverty, racism, squalor in the bad parts of Honolulu, etc. Well, Iggy was showing that same sort of aloha spirit and not answering questions that concerned how the West is regularly screwed one way or another by Ottawa, and how a Liberal has about as much change of being elected around here as Sarah Palin has of being invited to address the Oxford Union. Oops, I shouldn’t have weritten that, now they’ll go and invite her.

In other words, he didn’t want to address any of the hard stuff. This to me doesn’t suggest stirling leadership qualities, or a guy with a potential hand on the tiller. And since he ultimately won the party leadership – ah, I finally get to FF’s question – has he proved to be the stirling contender his party hoped for? “As if,” as the undergrads might say. He has been, shall we say, couching my terms for the sake of politeness, a colossssal failure. He has not been able to capture anything like what they thought he’d be able to. Current PM, Stephen Harper, who is a bit of a stick-up-his-ass humorless prick, but very politically shrewd, not to mention quite fondly regarded in western Canada, is just soaring in the polls, as the Ignatieff Liberals continue to kiss the bottom of the aquarium.

I think it was hoped that his intelligence, eloquence and reputation would make this all a cakewalk. Maybe (and those living east of Manitoba basked in the thought) he might be another Pierre Trudeau. The fact that the reptillian (albeit terribly bright) Trudeau was regarded in western Canada as akin to anthrax didn’t seem to matter to the Liberals because they don’t believe the west counts for anything in the scheme of things.

And if that were the only issue, they might have been right. But, Iggy has failed to capture that heralded adulation in Ontario and, more importantly, Quebec. Whatever it is, whatever it was that Kennedy had by Hubert Humphrey did not, seems to be at issue. Being highly regarded in academic circles does not translate to success at greasy political stumping. Harper knows that. Harper is also terribly bright in his own way and, though it sometimes doesn’t seem to be so, he is also street smart. That counts.

Those are my thoughts on Michael Ignatieff. QED.