Archive for the ‘points to ponder’ 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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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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I was driving up Adelaide the other day, dogs in the back, on the way to the off-leash doggie park and thinking of life, the universe, and everything – as you do. Not in the Douglas Adamsian sense – where the answer – 42 – is clear – but in the sense that haven’t you ever thought just how bizarre this little life of ours really is? I mean – here I was, tooling up Adelaide, trying not to swerve too much around potholes to avoid ‘flying doggies in the back’ syndrome when it struck me that what I was really doing was driving around on a big round [ovoid actually] ball that was rotating around other big, round flying balls, which were rotating around other, big round flying balls, and on and on forever, out amongst the stars – or God knows where. And God? What is that? Don’t get me started.

Anyway – here I am on this big round flying ball – and you too. Isn’t it completely absurd? And what’s most absurd about it is that we don;t think about it at all – we just go on with our tiny lives as if we were actually just driving up this road with a blue sky overhead – well, not here in Canada, more likely to be snow clouds – but you know what I mean. Is there an end to the universe – will we suddenly fall off once we’ve rotated around enough? And another thing – there’s no ‘up and down’ is there? ‘Up’ or ‘down’ is meaningless – it doesn’t exist at all. We’re all just stuck on this ball like flies in amber thanks to gravity. I’m sure the Australians – and the Chinese for that matter – think *they* are up while *we* are down – or vice versa. And why *does* Australian water go down the plug-hole the opposite way to Canadian water?

Time is the same – it’s just an idle idea someone had eons ago upon suddenly noticing that the sun appeared and disappeared at regular intervals with bits of dark in between. Some cave-man was probably lying around an antediluvian field somewhere sucking on an incipient angiosperm while counting very tiny mammals when he suddenly thought to himself – ‘Oy – that big round fiery thing has gone! And ‘Oy – it’s back’ – and what’s more it seems to do it every 12 hours or so. Well not hours because they hadn’t been invented yet – neither had ‘eons’ come to that – but you know what I mean.

Weighty questions indeed – I think I’ll go and watch Oprah.

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