Monthly Archives: August 2013

My baby would take the mornin’ train — if only she could

As of this moment the fate of the Esquimalt and Nanaimo rail service remains in the uncaring hands of the swine at Via Rail way over there back east somewhere in which folk cannot grasp the concept of Vancouver Island, which seems to be a place as alien to them as is Namibia, say.

So no word as to whether it comes back or is lost to history. For a lover of trains, like me, this is galling and frustrating and makes me less than tolerant with the unromantic jerks who want to see the rail right-of-way turned into a fancy-schmantzy trail for them and their wretched bicycles. Piss on them, I say, with no small malice. I want my train back as a viable alternative to the eventual blacktopping of this Island. Rail conveyance works as anybody who has traveled in Europe knows and it cuts down on road traffic immeasurably.

That said, and before you proceed with this it’s important, though not vital, that you understand a little bit about the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railroad. I have included this for a smattering of background and also because I like history.

Esquimalt and Nanaimo are two towns on Vancouver Island, off the west coast of British Columbia, which is on the west coast of Canada. (This is designed mainly to help the Via folks who seem unclear on the concept) I am being geographically precise just in case you, the reader, know little about the area. If you don’t gain this basic understanding of the place then the story you are about to read won’t lose any of their charm whatsoever, but you’ll, at the same time, feel better situated.

First, understand that Vancouver Island is not islet sized. It’s the largest island on the west coast of North America, being four-hundred-and-sixty kilometres long and around one hundred kilometres wide at its most girthful point. The kilometers reference is used, by the way, since that’s the way they measure things on Vancouver Island. So, anyway, it’s a big place, relatively, and compares in size with the Netherlands and Taiwan. Well, the Netherlands isn’t actually an island, but you get the drift.

The E&N these days is part of a national passenger entity known as Via Rail. Via Rail is something like Amtrak, only even less efficient or caring. Via does not like the E&N. That’s been made abundantly clear by them over the years.

In 1905 the E&N became an aspect of the Canadian Pacific Railroad and it was extended at the south end into Victoria proper. A reality that Victoria, for some bizarre reason, has been fighting against ever since and continues to do so. As an example, the new and largely unneeded Johnson Street Bridge in that city makes no provision for rail trackage. That notwithstanding, northerly it was extended to the west coast deep sea port of Alberni and eventually, by nineteen fourteen, to its current northernmost terminal, Courtenay. Just in time for the First World War. And Courtenay has remained to this day as the northern terminus
In its heyday the line was well-utilized hauling freight and supplies to and from the communities served by the grand total of fifty-three stations en route. Until a highway link was established connecting those communities, the E&N was essentially the only way to travel. But, rubber killed the railroad, as it did in so many other parts of North America and rail use continued to decline throughout the years of the twentieth century.

Any rail service is, of course, a carrier of goods and it’s in that freight haulage where the money is made. But, there is also the passenger service, and that’s where railroad romance is realized and perpetuated and that’s the area in which this much-beleaguered line is connected to the tales that follow here.

It’s not the Orient Express, the Royal Scot, or the hugely long coast-to-coast rail lines in Canada and the US. It’s a clunky, bumpy, swaying two hundred and forty kilometre ride, twice a day, up and down the Island. It’s much spat-upon by the funding-purveyors and generally disregarded by politicians at all levels and has stopped and started more times that most would care to remember. The ancient Budd cars are victims of their age and if one is familiar with the sleek railcars to be found in places like Switzerland and France, one can only weep a little bit and think we should be so ashamed.

Wendy and I used that little train with much regularity when we were commuting back and forth between the Comox Valley and our apartment in Victoria and grew to love it. I would hate to think that future generations might not have that privilege due to the lack of will by those who will only realize what it might have been if only we’d had the balls to stand up for it. Not yet too late, but getting close.


Don’t get too excited, folks, it was just virtual sex

2013 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
Great happenings in the wide world of linguistic usage that might have come to your attention and both of them involve the venerable Oxford English Dictionary.

The first of these – and I studied linguistics in university so you can regard me as a worthy scholar in the matter – OK, I actually only took one course, but I did real well in it – concerns the commonplace usage of ‘literally’. In fact, it came to the attention of the OED folks that literally is being used much too often and erroneously in common vernacular.

People tend to regularly use literally when they actually mean ‘virtually’ or ‘figuratively’. Thus you will see such howlers as “The Cardinals literally mopped the floor with the Yankees.” Really? Man, I’d like to have been there to see that. Or, white society has literally decimated native North American society. Well, here to. It may have tried, but it hasn’t literally succeeded. Furthermore, and to be real nit-picky, ‘decimate’ means to divide into 10ths. Just sayin’.

So, the OED in its cop-out has now said that it sticks with the true definition of literally but is prepared to accept the defilement of the term in popular usage. I’m sorry to see that because it’s sloppy. Or, as Sheldon on Big Bang would say: “That’s just not right.”

The other one concerns a term that has befuddled not a few geezers on Facebook and that term is “twerking”. In the breaking-news of the week tale (even though it’s been around for a while) it has been applied to the dubious antics of a rather lackluster young female singer of sorts called Miley Cyrus. Adele she ain’t, so I supposed she feels compelled to offer something different to the punters. The furor involves a dance she did with another relative nobody on a music awards dealy, and twerking was used to define her dance technique, which was deemed, ahem, provocative.

OK, for purists, here is the def of twerking:

The rhythmic gyrating of the lower fleshy extremities in a lascivious manner with the intent to elicit sexual arousal or laughter in ones intended audience

Nothing new here, folks. In an earlier incarnation of lascivious dance it was called to “Shake your bootie” Except for Frank Zappa, in which case it was “Sheikh Yerbouti”. That’s right. Wiggling your ass in simulated sex posture to arouse and enchant. It’s been done, Miley, and by sexier than you will ever be.

You want to see provocative dance go to an Island Nights on Rarotonga. Whooee, simulated intercourse in grass skirts. And who could forget the Lambada in which some couples were purported to have actually done the ‘thang’ on the dance floor. Prolly not, but it was fun to speculate.

And come to think of it, take a look at the tango in the true Argentine manner and that is again more spicy than Miley could ever attain. You have to be a grown-up to tango – right, Linda?

A most unwelcome visitation chez moi

I am currently undergoing the aftermath of a migraine. That’s irksome, to state the case remarkably mildly.

This is the second visitation in as many weeks and I’m not happy about that because I had gone for over a year without one and thought perhaps I had outgrown them, or something.

I am fortunate in the sense I don’t get the ‘please God, take me now’ kind of blinding headaches that cause some to seek a dark and silent room where they can agonize away from anything on the planet.

No, mine are mainly irksome because the predominant symptom for me is ‘auras’. Little lightning bolts begin to manifest in a corner of my visual field and ultimately compromise my entire field with an internal electrical storm. And then they pass in almost exactly a half hour. However, I am left feeling dispirited, apathetic, lacking in energy, etc. Yes, even more than normally.

The odd thing is the bastards sneak up on me even though the signs are present the day before in the so-called ‘promordial phase’ in which I feel inexplicably depressed, fatigued and irritated for no apparent reason. Then when it hits the next day I can go “aha, that’s what that was all about.”

Anyway, that said, I am gratified that I have nothing hugely challenging to deal with today – you know, like getting married or beginning a long dreamt of vacation.

Causes? Beats me. Lots of theories about it. Allergies are often named as culprits: Chocolate, coffee, red wine, methamphetamine. Just kidding about the last one, and since I no longer drink the penultimate one won’t be a factor, either.

Personally I opt for major change in air pressure combined with low-level (or high level) stress. I had my first many years ago just after I had finished final exams in my senior university year.

I have had them at odd times. I have gotten the visual auras in my sleep and can see the lightning bolts in my closed eyelids. I once had an attack whilst making love and am proud to state that I didn’t let that deter me from my chosen objective I once had one while snorkeling in Hawaii. And I have had them on airline flights, which sort of adds insult to injury considering the state of air travel these days.

Anyway, I am OK, but I you want to feel really bad for me and send warm kisses in my direction (if you are female) then I am up for it.
(By the way the graphic pretty much captures what it looks like)

A most thoughtful gift that Max and I shall both cherish

A friend just returned from a trip with his lady love to the wonderful little maritime village of Gearhart, Oregon. It’s an exquisite spot right out there on the open Pacific and it’s a getaway that Wendy and I adore.

So does Max.

And in gratitude for our having introduced him to Gearhart, he brought me a gift and a fine gift it was. It was a ‘Gearhart Poop Bag.’ Have used them many times (for Max) and find them well-considered design-wise.

If the term poop bag offends you, you could go for the more hoity-toity ‘sack for the apprehension and subsequent disposal of canine effluvia’, but we, basic souls that we are, prefer plain old ‘poop bag.’

The Gearhart version is only excelled by the ones we found in another Oregon burg, Ashland. The Ashland version is actually shaped like a glove, so it’s very handy.

This left me with a thought. A most excellent dog-in-tow trip would involve going from place to place throughout North America to find which village, town, city, boasted the best poop bags. A ratings system could be devised and then the results could be posted on line as a public service for puppy owners.

I am pleased that people do take the pains to pick up after their dogs nowadays. At one time the public was much more cavalier and merrily let their mutts defecated wherever they chose. Usually our front lawn. This seems to have changed over the last while and I’m happy about that since it enabled me to disassemble the machine-gun nest I had set up in the front of the place to state emphatically how I felt about violators transgressing in such an unsavory manner.

I don’t know if our nouveau attitudes towards canine carelessness are universal, but I noticed last time we were in England the conditions of the streets and verges were better than once they were. If’ we’d had Max when we were in England in 2006 I’d have picked some up. I wonder what they look like. Do they have a Union Jack, a ‘by Appointment to Her Majesty and Suitable only for Corgis’ disclaimer, or whatever would seem appropriate.

There’d be no point in trying France. The French are as contemptuous about picking up after their chiens as they are resolute in their adoration of Jerry Lewis and their propensity to throw down their arms and welcome invading armies. Quelle domage.

But, they do whip up a great plate of grub and their plonk is decent, I understand, and their croissants are to die for, so some things can be excused.

They permit open sales of this awful stuff, yet heroin remains illegal

consumed by licorice
               (Pretty girl being devoured by licorice all sorts swarm)

I just made a terrible, terrible mistake. I mean to say, I’ve made a few unwitting errors in my life (and a few of them were fun and maybe, arguably, worth it) but this one was particularly egregious and unforgivable. By me, at least.

For if you are going to make a mistake it’s best to make sure it hurts somebody else rather than bite the mistake-maker (i.e. me) in the ass.

What I did was buy some ice cream. An agreeable and innocent thing to do on a warm day. Rather than make a further purchase of my default flavor – vanilla, to suit my pathologically bland personality – I noticed an item called ‘Tiger Tail’. Hoo boy. ‘Orange’ ice cream (which I love and is terribly rare and obviously endangered) with a little dark stripe going through it. Really ‘cute’ ice cream. So, I made the purchase and took it home with me thinking of Hobbes from ‘Calvin and Hobbes’.

Just as I was about to drop it in the deep freeze I was struck with a sensation of unease that nearly bordered on panic. I scrutinized the label closely. The pretty stripe, which logic had dictated to me must be chocolate, turned out to be ‘licorice’ — the most disgusting flavor known to humankind. I fell into a near faint when I realized what I had done.

Why is there licorice? It’s awful. Licorice anything is despicable, and to taint ice cream in such a manner – especially orange ice cream – should surely be illegal in a civilized society.

I revile all manner of licorice. Licorice whips, licorice candy, and the most loathsome of all, ‘licorice all-sorts’, the liver of candy. I cannot believe that there are people who purchase such obnoxious confections and are otherwise entitled to breed and to vote.

I think I need to go and lie down for a while, feeling a bit mollified that I have a bit of remaining vanilla.

As follows is what I know about horses: Point-of-fact, very little

A friend tells me that she is seriously contemplating the ominous spectre of having to expedite her horse to that great pasture in the sky.

That has to be harsh. I don’t mean to be callous, but it is surely not a simple matter. I mean, it’s not like you can create a little plot in the back yard like you might for a budgie or even a cat.

But, that’s not the harshness that comes to mind in any case. The harshness will be for her, the emotional one. The faithful steed has been with her for many, many years and they’ve had happy times together. While, I have never had a horse, I suspect that the relationship is similar to the one we have with a dog, and I know I fully want Max to live forever. I shudder to think what it will be like when the ‘time’ comes. So, I feel my friend’s pain.

Now, I like horses well enough. And having grown up in a semi-rural place I am fairly familiar with them. I must confess I have only been astride a horse once in my life. It was one of those adventures similar to riding a roller-coaster, which I’ve also done once and was left feeling: “OK, I’m good with that. Don’t want to do it again.”

So, no, I have no yearning to get back in the saddle again. My FB friend Judi posted some pictures yesterday of her and assorted family members out for a trail-ride and I must confess it looked like fun. But, I was left suffering no trail-ride envy.

My recall of riding involved feeling horribly uncomfortable during the process and being left with a sore bum at the end of it. Plus, I was on a rather cranky steed. I don’t blame her for being cantankerous with me on her. And no, I never had a wife say that, though perhaps they were too polite to say.

Don’t get me wrong, however. I do like horses. I think they’re probably pretty smart and they’re gracious enough to treat us fairly nicely considering they’re big enough to kill a hapless rider easily. They don’t do that a lot, though I am often enchanted by tales of some toff asshole in England being terminally thrown during a foxhunt. There’s justice for you.

I once went to a gathering for the hunt when I lived in England. I wasn’t participating, for I disapprove of the concept, I just wanted to see what a whole bunch of rich nobs looked like on their horses. One of the horses on the village high street was skittish and was bucking and rearing and the rider was having a difficult time keeping it under control.

“Fucking idiot,” said an onlooker.
“Which one? The horse or the rider?” asked his companion.

My favorite horses by far are the huge draft-horses like the Budweiser Clydesdales. We hardly get to see those anymore, though they once were commonplace. Those were the horses that were the mainstays of commercial transport one time before there were trucks. They were also the breeds that armored knights rode into battle, not sleek steeds like the ones in the movies.

The illustration for this blog is of a team delivering beer to a London pub in a photo I took in 1981. I don’t know if they still use horses in the heart of London, but I hope so.

OK, that’s about the limit of what I can say about horses, but I do feel for the plight of my friend and her poor old horse.

Here’s a flat 50 for your Sunday edification

I did this thing years ago and today, being in a state of blog torpor, I wanted to compare how it was then – about 1986 or somewhere in the mists of time (actually it was 2007) – and now. So, sue me. This was the best I could come up with. Give it a try if you choose. Or not. I didn’t make up the questions and some are pretty stupid.

1. Does anyone know your passwords beside yourself? Nope

2. What was the last thing you ordered at McDonalds? I can’t remember when I was last at a Mickey D. Generally despise fast food outlets and my most recent clincher was a vile semi-food offering at I-Hop in Waikiki last year.
3. Are you an emotional person? Excuse me, but I am wiping away tears. Essentially I am emotional but not hopeless about it.

4. Do you like your middle name? It’s OK. But I’m not about to reveal it. But, it was my grandmother’s surname, so I won’t defile it by disdaining it..

5. Do you believe in love at first sight? You betcha. Have had it happen. Sometimes too often.

6. Does the person you like, know that you like them? I’m only allowed to have such feelings about my wife, so let’s just leave it at that.

7. What was the last thing you did? Typed in the previous entry.

8. Wherefore art thou, number 8? V-8? Eight-ball?

9. Who was the last person you ate with? The memsahib.

10. What song are you listening to right now? None.

11. How’s the weather right now? Dull and grey:

12. Last person who called you? Somebody called ‘Out of Area’. I have a sucky social life.

13. Last lie you told? Can’t remember but I’m probably lying about that.

14. Last song you sang? Baker Street, but it was by me, not Gerry Rafferty.

15. Do you love anyone? My wife, of course, but otherwise I’m not touching that one.

16. Lost a friendship over something stupid? A couple of marriages, but never a friendship that I can recall. And it both cases it was probably stupid, but maybe needed at the time.

17. Last thing you drank? A tall, darkroast Starbucks.

18. Last thing you ate? A crumpet with PB and honey.

19. Where do you wish you were? Snorkelling at Muri Lagoon on Rarotonga, but I want to be transported there rather than having to endure a 10 hour flight from LA which also entails me making my way to LA from here.

20. Faked being sick to miss school? Of course. Didn’t everybody?

21. What time did you wake up today? About 4:30 a.m. Didn’t get up then, though.

22. Last person you talked to in person? Aside from my wife, Judy, one of my favorite supermarket checkout persons..

23. Last person who made you laugh? Max, who isn’t a person, but he often makes me laugh, as he is so genial.

24. What are you wearing right now? Shorts and my favorite old orange T.

25. What’s the first thing you notice about the opposite sex? A compelling face I can’t forget. The other stuff is nice, too.

26. S’posed to do something with 26. When I was 26 I was no longer a virgin, or even like a virgin.

27. Where are you right now? At home, at my computer, obviously, or I wouldn’t be writing this.

28. What day and date is it? It’s today. Why should anyone care otherwise?

29. Did you go anywhere today? For morning coffee and pick up a couple of groceries.

30. What did you do there? Drank coffee and bought groceries. Duh.

31. What else are you doing today? Don’t know yet. Like to keep my options open.

32. Are you watching TV? How could I be watching TV if I’m doing this?

33. Are you mature or immature? All the bits seem to be of an adult nature. If you mean emotionally mature, sometimes except when I’m not.

34. Who are you closer to, your mum or your dad? They’re family dead people, but all in all by some point it was probably my dad.

35. Thirty-five. Hmm. Nothing comes to mind.

36. What school(s) did you go to? The ones I attended.

37. What’s the most annoying thing people say to you? So, “working hard or hardly working? “To which I really want to respond with is: “Fuck you. I hate that comment.”

38. Do you like music? All types.

39. Did you want to get married? Probably too often. I know one thing; if I had it to do all over I would have embarked on my first marriage 10 years later than I did.

40. What does the number 40 evoke? Can’t think of a thing.

41. Where did you go on vacation last year? Took a cruise from Vancouver to the Hawaiian Islands. Loved every bit of it.

42. Would you bungee jump? No. Nor skydive.

43. Do you like rollercoasters? Did it once when I was in my teens. That was more than enough.

44. Is there anything you wish for every summer? Sunny benevolent weather.

45. Do you use chopsticks? Of course. It should be illegal to eat Chinese or Japanese any other way.

46. What’s your favorite meal of the day? Breakfast

47. Thinking of someone right now? Other than Jennifer Aniston, nope.

48. Concerned about life right now? Yep. Got an hour or so? Selfishly, my own mortality; my financial solvency; the unfairness of the pension system in this country; climate change, environmental despoliation, asshole politicians who feel they have the right to pick my pockets, overprivilege, greed, etc. etc. etc.

49. Have you ever tripped going up the stairs? Well yeah, but not today.

50. How do you feel about the coming of fall? Probably a bit dreary. I love the summer, but don’t like the fall.