Monthly Archives: August 2010

Farewell to August. Please come back again

As we move into the horrors of September — well, not really ‘horrors’ but, you know, the return to normality that fall brings about — it is well to recall the blessings of summer. Our very tiny finale involved taking in the annual Fall Fair (as I mentioned in my previous blog. So, come along and share in an event that may lack in drama, but makes up for in just plain old wholesome something-or-other.

With such a plethora of choices, where to go next? I’ll just follow that cart.

The famous Zucchini Races are always a thrill-a-minute crowd-pleaser. When they first ran in Paris in 1948 dozens of spectators were killed.

They may be caged, but don’t get too close, lady. They’re unpredictable.

“My sled! Where the hell’s my sled?”

Keep ruining the wetlands and this is the result.

“OK, we’re out here. What are we supposed to do? We’re pigs, for Christ’s sake, so we don’t do tricks or anything.”

Kids with cows. Something kinda Norman Rockwell happening there.

The demonic eyes of the Goat from Hell!

“Bring your pet hamster closer, little boy. Maybe put it down and let it run around a bit.”

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The pigs on Gentleman Farmer Ian’s spread would get to go to the Old Swine Home at the end

George Carlin once stated that he liked the aroma of frying bacon so much that every Sunday morning, via ritual, he took great joy in slapping rashers in the skillet and frying it up. He continued to do this after he’d had a major coronary and no longer consumed bacon. But, he believed he still had the right to savor the fragrance in the house. Makes sense to me.

For, I too think bacon is wonderful. I think all sorts of other ‘meatstuffs’ are wonderful, too. I’m not a fanatic red meat consumer and truly do moderate my intake, but I would find it difficult to go vegetarian and virtually impossible to be vegan. I like tasty food too much to be the latter.

However, there is one set of circumstances that would turn me vegetarian, and that would be if I had to kill what I consumed. I just couldn’t bring myself to expediting an animal to the nether world just so I could consume its flesh. So, does that make me a hypocrite? Probably. But, what the hell, so do a number of things.

But, more importantly, that’s why I never became a farmer. You see, I once thought I would like to be a farmer – you know, straw hat and humming “Zipadee Doo Dah!” all the livelong day as I tended my fields out there on my tractor.

For two summers in my early teens I worked on a large sheep farm owned by a great uncle of mine. Despite the grueling nature of some of the work, I loved it. It was more fun than anything I’d ever done at that time in my life. Mind you, I hadn’t yet done very much. I was only 15 that first summer on the farm. Anyway, I loved driving the tractor, feeding the livestock, exploring the loft in the big old barn. You know, farm stuff.

Also, at home at the time my parents lived on a small acreage and I was able to have chickens and ducks and geese and took great joy in tending to them. I also, in my callowness, was not averse to killing them for the stewpot. That was then. Now I could no longer do that.

This weekend we went to the local Fall Fair and I got to hang out with the animals that local 4-H kids have worked their magic on. What a great program. If I were living my life over, I’d be in 4-H. So, we looked at all the chickens, ducks, geese, sheep, goats, rabbits, horses, cows and pigs. It was good and it made me want my farm again.

However, back to the unwillingness to do animals in. I would have to have a farm that just raised vegetables or hay or some such. That would cut out the slaying element. I especially felt this when I regarded the pigs and then had my mind go to Sunday bacon.

Sorry guys, but I had no part in any of your kin becoming bacon. And I assure you that if you lived with me you could just spend a lifetime hanging out in the sty and contributing nothing to your connection with me other than your fine company.

I’m sorry but I’m not trendy enough to live life in the ‘pink’

The boring old white salt of the Lidster household

Out of the magnificent peaks, perhaps not so very far from mythical Shangri-La, comes an esthetic marvel currently becoming ever-so-fashionable and that is Himalayan Pink Salt. No longer need you be burdened with that crappy and boring old white salt that may have been good enough for the grandparents but not excruciatingly trendy, you; not when you can get your NaCl in roseate hue. Mind you, it costs a little (a whole lot) more than the average white stuff, but what care you if you want to be a trend-setter and possibly the first in your social circle sporting pink salt? “Ooh, George and Martha, you have pink salt! We’d like to sponsor you both for membership in our country club.”

