Saturday, December 23, 2006

Wash and...where?

Alex, my American son, roams the deserts of Arizona working for La Migra, chasing Mexicans.

Visiting him last winter I learned that you have to check uniform pants for live ammo before putting them in the dryer.

Another little irony is that the Border Patrol uniforms are made in...Mexico.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Bad press

Found, in a corner of my favourite used bookstore, The Mutiny on Board H.M.S.Bounty, by none other than William Bligh himself. What a great page-turner!

Bligh had to get his story out before the mutineers reappeared and aired their side of things. Naturally he presents himself as an able and concerned skipper whose mens' heads got turned by the lovelies of Tahiti (and who could blame them?). Not at all the ogre he was reputed to be, more like Santa Claus.

Know what? This was an experienced sailor in love with the sea, whose aim was to keep his 90-foot ship intact, and his crew alive and well (no small feat when thousands died of scurvy on long voyages). The Bounty survived a month in terrifying storms trying to round Cape Horn, and failing. Quit? No, Bligh simply turned the ship around and sailed clear across the south Atlantic to South Africa, reaching Tahiti by almost circumnavigating the globe.

After the mutiny Bligh and eighteen others (mostly the "idlers", tradesmen who happened to work on a seagoing ship) were cut adrift in a small open boat with five days' rations. So overloaded was it that the sea came to within seven inches of the gunn'ls. And this in open, uncharted ocean, with storms, sharks, hostile natives on every islet--and the Great Barrier Reef.

Forty-one days later, after subsisting on a cup of water and half a slice of bread a day each, plus whatever seabirds they could capture, Bligh brought all but one of these castaways alive (one man having been killed by natives) to Timor, 3,600 miles to the west.

This is the kind of leader I'd pick to run the USA right now. Foul tempered, abusive and violent, maybe. People skills? None. But a committed man who'd not lose a single seaman under his command if he could help it. Determined, skilful and courageous to boot. Where are these men when we need them? Compare that with the needless waste of soldiers' lives in Iraq today.

Cuddly, no--but the man had a wife and six, count 'em, six, daughters. Go figure.

Kitty corner

And now, by popular demand, cat pictures:

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Mom's the word.

You know those calls--the ones where you hop out of the shower and dash, dripping, into the bedroom, grab the receiver and are greeted by...silence. You should put the phone down at this point, but curiosity gets the better of you, until finally a bright young female voice you don't recognize asks "And how are you today?"

'Tis the season. But here's a new twist: tapping away at the keyboard I was interrupted this evening, first by the silence, then a chirpy child of oh, ten, saying, "Hi, Mom!"

Last time I checked I had three adult children, at least one of whom communicates mostly in gruff monosyllables. Was there something in my past I'd blocked out? A hidden pregnancy, perhaps? A forgotten promise to raise someone else's child as mine?

It's a new telemarketing twist, a kind of capitalist kiddie-porn where they launch the underage at your heartstrings, this time for leukemia research. Realization finally dawned (OK, I'm not the brightest bulb on the tree). "I've got three children, " I said, "and you're not one of them."

Years ago one of my darlings, a wee slip of a thing at the time, decided that since some of her playmates got to call their mothers by their first names perhaps she would too. I soon disabused her of this nonsense. "Mother," "Mom," "Ma" or whatever is one heck of a proud title that not everyone's entitled to call me, just the three people closest to my heart. Anyone can (and usually does) call me by my first name, but few get to use the M word.

I don't know who thought up this fool promo. It got my attention--my goat, too.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006

The hand-made wedding

Tree planters are a tight-knit little tribe. When they roll into town-Port Hardy, B.C.--at the weekends, the locals tend to lock up their daughters, valuables and movables, and bartenders are on alert.

Despite this gypsy tag, they comprise a startlingly large proportion of very talented and creative people--writers, musicians, dressmakers, cooks and so forth. In addition they have a strong tradition of looking out for one another. In grizzly-bear territory this comes naturally.
Everyone knows--or knows of--everyone else. At parties the planters are like family; the hangers-on at the fringes are the wannabes.

So when my elder daughter and her fellow planter man, Kevin, decided "What the heck, let's get married," at a month's notice, the planter "family" kicked into high gear.
The ceremony, and the dinner party that followed, took place at a modest community centre in Vancouver--albeit one with a knockout view of the harbour.

Friends designed and made the bride's dress, a stunning white silk bias-cut creation. A friend baked the sinfully lush chocolate wedding cake. Family and roommates rolled and dipped 160 Belgian chocolate truffles to decorate the tables. A hairdresser friend came to the apartment to work magic on the hairstyles of the bride and the women in the wedding party, and would accept no payment except a small tip and a bottle of wine. There were many, many other splendid gestures--in part, no doubt, because the bride and groom had announced that they wanted no gifts, the day being not only about them but especially about the guests, who'd travelled from as far as the little outports of Newfoundland and the deserts of Arizona.

The men, too, looked gorgeous: tall, slim, groomed and, well, studly.

But one of the happiest guests was the groom's mother, Kathleen. Kathleen lives a simple life back there in Newfoundland. Her wants are few. She doesn't drink or use makeup. But her one vice is chocolate. I gathered up the unconsidered truffles and set aside some more chocolate cake for her. She went home with a bag full of booty and a grin from ear to ear.

"The best wedding I ever attended" was the frequently-heard verdict.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Lies my doctor told me

(1) Milk is good for you.
Fact: Milk probably causes breast and prostate cancer (incidence now one in eight).
Rates for both in China (where environmental pollution levels are high): 1:10,000. Until they start to eat what we eat, then they catch up. Normally, they don't touch cow's milk.

(2) You need milk for your bones.
Fact: The more milk you drink, the higher your risk of hip fracture. You read that right--higher. Top of the hip-fracture stakes are USA and New Zealand, who drink enough milk to sink the Titanic. Bottom of the list--the winners--are Tokyo and Singapore, who don't drink milk. This was shown in a Harvard study, people.

