Friday, 30 October 2015


Manifesto a Go-Go

Extremely bad poetry
Is my personal specialty

Readers recognize the signs
Simple couplets of AA rhymes

My punctuation makes no sense
And meter’s of no consequence

How I love the music of our words
Semantic notes waiting to be heard

Our language is a living thing
meGeoff yearns to make it sing

With the jazz inflections of the Beats
To Dr. Seuss and the odes of Keats

From Ogden Nash to Edward Lear
Schemes of words, I hold dear

Alas, dear me, I'm not any good
I wish I may; I wish I could

Oh, to compose more compelling verse
To be a writer, and not the worst

Wednesday, 28 October 2015


October Is Guy Month

Even the most ardent fan of any particular sport will agree that his passion’s season runs too damn long, that there are way too many games. And yet, the dipping point of fan fatigue and overly-saturated coverage seems as mythical as King Arthur’s Avalon and peak oil. This time of year, when frost-bitten falling leaves can sound like gentle rain, is the hyper-convergence of the seasons: baseball is down to its nitty-gritty; college and pro football in both Canada and the United States are going full bore; soccer’s being played in North America and across the pond; results from the early slates of hockey and basketball games now matter. ‘October,’ says Mickey the Goalie, a character in my novel Duke Street Kings, ‘is Guy Month.’

The story relates the fates of a quartet of Calgarians, all of whom were born and raised in Montreal and go way back. The plot unfolds over the course of 21 or 22 weeks, the year is 2002 or maybe 2003. Because I’ve never been able to make a living writing fiction I tend to write what I know because it takes less research, time I haven’t had the luxury of having or have merely squandered. Consequently, a goodly portion of Duke Street Kings is set in a pub. In my experience conversations over beers (and overheard ones) have ranged from profound to hilarious, to outright bizarre, a rich unseemly seam to mine for a writer.

The trick was to get these four characters into the pub regularly. So I gave one fellow ownership and ensured two of his friends resided within staggering distance. I still needed a weekly draw and the idea of a darts league or a quiz night did not appeal. Sports would be the lure. My first thought was AAA Pacific Coast League baseball as Calgary had a team called the Cannons (who have long since migrated to Albuquerque, N.M. and are now the Isotopes). Baseball has been well served in literature; I’d no wish to compete with the myriad of mythology as I felt my main background setting would necessarily become the ball park. Hockey was problematic too. The NHL season is a wintry grind, tickets are expensive and, anyway, anyone who came of age in Montreal in the 70s would only pay to see the Canadiens and never, ever, ever switch allegiances wherever they may live.

When I moved out west in 1990 one of the first things that struck me was the fever the Canadian Football League incited on the prairie, it really mattered. For me, it was fun to get caught up in the enthusiasm; pubs and bars charted buses to get their patrons to games, newspaper sports sections overflowed with features, reports, analysis and opinion. I even worked with a guy who moonlighted as the Edmonton Eskimos’ costumed mascot. After I was transferred to Calgary I bought and kept Stampeders season’s tickets for four or five years.

The CFL became the glue of Duke Street Kings, one game a week, secondary yet crucial to the plot. The league’s various franchises allowed me to write about our vast, regionalized country. My characters could (and did) get out of their watering hole to travel Alberta. Our game permitted a hometown denouement in Montreal. Best of all, I’d never read a word about Canadian football in Canadian fiction.

And though it’s indeed Guy Month, Duke Street Kings is not a novel about sports. It’s a tale of friendship and betrayal, ordinary people inadvertently messing up. If you’re intrigued to read, visit or (in North America) call Falcon Press in Vancouver directly at 1-877-284-5181.

Monday, 26 October 2015


My Favourite Punch Lines (a randomized prose poem)

Here come the bloody lions. I can see your house from up here. No, never, of course, I was a member of the SS. No, I said she was fucking Goofy. My, that’s a big word for a nine-year-old. Just one, but the light bulb has to really want to change. The trouble with eating rabbit. What the fuck do you think? Do you honestly think I wished for a 12-inch pianist? Then it must be your feet. Because I’m fucking freezing! Fish! The fifth one ducked. But I’m staph.

