Friday, November 11, 2016

Why Canada is Getting More Northern Exposure

There can be a tendency to dismiss Canada as cold and boring. On my first trip to Canada, I visited Windsor, a crushingly-dull low rise place across the Detriot River from Detroit.

from the well-manicured flower beds close to the waterfront I looked in awe at the high towers of Detroit, Michigan. The river was wide but the distance didn't muffle the police sirens. Windsor has a fraction of the crime rate of Detroit. I was fascinated and wanted to be over the river in the U.S.

Lake Louise, Alberta

It's taken some time and a curious turn of events but like many US residents, I'm now looking at those prosaic flower beds in a new light.

Canada has a popular and dashing progressive leader in the form of Justin Trudeau. America has grumpy, intolerant old men.

Canada becomes more attractive with every mall, nightclub or movie theater massacre I read about in the United States. It becomes more attractive with every medical bill for hundreds of dollars charged against my useless health insurance policy.

Canadians, like their country, can seem a bit cold. But they haven't perfected hate the way we have in the US and they still have the Queen on their notes.

It's probably no surprise that websites that help people move to Canada have crashed due to the weight of inquiries since Trump was elected.

Canada may seem like a somewhat kitsch place of Mounties and maple leaves but it can be cutting edge these days. Toronto has shed its image of being New York run by the Swiss to becoming a thriving Bohemian city.

Vancouver has always been trendy and breathtakingly beautiful, even if unaffordable. Canada remains cool in a climatic way, although global warming may ensure it's temperatures become pleasant.

As demonstrations choke America's cities, as police and minorities shoot each other dead, it's tempting to just lose yourself in the vastness of Canada's interior.

Wrap a thick fleece around you and stare out at the emerald waters of Lake Louise for a few months.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Last Days of the Republic - On Route 58

A strange thought occurred to me over the weekend. What if these are the last days of the Republic and we are about to be swallowed up by the orange peril in less than two days?

Stranger things have happened. Germany's Weimar Republic, a creaking democratic institution died in 1933 as Adolf Hitler, who became part of the government after winning 37 percent of the vote a year earlier, seized power.

In 1921 in Italy the fascist party of In 1921, the Fascist Party of Benito Mussolini was invited to join the coalition government.

These two frightening despots did not come to power through a revolution. They used the tools of democracy and turned them on their heads. There's no doubt hate is on the rise. You don't need to go much further than the nearest Twitter feed to find it.

It's also clear that this election is a lot more stressful than those that went before it. I have heard reports of people with PTSD and other forms of stresses. On what I hoped wouldn't be the last weekend of the republic, I decided to take a road trip west.

I was heading for Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain in North Carolina. I wanted to clear my head on the high ledges and catch the foliage. The fact the campgrounds were full made me wonder about how much isolation I would find.

I headed out on Route 58 which may be Virginia's answer to Route 66, although a lot more dull.

The highlights of Route 58 include the paper mill in Franklin that was meant to have closed a few years ago but still belches out foul-smelling fumes.

There are a few broken down garages, schools in Southampton County that look like jails and there's a big RiteAid somewhere on the route.

After driving for about an hour-and-a-half I got to Emporia where a bewildering array of fast-food restaurants with huge neon signs on large poles rises out of the fields. Emporia is known for its high rate of thefts and the poisonous fried food in Appleby's, a place that touts itself as family-friendly, but probably contributes to the high divorce rates in these parts.

South Hill and South Boston are like mini Emporias, although there are some not unpleasant old streets if you ever escape strip malls of Route 58.

With about an hour-and-three-quarters to the wilderness, I was starting to wonder if my car would make it. The rattling of the wheel was getting worse. I had visions of breaking down and coming to grief. Watching Deliverance for the first time recently had not helped.

Occoneechee State Park

Then it happened. I reached for my lukewarm McDonalds coffee and the car moved to the gravel by the side of the road. There was a terrible noise and suddenly the car was rocking all over the road. I eventually stopped to find the rear tire was shredded.

At times like this, I was thankful for my AAA membership. There was a spare in the trunk but there was far too much debris above it to move it and the last time I tried to jack up a car, it almost fell on my head. It was probably just as well. When the tow truck guy showed up he informed me the tire workshop AAA had routed me to would not have my kind of tire until the day after Christmas. He found a place in Danville that was open for another hour.

