Archive for the ‘humor’ 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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The weather here in Canada is unpredictable. It is entirely possible to have winters where the temperature plunges to 40 below zero and summers where the temperature climbs to 40 degrees above. At least that’s here in Ontario. In British Columbia I hear their winter weather is very much like England i.e. rain, fog, rain, fog, with a little bit of sleety rain and a smattering of snow thrown in for a bit of variety – except in the north of England of course where the wind and snow howl around your willikers so furiously that it’s quite possible to freeze off some precious bits before you know it and where the cows all lie dormant in snowdrifts ten feet deep until Spring. In England the main topic of conversation is the weather. “Nice weather we’re having don’t you think”, “Oh yes but there’s flooding on the way you just mark my words. Of course it’s all the fault of the bloody asylum seekers and Tony Blair don’t you know?”


When I was a kid my old Auntie Doris [not the one who used to dance on the table and show off her knickers to Spanish waiters in Malaga, that was Auntie Cissie], used to blame all the bad weather we were having on “That there H-Bomb.” I used to laugh but in retrospect it’s possible that she might have had a point since we now know that we have been screwing up the Earth’s atmosphere and destroying the ozone layer for decades. It at least makes more sense than her warning that if I didn’t stop swallowing my gum it would wrap itself around my liver and kill me.


In Canada, unlike England, we never just have a grey day with the fine mist that the Brits call ‘drizzle’. Drizzle seeps down your collar and flattens your hair in clumps to your scalp and grows mold on your socks. No, when we Canadians have rain, we have rain! I have seen torrential downpours, sometimes accompanied by hail the size of golf balls, so violent that you can’t see across the street and thunderstorms so terrifying that you might as well be at the Battle of Tobruk and the only safe option is running down to the basement and hiding under the coffee table with a cushion on your head. Fortunately we don’t have too many tornados but we do get the odd ground tremor, situated as we are on one of the active fault zones along the St. Laurence Valley. I was once asleep in my water bed – ok ok it was the seventies alright – when the whole thing shook like Jello in a blender. I was halfway down the street in my jammies before I realized that I wasn’t in some scene from “Earthquake”.


We did have a tornado once in a small town not far from Toronto called Barrie and another in a small town called Woodstock. Obviously living in small towns, especially ones with trailer parks, can be detrimental to your health – and your belongings. When she was a child a friend of mine was driving with her family in the car when a tornado charged down on them without warning and left them all hanging upside down from their seatbelts in a ditch. And I was once driving down a country road when a bolt of lightening hit a tree with such an unearthly and ear shattering BANG that I hit my head on the roof and snorted my Coke [not that kind of Coke]. Of course that was less exciting than seeing a flaming meteor suddenly appear out of a deep black sky, whiz over me with a hiss and disappear in a green glow into a farmer’s field. Either that or someone had just evacuated the toilet tank on a 747 on its way to Iowa.

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Seconds Anyone?

A few weeks ago I went to Las Vegas with the family. This was the second time we had been to Sin City and the second time we had stayed at Circus Circus which was full of people not so much sinning as eating. Have you seen the size of the buffets in Vegas and the size of some of the people who frequent them? I’ve coined a new term – the “Jumbo People” which if you think about it would make a pretty nifty movie title. “Revenge of the Jumbo People” featuring Nicole Richie getting eaten in one gulp in the first frame while people the size of Mount Kilimanjaro thunder their way up The Strip to get to “The Pharaoh’s Feast” at the Luxor.


It’s obvious that Americans can eat for – well – America. Portion control means not having chocolate sauce with your whipped cream, strawberry puree and syrup on your pancakes. This is after you have piled your plate with bacon, eggs, sausages, roast beef, shrimp, pork chops, lasagna, tacos, potato patties, mashed potatoes, biscuits, gravy and grits [which is evidently left-over wallpaper paste], and washed the lot down with a gallon of Coke. And this is breakfast. The desert table at the buffet is usually so vast that the cinnamon swirls and lemon meringue pies disappear off to infinity in a blue haze in the distance, while the salad bar contains four lettuce leaves, a tomato, and a plate of beans.


When we went to Orlando last year the Jumbo People were there too, wobbling their way towards Space Mountain clutching a whole turkey leg in a greasy paw, creating impact waves in the pond and crushing lesser mortals underfoot. Smaller people, primarily from Asian countries, were flattened like Frisbees and various little children, including a few disgruntled employees uncomfortably dressed as Minnie and Tigger, were side-swiped into the Reflecting Lake at Epcot. And what we thought was Typhoon Lagoon was actually the swimming pool at the Best Western with Jumbo People doing Cannonballs at the shallow end.