Saturday, 24 October 2015


Cast My Memory Back There, Lord

A few years ago when I was in the process of moving back to Edmonton from Calgary my friend of 20-odd years, Rene, a graphic designer and advertising colleague, offered to take a load north; he was headed that way anyway. I hitched a ride with a bunch of my stuff, boxes of books and music packed and labelled alphabetically by genre.

We were rocking up the Queen Elizabeth Highway listening to a mix of tunes on the dashboard stereo by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, the Neville Brothers and the Kinks (a rare Dave Davies lead vocal) among others. Rene said, ‘Sound familiar?’ Yeah, weirdly, all the albums the songs came from happened to be behind us on the truck bed. ‘You made me a cassette in ’91 or ’92,’ he went on, ‘I’ve been trying to replicate it ever since.’

We were on the phone earlier this week. Rene needed some copywriting and so we discussed the brief. I confessed to being a bit wooly after a beery night lost and alone in the YouTube vortex (I’ve yet to hear back on how much his client thinks my morning after copy sucks). We then got sidetracked wondering why one song will suggest another. Is it the riff or bass pattern? Cowbell? A lyrical theme or phrase? Or just feel?

I have not assembled a 90-minute mixtape since the late 20th century. I don’t even have a tape deck any longer, a regrettable gypsy divorce casualty, things get left behind. The tapes had to be Maxell Chromes rolling on the NORMAL setting with the Dolby turned off. A disposable Bic pen with its six or eight stem edges was an indispensable tool for tightening cassette spools. Two and a half hours work would yield an average of 11 songs per 45-minute side. Rules and motifs evolved: for instance ‘All Aboard!’ by Muddy Waters could only be followed by the Stones’ ‘All Down the Line;’ Marshall Tucker’s ‘Can’t You See’ worked nicely with ‘Midnight Rider’ by the Allmans and ‘Aimee’ by Pure Prairie League, and their sequence would affect the flow of the balance of the recordable minutes remaining. ‘Take It So Hard’ from Keith Richards’ first solo album demanded to be coupled with Skynyrd’s ‘Gimme Three Steps’ or ‘What’s Your Name.’

Regrettably I have lost touch with an 80s Montreal friend. Daniel and I used to argue about everything: Molson beer versus Labatt’s, Quebec nationalism, Dylan’s Christian phase, Genesis, the Rolling Stones, Brian Eno, Gentle Giant, Robert Fripp and discordant art sounds I couldn’t begin to fathom such as Philip Glass and John Cage. We did however share a subscription to the long defunct Musician magazine. And we could spend an entire day cruising and perusing in Montreal’s many record stores; we had a well-trodden route.

Daniel was an audiophile and conveniently for him his younger brother Marcel managed one of Montreal’s premier stereo shops. I still have a Dual 506 turntable which Daniel sold to me after he’d owned it for just two unhappy weeks. His system of McIntosh and Mission components was arrayed on a giant, lovely antique roll-top desk. Daniel had two turntables and a fader. I’d turn up with an armful of albums and a case of beer, and we would record mixtapes and argue. Those were some of the best nights of my life. Daniel, it may behoove you to know that I now own ‘Another Green World’ and consider it genius. ‘Music for Airports’ too. Really. Oh, and by the way, Quebec’s separatist movement is dead. Salut, mon ami.

I never embraced the digitization of music. We have an iPod; I regress into a spaz trying to rotate the silver selection dial. I’m honestly not clear on how songs get onto an iPod. Keith Richards, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Neil Young are all on record repudiating the quality of MP3 file formats. I think those guys know of which they mumble and slur. For most it seems simple remote rote to create a playlist these days; tune times are no longer of the essence - it once mattered that ‘Honky Tonk Women’ clocked in at 3:03 even if the London label read 3:00. The modern process reduces a mixtape to a mere grey, cubicle task. Mine the compressed glorious noise stored on your laptop or desktop. Move a title from one window to another; see how the little coloured bar moves: Zzzz. Who enthuses over formatting and then listening to a tinny, hollow-sounding spreadsheet? No one I know or knew. Rene said down the landline, ‘Now you just click and drag. You don’t even get to hear the songs. Where’s the fun in that?’