(3) A mammogram may save your life.
A new study from the Cochrane Library, a non-profit group based in the UK, found that for every 2000 women having a mammogram, only one would have her life prolonged. Well, OK, but they also found that another ten women would have potentially devastating and unnecessary treatment, undergoing surgery, radiation and chemotherapy after screening when--in their case--the changes discovered on screening would present no danger to them in their lifetimes. So much for preventive screening.

(4) Chemotherapy for breast cancer is 30% lifesaving.
Not! If 100 breast-cancer patients are given chemotherapy, only ten will get any benefit. And chemotherapy has a 1.3% risk of causing leukemia, all by itself. Plus, a recent study showed that not only is chemotherapy famous for causing hair loss and vomiting, but it's also associated with frequent trips to hospital emergency rooms, causing millions of dollars to be spent in treating its other side effect--life-threatening infections from bone-marrow suppression.

Stay away from doctors. And stay away from milk of all other species, even the organic sort. It was never meant to feed humans. Knowing this may save your life. Why isn't this widely known? Follow the money.
Trust me. I am--was--a doctor.

And go read "The China Study" by T. Colin Campbell. Some wacko? No--a lifetime nutrition expert out of Cornell University in New York State.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

And the winner is...

Is there anyone who hasn't broken out in a muck sweat, or had their ears turn a telltale shade of beet red, when being called on to stand up and say something before a roomful of critics? Tonight was presentation night, three minutes of fame, when each of the students in Sra. Romo-Gonzales' Spanish class spoke--in halting Spanish--about a topic of their choice.

Some were ambitious: big photo spreads, handcrafts from Iqaluit, even a wooden hammer created specially for the event with a jig-saw. Tales of cats, of epic journeys, memorable holidays. (No, the cats weren't mine.) Each "turn" drew friendly applause. We all vied for the Presentation of the Evening award. I thought for sure most of the women would bring out endearing pictures of above-average children, and having three answering that description I decided not to go that route.

But the winner, hands down, was Sam.

Sam is a construction worker by day, and though he enjoys the classes immensely they're a challenge, and he tries not to make himself too conspicuous. He works on high roofs without a second thought, so he's not afraid to give it a go when he's called on, and stumbles through the exercises with a strong Canadian accent, looking mildly astonished when it's the correct answer.

Sam was the one who talked about his family. Showed us the little group--wife , himself and three children--and explained slowly who each of them was, their names and ages. More photos, this time the two dogs. "They don't eat much," he pointed out, "they're little dogs." Questions: "What are the dogs called?" There was a quick consultation with the teacher. "Go ahead, just call them what you call them at home." "'Puppy'," he said, "and this one's 'Doggy'".

He got the most laughter, and easily the longest applause.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Antonio Banderas, please call.

Busy weekend: there was this assignment for an on-line writing course from NYC, plus a short essay for the Spanish class I'm taking (much to the derision of my son Alex, who's bilingual). OK for him, he has a lovely Colombian chica (see earlier post). I demand a date with Antonio Banderas, that's the only way I'll ever get proficient.

Plus there was the Beeb's "Pride and Prejudice" to watch on DVD. Since I don't have TV--I refuse to pay good money to have dross piped into the house--I rent movies and have only just got round to watching it. Brilliant. The very best scene in the whole series has to be the quadrille. For the crackle of sheer sexual tension it's rivalled only by good flamenco.

Darcy put me in mind of Heathcliff, in that all he's called on to do is glower--but then again, who could resist the allure of all that lovely real estate? (Note to self: my next cat will be called Darcy.) And you have to love those horses. Whoever had the horse franchise had it made in the shade. Mr. Bennet was lovely. I know someone exactly like Mrs. Bennet, and I've met the Ugly Sisters, too; unfortunately their ilk is alive and well in the UK.

Now I have to buckle down and actually read the book.

Monday, October 09, 2006

River dance.

Picture this: on the van radio, the andante movement from Mahler's 2nd symphony. The sky, deep peaches and purple in the twilight, the trees silhouetted black. The river is calm, reflecting the sky, and in this peach-and-purple mirror a family of beavers is cruising around their lodge, their snouts carving black vees in the surface. On top of the lodge sits the sentry, like the conductor of the beaver dance, their one last fling before they're cooped up in the stick and mud dome for the winter.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Que hay de nuevo?

I'm looking for the upside-down question mark on the keyboard. There's a tilda and an accent grave (how do you get it to sit on top of the required letter?) but none of the inverted punctuation essential to Spanish.

Victor Borge, the musician/comedian, made a classic contribution to punctuation some years back, narrating a steamy encounter with sound effects for each mark. He would have had a field day with Spanish.

This is all because I'm in the beginning stages of learning Spanish, my son being smitten with a chica from Bogota, Diana Maria. Diana didn't speak much English for a while; our conversations, when face-to-face, consisted of lots of hand gestures, plenty of hasty drawings and dips into the dictionary. But somehow we managed to makes ourselves understood.

The trick is to start thinking like a Spaniard, and especially to really start making the lips and jaw do some work--no use muttering between tight lips and making a half-assed stab at it--no, learning a foreign language is a serious relationship that requires commitment. Never make fun of someone who speaks with an accent, the saying goes, they speak more languages than you do.

I'm eagerly awaiting Speaking with the Hands, 101. I want to get going on the street with my cellphone, waving my arms even though the person I'm speaking to can't see me. How can I possibly be fluent in Spanish if I can't talk with my hands?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Watch it!

The UK has the distinction of having the thickest concentration of CCTVs of any country on earth. This is because it has (a) a thriving yob culture, with graffiti and vandalism and (b) because whoever's installing all these cameras seems to be able to get away with it. Rarely do you hear an outcry about invasion of privacy--it's all accepted as part of the 21st century landscape.

