Archive for the ‘commentary, observations’ Category

Flying in air-planes is unnatural. So is jumping out of them, or falling off a bridge on the end of an elastic band, or base jumping, which I take it is some form of sport whereby you jump off a cliff into a black abyss below and hope your parachute opens before you make a ‘you shaped’ impression on the rocks four miles down. It reminds me of the old adage “if God wanted us to fly we would all have propellers and a Boeing engine strapped to our butts”. I mean – how bizarre is it that we willingly ascend to 36,000 feet [the height of Everest without the snow, ice, Yetis and frozen bodies] and sit there watching a movie with a drink in our hand while we whiz across the continent held up only by air. Think about it. At least in a boat you will keep on floating even if the engines cut out, but a 747 out of gas over Gander – oh my.


I was on a flight from Oahu to Maui once listening to the flight attendant extol the virtues of the airline and the fact that in all of their 20 years flying between the Hawaiian Islands they had never had a crash. Now – I’m no mathematician, in fact I have to take my shoes off to count to twenty, but doesn’t that mean, statistically speaking of course, that we were just about due to plunge in a flaming ball into the sea at any time now? Too bad planes can’t fly ten feet in the air – or at least no higher than the nearest telephone pole. I don’t know about you but I would feel a whole lot safer. And if they could put an automatic vodka dispenser in the back of the seat in front of me that would go a long way to calming my nerves too. Mind you, I once got my nerves so fortified with alcohol combined with Gravol [please don’t try this at home] on a flight to St. Lucia that I had to spend the first four days of my holiday hovering over a Caribbean toilet and the second four laying in the sand under a palm tree groaning.


There is also a big difference between commercial pilots of the ‘Air Canada’ type and commercial pilots of the ‘Caribbean Island Hopper’ type, many of whom were no doubt trained on float planes with one float missing over the jungles of Brazil. One such pilot carried me and a dozen others across the sea to an island off Barbados once. The plane itself was painted bright purple with orange flowers and the pilot was dressed in a t-shirt with a picture of Che Guevara on the front. This should have given me some pause but I was in a holiday mood brought on by several large rum and cokes. Now, if you have ever flown in an Air Canada jet you will know that the pilot taxis the aircraft carefully out to the end of runway seven left and politely waits his turn to rev up the engines and proceed at the correct speed to achieve lift-off. Not so with Caribbean Queen Airlines. We were barely in our seats before the pilot gunned it down the taxi-way, popped a wheelie onto the runway and roared off into space vertically. And the minute the wheels left the tarmac and we were ascending at an angle of 85 degrees the flight attendant hopped out of her seat and started liberally dispensing drinks from the trolley that she pushed ahead of her up the incline with outstretched arms and heels dug into the carpet. There were lots of takers.


Airports in the Caribbean don’t bear much resemblance to LAX or YYZ either. Many of them, because there’s not a lot of room for runways, cross the islands diagonally and have open sea at either end sometimes combined with steep hills and cliffs, with the result that the pilot has to navigate at near stalling speed and just the right angle of attack through what appears to be a very narrow opening. There is not much room for errors in judgment because the reef waits at either end. The airport on the island of Contra Dora is like that [off the coast of Panama] and so is the airport at St. Lucia. The other problem is that relatively few aircraft use the runways unlike La Guardia for instance that handles hundreds of aircraft arriving and leaving every 30 seconds or so day and night. In St. Lucia when I was there, which was admittedly quite a few years ago, the locals used the main runway as a thoroughfare to get from one side of Castries to the other. There were kids and adults, sheep and goats strolling here and there among the palm trees and the hibiscus until a warning klaxon started blaring and everyone scattered scant seconds before the island hopper appeared and screeched to a halt in a cloud of dust beside the terminal. I didn’t find that all that disturbing but what I did find slightly unsettling was the sight of the rusty old pump-action fire engine with the flat tires parked in front of the cemetery handily located on the edge of the cliff right before the runway dropped off into the sea.