And it was fun. Songs about blue suede shoes and angelic red shoes raised questions about boots of Spanish leather and the low spark of high-heeled boys. Did they turn their heads and walk away or did their imaginations runaway with them again? After the night busted open and the boys were back in town, did Johnny the Fox ever cross paths with the Magic Rat? ‘These Eyes’ by the Guess Who may or mayn’t segue nicely into Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’ or Smokey’s ‘Tears of a Clown’ or ‘In Your Eyes’ by Peter Gabriel. And they were crying in the rain on a rainy night in Georgia as the hard, silver rain kept falling in the summertime to wash away their blues. That particular tape was a good one. I wonder where it is now. Somebody’s probably thrown it away.

Friday, 23 October 2015


Neighbourhood Watch This!

My buxom moll Ann Fatale and I were sitting out enjoying an unseasonably warm fall evening, contemplating the lack of life on our modest street. Some windows were lit by that blue, hypnotic television glow. We lit each other’s cigarettes and passed a bottle, liberally refreshing the other’s tumbler of Scotch as required. The front door was wide open; Dave Brubeck’s ‘Time Out’ was turned up, spinning on the hi-fi in the living room. It doesn’t get any more blissfully domestic.

A passing neighbour, a school teacher, a fellow whom I don’t dislike too intensely, paused his evening jog to wander up our driveway. He said his car had been rifled the other night. A crime of opportunity, he said, mouth breathing and stretching out his lower limbs. He’d left his car by the curb overnight and had obviously forgotten to lock it. Lesson learned. Nothing of any real value had been taken, but still, the inconvenience and the invasion… He added that the Neighbourhood Watch had noted a rash of such break-ins in the area lately.

‘Neighbourhood Watch?’ I grunted.

‘Don’t you get the community league e-mails?’ he asked me.

‘E-mails?’ I grunted.

‘Erm, nice chatting with you, Mr. Danger.’ He nodded to Ann. ‘Ann.’

Danger, that’s me, Geoff Danger. I keep a razor in my shoe and another one in the hatband of my fedora. If you ever have to know a man like me, you’re in serious trouble one way or another. Best if we’re on the same side. I’m no hero, just a lethal ally adrift in the stinking and naked midnight city.

‘So what do you think, Big Man?’ Ann breathed huskily through a sexy cloud of smoke and whisky.

‘Hmm,’ I grunted. ‘I think there’s an individual or small gang operating silently and swiftly long after dark. They probably ride bicycles; pack the loot in knapsacks. While there’s no likely obvious pattern, I’ll bet they make the common mistake of revisiting easy pickings.’

‘What are you going to do about it? You’ve been at loose ends since we got back from Ottawa. I’d almost say you’ve been cranky, darling.’

I grunted, ‘Me, cranky?’

‘You, babes,’ Ann confirmed it with her pretty little pout, lipstick and lips.

I made a noise in the back of my throat. I swirled the amber delight around in my glass. I took a long heated drink, enjoying the peaty aroma. The bottle was almost empty but it had legs. Ann lit my cigarette. She had gorgeous gams too. Brubeck’s quartet was playing ‘Take Five.’ Finally I grunted, ‘Do you remember where I stored the Benzedrine?’

She chuckled throatily. ‘It’s downstairs in the lock-up with the plastique and the automatic weapons.’

‘All right, sugar,’ I grunted, ‘if we’re going to do this, we’ll need bait. I want you to park your nifty little sports coupe out front underneath the birch tree. Top up, doors unlocked, a side window cracked just a slit, and leave one of your Prada bags on the passenger seat. We’ve got a few hours yet, but I’ll go get myself ready.’