The first thirty years of my childhood were spent in England. I would not wish to return to live there, but it has left its share of memories--most connected with people long dead. Whoever said, "You can never go back" was right on; you can replay the reel only in your head. For this reason I sometimes get a little impatient with expats hankering for their native land, the simple reason being that it's not there any more.

All those CCTVs do have a function: some are accessible as webcams offering a mini-tour of my old haunts. From time to time I'll access a corner of the street where I lived as a child. The corner store and the red mailbox have gone, and traffic lights have sprouted up to control the burgeoning flow of cars. Today a lone pedestrian climbs the hill, unaware, of course, that he's being idly followed from across the Atlantic. You don't see many pedestrians these days--everyone's in cars.

I love Google's satellite feature, too. Zooming in on my home town, I'm uneasy at what's been demolished to wedge more and more little houses in. The big old 18th-century house my godfather lived in, with its rambling gardens, wide lawns, and flowerbeds that tipsy revellers would drive over after Christmas parties (that was another era) has vanished. I can still recall the thrill of learning to ride a bicycle on the grass there, of wobbling along and finally mastering it. Now there are seventeen little townhouses where it used to be, all with paved parking spaces; there are no lawns. It reminds me of Dr. Zhivago, where the hero returns after the Russian revolution to find his house occupied by another four families.

Ain't technology great?

If you want to cruise the webcams of the British Isles, a good place to start is the BBC:

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Wait a minute...

Does anyone else find it ironic that a quoted opinion (whether valid or not) that the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) advocated promulgating Islam by violence should arouse a storm of disagreement-- in the form of violence and death threats?

So much hostility perpetrated by so many religions, except--notably--Buddhism, to its eternal credit.

This isn't at all about religion--like N.Ireland, it's all about young men and territory. How many more people have to die before we brake sharply at the edge of the abyss?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Travelling hopefully

The Slow Food movement seems to be gaining ground; hard on the heels of this success I should like to propose a new Slow Travel movement.

Let's face it--air travel has become an endurance test. Way back, when I was a girl of, oh, maybe twelve or so, the family travelled to the Channel Islands. These are geographically (and architecturally) part of France and lie amid some of the trickiest navigation in the Channel, off the coast of Normandy. They were occupied by the Germans in WWII; possession of radios was streng verboten, and the Brits used to dismantle them and secrete them in teapots.

But I digress. Back then the plane was a seven-seater made of what my Dad liked to call "canvas and dope". Air travel was an Event. Passengers strolled out onto the apron and climbed aboard. No security, no waiting, nothing but politeness all round. Very amateur, looking back on it. At the destination--Alderney--we'd have to circle a time or two while an anxious herdsman ran, frantically waving, after the cows, to get them off the grass airstrip. (Yes, they were Guernsey cows.)

Look where we are now: arrive two hours ahead for domestic flights; show all kinds of ID, get grilled about your bags; remove all the little items that make a trip pleasant, find the security lineup that's moving the fastest, line up in the chicane like a herd of cattle in an abattoir, take off your shoes, run your bags through the scanner, find a food shop to get a meal to take on board, walk 2 km to the gate. Not that I'm not grateful for all the precautions, and quite see the necessity for them...but do you see what I'm getting at? There comes a point where the trip itself, especially for a vacation, for heaven's sake, becomes a deterrent.

Enter slow travel. I've just returned from a rail trip across Canada--Cornwall, Ontario, to Vancouver in style, stopping off in Jasper, just because not to stop in Jasper would have been a crime. I tell you, this is the way of the future; there's time to look around and take in all that incredible scenery; an opportunity to meet and talk to other people you wouldn't normally take the time to get to know; lavish meals served on real china with real knives and forks (no chance of pronging the engineer to death here) at a table with a damask cloth, by cheerful homegrown staff who live in cities along the route. In short, an adventure of a most agreeable kind.

So if you can swing it, consider a slow trip sometime. It'll transform you from a tourist to a traveller.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Lucky, lucky, lucky

Last year I was persuaded, in a weaker moment, to go door-to-door soliciting funds for a charity. It was a snowy March, and my buddy Oscar, the red heeler, was game for the expedition. I found out several interesting things: (a) it's a great way to meet all your neighbours, (b) there are a fair number of single older women--myself included--living alone on the street (c) the people with the fanciest homes are the stingiest (the converse applies, too) and (d) a surprising number of folks don't bother to shovel their front steps. All winter. Which makes the entrance as welcoming as a drawbridge studded with nails.

Some of the older women were starved for company, more so because of the winter, and haled me inside with offers of tea and a chat. There and then I decided that visiting was something I could do.

A loaf of home-made bread makes a handy Trojan horse. Since the first loaf was traded for a cup of tea I've been having a wonderful time; what started as a feeling of obligation has morphed into a slew of new friends. One in particular encouraged me to cross Canada by train, which I'll be doing shortly (I hope it wasn't a hint). She's a thirty-year-old trapped in a seventy-something body that's seen better days, but she's always on the lookout for new and interesting angles. One hot afternoon I asked tentatively whether she'd care for a swim in the river; I barely had time to draw breath before she was packed and ready, complete with a quickly-assembled picnic. We hit the road in the VW van, free as birds, delighted as heck not to be stuck in some air-conditioned, windowless room toiling for our daily bread and missing all this.

As June said, you can work all your life and not have the sense to stop when you should stop, and never get to live it up like this.

It doesn't get any better.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

What is it you do, exactly?

Sharing a lunch table in the hospital cafeteria I fell into agreeable conversation with a member of the chaplaincy staff. After discussion of matters metaphysical he said he'd always thought that it was rather a waste, having a physician giving anesthetics. I mean, all it is is a needle, right?

I stared at him, pale and slack-jawed. He might as well have said that, since planes now have an auto-pilot feature, we don't really need the pilot.