On another trip, this time to Nashville, we had dinner one night at Ruby Tuesdays who served us each a plate of food so big that it took two waiters and the cook to carry it across the room to a specially reinforced table with bars underneath to prevent it from collapsing. It was the restaurant’s proud boast that no-one yet had finished off one of their “Mammoth Burgers”; an apt name for a sandwich that consisted of an entire cow between two slices of bread with a pickle.


All this eating is getting out of control. What worries me is not so much that the Jumbo People want to end up dead and buried at a very early age under a mound of dirt the size of Texas but that they might very well be traveling home on the same plane as me. I swear that that last plane I flew on took off sideways into the wind to get more lift and the pilot had to circle Detroit twice while they reinforced the runway for landing.

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Have you heard of something called Product Placement? If you haven’t then you obviously don’t go to the movies much. Product placement is all the rage nowadays now that the studio system is run by bean-counters rather than the Sam Goldwyns and Oscar Mayers of the past [who also apparently made wieners]. Movies have always been made to make money – obviously. The movie tycoons were legendary, as were their larger than life stars. Once upon a time the success of the studios and the blockbuster movie was inextricably entwined. Auteurs like Mike Todd could engage in spectacle, chariot races, Charlton Hestons abs, the downfall of Rome and Panavision. David Lean could set up cameras actually on location in the desert with real, not stuffed, camels, plus a million extras, and Kubrick had HAL. Now we’ve just got Industrial Light and Magic and a blue screen. In these days of quick market success and huge potential revenues and turnover the studio system is largely controlled not by creative genius but by corporation. Big movies are big business, what with spin offs, lateral and vertical marketing, after markets and memorabilia.


Next time you go to the movies take a look around the scene before the heroine is hacked to death by the guy in the mask with the chain-saw. You will probably find that she’s got a Coke in her hand and a is wearing a T-Shirt that says GAP while the clock radio behind her is flashing Emerson on and off and her Sony cell-phone is beeping in her ear. As she lays there in a spreading pool of blood the camera pans on her Levi jeans then the killers’ Timberlands and his bloody gloves by Body-Glove until he takes off in his Ford Mondeo and boards a flight to Swaziland courtesy of Virgin Airlines. James Bond downs a glass of Absolut while he cunningly outwits Le Chivre using cards fresh from Caesers Palace, a secret service agent scans the skies with binoculars by Bushnel and the waitress plunks down a bowl of Planters. And of course while Bond is chasing villains up construction cranes and across bridges hair-raisingly suspended by one frayed rope over raging chasms you’ll note that he stops now and then to take a sip of his Starbucks Mocha Frappachino.


Dialogue is now often inserted into movies with a similar purpose in mind. Villain “Unless you hand over the plans, jewels, secret code, girl, I am going to [stops to take big swig of Red-Bull] glue your testicles to your knees with Crazy Glue. What do you say to that! I bet you wish you had a can of Bud Light right now don’t you?” Hero “You’ll never get away with this McCabre [lights up a Benson and Hedges Filter tip with a shaking hand and a Zippo lighter] because I am going to kill you first with my handy-dandy ice-pick tool that comes free with the Swiss Army knife that you didn’t know I had taped to my buttocks”


So next time you’re at the pics take note that the movie you are about to watch is only an acclaimed and commercial success because you are willing to sit through what is really a thinly-veiled two hour commercial with characters and story as annoyingly expensive incidentals. Boy, it’s enough to make you want to go out and buy a Happy Meal with action figures from Star Wars and a Ford, Coke, Pepsi, Starbucks and toga by Gucci isn’t it?



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Food Fads and the SAS

I hear that members of the SAS will eat anything in order to survive, according to the SAS Handbook and Survival Guide I was thumbing through today. Good thing you’re not a member because if you were you would have to exist for long months in the jungles of Borneo on a diet of dirt, leaves, frog bellies and spiders. That’s if you weren’t chewing the bark off trees and strangling little indigenous [and unsuspecting] animals to eat raw or boiling up a few grubs in a hot spring in the same water you used to wash your feet in this morning.

What accounts for our unique food tastes? I had a cat once that went wild for pickled onions, another [current] cat who just loves Portobello mushrooms, and a dog who likes spicy stuffed olives in hot sauce.


