Tuesday, 31 January 2017

SAINTS PRESERVE US

Last Friday on My Mind

During the final days of his presidency Barack Obama said that democracy in America is not always a straight ahead proposition. Rather, it “zigs and zags” from time to time. Nobody, but nobody, expected the founding fathers’ noble line to careen off course into a petulant child’s wall scribbling in the space of just one week.

Last Friday the new Commander in Chief closed his country’s borders to Syrian refugees and barred travelers from seven Muslim nations. On Friday too the White House issued its customary statement to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The text failed to mention Jews. A flack sniffed that the intentional oversight was indicative of the new administration’s commitment to inclusiveness, noting correctly that the Nazi mass murder machine did not discriminate. Yet, the statement managed to awkwardly minimize the ‘Final Solution,’ the attempted industrialized genocide of an entire race and faith.

Those are Friday’s facts; there’s no alternative way to spin them. What other shit will shower down from the aerie of the gilded tower of power? The 45th president has another 207 weeks to go in his term. My touchstones are generally literary and so I’m thinking it might be time to reread John Updike’s dystopian ‘Toward the End of Time’ whose narrative begins in the chaotic aftermath of a nuclear exchange between the United States and China. It’s challenging for any progressive individual navigating these early days of 2017 not to feel jittery, out of sorts or mildly paranoid.

Has there ever been an idyll in any era of all human history? No, but there was a gentler time at least in the scheduling of dispatches of despair: the morning newspaper and its afternoon edition; hourly news bulletins on the radio; the evening news; and every Monday the previous week’s events neatly encapsulated in a magazine. The information for those wishing to keep informed was manageable. Today the distorted barrage of news, fake news, opinion and discourse without decorum is relentless. CTRL-ALT-DEL is a futile exercise.

There’s something in the air in the USA. Perhaps dread, perhaps the gangrenous stench of the planet’s singular well-meaning superpower lashing out, half-crazed by self-inflicted wounds. Maybe I’m projecting that because of the shrill cacophony of social media. The good thing about too much information, provided you’re able to distill it, is that it’s potentially useful. Last Friday Ann and I wrapped up the niggling details of an impromptu February visit to New York City. We had a list of suggested hotels supplied by a friend, a frequent business visitor to Manhattan. Our question about each facility was counter-intuitive: Where are they not?

I was last in New York, oh, 35 years ago. The memory that’s never left me was meeting a guy named Clay in a pub which had the same tile floor as the bathroom of the house I grew up in, quarter-sized white octagons offset by blackened grout. Clay had a duck’s ass hair cut and a very cool, ratty leather biker jacket. Outside the joint between cigarettes he sang street corner Elvis, ‘Baby, Let’s Play House’ with the voice and all the moves. Wow. Ann has never been to New York.

Neither Ann nor I are Graham Greene, so overwhelmed with ennui that we need a jolt of danger to feel alive. We do share a prickly, immediate sense that there might be some sort of reckoning south of 49; that a vulgar Midas got his wish and it’s not working out as planned. Meanwhile there might be marches and demonstrations, possibly competing ones. Together we identified what we thought were logical sites for mass gatherings of civil unrest. We booked our room accordingly, that is, a little inconveniently located because we’re not with the program and we aren’t staying long anyway.

Friday, 27 January 2017

HUMAN WRECKAGE

The End of a Life

The men’s room was not an option because a young man was curled up asleep in front of the door. I was not entirely uncomfortable with this because toilets in emergency waiting rooms can hold more surprises than Christmas crackers. I could hear an engaging and overly chatty junkie somewhere behind me going on about something that didn’t make much sense. She was handcuffed. Skinny and ravaged but maybe once worth looking twice at before the drugs took their toll. The police officer guarding her seemed a decent sort; I watched them go through an elaborate formal dance to switch the cuffs from back to front.

Ann and I had brought in a friend who was exhausted, doped up and suffering through the agonizing and humiliating throes of stage four colon cancer. I will call him K because he read Kafka, and the Existentialists, and had immersed himself in the dour world of Russian literature. Ann and K had been high school mates in Camrose, AB 40 years before and had reestablished their old friendship through social media. Though they both had attended the University of Alberta, Ann in music and K in economics, they’d lost touch. K worked variously for the railroad, the forestry service, a newspaper and ultimately as counsellor to at-risk kids. When I first met K last spring he was still living in Camrose, rough in his van with an iPad, an Apple computer, a bicycle and cartons of books and papers. He described his situation to me as “an experiment.”

K was thirsty, jumpy, seated in a wheelchair I had purposely placed within sight of the triage desk. It was the afternoon of December 27th. The Dasani machine near the men’s room was empty. I noticed the sandwiches in the vending machine beside it were all best before dated by Keith Richards’s birthday. The junkie told the cop her next of kin was probably her daughter but she didn’t know where the girl was. I noticed a couple a little older than Ann and I sharing a rancid ham and cheese hoagie. No better place than the U of A E.R. to contract food poisoning, I thought, provided they could cope with the wait. I went across the street to buy K a bottle of water, happy to escape the misery for a few minutes and scrounge some reading material. When I returned, he surveyed the bedlam and said, “Material for your blog, eh?’

Last March Ann drove to Camrose to collect K and transport him to the hospital here in Edmonton. An ignored lung infection had become critical. K credited Ann’s intervention with saving his life and described her as his “angel.” Upon his release K continued his recuperation at our place. K then announced his intention to move his Dodge domicile to Edmonton, to continue his homelessness experiment in the capital. There was vague talk about a book, an article, a report, something.

This news made me apprehensive. I wondered if there were other motives; I certainly did not want a stray hanging around the property, coming and going. I gave K my public library PIN number so he could access the system’s resources. Ann and I took a trip and employed K as a cat and house sitter. I gathered that he spent most of his time during the summer cycling, hanging around his alma mater and fretting about the news of the day. For unknown reasons K could not muster it up within himself to seek work, any work nor affordable housing. He was almost crippled by wonder: Did his life have meaning and had he made a difference?

The evening of the American presidential election K rapped at our front door. He was very agitated. Campus security had ticketed him for loitering and the penalty was a year’s banishment from any U of A property; Trump was winning. I talked K down from the ceiling, poured him a single malt and told him he could stay over. November nights are cold for a soul living rough in a metal box and so one night stretched into a few days and then weeks. K was gaunt and it soon became clear that his condition wasn’t just the result of a poor diet or lack of one.

Ann and I coped with our guest as best we could. She made it her mission to get K back onto society’s grid: medical attention, social housing and social assistance. K’s presence altered the rhythm of our household. I wasn’t the good Samaritan so much as the average to middling one, seething over a list of minor irritants: K put his glass down on a table beside a coaster; he was not a reliable toilet flusher; his room was messy; he talked too much (probably because he’d spent so much time in his own head but nobody tells me how to make a fucking sandwich); he loved the Dallas Cowboys. I liked him; I appreciated that as K got to know me better he made an effort despite his discomfort and the effects of his meds to be a good guest. I was pleased when K said Christmas Day with our family was the best one he’d ever experienced. I believe I learned a life lesson that day too.

In my life, just as in everybody else’s, I’ve had to express some painful, awkward and hurtful truths. K was goofed on morphine when Ann and I left him in an E.R. bed on the 27th. He mumbled to Ann to be sure to thank me on his behalf and Ann replied, “Geoff’s right here.” That was the last time I saw him. I hesitantly explained to the head nurse that if K were to be released we could not take him back; we were not family; we had no wish to be his caregivers; our home was not a hospice. K was now a ward of Alberta Health Services, I said. Maybe I’ve spoken more difficult words, I’m not sure but I’ve cut and run before.

An estranged brother of K’s arrived in Edmonton from another western province. All we knew was that his financial circumstances weren’t much better than his homeless brother’s; he too had half a mouthful of neglected teeth. We managed to avoid putting the fellow up but Ann helped him to get a handle on K’s confused affairs as best she could. K turned 61 in the hospital on January 2nd and then died a few nights later.

The hotel in Camrose had billed K’s funeral as a memorial luncheon. Potluck. Relatives and friends K hadn't seen for years had hastily assembled his day. Ann and I drove southeast with two platters of elaborate homemade sandwiches and K’s ashes in a wooden box tucked into a burgundy felt bag. The banquet room was filled to capacity. Strange, because down on his luck K had made himself anonymous while always railing that he wasn’t just another number. Many of the mourners had travelled a long way from many places and they were remarkably young. Kids K had counselled, with their spouses and children, established and stable now because he’d helped guide their way before he lost his. Living proof, alas too late for K, that his life had mattered and that he had indeed made a difference.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

HUMAN WRECKAGE

A Bittersweet Symphony: meGeoff’s Primordial Top Ten

My Facebook friends have been listing their first batch of essential top ten albums. Their posts are necessarily dry, merely artist and title with the caveat that any artist may only be named once. I’ve enjoyed exploring the formative influences on my friends’ established and since expanded tastes. The curse of youth is that everything about you is being shaped and moulded while you’re not old enough to know better. The blessings of youth are a clean slate (for a limited time – provided you’ve been baptized) and curiosity. Turns out, some kids were always hip. I wasn’t.

My list stops in 1974. I was 14 then. That year clings to me because that was the year when our family home was irretrievably broken. My father had already accepted a Bell Telephone transfer to Ottawa from Montreal. My older brother had moved to Edmonton to begin his career in engineering and the oil patch. My sister was in pre-med; she’d moved out and taken the family cat. It was just me and my mother in an empty house; I tried to fill the space with sound.

Beatles: Something New. My sister would’ve killed me if she knew I snuck into her pink bedroom repeatedly to spin this Capitol album downstairs on the dining room hi-fi when nobody was home (I secretly read her sophisticated paperback novels too – Chaim Potok’s ‘My Name Is Asher Lev’ still stands out). I would sit by the speaker and stare at the cover. The rhythms made me feel guilty and sinful, inarticulate feelings demanding the darkness of the confessional.

Johnny Cash: At San Quentin. Dad was a Prod. Mom was Catholic. Because it mattered in those days it was agreed between the parents of the bride and groom that their offspring would be raised in the one true faith. Joy was being sick on a Sunday and having to stay home with Dad as he did work around the house while listening to Johnny Cash. Years later I realized that ‘A Boy Named Sue’ was just a violent riff on the gentle comic irony of an O. Henry short story. It is always a song about a father and his son.

Coldstream Guards: Marching with the Coldstream Guards. “A ‘New Orthophonic’ High Fidelity Recording’ on RCA Victor, LPM-1684, designed for the phonograph of today or tomorrow.” Dad again, strutting on a Sunday with a sheet of sandpaper and a paint brush. I own this LP of martial music now; he mailed it to me years ago, maybe as a gag. Even the masking tape holding the sleeve together has dried and split. Late in his life my father succinctly summed up his experiences in the Second World War to me: “We were wet, cold and hungry.” The Royal Canadian Air Force 409 ‘Night Hawk’ squadron lost more aircrews training in Scotland due to deplorable weather conditions than they did upon their combat deployment to France. He once revealed to my sister that he would’ve been an air force lifer if he hadn’t married our mother.

Glen Campbell: Greatest Hits. The first full length 33 1/3 album I ever bought. In the late 60s and early 70s our family used to vacation in Kennebunk, Maine. Those two weeks in July or August were quite the family affair with my father’s parents and his sister and her family. I bought the record at a Grant’s department store. Lately Campbell has been subject to some degree of critical reevaluation but I cannot help but cringe at my awful taste: ‘Dreams of the Everyday Housewife.’ Mom did not fit that bill.

Elton John: Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player. Every other song on this album was better than ‘Daniel,’ the hit. That was a revelation and I quickly discovered that he’d recorded and released even better albums before this brilliant one.

Alice Cooper: Billion Dollar Babies. “Mom? I’ve brought two people home for lunch, Geoff and Moore.” I spent so much time at my friend Tim’s house and we played this record so frequently that I never needed to buy it.

Grand Funk: We’re an American Band. Big, dumb rawk, two good songs buffered by eight tracks of filler. Alas, I was not a quick study and shelled out for the follow up ‘Shinin’ On’ which adhered to the same template, much to my regret. My Grand Funk years made me the object of my brother’s derision. Then again, he thought the Dave Clark Five were better than the Beatles. My discovery was producer Todd Rundgren who had apparently dyed his pubic hair blue, or so it was reported in Circus magazine or maybe CREEM.

Bachman-Turner Overdrive: Not Fragile. Two glorious sides of beefy riffs augmented by the stuttering chorus of ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,’ “b-b-baby.” Randy Bachman was in another band before BTO? And, what’s a Mormon?

Paul McCartney and Wings: Band on the Run. The first current ubiquitous long player in my experience. Everybody had it. Everybody played it constantly. I’m still not tired of it. The latter half of the seventies would spawn more: ‘Frampton Comes Alive,’ ‘The Eagles’ Greatest Hits’ and ