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Archive for May, 2007

 

What kind of music do you like? Me – I’m sort of non-denominational when it comes to music although there are certain genres that I hate more than others. Rap for example is complete crap, not to mention a total rip. Every ‘song’ sounds the same and every singer sounds the same. Thinks – maybe there is only one song and one singer. Come to think of it since they all dress the same they may very well be the same person – Milly Vanilli probably. Just about anyone could be a rapper I should think. After all, it’s not necessary to have a good voice you just have to wear your baseball cap on sideways and pants that fall around your knees and a size ‘Jumbo’ baseball shirt and use lots of unnecessary expletives while thumbing your crotch. Oh and bling. Bling is essential. If you haven’t got a cross the size of the Titanic’s boat anchor around your neck you are not a rapper – simple as that. You don’t have to be black, although it helps, but you can always have pretty black dancers wearing shorts that would fit Barbie [or possibly Nicole Ritchie] waving their boobs and bums around behind you – and of course setting the Women’s Movement back a few hundred years. This is no doubt a subtle device to distract the audience from the fact that you can’t sing, you can’t dance and what you’re saying doesn’t make any sense. Oh sorry – some would say it’s actually social commentary, all about growing up dirt poor and black in the Ghetto and a mum who holds down six jobs and a sister who is a Ho. Well that might be true for some – very few – rappers but it’s certainly not for people like P. Diddy or Puff Daddy or Diddy Puff or whatever he’s calling himself now. You know the one. He has his own clothing line – just like everyone else in the music biz it seems. Gwen Steffani has LAMB, Diddy has SEAN JEAN, Madonna has something or other – can’t remember now, possibly ‘SLAPPER’ – and Paris Hilton designs sparkly little doggy collars for her sparkly little doggies – or perhaps her boyfriends, it’s hard to be sure.

 

Another genre of music that I hate is country. Oi! Whining nasal voices and fiddles and big hair – probably Stetsons, and cowboy boots so pointed that they can only fit people with one toe. Lyrics about losing your wife to your best friend and running over your dog and being thrown in the gutter – very uplifting stuff. However if things get too rough, or you get too drunk, you can always invite Jesus to Take the Wheel. Did you know by the way that if you play a country CD backwards the wife comes home, the boyfriend takes off in his Ford Bronco and the dog is still sitting on the porch barking at the moon.

 

Dolly Parton – now there’s a country singer with talent who writes and sings her own music but sadly has become a caricature of herself. She lost so much weight – although mysteriously her boobs appeared to get bigger – that she now looks like a toothpick with eyes wearing way too much makeup and a wig. I saw her recently on some awards show – she was wearing a skin-tight white coat and tails outfit that made her look like the MC at the circus, her face was stretched and gaunt almost like that woman, Helen Gurley Brown, who herself looks like she has recently been mummified alive in some horrible experiment gone terribly wrong. Either that or someone stole her painting out of the attic and now we get to see the *real* thing. But I was talking about Dolly. Now come on girl – there comes a time in every woman’s life when you have to fess up to your age and dress appropriately. Boobs and rhinestones might have been de rigueur 40 years ago but you are past it woman! And so is Joan Collins who must be 80 by now if she’s a day. Sorry love – but mutton dressed as lamb doesn’t even *begin* to describe it. It’s like something from a Steven King novel.

 

Music that I *do* like is mellow and haunting, or bluesy or rock and rollsy [giving away my age here] or operatic, or classical. A bit of Mozart in the mornings goes a long way to setting up the day wouldn’t you agree? When I was a teenager in Portsmouth we used to get visiting ‘off-West-End’ plays and concerts that could be attended for a fraction of the price demanded by the big theatres in London. Hence I was able to attend a memorable concert given by Sir John Barbirolli and the Halle Orchestra performing the Firebird Suite one week and Conway Twitty the next [what do you mean you’ve never heard of Conway Twitty? You’ll be telling me next that you’ve never heard of Cliff Richards and The Shadows]. I did miss the Beatles though by migrating to Canada to avoid the rain and getting seven foot snowdrifts instead. Mind you they did play once in Toronto as they passed through to more lucrative venues in the States. I missed them that time too. Bugger!