‘Oh, baby,’ sighed Ann Fatale, ‘I love it when you’re in action.’

‘Action,’ I grunted, ‘should’ve been my middle name.’

‘What is your middle name anyway, lover?’

I grinned: ‘Trouble.’

A few hours later I was in position, a dark shadow in the birch, still and alert about ten feet above Ann’s motor and the sidewalk. A cyclist rode down our street, slowed in front of our house but kept going. He u-turned at the end of the block and then cruised back standing on his pedals, scanning, checking, needing to be alone and unseen. The doomed bastard dismounted his bike and leaned its frame up against the trunk of my birch. He slid his knapsack off his shoulders as he opened the door of Ann’s pride and joy. Her bag went into his and then he spent a few extra seconds investigating the glove compartment.

I got the drop on him and it was heavy. His head hit the pavement hard. His helmet saved his life but not his nose. The irony of criminals adhering to bylaws flashed through the red rage in my mind. As I systematically broke each of his eight fingers I whispered in his ear, ‘That’s the trouble with light fingers, they can be so fragile.’ I picked him up by his chinstrap and drove my knee into his groin. I let him fold into the gutter to gasp and vomit. I crouched down beside him. I chucked him beneath his chin in his little King Tut scraggle of billy goat scruff hair. I slapped him hard across his face and smelt the coppery bloody snot spray as it rode the wee wee hours chill of the cool autumn breeze. ‘If you want to live,’ I grunted, ‘you better be able to get back on that bicycle.’ I dangled his knapsack from my index finger. ‘But first, you and I are going to put everything back where you found it.’

Ann was up at dawn grinding our morning coffee. I was still wet from a long, cold shower. ‘Everything a-ok and copasetic, Big Man?’ she breathed as her robe fell open to reveal two of my favourite earthly delights.

‘Yeah,’ I grunted. ‘Some of these bad guys, these inelegant low-rent thieves, I don’t know, they’re all thumbs.’

‘And what would you like for breakfast after working all night?’ Ann cooed at me suggestively. My tongue got tied.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015


The Morning After

Well, I didn’t expect such a substantial Liberal majority.


The sun rose this morning and with it two thoughts on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extraordinarily messy political suicide as he was the author of his own demise.

Firstly, this election was about nothing. There was no singular issue that demanded a fresh mandate from Canadians. Like all western democracies Canada faces minor security threats due to global upheaval. The price of oil tanked because the Saudis determined to leave their taps on and the industry’s own technological advances created a glut in North America. Keystone XL was (is) a relic of a resource-based economy painfully transitioning into a service economy and which must ultimately evolve into one that is knowledge-based. Freer trade is no longer the historic hot button it once was, protectionism creates artificial markets. The Harper government guided us through the crash of 2008 largely on the pre-existing foundation of the balanced books left by previous Liberal regimes, and a well-established, and properly regulated banking system.

Our 22nd prime minister correctly and wisely refused to reopen the national debates on abortion and capital punishment. Of course the slings and arrows aimed at the vulnerable Tory heel were shot by social policy and cultural complainants. The target was not a small one, but still, Mr. Harper, an amateur hockey historian, should know how to rag the bleeding heart puck better than anyone.

However, because of his American style jury-rigging of the Canadian parliamentary system, he was forced to call an election because of his own fixed date legislation. Without that self-imposed legal obligation, the Harper government could have slid into the fifth year of its term and called an election in the spring of 2016. It’s a rare but not unprecedented occurrence in federal politics.

And so, and secondly, the longest and most expensive electoral campaign in modern Canadian history began. Many pundits have suggested that Mr. Harper’s Don Quixote windmill is the multi-cultural and inclusive legacy of Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s most colourful prime minister, a pop star, whatever you may think of his policies. This fall’s stumping on the hustings was against his callow kid, Justin Trudeau, the Liberal leader and Mr. Harper’s new nemesis. ‘Just not ready,’ Conservative attack ads sniffed. The strategy behind the endless campaign was likely intended to give Mr. Trudeau enough rope to hang himself. Whoops.