Huh? Pink salt? Mined in the Himalayas? Possibly blessed by the Dalai Lama himself? I just made that last one up, but it might be a marketing ploy worthy of consideration by the pink salt marketing people.

Doing a bit of research I learn that pink salt is in many cases actually from Pakistan. Well, that’s good. Pakistan I am certain is delighted to devoting its energies to satisfying the need by westerners to be au courant, for surely they have nothing else to concern themselves about.

Salt is an important item, no doubt, for without excessive use of this mineral the commercial food industry would collapse. Mmm, salt and transfats make it all good, right?

Throughout history salt has been pivotal to both the palate and even to economies. Salt was so valued in ancient Rome that it was used as a currency and our term ‘salary’ refers to being paid in salt.

Of course, the Bible makes reference to salt, especially in the case of Lot’s wanton wife who insisted on looking back on the cities of her misbehavior, Sodom and Gomorrah, despite God’s admonition to not do so. So, all the while humming the refrain of How are Things in Gomorrah? Mrs. Lot did look and was promptly turned into a pillar of salt. As an aside, we have some understanding of what the sin sodomy is about, but there has never been clarification of gomorrahmy – is it too ghastly to speculate upon? In this context one might also consider the references to saltiness in sexuality. OK, have belabored this point long enough, and considering the value of salt in Lot’s day maybe he came out a winner after the transformation of his slutty wife.

Salt as we understand it comes in many forms – granular, coarse, rock, kosher and now, of course, pink. We give it little thought other than we use (as those spoilsports in charge of our well-being whether or not we want them to attest) way too much of it. If you have high-blood-pressure it’s especially negative and yes, I do watch my salt intake and no longer sprinkle my meals white or add salt before I’ve tasted.

As for pink salt, some of the marketers protest it is actually better for us than that evil white stuff. I’m a bit skeptical about such claims, I must profess. Pink we equate with kinda cute and gentle. Sorry, but salt, regardless of hue, is basically a melding of sodium and chlorine no matter how you sprinkle it.

It simply all depends on the circumstances

When I was brushing my teeth this  morning I was struck by a thought at the time of the rinsing part of the procedure. The thought originated with the bathroom glass. I picked it up and held it to the light, and was mutely fascinated by the fact it was just barely translucent. It was a veteran of many brushings, water residue, and the use of more than one person. That it needed washing went without saying (and it was so washed), but the more important point is we, members of a household who live in close proximity aren’t always entirely fastidious.

The bathroom glass is an example of situational esthetics.

If I were to go to the kitchen cupboard and extricate a glass from within and it was an ugly, scummy distasteful looking receptacle, I would thrust it from me, wonder how it got into the cupboard in such a state, and find another, cleaner glass. 

That’s why the bathroom glass situation is, well, situational. One expects a bathroom glass to be a little less than perfect. In fact, you can walk into anybody else’s bathroom and, after you finish inspecting their medicine chest to see what kind of addictive drugs they’ve had prescribed, and look at their glass. It may be even worse than yours. And, even if their glass is pretty ratty looking, you probably don’t think less of them as human beings, and will continue to assume they shower and change their undies daily.

From the time we are children, we are taught that certain things are nice and certain things are nasty. What makes them nasty? The divine decree of the household, usually Mom. Therefore, picking one’s nose is nasty. Everybody does it, but we reach a certain age and try to avoid doing so in front of others. We also, somehow, think that if we are in our cars we are invisible and some dastardly and slovenly souls will pick away with impunity, like at traffic lights.

Picture his, a fine fellow walks down the street and he spies a wonderful looking woman. The sort of woman a chap would like to get to know better. His mind races, and he thinks this is the sort of woman I would like to know as well as I could know anyone. I would like to hug her and kiss her, and kiss her very deeply, and then to make mad love to her. That is what I would like to do. So, let us say that he (in his lust-fuelled mind) has indulged in all those intimacies. And let’s say that same beautiful woman has noticed our man ogling her. So, she turns, smiles and walks over to him. She looks more luscious than ever when she gets up close. She speaks.