 

Good thing for me that many of the old 60’s groups are still alive and kicking – albeit a little less vigorously than before. Most of the survivors are in their 60’s now – baby-boomers like me. Groups like the Stones and the Who are still touring although the numbers of their band members are starting to dwindle. Many of them are sadly no longer with us because some of them subscribed to the belief that to be a ‘rocker’ you had to live fast and die young, preferably on the toilet. Someone should do a study. Elvis, Janice, Hendrix, Johnny Rotten. Mind you some were a little more creative – Keith Moon fell in a drug induced stupor into his swimming pool never to reemerge – not breathing anyway. Michael Hutchins of INXS died most embarrassingly hanging naked from a door jam in his hotel, rather like that MP a few years back who was discovered dead on the kitchen table wearing black suspenders and a garter belt with an orange in his mouth and a rubber garotte around his neck. Hmm. Note to self – don’t commit suicide or play kinky sex games in compromising positions where the cleaning lady will come in and find you. It’s hard for the family to explain to reporters from the News of the World just *what* you were doing with that gag and that orange – and they would definitely have to throw away the table before the next dinner party.

Ah well – back to work. Let’s dial up some Clapton and J. J. Cale on the old iPod and get down to some serious tub-thumping. Fluffy no talents like Britney Spears and Hilary Duff will be gone in a year but Clapton will be here forever [unless he suddenly decides to go swimming in the pond at midnight with a pound or two of illegal substances stuffed up his nose that is]

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I just thought of some more pet peeves – they’re unlimited really. Let’s, for example, discuss packaging.  Can you tell me why it is necessary to wrap a CD, DVD, iPod, set of spoons, battering ram, rubber ducky – anything really, you name it – in four hundred layers of bullet proof hard-shell plastic that is impossible to open unless you are carrying a chain-saw with you in the car?  It’s enough to make Ghandi spit.  There’s no point in trying to tear open the pack with your fingers or your teeth, and banging it on the dashboard has no effect other than to vent your rage and knock your coffee cup – full of cold coffee of course – on the floor where it makes a slippery brown puddle on your nice new floor mats that are still encased in plastic because you couldn’t get it off. 

 

What about cereal boxes and chip bags [crisps for you Brits out there].  Obviously there is someone with a little air pump who blows up and seals the bags all day long so that you – slightly daft in the head consumer you – believe that there are actually *more* chips, cornflakes, Wheaties in the bag than there actually are.  “Blimey – this entire box of Choco-Chunko-Pops barely fits in one cereal bowl.  Is my china wear somewhat oversized or have I been done – probably by the same company that keeps increasing the diameter of the hole in the middle of the toilet roll until I get mostly cardboard and not much toilet roll on my roll?” 

 

Cereal is a major peeve of mine.  The boxes keep getting taller and thinner, or shorter and thinner [to make me think I’m getting the same amount as yesterday – harhar] until soon it will only be possible to get six flakes in the box standing end on end.  Over here we call them ‘one flake boxes’.  The price is right though – $1.99 for half a bowl of breakfast cereal must be a great deal – don’t you think?  Or at least the manufacturers would have you think so.  And another thing – here in Canada – and probably everywhere else, the price of cereal has increased exponentially over the past five years.  I don’t know if there are any other industries – barring the fat bastard petroleum companies of course – that could possibly get away with jacking up their prices by 100% every six months.   Of course you have to pay more for the nutritional benefits of getting less sugar, less fat, less salt, and less cereal in your box.  Hasn’t it ever struck you as somewhat odd that if they leave something out you get to pay more money for it?  Maybe it’s just me.