At one time I worked at a major airport and therefore was witness to a number of ‘incidents’ that the general public would never know about. These usually involved leaking jets of the ‘Russian Airlines’ type that were made to park well away from the main terminals surrounded by very large yellow fire-trucks with their hoses at the ready just in case. In general however working at the airport gave me a great deal of confidence in the safety procedures and protocols that exist in Canada. Did you know for example that there are vast underground operations rooms that track and monitor each and every aircraft landing and taking off in addition to the state of the art control towers and the air and ground NavCan systems. Always practicing and prepared for any emergency there are people working around the clock to make sure no disaster ever occurs in Canada. The knowledge makes ‘white knucklers’ like me sleep better the night before a flight but it still can’t beat the odd rum and coke – or even better – a large dose of Valium. If God had meant us to fly and all that….


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Do you suffer from irrational fears or phobias? Well – many of them are not all that irrational. Fear of flinging yourself off a tall building is probably not irrational, neither is fear of jumping in front of a moving train, or fear of leaping out of an air-plane sans parachute. But I’m talking about those kinds of fears that have no explanation; fears so bizarre that even the sufferer finds them ridiculous. I was watching a TV show one morning that dealt with that very subject. I think it was Springer or Maury or Oprah – no it couldn’t have been Oprah – maybe it was Doctor Phil. Anyway, this program dealt with people who not only suffered from the common or garden fears i.e. fear of clowns, fear of falling through the cracks in the sidewalk, fear of kittens, stepping into a pit of vipers that sort of thing, but did you know that there are people who are terrified of cotton balls? Cotton balls! It must be really easy to rob that woman – just come at her with a cotton ball. Someone else was scared of being attacked by teddy-bears. Would that be assault with a cuddly weapon? Sorry.


It started me thinking about my own irrational fears. By the way there is apparently a difference between a fear and a phobia but I’m too lazy to look it up so let’s just use ‘fear’ as a blanket term – although I guess turning the light switch off and on 40 times before leaving a room and patting the dog 10 times and not 20, and putting your underwear on backwards for luck probably falls in the phobia league, unless you are also scared to death of light switches. Fear of flying is probably a phobia while fear of being sucked to your death out of the window during depressurization is probably a fear – and a big one. And that reminds me of the movie Snakes on a Plane, have you seen that one? It has an entirely valid premise. The bad guys sneak a huge crate containing about a zillion venomous snakes plus a forty-foot boa constrictor on to a plane to polish off the good guys, right under the unsuspecting noses of the baggage handlers. Airport security must be going to pot at that airport. When certain flowers come into bloom right in the middle of the flight and while they are in the middle of nowhere out across the Atlantic or the Pacific or something [the finer details escape me] the smell so enrages the snakes that they burst out of their crates and proceed to reek horror and mayhem not to mention a few rather nasty looking bites on the passengers, who are comprised of the usual angelic looking kid, the flying nun [sorry], the guy with the guitar and the failed alcoholic ex-pilot. I didn’t like flying before I went to see the movie – now I can’t even get on a plane without my anti-snake bite meds and a jumbo box of anti-histamines.


Flying must be the all-time biggest fear for most people, followed closely by crawling through confined spaces in the dark, especially when they lead into caves with bats under mountains and that sort of thing. Even the sight of a plane gets me sweating but I hear that that is the sort of thing that psychologists do to get you through it – take you to airports and make you look at planes before bundling you aboard and having the pilot take off quick before you can fling yourself off the ramp. I am what is known as a ‘white-knuckler’, that’s someone who physically holds the plane up in the air by force of will alone, as the finger shaped indents in the seat rests can attest. Once on a flight to Europe the flight attendant asked me if I wanted “Coffee or Tea” – I thought she said “We are plunging into the sea” and was half-way into the luggage rack before she hauled me back by my seat belt.