Shortly after getting into the tow truck, I realized my iPhone had vanished and is probably still on a grassy verge near South Boston.

The reality of my predicament dawned on me as the tow truck guy drove away and the waxy man behind the counter glared at me and pointed out they usually don't help people half an hour before closing.

He took my key and went off muttering, I saw my car being jacked up an hour later.

When I finally got back behind the wheel, I was relieved to find the car actually moved. I thought about continuing to the state park but suddenly felt a curious sense of emptiness without my phone. How was I going to find a remote state park without Siri? I stopped at a couple of gas stations and asked about maps. They looked at me like I have inquired if they stocked rocks from Mars.

I thought about seeing more of Danville but a recent survey listed it as the worst place in Virginia and the glum demeanors of the people in the tire shop had convinced me. Finally, I wound my way back to Route 58. The return journey served to remind me how long roads feel when you have no real destination. On the road to Halifax, I was struck by how every other house had a Trump sign outside it.

The feeling of anxiety was growing. I was spending the last weekend of the republic on a back road to nowhere.

The only highlight of the trip back was finding the understated but pretty Occoneechee State Park, a sanctuary with no Trump signs as far as I could see, a place where understated people went to wander around and generally lose themselves.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Donald Trump - The Last of the Famous International Playboys

For weeks now we have been held captive at a horror show that's otherwise known as the U.S. Presidential elections. It's apt that it's now October because this is being trapped in a haunted house stalked by a maniac. Watch Don't Breathe and you'll get an idea of how it feels.

This election is like no other because rather than seeing two politicians playing the game, we are witnessing pure psychosis.

Too many words have been written about it already. There's too much vitroil on the feeds. There's not much left for me to say other than Donald Trump - WTF.

In some ways, the election is a demonstration of why we should be who were are rather than who we want to be. Sure most kids on the block who kick around a ball want to have super skills like Lionel Messi but that doesn't mean they should be shoved into Barcelona's starting line-up.

But this is what it's like to be Donald Trump. It's like me during an out of breath walk around the block been told.

"Can you replace Messi in the World Cup final against Germany?"

And I'm like; "Yeah OK."

It's hard to feel any sympathy for Trump but when this debacle is over maybe I'll find a small grain somewhere.

However, it's always a mistake when our egos take over our lives. Let's just look at what Trump was good at.

1 - Making money or at least making a show of making money;
2 - Being a reality TV star;
3 - Being an international playboy.

The idea of Trump as the last of the famous international playboys is a novel one but when you look at the old pictures of Trump he had a certain chiseled handsomeness and a level of self-confidence that made him popular with women.

If Trump was an inappropriate groper that was his business. He would either be cast in the Bond movie Octopussy, face charges or buy off people. It wasn't like he was running to be president of the United States.

It's almost impossible to see anything in the young, cocksure entrepreneur that aligns with today's overweight and angry, tangerine man who hates everything and wears cheap baseball hats to hide the dead duck on his head.

You can see how Trump got here and the answer lies in his all-consuming narcissism. Maybe the man with the flaccid duck on his head misses his old self. Maybe he knows women don't like him because he's Donald Trump - if they ever did - but because of his money. Maybe the constraints of reality TV no longer fit his bulging ego. Maybe the emptiness of his gold plated life just made him angry.

Either way, those comparisons of the last days of Trump's campaign and Hitler's last days in the bunker are not as fanciful as they seem. Hitler, delusional about his forthcoming demise was still giving orders to armies that no longest existed. Trump, Hitler and Mussolini enlisted hate on a grand scale to  achieve their dreams. We should not be surprised when Trump eulogizes Saddam Hussein and Vladimir Putin.

And it's still premature to write about the demise of the last of the famous international playboys. The election had not been held yet and falling into the orange abyss is still a very real possibility.

This song seems apt because any song by Morissey is always apt. And the last of the famous international playboys were, of course, the Krays - thugs who killed and maimed their merry path across London.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Trapped in a Holding Pattern

Today I felt like my life is a holding pattern. I see the lights on the runway but they are a flickering blue. The man with the ping-pong bats shakes his head. No chance of taking off today.