Brits, like me, have long had an affinity for Marmite, which is an evil smelling yeast-based black concoction that you spread on toast and eat with your eyes closed and a peg on your nose. Chip butties are also very tasty [that’s a large handful of fries stuffed inside two hunks of bread with lashings of butter] and so are sarnies [sardine sandwiches]. When I was a kid one of the highlights at Christmas was to lather congealed turkey drippings straight from the roasting pan on to toast – or even, as a really special treat – to lather turkey drippings straight from the roasting pan on to several rounds of fried bread. This is why if you were to conduct a study, you would probably find that there are no Brits left alive over the age of fifty. They all died off from heart disease long ago before Jane Fonda and Twiggy decided that we should all be thin. We Brits just loved our fat. All recipes started off with the words ‘Take one pound of Butter’, even the ones for soup.


When I lived in England it was quite normal to eat about seventeen times a day – breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper – with very possibly five pints of lager down at the pub and a take-out curry just before bed. And yet I don’t remember ever seeing overweight Brits. It must be rapid metabolism or very possibly they just shrink in all that rain.


In Japan I believe they like to eat jelly-fish but I don’t know if they go for the tentacles because of the tripping hazard and Japanese restaurants tend to be small – just a few tables and a karaoke box. They also like to eat fish that contains a poison sack that kills you stone dead if you eat it. In order to counter the low attendance of patrons who want to try this there are special chefs who are trained in the art of cooking the fish in such a way as to render the poison innocuous – you hope. They also have people who are solely employed to massage best beer into the rumps of Kobe cattle to make them tender. “And what do you do for a living Mitsubishi san?” “I’m a bum massager you Gaijin”.


Of course we all know of those tribes in Africa who eat locusts. It’s called getting your own back for all those lost crops. Na Na Na Na Na – take that, little flying buzzard thing [I don’t know the word for it in Swahili but it probably has several loud glottal stops]. And in the Middle East people sit around in the desert talking about the weather, “Do you think it’s going to rain this century effendi?”, and popping sheep’s eyeballs like gumballs.


So if you’re going to join the SAS better start now and educate your palate. You never know when you will be dropped into the jungle with nothing but a shoelace and a rusty pen-knife and called upon to whip up a quick batch of ‘worm surprise’ for you and your mates as the sun goes down over the swamp.

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A sense of humour is a very strange thing. It appears that only we humans possess it. When was the last time, for example, that you witnessed a beetle having a real belly-laugh; or a red winged black-bird having a real knee-slapping moment? Well you couldn’t because birds don’t have knees but that’s another matter entirely. Chimpanzees do appear to exhibit a form of laughing behaviour and so do laughing hyenas of course, but that doesn’t mean that they have any deep appreciation for knock-knock jokes.


It also appears that humour is not only species specific but race and nationality specific too. Americans for instance find people sliding on banana peels inordinately funny, and if they break a leg while doing it well that just adds to the general hilarity. You only have to watch ‘Funniest Home Videos’ to witness the evidence of that. The more people being crushed by falling tree branches while wielding a flying chain-saw, or slam-dunking themselves into a wall or sliding off the stage into the wedding cake the better. And babies being terrified at the sight of dad in a Halloween mask is pretty hysterical too. Brits prefer sly, witty, sarcastic humour with lots of sexual innuendo thrown in. Ab Fab the TV show for example was so successful because it was filled with sarcasm heavily laced with pithy ‘one-liners’. Edina to Mother “Inside this body is a thin woman trying to get out” Mother “Only the one dear?”.


A friend of mine from Jordan would be convulsed with laughter at the site of us [his English-Canadian friends] being convulsed with laughter. He would laugh himself silly at the sight of us laughing ourselves silly even though because of the language gap he himself missed much of the dialogue and could only follow the actions of the actors on-screen. And of course the sight of him laughing himself silly at the sight of us laughing ourselves silly made us laugh ourselves silly even more. It was almost necessary to call an ambulance.


Writers can be pretty funny too. Sometimes I just crack myself up. I have to keep going back and reading that last bit to see just how funny it was. I bet Shakespeare did it too. Not that I’m comparing myself to Shakespeare, that would be like a small kid with a stubby pencil comparing herself to – well – er – um – well, Shakespeare. I bet he fell off his stool laughing when he had those three witches stirring the cauldron and throwing in the odd bits of chicken bums and lizard brains. Of course, had he been an American rather than a Brit he would have preferred the bit when Julius Caesar got his in the back from his bumbling pal Brutus. And if he fell down the steps of the senate with his legs in the air and his toga up around his ears that would have brought the house down.


So obviously humour, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. You can take it any way you like it – nudge nudge wink wink.

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