 

And don’t you just love those crafty little MBA business types who play cat and mouse with us, obviously slightly thick, consumers?  We evidently don’t notice the flatter, thinner boxes, or the size of the hole in the toilet roll, and if you wrap something in a big enough box i.e. computer games, we will fully believe that the eighty dollar price tag is warranted.  Nowadays you can even sell us a large box containing nothing at all except a small compact disk that allows us to play the game ONLINE for only eighty bucks – plus small monthly fee of course. 

 

I can download music for my over-priced iPod from iTunes for only 99 cents per song – which comes to much more than the price per song of buying the entire non-virtual album off the shelf, especially if you factor in the big box wrapped in cellophane encased in the bullet-proof hard-shell box that I can’t get open that it comes in.  Then there are athletic shoes.  Did you ever in your wildest dreams anticipate the day when you would go out and actually fork over two hundred and fifty bucks for a PAIR OF SHOES!  Now you must have designer shoes for walking, for running, for cross-training, for yoga, for playing basket-ball, for standing still and doing nothing, or just to show the neighbours you forked over all that money for a PAIR OF SHOES!  And don’t forget the gear.  You have to have spandex shorts and coolmax shirts and wrist guards and headbands and sports goggles to complete your outfit.  You can’t just waltz out to the court, rink, gym wearing any old tatty t-shirt.  It has to at the very least be emblazoned with NIKE, or ADIDAS; otherwise it’s just too too beyond the pale.  You would be laughed out of the club.  Of course it goes without saying that you must be a member of a GYM.  Only the plebs work out at home or heaven forbid, go for a walk with the dog around the block.  You must go to the gym daily [to justify your exorbitant membership fees], and use words like aerobics, cardio, Tai-bo, aqua-fit, bench-press, heart healthy and six-pack in every conversation and drink power juices which are apparently made from ground up grass and cost four bucks a pop.

 

Other peeves to ponder [I’ve got a million of ‘em] – designer purses that cost upwards of three thousand dollars just because they say ‘Gucci’ on the flap – ‘Gourmet’ coffee and cocoa sold for 15 bucks per pound on the backs of poor indigenous farmers who get paid squat for working the fields 18 hours per day.  Clothes and textiles manufactured ‘off-shore’ so that local workers get laid off – designer shoes produced by sweatshops in Indonesia for pennies and sold for hundreds of dollars here – farmed salmon – gas prices – the price of electricity in Canada where we have some of the largest hydro-electric power plants in the world and the monopoly of the utilities companies that will happily cut off your light and heat in the depths of a Canadian winter and let you freeze to death, quite legally, for the sake of the hundred bucks outstanding on your bill.  Health services cut to the bone – taxes on everything increasing daily – no jobs – ageism – sexism – racism – religious fanaticism – any sort of ‘ism’.

I could go on but this is getting depressing.  I shall have to think of lighter things – maybe tomorrow.  Don’t touch that dial.

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Got any peeves? I have – quite a few in fact. The other day I was driving to the store and somewhere along the way had to make a left hand turn [in Canada we drive on the right unlike all you Brits who just drive on the left to confuse invading armies and confound Americans]. This operation requires that you pull out into the middle of the road – wait for oncoming traffic to blast by you rattling your teeth and your windows and then turn to your left into the opposing left hand or ‘overtaking’ lane before moving over sedately into the right-hand lane, a block or so up the road, so all the speeders can zoom by you. You know the ones – they have cell-phones permanently glued to their ears on the one hand and a hot coffee in the other hand. Somehow they also manage to blast you on the horn while giving you the finger as well. How they do that I’m not sure but I’m not going to go there.

 

Well, there I was, making my left turn and waiting patiently for the oncoming traffic to roar off over the horizon. A perfect model of road safety and decorum, that’s me. Just as I determined that the road was clear and started making my turn someone else, cell-phone glued to ear, coffee in hand, zoomed up to me, and turned left on my inside before I could even splutter out all four letters of my favourite expletive and choke back my shock and outrage. Honestly – some people! I almost spilled my Jumbo Coke. Haven’t you ever wished that it was legal to carry a paint-ball gun with you on every trip to be used on abusive drivers, tail-gators and road hogs? I think it would be a great idea personally. The next time someone tries to muscle you off the road and into the ditch just lean out and give them one – SPLAT – right between the headlights.