“I watched you watching me,” she says with a seductive smile. “I think you are a very handsome and very sexy looking dude. And I was wondering, I’ve finished chewing my gum now, and I was thinking I could give it to you to chew for a while.”

Eww! His lustful feelings would vanish in a minute and he, who wanted to kiss her deeply, is repelled by the thought of chewing the spearmint she’s been munching on for the past hour. Situational esthetics again.

We will permit a cat to lick a child. Would we permit the child to lick a cat? Why not? The same bacteria are being transferred in both cases. The cat has been licking the baby’s fingers; the baby sticks her fingers into her mouth. But, children don’t lick cats. It’s not done. It offends.

Other examples of situational esthetics:

–      We delight in eating escargot (at least some do). Escargot is snails. We would be repulsed at being offered slugs as a viable alternative. It’s the same animal, but without the shell. But, no matter how much garlic butter we might slather on them, slugs are out of the question. Likewise, we revel in seeing lobster, crab and prawns on a menu, but would be horrified to see scorpion or tarantula on the bill of fare, in even the finest restaurant.

–       We demand that public businesses like restaurants and shops provide loos for both men and women, yet both sexes use the same potty at home. Some especially world folk don’t even bother closing the door. I’m not that worldy. I think Europeans are a little less anal (if that’s an appropriate term) in this regard.

–      We can spit without hesitation at a dental appointment, but few are those above the age of fourteen who would do such a thing in the street – thank God.

–       We permit a doctor, who may be a perfect stranger, to become extremely familiar with the most intimate areas of our bodies, and do things we wouldn’t permit even a really, really good friend to do, and we don’t suffer (much) embarrassment as a consequence.

–      We delude ourselves into thinking an airline hostess has a more glamorous job than a restaurant waitress. Likewise, we tell ourselves that those who travel on airplanes are a superior class of people to those who must take the bus. Bus passengers may be poorer but, considering some of the trashy people I have flown with, they aren’t necessarily inferior. just because they are forced to go Greyhound.

What are some situational esthetics situations with which you’re familiar? Oh, and by the way, the bathroom glass was washed immediately after I wrote this.

What exactly was ‘dear’ and ‘golden’ about ‘rule days’?

Next weekend is Labor Day and in this area LD always marked the beginning of the new school year, and it evoked levels of anxiety that have never entirely left us, if we’re honest, no matter how many years have elapsed in the intervening time.

Off to school we went, in dawdling, foot-dragging walk, receiving only a modicum of contentment with the new pencils, ruler and Pink Pearl eraser that accompanied us. A frisson of excitement at the thought of seeing old friends after a two month hiatus, but said frisson would only satisfy for the first hour  or so, then it was back to 10 months of being in a place where none of us – if we had an ounce of common sense – wanted to be. Sorry, Pinklea. If you had been my teacher, as charming and fun as you are, I might have wanted to be there. But, you weren’t my teacher, so I didn’t ‘ever’ want to be there.

Entering school that first day must have been a pivotal experience in my life. It must have been because I recall the first day if not vividly, then at least with a clarity that isn’t granted other episodes lost in the mists of time.

I remember had jam sandwiches, and the teacher read from a catchy little tome entitled Mr. Bear Squash You All Flat, an epic tale revolving around the adventures of a certain ursine who would win his arguments by sitting on other forest creatures. Not sure what the message was, or if I even found it entertaining, but I was captive in that place as the hours moved astonishingly slowly through that hot September day.

But, at least I didn’t cry on my first day of school. Other kids cried and clutched at their mothers skirts, aghast at their betrayal by the person they had trusted the most. Not I. I was stoic throughout. I wanted to cry, probably, but I suppose I decided there wasn’t much point since I seemed to be stuck there, since the kids that did cry weren’t permitted to go home despite their tears of anguish. It’s odd, but one of the kids that cried was a guy I went right through all twelve years of school with, and I never forgot that he cried on the first day of school, though I charitably never reminded him.