The rain isn't falling outside, it's slamming. It has a weight heavier than water. My phone is already filling up with texts from the ex about unpaid bills. The same ones, month on month. Surely being ground down has never felt more numb? Comfortably so and those bills don't go away. They slowly wind down to the dank place of no return.Take me to the river, drop me in the water.

Holding Pattern - couldn't tell you if this band is any good

It's a Saturday but I have to work two jobs. The mountains seem a long way away. The sink is clogged again. Two jobs on a Saturday to pay the bills for the thing that's spiralling down anyway. By the time I'm on the road, I'm less agitated. Dead kids are being pulled out from rubble in Aleppo at the same time as we pull into Dunkin Doughnuts. They point at peanut butter pumpkin doughnuts. Pumpkin is the way of the world now. It's October and October is alway orange. When did we get so pumpkin obsessed? I doubt if there will be much trick or treating in Aleppo this Halloween.

The pastor tells me he has a serious disorder. Think sickle cell. Like being trapped in a cell. Held to ransom by those red blood cells. Why's he so animated? His joy has infected his whole core. It's addictive but makes me back off. Maybe there's something in this God business anyhow. I think of the book I failed to finish this summer. A trashy novel from the thrift store but some interesting material about Shakespeare. Worship from the wrong book and they cut you apart with red hot pincers. Throw in a hangman and the man with the tools for disembowelment.  Why did disembowelment and the church go hand in hand? Think the Bishop of Hereford with the red hot poker used to kill Edward II.

To think I saw the pit in the middle of the room. And it didn't look so bad.

Back to the holding pattern. There we go again - good and evil, hot and cold. Our inability to soar beyond our baseness. Leering at the screen. The sins of the flesh. The barrel bombs fall. I once wrote about it, a highway art program that nobody noticed on a wide suburban road in Ilford. I stopped the car, I walked two blocks and there it was beyond - blue beyond the blue exhaust fumes. Holding Pattern with its cold sapphire lights twinkling on iron poles, unlovely and unnoticed by the angry cars on the asphalt road to London.

Many years earlier I thought of Ilford in a different way. Left behind after class with Mr. G as we pulled out the black and white Ilford films and processed them in the dark room. The heavy and ripe smell of the chemicals and the anticipation as the ghostly images took shape in the negatives. I thought of the trees flitting by on the long drive home. The silence of my parents in the front seat, lulled half into a sleep and imagining the glades in darkness outside the window. I wondered about Mr. G. His daughter,  the annoying woman who tags me in Facebook posts of her holidays. It wouldn't take much to ask but what do I ask. And would connecting two worlds be too much for me? Too much time and space and the teen me no longer recognizable. Another place, another country. But not the privileged place of blazers and crests and houses. Just downbeat uninspirational suburbia.

Looking out at the hammering rain I wonder if much has changed. In a holding pattern still after all this time.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and the Elusive Secret to Happiness

Here's something that has been troubling me. Not to the point of waking up and pacing but it's certainly a strange thing.

If we could be anybody who would we want to be? You can bet nine out of 10 guys would say they would want to be Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt, due to one or more of the following factors.

1 - Dashing good looks
2 - High octane careers as movie stars
3 - Unimaginable wealth
4 - Ability to pull just about any woman on the planet and probably quite a few on Mars or elsewhere.
5 - Innate coolness.

Yet when we read the accounts of the bitter break-ups between Depp and Amber Herd and Pitt and Angelina Jolie, some disconcertingly spiky words are dropped into the smooth mix - words like violence, alcohol, threats, drugs, and anger. Anger features rather prominently.

There's a cell phone video - admittedly used by Herd to obtain a restraining order - that appears to show Depp in an unintelligible rage. There are claims of an attack with a cell phone, drug abuse and Herd suffering bruises.

All of this should be viewed in the light of a Hollywood he said/she said kind of tussle.

However, there are well-documented instances of Depp losing it such as when he caused $10,000 of damage to a hotel room during a bitter argument with ex Kate Moss in 1994.

Meanwhile, all is not well over at Brangelina. Indeed, it has split apart and things got very unpleasant with the claims by Angelina that Brad Pitt was physically and verbally abusive to their kids while on their private plane, reports USA Today. He's now being investigated by the FBI.