A great many people honestly believe that an anesthetic is like Disney's "Sleeping Beauty": a masked figure approaches with a sharp needle, and you disappear into oblivion, sleeping decorously for however long it takes to perform the miracle of surgery, at which point you are awakened by the surgeon (with a kiss?) and ushered back to bed.

It was a teachable moment. I gave him the laundry list of the procedures that follow the needle, of which he has been blissfully unaware, being unconscious.

If you were undergoing let's say, bowel surgery of any magnitude this is how I'd occupy my time while you slept:

Inject a muscle relaxant to paralyze you so I can place a sealed, leakproof plastic breathing tube into your trachea; tape your eyelids closed to prevent accidental injury or dry eyes; run a thin plastic tube through one nostril down into your stomach to keep it empty; supervise placing a catheter into your bladder to measure kidney function and keep the bladder out of the surgeon's way; start you on a calculated rate and depth of machine-controlled breathing with a predetermined mix of oxygen, maybe nitrous oxide, and anesthetic vapour; check all your vital signs (monitors placed before anesthesia include cardiogram, automatic blood-pressure monitor, pulse oximeter to make sure you have a nice high level of oxygen in your blood); drape a hot-air blanket over your upper torso and run a temperature probe into your nostril; start another, wide-bore intravenous as backup; find your internal jugular vein and ease in a long, wide-bore catheter to serve as a fuel gauge.

While I'm doing all this the OR nurses are removing your backless gown (yes, you'll be undressed for your operation, shocking though it is), getting you safely positioned and strapped securely to the table so that you won't fall off if the surgeon asks for head-down or sideways tilt.

Once the surgery's under way, it's my job to anticipate what the surgeon's going to do next, and tweak the anesthesia mix, or adjust the i/v to compensate. I don't get to sit down much. I stroll round the room checking on blood loss, watch your vital signs on one of the two monitor screens at my right side, and document a lot. The nurses and I will generate reams of paper that will form part of your hospital record, a souvenir of the day.

Towards the end of surgery I give you medication to help control pain after you're awake, and adjust the anesthetic so that you'll awaken at just the right time. We have a long schedule today, and any delays mean it will start to back up.

Oh, and if you're in fragile health I might start your anesthetic with an epidural, so that no pain stimuli get to the unconscious brain, and you'll have good pain control afterwards.

And you don't want a physician--or in the States, possibly a seasoned nurse anesthetist--looking after you?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Like and Go

Sharp intake of breath. I'm standing in the lineup for Via, in Toronto, and behind me a couple of youngsters are chatting away. "Like" occurs with the regularity of automatic rifle fire, as deadly to normal speech as a stammer; I want to look away, wring my hands. Is it because, increasingly, communication is mediated by screens rather than face-to-face?

Someone has also dinned it into young women not to raise the voice at the end of a statement. ("I'm thinking of applying for that new job? The pay's so much better? And I won't have that long commute?") The new "thing" is to lower the voice at the end of a sentence so that it loses all musicality and becomes a rasp between clenched teeth. It's hard to listen to.

One of the most beautiful voices around is that of Shelagh Rogers, on CBC radio. Smooth, sexy, melodious, with a hint of mischief and a wicked laugh. She sounds as though she's having an intimate tete-a-tete with an imagined bedmate. For a while Massena, NY, had a woman announcer with the sultriest voice imaginable too--though she was unremarkable to look at, like a nightingale. But male listeners would obsess about her.

The human voice is a powerful instrument. I'm so much in awe of what a good actor can do with it, and what a turn-on a beautiful voice can be. I hate to see it wasted.

Actualizing interpersonal communication

Susannah, my younger daughter, lives in England; her day-to-day work involves getting to grips with the political double-speak of Parliament and gently teasing it out into language.

There is an old Chinese legend about a pen that wrote truth, no matter what the writer set down. (Example: a lover writes "I never want to see you again, you loser." Which the pen interprets as: "I was hurt by what you did, but I love and miss you.")

So frustrated is Susannah at times that I fear she'll dash down on paper what was really intended. "We have absolutely no intention of abolishing old age security" becomes: "We are looking for ways to abolish the old age pension and get away with it."

Her latest and funniest take on the ancient art of verbal subterfuge may be viewed at

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Voyeur

I don't know about you, but I love trolling real estate ads--even though I'm beautifully housed in my little golden palace here in Ingleside. Just nosy, I suspect. is a standout for house-hunters in this particular corner of England. There isn't anything on this side of the pond to compare with its professionalism. That aside, it's fascinating to see how they live over there. With a few exceptions they're all decor-challenged, with bad ceramic tile in the kitchens and a penchant for lavender bedrooms; dank bathrooms nobody would want to spend any time in and nasty crimson fitted carpet (so as not to show bloodstains?).

You can spot the rental sales; debris everywhere, including--in one house--rumpled clothes strewn on the bed, all kinds of tat in the corners and greasy frypans piled on the stove. A rich lode for house stagers, but I'm not sure if they've arrived there yet. I suppose if I rented and didn't want to be thrown out by a new owner, or if I really disliked my landlord, I'd play it that way too.

But check the prices and be grateful. There's an abject, chicken-house style shack for sale; it has one and a half rooms, no yard and is accessible for only 44 weeks a year, for which they hope to get the equivalent of $80,000. I'm thinking of dismantling my bungalow, shipping it over there and selling it for half a million.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Bear with me.

Now it can be told: the good news--I won in the Heart and Stroke Lottery! Before you reach for the phone I have to tell you the bad news: they left four zeros off the cheque. Sorry, guys.

I have just come back from more Adirondack camping. From the moment you check in you're cautioned about not encouraging the bears--even asked to sign a waiver confirming that you've had the Bear Riot Act read to you and that you understand that you can be ejected if you encourage the bears in any way (suggestive leers? scanty clothing?)