 

My other idea is to have a scrolling LED screen running across my rear window with preprogrammed sayings such as “If you get much closer you’re gonna have to marry me” or “If you get much closer you’re gonna be in front of me and I’ll be tailgating you!”. Or just “Why don’t you just flock off and die you stupid flocking oaf!” [my personal favourite – but cleaned up for public consumption].

 

Other pet peeves, people who spit on the sidewalk – that drives me insane. Where’s my paintball gun! Arrrgh! People who eat with their mouth open and talk at the same time. People who talk while eating a Whopper so that you have no clue what they’re saying; comes out as “gurgle, grompf, splat, garrr”. They are either calling for someone to give them the Heimlich because they’re choking on all that disgusting fatty sausage or they’re swearing in Klingon – it’s hard to be sure. People who chew gum and talk at the same time or – worse – chew gum and snap it – or much worse, chew gum and pull it out of the mouth in a long string and then chew it back in again. Scream!

 

Then there are people who never wear deodorant but insist on standing right next to you on the bus. Haven’t they noticed the flies falling out of the sky and the flowers wilting as they pass by? Do they think it’s some other disgusting person not them? Were they recently in some war where they got their noses shot off? How can they stand themselves? What about the rest of the family – do they all pong to high heaven so that no-one notices the aroma coming off dad – who is usually wearing a sleeveless shirt that also displays his hairy armpits. I’m sure he’s probably hairy all over as well – back, front, sides, bum, willy. He probably thinks a wax job is something you do to your car or perhaps, in his wildest moments, something you do in the bedroom.

 

I don’t know about the rest of the world but here in Canada, and probably in the southern states of America, there are women, long past the age – and the weight – when such a thing might be possible, who think the height of elegance is to wear stretchy faded halter-tops and spandex shorts around the supermarket. You’ve seen them I’m sure – saggy boobs hanging out the sides, varicose veins prominently displayed, wailing kids straggling along behind with a dirty soother or dummy stuck in the mouth. Now that really drives me nuts – kids over the age of two sucking on a dummy [pacifier] – it’s even worse than the sight of a six year old sucking on a finger – but not as bad as seeing some mother actually *licking* the dummy before sticking it in poor baby’s mouth. Arrrgh.

 

Other peeves, young guys who wear their pants pulled down below the crotch so that they have to waddle to walk, women with tattoos and black bra straps showing beneath a white tank, women who have tattoos in the crack of the bum peaking over their ‘low rider’ jeans, women with tattoos anywhere. Haven’t they considered what they’ll look like when they’re in the old folks home gumming down their porridge? What about women wearing those belly shirts that make even the thinnest of the thin look fat? Men walking around downtown with no shirt on and a body that only a slug could be proud of. Men who have to keep adjusting their willies as they walk about in public. What’s with all this adjustment? Does it move around all by itself? Are they all ‘going commando’ and things are a little itchy down there?

 

And then of course there’s the usual peeves, people who talk all through the film – shout out daft remarks in the theatre, happily sit back and watch ‘Little Timmy’ go through your house like a wrecking ball, don’t pick up pet poo in parks [hey – some alliteration – I always wanted to use that word] and of course people who lean over you to get something off a shelf and stick their armpits in your face and those who have never heard of saying ‘Please’ or ‘Thanks’ or ‘Excuse Me’.

 

Hrrrumph – I may have to go and lay down for a bit at the very thought of all this. Feel free to share your pet peeves. I look forward to it so long as you’re not scratching yourself while you’re doing it…

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Ever wondered what it might be like to get your hands on a time machine and travel back to some distant past – or maybe even some distant future come to that?  Ever since I became an H.G.Wells fan at the age of 13 I’ve pondered on this – usually while soaking in a too hot bath that makes my face go all red, with bubbles up to my nose, some nibblies, candles and a cold drink plus a stack of mags weighted down by the loofah [when I take a bath – I take a bath!].  What exactly *is* a loofah by the way?  It appears to be some desiccated form of sea-life – maybe a sponge – or an inside out sea-urchin?  And who ever thought of taking a sea-sponge – or perish the thought – a sea-urchin – in the bath with them?  “Oi – Socrates. Try using this dead sea-sponge on yer back and this spiny sea urchin on yer nether bits.”  It gives whole new meaning to the term ‘ex-foliation’ doesn’t it?  Which reminds me of course of the story of how Archimedes was taking a bath when he put his hand down in the water to look for the soap and discovered his principles.  Drum roll please.

 

Anyway – time machines.  I envision an enormous shiny brass thingy with two leather seats and a gear stick – something like a Model T – and bellows [don’t ask me why – maybe to somehow aid in propulsion?].  There would obviously be some sort of dial where you entered the date plus a cup-holder for your designer waters.  Can’t time travel without hydration I shouldn’t think.  Consistent with the Model T analogy I imagine you would put the gear lever into ‘first’ to go forward in time and ‘reverse’ to go back don’t you think?  First stop the Middle Ages.  I wonder what knights in shining armor were *really* like – or even the serfs and vassals come to that.  Wasn’t it George Bernard Shaw who said that life in the middle-ages was violent, brutal and short – or something like that?  What with the Black Death, fleas, lice, rats, poor dental care, blood-letting, leaches, press gangs and a life expectancy of zippo it must have been pretty grim actually.  I wonder what your olde worlde average peasant did for a laugh then.  Got drunk probably – I would, I don’t know about you.  Of course the upper crust, mounted on huge chargers something like cart-horses on steroids, specialized in running each other through with long poles in the lists or else bashing each others brains out with heavy spiked balls for a laugh when they got bored.  It strikes me that it must have been bloody hot running about in the sun in all that heavy armor; no deodorant in sight and a bath once a year whether you needed one or not.  Phew.  The Middle-ages must have had a certain distinctive aroma too I think you could say. 

 

Many years ago I read a Ray Bradbury story about a travel agency that specialized in sending its clients back in time to hunt Dinosaurs – I don’t remember what it was called but the premise was that as long as you stayed on a specially constructed walkway you could pop off dinos with your modified elephant gun with impunity; especially because the ones you shot were doomed to extinction anyway.  It would be rather like popping off White Siberian Tigers because there aren’t too many of them left anyway so who cares.  The only slight wrinkle in all this was that you had to stay on the path at all costs and had to avoid killing anything else.  Otherwise you would instantly disturb the time-space continuum [shades of Star-Trek] and hence alter the outcome of all future events.  So I suppose this means that me and my time machine couldn’t land anywhere for fear of squishing an ant or a dung-beetle vital in the scheme of things. And that means of course a trip back to the drawing board to devise some sort of ‘hovering’ capability.  However, what if my bellows sucked in some unsuspecting anti-diluvium flying thingamabobber?  Would the entire outcome of all eternity change?  Well there couldn’t be an outcome to all eternity could there because that would imply an end to eternity which is an oxymoron rather like someone going off to visit infinity and coming back – but I digress.  Would changes in natural selection and modifications in the gene pool result in my becoming 8 feet tall with several more arms?  That would actually be pretty handy – especially when struggling with small children or the groceries – and definitely if you wanted to be a basketball player.  But I think for now I might have to take another long bath and mull this over.  And I had better be careful not to squish any ants along the way.

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Hubby and I were sorting out the den the other day in our annual Spring/Summer momentary cleaning frenzy. This goes hand in hand with the clean-up the garden and get rid of all the dog poop, plastic bags, weeds and rusty [unused] garden implements frenzy. Or clean out the ponds with all those moldy leaves and dead goldfish that we forgot on the bottom last winter frenzy. Or the remove the canvas gazebo that inverted itself during the first snow-fall and is now three feet tall in the middle and unless you have very small friends will never be used to eat in again frenzy. No frenzy lasts very long and is usually over before the end of the weekend. We don’t belong to the immaculate lawns and gardens brigade – to the disapproval of the neighbors – and would no doubt have weeds the size of tree trunks if we thought we could get away with it and if the council wouldn’t keep snooping around and delivering official looking letters threatening dire results if we don’t repair the eaves troughs, clean up the back-garden, remove the broken lawn furniture and dispose of the old car forthwith. Let’s face it – we’re slobs. We are the sort of neighbours that you don’t want moving in next door to you.

 

It’s not that we don’t want a nice looking house and yard with sweet smelling roses climbing up the drainpipe – it’s just that there are so many other things we want to do before we go to that great lawn and garden centre – or maybe if we’re unlucky that big compost heap – in the sky. Like learn the guitar, sail up a canal in Venice, spend a summer in New Zealand, go swimming on a beach in Hawaii, read Moby Dick and War and Peace, paint, learn Japanese in Japan, travel through Europe, visit all the malt whiskey distilleries in Scotland, look for the Loch Ness Monster, set up an eBay store, or anything else our little hearts desire – so long as the money holds out and none of it has to do with gardening. Of course money always has to factor in there somewhere but we figure if we wait until the real estate market is just right we can flog the house for far more than we paid for it and take off with the kid’s inheritance. Not that it will amount to much once we’ve bought the enormous RV, the better to tour the continent with.

 

We could ‘do’ North America first, before we do the distilleries. I always wanted to see the Custer battlefield – silly sod that he was. What did he expect after he had massacred all those innocents? A fruit cake and a silver cup? You couldn’t exactly blame Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull now could you? If *your* family had been slaughtered for no particular reason other than arrogance and idiocy I think you would be a tad peeved and out for a bit of revenge too. I bet that was some sight to see – something like a scene from a David Lean film – a thousand braves on horseback slowly appearing in the haze over the top of the hill waving tomahawks and Enfield Rifles while singing their death songs. Pan to small group of very pissed off troopers who didn’t sign up for this led by old yellow hair, soon to be old no hair. That’s what’s called a ‘bend over and kiss your ass goodbye’ moment.

 

Another place I would dearly love to see is the Grand Canyon, preferably sans tourist buses. We’ve flown over it a couple of times on our way to Las Vegas, usually at night which makes it rather hard to see. The visit to the Hoover Dam was something of a disappointment. It wasn’t nearly as awe-inspiring as the brochures would have you believe and we didn’t even get to see Charlie’s Angels or James Bond, or Harrison Ford for that matter, plummeting over the edge – not even a lone bungee jumper. All in all a bit of a let-down, so to speak. I’m hoping that the Grand Canyon will be much more thrilling. Although I rather suspect that the tourist trappers will be at it again and there will be ice-cream stands and souvenir stalls every 5 feet all the way to the bottom. No doubt even the donkeys will be adorned with Celine Dion’s face on a saddle-blanket.

 

I was in Jamaica once, anxious to see Dunn’s River Falls but was put off from two miles away by the sounds of ‘today’s reggae selections’ issuing from the canyon interrupted only for a brief commercial about Conchita Bananas or Planters Peanuts or maybe it was Blue Mountain Gold, which might have been coffee but one could never be sure – not in Jamaica at least, where the bar-tenders, all the waiters and the little boy who lives down the lane will sell you a stash of Marijuana the size of a brick for fifty bucks. The problem with that is you would no doubt be forced to smoke it all before your 4 day holiday expired because you dare not carry it back in your luggage to puritan Canada. Horrors! Canada Customs would have a fit – and possibly so would their pot-detecting sniffer dogs. I did hear of one couple who mailed a brick to themselves. They are probably still languishing in Kingston Pen .

 

One of those ‘101 Places to See Before You Die” books suggests that in addition to jet-setting around the world and visiting such relics as the Great Wall of China or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon – oops – there I go again thinking of gardening; you could actually do no better than visit your own home town, but this time as an adult. Good idea actually. If I visited Portsmouth as a tourist I could go on boat rides around the harbour, take the ferry to France, have a drink in the Still and West, stroll along the seafront and eat an ice-cream on the pier or winkles from a paper cup. I could take a ride on the Ferris Wheel at Clarence Pier, from the top of which you can see the entire harbour and the dive tower at Hayling Island, or I could ride on one of those open-top buses and marvel at the ornamental clock composed entirely of flowers at the rock gardens along the Ladies Mile, or imagine myself in some bygone era trotting side-saddle on my bay mare down the path beneath the chestnut trees on a lazy Summer afternoon wafted by salt breezes from the sea. Hmm – sod the gardening – where’s my passport. With the money I save on lawn and leaf bags I can buy postcards of the Victory.

 

 

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I was a kid at school in Portsmouth just after the Second World War. I grew up amongst burned out buildings, bomb craters and houses that clung to each other attached only by the wallpaper so far as I could see.  Like many post-war kids I attended not one but many schools around town because my mother had  ‘itchy feet’, as they called it back then – either that or she couldn’t always pay the rent and we had to do a moonlight flit out the back window in dead of night before the current landlord caught us.  We lived in one room at the top of some dark creaky stairs inhabited by ghosts and cockroaches, or in a basement ‘flat’ lit by gas-light, or an old house with an outside toilet reached across a cobbled court-yard and took baths on a Friday night in a wash-tub in front of the coal fire.  We lived in the slums sometimes and the better neighborhoods as interchangeably as our fortunes ebbed and flowed like the evening tide.  Now and then we had money and I was as likely to attend a posh private school with gardens one month as a rough back-street school with wall-to-wall concrete the next.  It was always necessary to fight to survive.  At the private school I had to fight off the stigma of the slums, at the back-street school the stigma of my recently acquired ‘accent’.  One minute I would be taking riding lessons dressed in my second-hand too-big jodhpurs and the next I would be thumping some backstreet kid before he could thump me.

 

Make no mistake about it –Portsmouth after the war was a rough place.  Many families had been displaced; entire tracts of housing had been razed by the bombing and in their place rose massive apartment blocks that resulted in over-crowding, crime and vandalism.  If you think graffiti covered walls and urine smelling hallways are a modern phenomenon think again.  Young men roamed the housing estates wearing their ‘Teddy-Boy’ outfits – long draped jackets with velvet collars, ‘drainpipe’ trousers and thick soled ‘brothel creepers’.  Many of them also carried ‘flick-knives’ and some even carried lengths of pipe and chain, the better to sort out their rivals on Brighton beach in the summer.  This was an annual event or ‘rite of Spring’  that was happening as far back as I can remember and may have been happening in the stone age for all I know – except in those days they probably used rocks and stones instead of blades.  Gangs of young men blind drunk on pints of lager and Watney’s Red Barrel would spill out of the pubs on a Saturday night and have at each other on the beach at midnight.  

 

If you’ve ever seen the old movie ‘Quadraphenia’ you will be familiar with the Mods and Rockers.  On the one side they were the sharply dressed Mods – who drove around on Vespers or Lambrettas and wore shiny tailored ‘skinny’ suits and ties with ‘winkle-picker’ toed ankle boots and short styled hair – and on the other they were the ‘Rockers’ who drove enormous Vincents and Goldwings.  They affected motorcycle gear, long hair and bandanas – something like Hells-Angels without the guns.  They would face-off on the beach amidst the scream of wailing sirens from the police-cars arriving from all directions.  Of course the policemen were also young guys and surreptitiously enjoyed the ensuing punch-up just as much as the rival gangs.  Much fun was had by all punching the shit out of each other down in the sand while the lights of the pier twinkled merrily and the music of the Stones drifted out over the water.  In Portsmouth of course it was British Sailors versus American Sailors, the Mods and Rockers having taken off to the more exotic climes of Brighton and London.  The fight was the main thing in any event.  What is it about young men and aggression?  There must be some sort of tribal ‘violence’ gene that compels them to give each other a good kicking at the first opportunity.  Some sort of cave-man ritual that still echoes in the genes many thousands of years later.  Nowadays this violence gene may perhaps be sublimated in iterations of Doom and Warcraft – either that or the police force of today fails to see the joke and are liable to get out the riot gear.

Too bad really – as Alex of Clockwork Orange fame might have said, a bit of mindless violence is always good for a bit of a laugh on a Saturday night

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I began my university studies at the University of Western Ontario in 1968; Nothing so unusual in that of course except to say that I didn’t receive my Bachelor of Arts degree until 1994, some 26 years later. Slow learner or what? All joking aside I’m sure there are many people just like me who have to put other things ahead of education such as raising kids, paying the bills, trying to keep the roof overhead and all the thousand things that flesh is heir to – the slings and arrows as Hamlet was overheard to say in one of his bleaker moments [and he certainly had a few]. No wonder poor Ophelia threw herself in the river rather than listen to any more of his moaning. You can only take so much even if you *are* a bit nutso and given to hysterics. Study topic – “Was Ophelia Bipolar?” That Will Shakespeare certainly knew how to hold his audience didn’t he? Buckets of blood, dead bodies all over the place, sex, ghosts and wailing women. Magic.

 

But I digress. What was I talking about? Oh yes – attending university forever. Of course there are many of us who don’t just let life get in the way of education, there are many of us who just can’t let go. I have a theory that many professors and most PhD students for that matter fall into the latter camp. They are incapable of cutting the academic umbilical cord and so are forced to stay even though it means having to deal with argumentative [and sometimes] intelligent young bloods on a daily basis who strongly believe that they know everything and anyone over the age of 30 is in danger of dropping dead from senile decay forthwith. How else can you explain anyone in their right mind completing a PhD in Visual Arts – or Oriental Philosophy for that matter, and hoping to get work outside of academia? I wouldn’t think there was much call for Oriental Philosophers down at Human Resources [once called Canada Manpower before they became insufferably PC]. I haven’t seen too many job ads in the Free Press lately and unless you could somehow combine 20th-Century Post-War Painters with an MBA I can’t see how you could possibly make any money but you could affect an air of superiority down at the food bank and hold forth on Andy Warhol over the Campbell’s soup cans I’m sure. A friend of mine did indeed take a PhD in Oriental Philosophy. He not only could not get a job outside of academia – he couldn’t get one inside either. Last I heard he was doing some part-time sessional teaching at an obscure American college located beside a swamp in Florida.

 

In England, at one time, you could secure endless government grants and bursaries and could therefore stay comfortably at school until you passed on to that great library in the sky if that is what you so desired. As long as you were careful to pass a certain minimum number of courses and fail a certain maximum number of courses [it was a fine balancing act] you were set for life. I knew several lifelong learners [not of the positive reinforcement variety] who were in it solely for the money and had no intention of ever graduating. In fact they were frankly appalled at any mention of such an unthinkable act. As long as they had enough to live on and a reasonable supply of ciggies, newspapers and frothy coffee [it *was* the 60’s] they were content to keep taking the same courses year after year and became adept at falling asleep on hard wooden benches wedged behind small desks.

 

Alas, here in Canada, OSAP [the Ontario Student Assistance Program] has put paid to that lark. If you don’t get your butt out of school within an approved number of years they throw it out for you. Either that or you have to pay for it yourself – horrors. Long gone are the days when you could take “The Anatomy of Invertebrate Sea Slugs” combined with “Plate Tectonics” one year and “A Feminist Perspective on Misogyny and Marginalization” and “Foucault and Film Noir” the next. Cor – it takes all the fun out of being a long-term inmate – I mean student – doesn’t it? I don’t know – I’m off to the cafeteria for a prune Danish and some bran buds while I think over my application to Grad School. Now – what about an Epidemiology major combined with a minor in Japanese – sounds like it would take quite a bit of time don’t you think?

 

 

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