Douglas Road School in those days was composed of two structures. The substantial looking red brick building (which is still there), and the ‘old grey building.’ The OGB was the original school dating back to 1910. It was an eight classroom, ugly structure with oiled-wood floors, high windows, and lightbulbs hanging from the ceilings, which seemed to be about twenty-eight feet above the floor. It smelled of pee and chalk dust. There was also a basement. In fact, there was both a ‘boys’ basement and a ‘girls’ basement, for somebody had puritanically decided that the sexes must be separated at playtime. The toilets were also in the basement. Ours, I recall, had three stalls, with the locks broken on two of them. The locks were never fixed, in my recall. It was a good motivation to develop excellent bowel control from an early age. And there was the pee trough (also known as a urinal in polite quarters), and this one was literally a galvanized trough of the sort I wasn’t to run into again until I had to take a leak at a pub in Galway, Ireland many years later). The pee trough was a wonderful place for boys to be, for it was there that they could impress others with their varying abilities to shoot their stream the farthest. What can I say? We were what we were, and I doubt whether young boys have changed a great deal in terms of basic behaviour. We just didn’t pack heat in those days, only cap guns.

And, since we are discussing lowlier instincts, I should mention that within that basement there was also a coal bin that stored the anthracite to feed the gaping maw of the furnace that brought heat up maybe to the first floor, but God help the teachers and kids on the second floor on a particularly chilly winter day. Anyway, the coal bin was a great place to play. It was also a great place to pee when a totally involved kid didn’t want to take a break from whatever he was doing, and head off to the can. Periodically the janitor would come into a classroom and tear strips off the boys for their disgusting behaviour, but I don’t recall the practice ever ceasing.

I was stuck in that old grey building for four years, and it wasn’t until grade five that I ‘graduated’ up to the fine brick building. They say that familiarity breeds a certain amount of affection for something, but that never applied in the case of the grey building. It was a dump that should have been condemned years before, but I guess the school district couldn’t afford to be rid of it. At one point, shortly before it was slated to be torn down, the fire marshall condemned the fire escapes that ran from the second floor to the ground. Yes, they were disassembled and the kids on the upper floor were, astonishingly, left without a means of fleeing a conflagration. Those oiled wood floors would have burned like San Francisco after the ’06 quake. I don’t know if parents ever questioned this lack of emergency egress, but no changes were made until the building came down.

Learn cursive, kids, and you too can become pantywaists

I read recently that contemporary school kids aren’t taught cursive handwriting any longer, and many have no inkling of how to loop their letters.

 That’s truly unfortunate for them because they’re missing an important rite of passage. When I was in school the task of learning cursive meant you had surpassed the primary level and were about to learn a smattering of big kid stuff.

 First grade, you see, demanded that one’s scrawling and meandering printing be rendered in pencil. And the first forays into cursive, in 2nd grade, as I recall, continued in the graphite medium, which was frustrating for those of us longing to get ahead in the world. But, 3rd grade; that was when we moved over to pen-and-ink. No newfangled ball points for us little Canadian kids. M. Biro could go and pound salt as far as my teachers were concerned. Real writing demanded pen-and-ink. Finally we were to learn what that mysterious ink-eraser was all about. What we learned was that it didn’t work for shit. No such thing as erasing ink.

Our ‘bible’ in this new world was a slim volume known as the MacLean Method of Writing. It taught us how to do cursive warm-up exercises with ovals and loops before we got down to the real task of making letters. The Maclean book was very boring and unimaginative. My grandmother actually knew HB MacLean. She didn’t much like him. She said he was a “pantywaist.” I had no idea what that meant, but it didn’t sound good.

Oh, and the ink thing? Very messy, with blotches and smudges all over the place. But, writing in ink was believed to be good for us, like cod liver oil and waiting an hour after eating before swimming. Anyway, my renderings tended to look like those love letters Charlie Brown used to write to his little red-headed girlfriend.

For a long time after learning the rudiments of cursive I thought my script looked dorky and uninspired. I strove to make it more distinctive. I tried backhand, for example, but it just wasn’t me. Then I opted for slightly print-inspired and straight up-and-down. That one sufficed me for a long time.

Oh, and the signature. I desperately wanted to develop a cool signature and tried a few hundred variations before kind of settling on one. I stuck with that from the time I was in my teens. However, what I didn’t understand was that as my education increased the more illegible my handwriting was to become. It’s widely held that you can deduce a person’s level of education by how scrawly his or her writing is. Comes from years of frantically taking notes in university classes. That doctors are well educated is obvious from their terrible scrawl.

As my script deteriorated so did my signature. Today you can roughly make out my first name, and that’s about it. But, since I’ve used that version on so many documents – mortgage statements, will, passport, marriage license and so forth, I guess I have to stick with it.

Sorry, Mr. MacLean, but it doesn’t resemble anything you tried to drum into us. But, at least I didn’t grow up to be a pantywaist.

Some points to ponder at vacation time

This lovely old hotel in Great Yarmouth, England, was actually extremely nice and not like any I have described in the following

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

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

A few years ago we stayed in a boutique hostelry in Palm Springs. We loved it. The place was a completely revamped and redecorated 1950s motel, but now boasting king-size beds and lots of other fancy-schmantzy accoutrements like Jacuzzis, etc. It was wonderful and we would stay there again and immerse ourselves in its retro ambiance willingly.

But, I say call hotels, motels, or flophouses what you will, they are ultimately just places that for a certain paid sum, one can hit the sack and hope for a reasonable night’s sleep, without being too distracted by noisy guests in adjoining rooms, drunks in the corridor, sirens in the streets, screams in those same streets, or developing obsessive thoughts about just how stained the mattress might be beneath all this seemingly spotless linen. Don’t check. You so don’t want to check. Oh, and why should a single item in the mini-bar cost more than a full size bottle of the stuff in a liquor store?

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

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

My next stop is that aforementioned television. Have you ever noticed that motel and hotel TVs are often some obscure brand like ‘Eddie’s?’ Expensive rooms have big flat screen top-end sets that make one feel a bit cheated upon returning to the crappy and archaic home TV. Cheap rooms are better in that regard because you don’t suffer TV envy when the vacation or business trip is over. A lot of hotel/motel TVs have extra-cost cable connections that will bring you relatively recent motion pictures or sleazy porn right to your own home-away-from-home. Kids left in a room will immediately figure out how to access the porn, and then tell you they went there by “accident” when it comes time to check out.

I also always check the bedside table drawer to see if there is a Gideon Bible present. While not being a man who is known for his religious devotion, I invariably feel more secure if the Bible is in place. For some reason I think this will protect me from being murdered in my bed. “Wait – don’t shoot! You wouldn’t shoot a man who was holding a Bible, would you? If you do it will mean you are definitely going to Hell when you die.” Works every time. Or so I tell myself.

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

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

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

  • A room with bullet holes in the wall.
  • A room in which the door to the hallway only locks from the outside.
  • A room with no window. Even if it overlooks the local stockyards, I demand a window.
  • A room in which there is a gas heater that advises ‘Use at your own risk.’
  • A hotel or motel with hourly rates.
  • A hotel of which the clerk at the travel agency has told you: “Well, if there’s nothing else available, we can always get you into the Buena Vista. You do not want the Buena Vista, believe me.
  • A hotel of which, when the address is given, causes a cabbie to shake his head with dismay and incredulously exclaim: “Well, good luck with that!”
  • A hotel in which the fire-charred areas above the windows have been inadequately covered by cheap paint.
  • A hotel in a foreign country in which the chambermaids speak English as a first language, and look suspiciously like North American College girls, a little the worse for stress. If you should receive a message saying “help me,” scribbled in eyebrow pencil on the napkin that comes with your morning coffee realize that you finally know what ‘white slavery’ truly means. Do not let your female companion out of your sight at any time.