Well, it's been over thirty years now since I first dragged my two older children there, in what was a very lucky chance find. I've returned several times every year since--and never seen a bear apart from the ones slumming it at the Long Lake town dump. I began to suspect a tourist come-on, and was the only camper around who didn't have a near-death bear story to share. Kind friends were even offering to pour their old bacon grease round my campsite to up the ante.

It finally happened; I had my nose deep in a book (familiar Gill posture) when one apparently walked right by me. A group of bystanders hollered frantically to get my attention, and hustled me up the hill where I spotted it, a nice young teenage bear with a lovely pelt. For all I know it could have been making free with my campsite while I slept, especially the times I go early in the year, when I'm sometimes one of the two or perhaps three campers there.

I still think the human is the more dangerous animal.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


BTW, I have three tickets for the Heart and Stroke lottery, to be drawn on July 6th.
One of them will win a million dollars. So handy.
It's already all spoken for.
Stand by for further updates.


I've just got back from a couple of weeks' camping in my favourite place of all time, in the Adirondacks. The storm that flooded out New Jersey and parts of New York including the Susquehanna at Binghamton (couldn't have happened to a nicer place) blew in sixty-mile-an-hour winds and three and a half inches of rain.

I slept in the van, fully expecting both tents to have blown away in the night; came the dawn, both were still standing--and the dome tent was bone dry! I've got to write to Coleman; it's the same tent that came through Katrina last year without shipping any water, though the floor rocked like a water-bed from the lake underneath it.

I spent three days sorting, washing, drying and repacking wet gear. How a young woman sailed single-handed, the "wrong" way round the world, sleeping in one-hour catnaps for six months is a mystery to me. A hot shower and a washing machine must look like heaven after that.

But I had a good time anyway; there is some magic about the mountains. Wrinkles disappear, lines soften, scars fade, sickness heals and worries shrink to manageable proportions.

What's not to like about loons on the lake at night; stars like dust; inky, lampless darkness and deep stillness? Fireflies in the trees, a warm lake to swim in and good friends at the campfire; the smell of woodsmoke, bacon and coffee...

There were four ravens on a tear, screaming like barmaids being assaulted. They live on site 102, and terrorize the neighbourhood at 7am, campers struggling out of bed, disoriented and blurry-eyed, "What the hell was that?"

Bliss. Just as soon as everything's dry and my yard chores are done, I'm going back.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Don't Blame Me.

Ladies and gentlemen! I present...Intermittent Explosive Disorder.

It's not Road Rage any more. No longer will we all be held accountable for our short fuses, bad tempers and lack of self-control combined with poor driving, all exacerbated by arguing with our spouse on the cellphone in heavy traffic. No more responsibility, no more mea culpas for our bad behaviour. No, now it's a mental disorder and we're off the hook. It's medicalized--like so many other phenomena of human nature--and a pill will fix all.

But why should Intermittent Explosive Disorder be confined to the roads? If I stab the woman who cuts in front of me in the supermarket lineup, if I assault my spouse, strike the children, am I not the victim of this mental disorder? Shouldn't I, too, get off with a little help from a clever lawyer and an expert physician witness? All because I forgot to take my little pill that day.

My children tell me that I'm not a party animal, nor even a party vegetable. What I have is Social Anxiety Disorder, and I demand more respect. Hey, I might even qualify for my own handicapped parking space.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Several times a month I cross the impossibly high suspension bridge separating our two countries and go visit my old stomping grounds in the States.

The conversation at the INS booth follows the predictable pattern it's taken for the last twenty-eight years:
"Where are you going today?"
"Lawrenceville" (or West Stockholm--neither of which pops up on the radar screens of the INS very often.)
So as not to ask the question: "Where the hell is Lawrenceville?" which puts him at a disadvantage, he asks me what's going on there today. If he knew the place he'd know that nothing happens in Lawrenceville, and hasn't since Flossy's father found the family dog hung from a tree, stone dead, when she was a little girl.

Today Corby, Flossy's brother, comes home from hospital after surgery, and I'm along to help get him settled back home. In no time at all he's back in his favourite recliner in front of the TV. After a brief hiatus his life has resumed its normal pattern.

Being constrained to sit and watch along with him brought home to me sharply how so many Americans live in this make-believe world shaped and influenced by the box, oblivious to reality and to the rest of the world--like living in a huge gated community.
I was startled to see how many ads there are on US TV for drugs, too--both over-the-counter and prescription-only. Viewers are being coached to self-diagnose and push their doc for the drug to fix whatever it is they've got. Everything's medicalized, and a pill will fix it all.

Americans' health is going to hell in a handbasket.

"We've become spoiled," Flossy remarks.

But there's a glimmer of hope; today Lay and Skilling, of Enron infamy, were found guilty. There will be an appeal, of course. But for just one day it was good to see Big Money get its comeuppance.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Hot Times in Ingleside.

It doesn't take much to float my boat--I'm pretty low-maintenance. I don't need a rich escort, show house, masses of bling, serious shopping trips or a glitzy new car every three years. Right now I'm in hog heaven; Garry, the neighbourhood construction whiz, has built me a System.

Actually it's a streamlined, old-fashioned pantry downstairs in the basement, sturdy shelving with a whiff of pine from the raw two-by-fours. Each time I run down to the basement I open the door to admire and gloat.

Every woman should have one like it--everything is at my fingertips, all labelled and neat. I don't have to rummage around for the right solution to wash the car, the right varnish for the front steps, it's all right there, brightly lit. The food isn't stacked can-on-can in a precarious pile any more, and all the flour and rice are out of reach of the weevils. I know what's on the shelf, so when I need to whip up dessert or a pan of squares for a "do" it's not a guessing game.

Doesn't get much better than this.