Two bad calls decide the game; them’s the breaks. And there’s no waiting until next year after being trounced by a decisive Liberal majority.

Monday, 19 October 2015


The Pulse of the People

It’s election day in Canada and that means the Toronto Blue Jays will have competition in providing some potentially compelling television tonight. That we must by law cast our ballots on the third Monday in October during the fourth year of a sitting government’s mandate is just one of the many little omnibus bill tweaks made to the Canadian democratic process by our autocratic, Draconian leader since he rose to power through the fusty ranks of the right fringe in 2006.

The Conservative government has been busy moulding Canada into its leader’s likeness for almost a decade. The nil-nil draw of the War of 1812 was celebrated while our existing veterans have been shunted into the dark corners of incompetent bureaucracy. We’re at war again and the front is everywhere and nowhere. Relations with our neighbour, closest ally and largest trading partner are at a feuding, frosty ebb. Minority rights have been milled to powder beneath a Tory wheel; the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has become an evil Liberal abstract. Canadian science and culture wither like crops in the cracked crust of drought. Political partisanship has descended to a nasty nadir. Oh, well, well, well, the lengthiest federal election campaign in over a century almost made us forget about the Senate scandal simmering on the back-burner.

Today Canadians will decide whether H.M.C.S. Canada stays her course or damns the torpedoes. Our modest grace is that the three men vying to be our next prime minister, provided we throw ideology and simplistic media characterizations out the window with the tailings pond water, are all competent. Canadian clowns and buffoons tend to ride their unicycles around the more intimate municipal and provincial stages; it’s easier to be a bigger asshole in a smaller realm. This fact hints at a concern about the potential challenges of all three party leaders. The winner will have to form a cabinet and said cabinet should reflect the country’s regions, diversity, and equality between the sexes. Pardon the hockey analogy, but no party seems to possess the bench strength to do so.

If our government changes tonight, Canada will not implode on the eve of the 150th anniversary of Confederation. The electorate understands on some level that it takes two or three consecutive mandates for one federal party to really fuck things up; time is power’s best friend. A change would be less harmful than the creeping darkness of the slithering status quo. Expectations are that there will be a record turn out at the polls today. We, apparently, are all engaged. And that’s for the greater good. Get out the growlers, chicken wings and seven-layer dip. On TV tonight it’s all about us and where we’ve decided to go tomorrow.

Thursday, 15 October 2015


The Importance of Being Girded

Life is a series of tasks. They are too often awkward, mundane or downright unpleasant. They may involve personal relationships, assignments due for school or work, or home maintenance and renovation. They cannot be avoided. Efficient action requires steeling yourself for the chore, building up to it, or, as we say around here, girding.

Girding is different from procrastination. Procrastination means putting things off indefinitely or never even getting around to actually doing anything. Girding is pre-planning, planning and formulating a Plan B. Girding is thoughtful contemplation of a project. Girding ensures tasks are completed, and commitments and deadlines are met, eventually.

The simplest form of girding is saying, ‘One more cigarette.’ This basic technique buys me four minutes’ delay; sometimes double that because often one cigarette can lead to two. If I’m going to smoke two cigarettes, what the hell, I might as well have a beer. A cold one expands girding time to about 20 minutes. At this juncture something akin to the Theory of Special Relativity immediately comes into play: girding time will now double or triple because never in my life have I ever consumed just one beer.

Ann is the same way with her coffee. Ann has embraced utterly my concept of girding; another cup of coffee with the milk pre-warmed is to be enjoyed before she goes buzz-saw on her allotment of daily tasks. She’s bought in. Ann, like me, gets things done, eventually, and perhaps a tad more swiftly. Together we have been girding for a month to investigate the mousetraps secreted on the joists above and beyond the panels of the basement’s drop ceiling; the cats have been yowling about something down there.

My mother is nearing 90 and she is better off than most of her contemporaries. Yet she is royally pissed off with the infirmities old age has wrought. Phoning Mom in Montreal from Edmonton requires girding. Cutting the lawn always poses a dilemma. ‘Do I want vertical or horizontal mower stripes? Must smoke on this.’ Winter storms are equally vexing. ‘Shovel the property three or four times quickly or gird for the deep and heavy, one-time long haul?’

Recently and pretty much on a whim Ann and I decided to renovate our guest bathroom, essentially a cube measuring seven-feet by seven, albeit with angles and cabinetry. We would have to choose a floor covering from a specialty store that offered too many selections. We would have to choose paint colours from a specialty store that offered too many selections. And then our nightmare tasks of spackling, sanding, taping, and brush and roller work would begin. It seemed all too much, so many tasks. I determined it was critical for us, me especially, to gird for girding. That process took a few days.

Earlier this week Ann spent the hottest part of our shortening days in the yard, emptying pots and cutting back plants. She’d been girding since sunrise. Once the chores were done she allowed that perhaps 20 minutes with the novel on her night table or even a quick siesta might be in order. But first, maybe half a cup of coffee and a revisit of the morning’s papers or even a snack, or all three. Ann was now girding for a nap. I realized then that the student had surpassed the master. I slipped outside, smoked four cigarettes, drank two beers and thought about calling my cranky mother.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015


My First Beatle!!!

Only a single soul on this planet can tell his audience, “John Lennon wrote this song for me,” and then perform ‘I’m the Greatest,’ singing it somehow with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. Ringo brought his All-Starr Band to an intimate Edmonton auditorium Monday night and provided a fun finale to our Thanksgiving Day long weekend.

Some 30 or 35 years ago I lined up outside of the Montreal Forum hoping to score tickets for Paul McCartney. Back then his hair was still jet black and mine wasn’t grey. I never even got to within sight of the box office. And so Ann and I saw our first ex-Beatle in concert. The Earth did not move, but it was still good for us.

Before launching into ‘Boys,’ a song the Shirelles are not remembered for, Ringo informed us he used to perform “this next one” with a band he used to be in. Cheers rose from the seats. “Rory Storm and the Hurricanes,” he chuckled. His is a dry and gentle wit; something required if you’ve been derided as the second-best drummer in the Beatles.

Because of his out-sized stage name, his role on screen in ‘Help!’ and a song catalogue which includes ‘Act Naturally,’ ‘Yellow Submarine’ and ‘No-No Song,’ it’s difficult not to perceive Ringo as something of a cartoon, an elf flashing peace signs and given to aphoristic malapropisms: “It was a hard day’s night.” My image of Ringo stems from footage in the Who documentary ‘The Kids Are Alright’ in which he and fellow drummer Keith Moon attempt to interview each other. They are absolutely and hilariously plastered, swishing their brandies and giggling about teeny-boppers. Ringo’s son Zak Starkey is now the Who’s touring drummer - I saw Zak play years before I ever saw his dad. Keith Moon did not live to see the 80s; Ringo survived his excesses and has been clean and sober for decades.

The 80s were hard on everyone who was there, especially rock fans who had to endure the likes of Toto and Mr. Mister. And that is one of the problems with the All-Starr Band format. The cost of Ringo’s ‘Photograph’ was so high as to include the corporate radio sheen of ‘Hold the Line’ and the sublimely wretched ‘Broken Wings.’ It don’t come easy; nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. The other issue was that the lone certifiable pop genius on stage (and apparently having the time of his life), Todd Rundgren, was necessarily limited to just a few songs. My prayers for ‘Hello, It’s Me’ and hearing him croon that wonderful opening conversational lyric from ‘We Gotta Get You a Woman,’ “Leroy, boy, is that you?” went unheeded.

Our evening climaxed, as it had to, with Billy Shears. I will always argue that Joe Cocker utterly owns ‘With a Little Help from My Friends.’ Yet what a treat for us to be serenaded by the one and only 1967 voice even though one of Ringo’s new friends played guitar for Toto. The encore was a brief rendition of ‘Give Peace a Chance.’ Wouldn’t it make a fine Thanksgiving if citizens of the world could do just that? Ringo then sprinted from the stage and likely exited the venue before we even had the chance to rise from of our seats and cheer our thanks or mob him outside the backstage door; once a Beatle, forever a Beatle.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015


Locally Sourced Processed Meat

There’s a small backdoor vestibule or mud room off our kitchen. Tucked into the little area along with the boot rack and the cats’ dishes is a bookcase whose shelves are crammed with Ann’s cookbooks, cooking magazines and binders full of clipped recipes. Some delicious dishes date back to Methuselah’s salad days or at least 1931 when Joy of Cooking was first published. The other morning Ann remarked that lasagna or spaghetti and meat sauce were considered ‘foreign fare’ in some of her older publications – yet not that long ago for people creeping toward retailers’ seniors’ discounts.

The grocery industry has been good to me. The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company put me through university. Provigo paycheques kept me going through the 80s while I flamed out as a writer (two published short stories, four drafts of a novel consigned to a green garbage bag). Canada Safeway granted me my entry into the notoriously insular world of advertising. The grocery business has changed tremendously since the days when I wore an apron and even a shirt and tie. Private brands transformed into premium ones, the array of goods on the shelves has become more exotic and specialty retailers’ modest chains grew into attractive takeover targets.

A large part of the attraction of going out for a meal or ordering it in was the treat of eating something you couldn’t put together in your own kitchen. That’s not the case now. The domestic chef, with a library of tips and advice, and access to now commonplace ingredients, can pretty much replicate any eatery’s plate, ‘foreign fare’ even. The proof is in the pudding as restaurants, whatever their niche or designation, attempt to top each other with increasingly bizarre and eclectic fusions of offal and strawberry jam, hot sauce and dirt.

We don’t go out much anymore. That’s not because I dislike people so much as that we don’t have to (or maybe I don’t want to). When we do, it’s because the philosopher’s stone of kitchen alchemy remains eternally elusive: I’m talking about the mighty, mighty donair, the planet’s sloppiest sandwich. Let us celebrate the main ingredient, that spiced, mysterious and magical conical meat; I believe the morsels sliced or shaved from the roasted mould are probably beef or beef-like – suffice to say, you cannot make this stuff at home.

Sometimes called a Halifax donair, the pita-wrapped sandwich is apparently a Canadian take on the Turkish doner kebab (lamb) and the Greek gyro (pork). Topped with onions, tomatoes and a garlicky sweet sauce, they’re impossible to eat with manners or dignity. The donair is one food that really should be consumed in the privacy of one’s home. Delivery is not an option as I can’t eat more than one and I’d have to order at least four to make it worth our local pizza joint’s while.

There’s a solution for everything and happily the answer to my donair dilemma involves a pub. Atlantic Trap and Gill is a local refuge for homesick, transplanted Maritimers. The Thursday special is Halifax donair. Cheese and extra meat are of course extra, but I can eat like a god (and taste it all again for several hours), enjoy a pint of Moosehead or Keith’s for less than $20. Ann typically orders fish and chips, another savoury dish difficult to get right in a standard kitchen. We don’t go to the Trap every Thursday, mainly because I’m concerned that Ann might become too accustomed to the sparkle, glitz and glamour of the high life and exotic ‘foreign fare.’ I believe it’s critical to the health of our relationship that our designated date nights remain infrequent and therefore special occasions.

Friday, 2 October 2015


Which One’s Pink?

I saw September out with two evenings of full Pink Floyd immersion. Perhaps pseudo immersion as the group no longer exists in the flesh. Tuesday was the Edmonton film premiere of Roger Waters: The Wall. Wednesday night the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra performed the music of Pink Floyd with the able assistance of a rock band featuring vocalist Randy Jackson. Based on this slim slice of weeknight evidence, it’s possible that you might assume I’m a middle-aged hash hound engulfed in the mire of the past. I would counter that this isn’t quite exactly so.