Brad was reported to be wasted on a plane, verbally and physically abusive to a couple of the 20 or so kids and even tried to leave the scene in a fuel truck on landing. As one does after a mile-high bender.

So here's the kicker. You can have everything. You can be Brad Pitt. You can have the world at your feet and yet your life can descend into one long drunken trailer park brawl.

This is not without precedence. Think Elvis Presley killing himself on junk food and shooting up TV sets. Think Whitney Houston dying in the bath.

I'm a bit concerned about the electricity bill this month but now I'm not so sure I'll be much happier if I find the $100 to pay it.

I can't tell you the elusive secret to happiness. Maybe it's just be unremarkable.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Sinister Clowns of South Carolina and Other Tales

These are frightening times to be alive in America. Ignoring the bombs in New York, there's the small matter of the scary clowns who are terrorising parts of South Carolina.

In Greenville County, SC, children have been telling adults about creepy clowns who hang out on the fringes of dark woods and try to entice them into the trees. The children talk about a house by a pond that's so deep in the woods that its windows afford no light. We're not sure if its walls are made of gingerbread. Police have visited the house but found no sinister evidence like stick-on red noses or bulbous shoes. Nevertheless, it gets the imagination going. I'm thinking of a nasty Ronald McDonald walking in the woods to the tune of The Cure's The Forest.

Personally, I think this is the last straw. As if terrorism, North Korea and Vladimir Putin threatening nuclear war wasn't enough, people are now dressing as scary clowns and trying to lure kids into trees.

There's also a rather sinister looking orange clown who's down to the last two standing to become President of the United States. Just gag me with a sneezy flower thing now.

It hasn't been as bad as this since 2014 when creepy clowns were showing their ghastly faces across America, including one who was seen standing balefully in public places clutching black balloons.

I noted then how the World Clown Association became concerned that these incidents were giving clowns a bad name. To echo the prophetic words of Father Ted "Down with this Kind of Thing."

I also noted there is a word out there for the fear of clowns - coulrophobia. Make sure not to spell it coolrophobia. Clowns aren't cool kids. And whoever thought they were funny in the first place was probably on hallucinatory drugs.

If you are as old as me you might remember the days when the circus came to town. Not today's pale imitations but the big top stuffed with trapeze artists and lions, elephants and tigers.

Now ask yourself this question. Was there ever a kid who exclaimed to his parents 'take me to the circus to see the clowns.'?

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Last Day of Freedom

So this was it, the last day of freedom. We went to the pool on Labor Day early because we thought it would be packed but the lifeguard maintained a lonely vigil. The signs of impending closure were everywhere. The dirt and debris from the storm still lay at the bottom between the blue facade and the lifeguard apologized when he fished out a dead frog. Those lazy afternoons are over until May.

It seemed only last week when schools closed for summer and the kids faced long, sultry days free of testing and classrooms and the constant clatter of bells.

I knew I had felt sadder when the holidays were at an end and that joyous day when we threw our school ties in the hedge was a distant memory. In the interval, there had been long summer days by the lake, adventures at the disused railroad line and the obligatory family holiday.

We never went anywhere glamorous but the memories lingered in a deeper color than so many others. The cottage with the strange smelling 'garlic sausage room' and the thick leather chairs we would spin in, the garden alive with buzzing wildflowers, the hint of purple on the mountainside and the sgulls that cawed and wheeled high above the whitewashed alleys of St Ives. The simplicity was curiously powerful. Miles away there were kids whose parents never thought, or cared or just walked away into the deep vermillion Wild West sunset like the one we saw once simmering over the farm tractors of a Devon field.

I have tried to do the same. I took the kids to New York and the mountains of upstate New York. The trash blowing down the New Jersey street outside the motel was a light year away from those cliffs and bays of childhood memory but I hoped the experience would make a difference. They saw buildings that soared away from the pavements and dreams in stone and glass. I hoped one day they would look back in the way I do.

So it's back to school tomorrow and perhaps I'm more sad about the loss of their freedom than they are. Perhaps they don't even see it that way. The world has changed a lot and it's been more years than I care to remember.