Reading: "The China Study" by T. Colin Campbell, PhD, a nutrition research expert at Cornell University. Shows why what we eat is causing cancer, diabetes, heart disease and more, and why the truth is so hard to get at. Gets down and dirty. Buy, steal or borrow the book.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Cannibal

The heavy man hovered near the fridge in the palliative care unit's lounge, cramming bread into his mouth with an air of urgency.

"Can I help you?" I asked, thinking of giving him something more substantial.

"It's OK," he said. "My father just died."

And then I saw that he was eating the dead man's sandwiches.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Water Torture

My daughter, Susannah, emigrated to fame and fortune in England nine months ago and has never looked back, in all senses of the word.

But now she's undergoing the slow water torture that is the English idea of customer service. Basically, when an island that's smaller than Ontario is crammed with 66 million people, if you're in business and your service stinks, just shrug--another customer will be by in a few minutes. Nobody gives a rat's patoodie about what their employees are up to; there's no accountability.

It's a constant source of amazement that tourists would pay good money to go there and be subjected to this foolishness. I go only because I have relatives over there. My last visit was plagued by this constant low background level of indifference--plus the total inability to procure anything like a good cup of coffee.

Flying back in to YUL was like a pleasant dream--smiles all round, strangers--and airport staff--being gratuitously helpful. I still get choked up when the winter CN train pulls in to the station, looking like an apartment block on wheels that's just rolled in off the steppes, with that anachronistic bell clanging away, and the attendant brushing the piles of snow off the train steps with a ridiculous little corn broom.

This summer I'm taking the train all the way across Canada, stopping in Jasper for a long weekend. Like the Orient Express--one of the last great romantic train trips. And you know what? The customer service will be brilliant.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

On Spring

Green fuzz, surging sap

In the trees
Birds cry, "Life, life!"

Whole world is on fire.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Wagons Roll.

Memo to self: Add a trans-Canada trip by Greyhound to my list of Things to Do Before I Die.
Since I retired from my honorary male job, the voice of my left brain is gradually being shouted down by the newly-assertive right brain. This is giving me endless fun and taking me on all kinds of new adventures; I never travel more than a mile or two now without a notebook and pen, scribbling away on any pretext. Just like painting, it teaches me to see.

Old folks are the new Roadies. The bus to northern Manitoba had a good share of unaccompanied women seniors; I noticed them in what I considered a most untypical bus line-up in Winnipeg--neatly groomed, with newish compact luggage. The lady in the seat ahead of me, Pierrette, had been on the bus for two days straight, coming from Ottawa and sleeping where she sat. She was sharply dressed and wiry, with a tan you don't get from a Canadian winter and a twinkle in her eye, and had brought along a mohair blanket and her CD collection. She was off to see her sister in Swan River--the price was right, and she couldn't refuse.

Imagine being left on the prairie by the Greyhound bus. It would be like falling off a cruise boat in the middle of the ocean. There's nowhere within a day's walk, and in the winter it would certainly be fatal if no-one else happened by within a minute or two. One thing the prairie has plenty of is distance. It's like those nightmares where you run and run and get nowhere. You have to admire the pioneers that settled here.

The North American system of measuring ingredients by cupful (rather than by weight, as in Europe) when cooking has got to stem from long journeys by covered wagon. "Supper ready, dear?" "You're gonna have to stop them danged oxen fer a bit, while I weigh the ingredients for the pie."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Ingleside crime wave shock

Six thirty a.m. I drew back the curtains and dang me! There it was. A foreign orange garbage bag squatting, overstuffed, right beside my garbage can, ready for pickup.

Now I pride myself on a modest garbage output (words aside.) My elder daughter, Charlotte, has trained me from way back to cook everything from scratch, eschew prepackaged food and to reuse everything. Not for me the huge mound of bags at the curbside on Tuesdays, ho no; not for the village council either, apparently--they recently passed an edict limiting household garbage to two bags a week. Kind of tough if you have a family of growing teenagers. If you have more stuff to go out you have to bite the bullet and buy extra bags at $1.50. Mind you, they do have the council's crest emblazoned on them, which adds extra cachet.

How had the alien bag got there? Some cheapskate was obviously trying to save a buck or two. But when had he left it? For it was obviously a "he"--I couldn't imagine a woman sinking to garbage piracy. I would comb the neighbourhood and find out where the orange bags were coming from. Was this going to be a weekly thing? Will I have to mount guard, shotgun in hand, over my patch of curb till the truck passes? Debbie, at the post office, observed that garbage day on her street was an all-out war for the available curb space, and Sue said that it was worse out in the country, where drive-by garbage scattering was rampant. Things were going from bad to worse. Next it will be biker gangs.

My friend Margo, giving me a ride to a function later that evening, mentioned that she was happy to see that "her" garbage bag had been picked up. Well!
Some months ago I'd agreed to let her drop off any extra bags at my place, but had forgotten.

Guess I can put the gun back in the cabinet. The village can breathe easier now the crime wave has passed.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


A bloody slab of fresh kill lay right there on the edge of the ice, and ripping at it was a big brown hawk, all shoulders and powerful haunches. He had an audience--three seagulls and two crows, all standing at a respectful distance, calling him "sir" and waiting for him to finish. Now and then an opportunistic crow would sidle up and take a few hasty pecks at the meat, whereupon the hawk would turn, swear at it and resume feeding. The crow, chastened, backed away and waited.

Up rolled three cars. The doors were flung open, spilling out families with cameras, field-glasses and restless children. The hawk shrank down into immobility, his dilemma obvious--lose the meat and stay safe, or wait this out? A moment before, he looked like the king of the skies; now he looked like a dirty little predator caught red-handed. I'm sure this wasn't what the onlookers had hoped to see, and I thought how often, in our rush to possess something, to make it our own, we ruin it.

After a few minutes when nothing much happened, the sightseers climbed back into the cars and roared away. The hawk at once regained his courage and resumed feeding; this time three more hawks were circling idly above him, waiting their chance. And then, from nowhere, came the bald eagle.