True, there are nine Pink Floyd albums and two Pink Floyd DVDs in our music library, but I find Animals and The Final Cut impossible listening. I disliked the group in high school because everybody else didn’t. That was an easy pose because growing up neither of my elder siblings had a Floyd LP in their collections and so no Kool-Aid was ever served while my tastes were being formed. I have never seen any incarnation of the band or its past members perform live. I believe Johnny Rotten’s infamous, homemade I Hate Pink Floyd was pop art genius.

For a kid covered with acne and filled with angst about girls and everything there was always solace to be had on the Dark Side of the Moon through a pair of headphones. Then again, I’m all right, Jack, if I never hear ‘Money’ again. Perhaps the soundtrack of my eternity in Hell will consist of ‘Money,’ ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ ‘Free Bird,’ ‘Hotel California’ and a sprinkling of tracks from ABBA Gold on endless repeat; maybe I should be careful about where I’m headed and seek a highway less taken.

Forward! He cried from the rear as the front rank died. That is a deep and heavy line from ‘Us and Them,’ my favourite song on Dark Side. Military history students are well aware of the inbred, entitled incompetents who paid for the privilege of membership in the British Empire’s officer corps. Think Stephen Fry in the Great War episodes of Black Adder or Monty Python’s Graham Chapman in uniform. The miserable fate of the rank and file, most of us, was something to contemplate in a sweet and cloudy haze. I remember slow dancing to ‘Us and Them’ in a subterranean Montreal bar, hanging off a girl I loved, clutching a condensation soaked quart of beer against her spine in the sweltering humidity and feeling nothing but despair.

Mother, should I build a wall? When Roger Waters quit Pink Floyd a deal of some sort was cut: the remaining members would retain the band name (and the brand) and he would keep the rights to The Wall, the apex of his life’s creative work. The 1979 double album was a remarkably radio-friendly autobiographical scab picking of war, alienation, depression and psychosis. As far as rock operas or concept albums go, it’s sort of coherent, that is to say there are no pinball wizards lying down with lambs on Broadway.

Roger Waters: The Wall documents an ambitious and elaborately staged live performance of the album in its entirety and theatrical in its scope. A literal and virtual reality wall is constructed on stage and in turn acts as a massive video screen. The visual effects recall the album’s artwork and of course Alan Parker’s 1982 musical Pink Floyd – The Wall which starred Bob Geldof as Pink. The 2015 movie cost $15. If tickets for the genuine spectacle cost ten or even 20 times that I suspect that even though Waters was singing to the converted every single fan felt their money had been well spent even if the music was 35-years-old.

One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces. The songs of Pink Floyd in their heady 70s heyday always struck me as intricately assembled pieces of a sonic jigsaw puzzle. Is Waters or David Gilmour singing? Somebody else? I could never tell from track to track or more tellingly, from verse to chorus to bridge. And anyway, there were all those seemingly random ambient bits: I don’t know, I was really drunk at the time; cue the helicopter, cash register, heartbeat and alarm clock.

There is something magical about hearing music performed live and in person, the shared experience. I was struck by remarks in David Byrne’s brilliant book How Music Works in which he posits that too often ticket holders have counter-intuitive expectations because we tend to want carefully crafted and overdubbed studio recordings to be perfectly replicated in a concert setting. That’s not the way music works. The Winspear Centre facing Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton is the home base of our symphony orchestra. The venue is so acoustically delightful that I think it should share top billing with its house band or any visiting headliner.

Wednesday night was a slice of Edmonton. I’m guessing the median age for the ESO playing Pink Floyd was 50. Thank God ink wasn’t fashionable in the 70s; tattoos sag real bad once you’ve established a prescription stream at the pharmacy. We were all in attendance to hear what we can no longer see. The show, a taut combination of the symphony, the rock band and backing tracks, was a slick and immensely enjoyable and fan-enabled approximation of nostalgia. Yes, they did ‘Money;’ oh, well.

The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older.