I must admit that being alone in a house during a thunderstorm is not my favorite thing either. Forget those horror movies, it’s the banging and crashing and almighty flashes that scare me witless and drive me to the basement. My mother was worse – she would go all around the house turning all the mirrors to the wall on the premise that lightening would ricochet from mirror to mirror around the house like an electrical ping-pong ball before striking you dead, probably while you were in the shower.


Come to think of it most of us are scared of something or other even if it’s just the neighbor’s dog. What makes you cringe? And please don’t say kittens bearing cotton balls because I’ll push you under a ladder if you do.

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No-one seems to read much anymore do they?  I know people who never read anything, not even the cornflakes box in the morning or the back of the ketchup bottle.  I have even known people who have never read a book apart from the times at school when they were forced to digest Animal Farm or Treasure Island or Hamlet piece-meal and spit out the remains in the form of the ubiquitous ‘book report’ that is and was always guaranteed to put the mockers on any love of reading forever.  I can’t imagine why someone would want to take a thrilling and absorbing adventure story [or even Hamlet for that matter] and dissect it so thoroughly that only the bare bones remain like the remnants of last nights fish dinner. 


I once took a course in Shakespeare’s Plays at University.  We spent an entire semester discussing such things as what was meant by the line uttered by the dying Lear to Cordelia, ‘Pray you now loose this button’.  Well, it’s obvious, he was either gasping his last gasp and his collar was too tight or he was gasping for a last ciggy and couldn’t reach his lighter, one or the other.  Shakespeare was writing for the masses you know, the groundlings who all stood around posing and talking loudly – just like theatre audiences of today – and hoping for a glimpse of Nell Gwinn’s oranges.  I also took a course in Chaucer of Canterbury Tales fame as well as the poetry of John Dunn which similarly was duly dissected and worried over until most of the fun and all of the humour was gone.  Chaucer can be hilarious although I can see where some people might disagree.  But if read in the right spirit [and an assumed heavy West Country accent] Chaucer is exceedingly naughty and therefore hugely enjoyable.  The Canterbury Tales reads like a Whitehall Farce, for example ‘The Millers Tale’, which begins with the cuckolded husband sitting in the bathtub in the attic waiting for the second flood to come and ends with the miller sticking his bum out the window and farting on passers by.  Dunn by contrast was the frustrated and imaginative Rector or Dean or some-such of St.Pauls Cathedral [I wasn’t always paying attention], who spent much of his time composing highly suggestive love poems that involved such things as bare bodices, bosoms and various itches [not all of them caused by fleas].


When I was a kid the school library had a reasonably large collection of adventure yarns that had somehow managed to escape the ‘book report’ list because A. they were not classic enough and B.  They were not boring enough to begin with.  However, so as to protect unsullied little minds from the evils of the larger universe most of these volumes were  ‘Boy Scout’ versions and had therefore been expurgated to within an inch of their lives so that barely ‘and’ and ‘the’ remained.  This of course provoked in us an insatiable desire to find un-tampered with copies that still contained the naughty bits, even though this meant several bus rides and a long walk to the Public Library down behind the Guildhall.  And the naughty bits were easy to find – they were the pages that fell open in your hand when you took the book down off the shelf.  However, many of the naughty bits were not all that naughty at all.  In comparison with today’s literary fodder where just about anything goes, including apparently congress with goats, they were tame indeed.  I remember furtively obtaining a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover [banned at one time] and being bored rigid by turgid prose only enlivened in several hundred pages by people disappearing into gardening sheds. And there were lots of vaguely suggestive lines of the ‘her pointed breasts strained against the thin fabric of her damp blouse’ variety.  And rather a lot of gardening. 


Books are so much more satisfying than going to see a movie for instance. You can lose yourself in a good book.  You can travel to distant worlds, you can voyage to the bottom of the sea, you can be so engrossed in a murder mystery that you lose all sense of time and place while a tornado takes off to Oz with your house and everything in it including the dog.  You can forget your worries and just drift away.  But yes, you will say, you can also do that while watching a good movie, which is true.  However, in a book you must describe the scene with such depth and accuracy that the reader can ‘see’ everything that happens in the mind.  In a book you can’t just write a line like ‘Gandalf takes his magic wand in his hand and waves it around in the air’ and expect your reader to engage with the character – you must set the scene, describe the backdrop, set the mood, stimulate the imagination, involve the reader in the lives of your protagonists and have them ‘smell the flowers’.  In a movie it’s just a tight shot of a pair of rubber boots and some sandals outside an old shed then a quick cut to some surf pounding on the shore.  Well, at least that’s how it used to be.  Nowadays it’s 40 minutes of gratuitous sex with no particular connection to the plot – and that’s just a National Geographic Special. 


And another thing – you can’t take a movie in the bath – not without dire electrical consequences that is – so go buy yourself a good book.  Of course if you don’t read you won’t be reading this either so it doesn’t really matter.



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The difference between art and ART is a subjective one. Some of us believe that Leonardo da Vinci, or Rembrandt van Rihn, or Vincent van Gogh [it’s obviously necessary to have three names to be a great artist], made ART, while others of us believe that Julian Whatsisname who submerged half a goat [mercifully a dead one] in a vat and coloured it purple created ART – likewise, when Rauschenberg nailed a sheep to a board with what appeared to be a tire around it’s middle he was hailed as ‘The most important American artist since Jackson Pollock’. And Jackson Pollock of course was renowned for throwing paint around on the floor while in a drunken frenzy – he may even have dragged a few nudes across his canvases, I can’t remember. Which reminds me of another artist who dragged nudes around. His name was Benvenuto Cellini. He tells us in his autobiography that he lost his temper one day when his model wouldn’t sit still and wouldn’t stop talking so he dragged her around the floor by her hair until she shut up. Fiery blokes these Italian Renaissance types and not averse to a bit of bitch-slapping once out of sight of the Carabineri. Mind you – they probably wouldn’t have cared too much – women’s lib being the last thing on their minds at the time. They were too busy quelling drunken bar fights and stopping people running each other through with their rapiers, or dragging people like Michelangelo back to the Pope so he could finish painting the ceiling in the den.

Rauschenberg was also famous for erasing a drawing done by de Kooning [you know him – the one who made violent slashing pictures of women looking like they had been torn apart by wolves. You can see them in MOMA in New York – a raving misogynist or what?]. Of course we only have his [Rauschenberg’s] word for it since we now only have a blank page. How do we know he didn’t erase someone else instead? Perhaps some doodles his kid did or his grocery list. We only have his word for it – and how far can you trust the word of a man who goes around bolting sheep to boards? Maybe de Kooning got one over on him and erased one of *his* sketches in retaliation. Then we would probably end up with de Kooning erasing Rauschenberg erasing de Kooning – so there!

Andy Warhol painted soup cans and Coke bottles and became famous for 15 minutes – Ducharme hung a urinal from a wall and Picasso turned people inside out [shades of de Kooning] and gave them a couple of extra eyes in the middle of the forehead for good measure. So is it ART? You tell me. ART is what we say it is whether it be a sublime landscape or a wondrously sculpted Pieta that could only be inspired by the hand of God – or perhaps it’s just a stuffed goat with a nude model on it’s back singing Dixie.

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Minnie is the latest edition to our army of animals. She is a small black cocker spaniel – smaller by half than most of her breed because she was once abused, starved and beaten. Seemingly as a consequence of this she can eat non-stop, possibly until she bursts, which is what I hear goldfish do if allowed unlimited use of the Nutrafin flakes. But since they only have a 3 second memory presumably they don’t remember that they’ve eaten already and just keep going until they pop. I’m tempted to put this theory to the test but am afraid that if I do so the sounds of exploding goldfish might alert the neighbours and any passing security forces.

Minnie is called Minnie because she’s tiny – because she’s *really* tiny when compared to our other spaniel, Charlie the Chunk [enough said] – but mostly because she’s a dreadful mooch – hence “Minnie the Moocher”. Names are important in the scheme of things aren’t they? They absolutely define us, dogs and humans alike. What’s more they go further than this, they absolutely determine not only who we are but *what* we were, what we are, and what we will become. In ancient times descriptive names were all the rage. For example, Eric the Red – who no doubt had red hair and a nifty auburn beard – either that or a red face from all that raping and pillaging and strong Viking grog. Then there are all those Welshmen called Jones the Post, and Jones the Police, and Jones Who Pulls the Pints Down At The Pub. No problem with keeping up with the Joneses down in Abergerwennybivvygivvy then.

Can you even imagine the most sublime artistic talent that ever lived being called Luigi Paintabrusha instead of Michelangelo the Divine? Oy! And how could Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart have made such wonderful, soaring, courtly music if his name had been Hans Wiffleburger? What about Joe Green instead of Guiseppe Verdi, or even Freda the Really Really Insignificant instead of Katherine the Great. Manny the Monk instead of Rasputin, or Freddy the Shit-Disturber rather than Savonarola the fiery orator. It would hardly have been worth burning him if he had had a name like that. The turn-out would have been too small.

So grand names relate directly to grand design in the future memorability stakes. If you want your offspring to go far in life forget about the Joshes and the Chinas, the Dakotas and the Shatoquas, go for the Arabella von Furstenburgs instead. You won’t be sorry.

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Dogs are sweet souls. Dogs don’t cheat you, dogs don’t lie to your face, dogs don’t burgle your house and dogs don’t steal your car. Well, I have had dogs who steal my seat and shred my Hullo magazines all over the living room floor but these are minor infractions on the canine criminality scale. You can tread on a dog’s paw , you can cut his nails too close and make his bathwater too cold, you can forget to fill his water dish and put his collar on inside out so the nubs stick in his neck, you can make him wait until bursting for his morning pee, you can pull his fur out with the comb with the tines too small but he still loves you.

You can’t say that about too many humans now can you? Humans in general, other than Saint Theresa and Princess Di of course, are petty and vindictive, jealous and angry, and mean. They are always whinging about something. I do it too – I moan about the weather, I moan about my bank balance, I moan about my house and the state of the garden, I moan about the roof leaking and how the less desirable neighbours are out there again building a bonfire the size of Mount Everest and threatening to wipe out London in the fire of the century.

Everything costs too much – have you checked out the price of cereal lately? And what about gas prices? Those gouging greedy bastards the oil companies are always at it – a finch farts in Venezuela and they say, “Hey Guys – let’s jack the pump price up”. Poor sods like my husband, who has to drive 200K each way to get to work, have to just take it – again. They don’t even ask if you want your complimentary jar of vaseline with that.

And jobs? There aren’t any. Sorry but your experience is too narrowly focused – sorry, your experience is too broad. Do you have two Master’s Degrees? One of course should be a subject specialization in the mating habits of the Macaw because it’s absolutely essential in order to secure this ten dollar an hour job shelving books at the local library. Can you relocate to Nunavut? Sorry but we’re really looking for candidates who are [check one] taller than you, shorter than you, fatter/thinner than you, older/younger than you, anyone but you. And anyway the job’s already gone to the manager’s cousin who is just out of high school and will work for cheap.

Employer/employee loyalty? None of that either. Once upon a time, so the mythology goes, it was possible to start in the mail-room, work your way up to be the managing director, or at least the senior secretary if you happened to be female, and get your solid gold watch and your carriage clock at the end of it. Now you’re lucky if anyone knows your name. You have no benefits, no security, and no personal life because you are expected to give the proverbial 110 percent to the firm. However, if you chance to have a heart-attack in the middle of the shop floor after giving your all to the company for the last 30 years, the hiring manager will just step over your body to get to the phone to post an ad on Workopolis. That’s of course if you haven’t already been replaced – four years before retirement and your pension – by the latest, newest, and cheapest model, fresh off the assembly line.

And that’s another thing – dog’s aren’t cynical either.

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