It was now the hawk's turn to watch in dismay at a polite distance, while the eagle devoured his lunch. The great bird tore strips off the meat--not pausing even when more sightseers drew up--whittling it down to something portable. Replete and bored, he flew lazily away, leaving what was left for the hawks and crows.

I've never seen a bald eagle around the village before. This isn't the west coast, so they're pretty unusual. In the summer, when everything's crowded, the wildlife runs for cover, so I'm happy to have the calm while it lasts, with these rare glimpses. I'm tempted, though, to buy a couple of pounds of stew beef to spread on the ice and see what turns up next.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Holy blood, holy moly!

This is, briefly, how to anesthetize a patient with trauma and blood loss: Lie them flat, possibly with the head lower than the feet, to maximize blood flow to the heart and brain. Give them lots of oxygen for several minutes, if there's time. Run in fluid or blood to fluff up what's left of their circulation. Have a strong mechanical suction hose running--nothing they've eaten for many hours has passed the stomach, no oral meds will be absorbed, and it may all come back up, run straight into their lungs and choke them. Gently, gently run in your anesthetic agent--anything intravenous may be too strong, flatten the circulation and stop the heart, so you may need to have them breathe a vapour/oxygen mix. Get an assistant to press gently on the trachea as the patient goes to sleep, to help prevent reflux of stomach contents. After they're asleep, quickly pass a cuffed tube into the trachea to seal off the lungs, heave a small sigh of relief and run them on "air and a prayer" until they're stronger.

The reason I'm telling you this is that I just caught Michael Baigent, author of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" on CBC Radio One this morning, earnestly insisting that Jesus was quickly anesthetized with oral medication on a sponge, in the vertical position, with chin on chest. All this from several feet away, while crucified, then taken down unconscious and spirited away. Guaranteed to obstruct the airway and stop the heart. All I can say is, I wish I'd had magic like that on the many nights I spent in the OR. Sorry, but the human body just doesn't follow Michael Baigent's rules.

The theological expert the CBC had cleverly called in to refute him was a priest from "Opus Dei", of all people. He was gyrating anxiously as he made his points; no need--he should have been cackling with glee at such nonsense. Memo to Michael Baigent: Do your anesthesia research first.

To paraphrase the old saw, people who believe in nothing will believe anything.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The madness must stop.

The problem with living in vacation country is that for four months of the year we're overrun with campers, so come June we all take to our burrows and estivate. Some people are quite happy with this: notably the campers, who are sunburned and cheerful, and Patsy and Martin who run the village supermarket, with its eye-popping deli counter. In springtime it's hard to get round the store without falling into conversation with friends and neighbours. In summer it's just hard to get round the store.

Spring down by the St. Lawrence is deafeningly silent. This afternoon I happened on a muskrat as he was about his business, red-brown furry body, beady black eyes and little ratty tail. It was hard to tell which of us was the more surprised. When I lived in the country in upstate New York we had a muskrat (and many other animals) in the garage. Nasty pointy teeth. Big, normally a very savvy cat, tangled with him and got the worst end of the deal.

Alex, my trained-killer son, occasionally dips into my blog when times are slack in the desert in Arizona where he lives. He rolls his eyes and groans, but I think it gives him a feeling of stability. Mother's still nuts, all's right with the world.

I just realized why all three of my offspring never want children: they are afraid that this geek affliction is a dominant gene, and they are terrified that one of theirs will inherit it, and everyone will look at it funny, and point.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Solitary Vice

You can see more going on around you if you keep quiet and still; this is true for scuba diving, walks down by the St. Lawrence and life in general. The sun is stretching itself now and developing some real warmth; the only ice remaining is a thin fringe on the river bank, and sheets of candle-wax ice in the sheltered bays. Turning round slowly my eye was caught by a coyote crossing the field with a steady gallop like a fox's; he was bigger, of course, dog-size; sandy-coloured with a black tip to his tail. I was downwind of him, and motionless so as not to scare him, so he hung around for a few minutes, all business, searching for food. The deer must have picked up his scent; normally I have to beat them off with a stick, but there were none anywhere today.

The blue herons are back; one flew overhead with a stately slo-mo flap of wings, legs stretched out behind and neck coiled up. Two or three hawks were up there too, balancing on the thermals, checking out the progress of the geese nesting season; it doen't bode well for goslings, but it's early yet.

The high waters of last fall left a line of flotsam and all kinds of pack-rat treasure. Haul so far: abandoned fishing float (good toy for Riley the cat); two plastic toy spades (will do nicely for spreading salt on ice, and bird seed on lawns); a plastic tent peg; nice piece of two-by-four for campfire kindling, and a large plastic scoop to use as a bailer for my rented rowboat. Also seen: a complete set of sturdy steps which would have made a seviceable plant stand--alas! too heavy to carry.

The joy of a deserted riverbank is that I can indulge these eccentricities and no-one's any the wiser.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Fooled Me Twice

"Surely," I mused as I opened "Deception Point," which had been pressed on me by the urging of an otherwise well-meaning friend, "this has to be better than "The Da Vinci Code."

OK, here's the formula:
Comb ten of the best-selling recent thriller novels; select their salient features--all of them--mash them in a blender and throw them on to paper. The result is a food-fight: too, too much information; the usual over-exposition, the most obvious being two, count 'em, two, pages of perfectly-scripted plot exposition towards the end of the book--and this by the arch-villain, who's armed with a rifle and perched on a sinking ship in the midst of a maelstrom. Plus hero/ines with a background merely in desk jobs who can assimilate complex geological data, pilot underwater subs and run for twenty-four hectic action-packed hours in the arctic without food, sleep or bathroom breaks. Oh, come ON!

By the end I was gagging. Serve me right for trying Dan Brown twice.

My only consolation was that the books were borrowed.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Frozen Stiff

"What's going on?" is purely rhetorical in this part of the world; we are a small village, in a very big country whose climate can kill you. Out strolling--with crampons--in the local park beside the St. Lawrence as winter wound down, I was the only soul on the face of the earth, marvelling at the breathtaking silence. Bells of solid ice swung from the tips of the weeping willows. The river was frozen right across to the USA, less than 1km away, all motion suspended.

And then I heard it: the ice was singing. There was a soft background hum, like the echoes of a choir in the nave of a cathedral. From time to time came another sound like a rifle shot as distant floes buckled; there were crunchings, and what I took at first to be a dog barking. A crack flew by me along the river bank, with the scouring sound of a jet flying overhead. On another occasion I'd followed what I took to be a flock of small birds twittering, only to find a fringe of delicate ice plates blown by the wind into the edge of a patch of open water.

Yesterday the river was emitting deep, hollow coughs from far down below the ice; it was clearing its throat for the big thaw. Today the temperature soared to 10*C and everything started running; pools of water everywhere, the official start of Mud Season. Time to drag the ice-fishing huts back, and drive those pickup trucks to safety off the ice.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Borrowed Finery

I've just finished reading "Music and Silence" by Rose Tremain, which I scooped up while visiting my sister; a gorgeous historical novel about 17th century Denmark, lavish with texture, peopled with complex living and breathing characters.
What a stunner! Its time-warp wafts you away into this other world, so vivid that it's virtual reality. The first time I read it for the story, the second time I'll read it for the craft.
Mercifully, the blurb doesn't tell us how Ms Tremain divides her time.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Hoist on my own petard

Tax time's coming, the Sharing o' the Green, and the accountants' offices are busy as a cat house when the fleet docks. Frustrated by the goings-on of last year's firm, who treated me like chopped liver, I jumped ship and landed in a much more professional outfit. They did, however, remark that I was "too well organized". Moi?

Reading: "The Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey", mostly by Patrick O'Brian, very thoughtfully sent to me by Susannah.
It is well known that I am the man's geatest living aficionado, but this is ridiculous. If they could squeeze another corpuscle out of that man, this is it. Like underwear, no matter how clean, it was never intended for public viewing; it's the bare bones of a novel, the first draft, padded copiously with duplicates of every page in the original handwriting, and with an embarrassingly fulsome multi-page intro. If it reveals anything, it's that the finished books were brought to life by vivid, imaginative embellishment which is missing entirely in this rough sketch.

The man's dead, for heaven's sake. A marvellous, unmatched series of beautifully crafted novels/ripping yarns has come to an end. We'll just have to get over it.

Truite rotie boulangere: (for the boyfriend)
1 whole trout, about 1kg.
1 kg potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 onion
1 clove garlic, minced
250 ml bouillon or fish stock
1 bay leaf
Sprig of thyme
50 gm butter
1 tablespoon peanut oil
salt, pepper

Generously butter a baking dish; layer the potatoes, garlic and onion in the dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the bouillon, bay leaf and thyme.
Bake in preheated oven (gas mark 7--210*c or 425*F) uncovered, for 25 minutes. (Original recipe called for 15 min., but I found the potatoes remained crunchy)
Place the prepared trout on top of the potatoes, brush with the oil and adjust seasoning. Return to the oven for a further 15 minutes.
(Je cuisine--365 jours,730 recettes--marvellous book, unknown publisher, another gift from Susannah)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Hmmm...Why the Hype?

I've just finished "The Da Vinci Code", lured into doing so by the buzz about it. You have to admire the man for the sheer volume of the research that went into it. That being said, I found his prose like a dirty pane of glass--the view looks fascinating, but the flaws get in the way. The exposition on the first page is crammed with way too much information, too in-your-face. By the end I didn't give a rat's what happened to any of the protagonists, and was constantly reminded that John LeCarre would have done it so much better.

I've also read "Talk to the Hand", Lynne Truss's latest. "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" was hilarious, and I was hoping for more; this one is a lament for the passing of a considerate and compassionate society. It's witty, but too true to be comforting; starting lightheartedly, but gradually descending into a rant, rabbiting on in a way that will cause my nearest and dearest to have me put away if they catch me doing it when I'm a D.O.G. It probably started life as a single column in the Saturday "Lifestyle" section, and ends up as wonton soup--some good meaty bits, but overall pretty thin.

"Works of charity--almsgiving--are in effect a way for the rich to shirk their obligation to work for justice and a means for soothing their consciences, while preserving their own status and robbing the poor of their rights." Heavy stuff. It comes from Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical, "God is Love", out this year. I'm poring over the dense prose; it's quite short, but full of good stuff, and some surprises. Who'd have thought a 79-year-old celibate could come up with some of this? More on that, later.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Last Post

When the title, "The First Post", flashed up there on the screen my immediate thought was that this was a reference to my advancing age; it has a whiff suggestive of "Taps," or the Last Post, the bugle call played at the hauling down of flags, at the change of command and at funerals of dead warriors.

In the immortal words of Monty Python, "I'm not dead yet."

Friday, February 17, 2006

What Have We Done?

These words were whispered, famously, by the scientists observing the detonation of the A-bomb. I imagine Pandora had the same sentiments. Consider, then, the wisdom of setting up a blog for one's own mother, whose ramblings will be up there for all the world to see.
OK, that's a bit of hyperbole.
But it's a bit like giving Dick Cheney a shotgun.

Test Post

What a great birthday gift from Charlotte and Susie!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The first post

Juliet Gill is my mum, and she has a thing for domestic systems. She loves paperclips, boxes and containers, labelmakers, and products that come from Staples. She has three kids, and we love to tease her about her organizational fetishes. This is me:

My mum has been reading our blogs for many moons now, and I figured it was time she started wasting time doing her own. Oh yeah, and it's her birthday on February 16th. Happy birthday, mama!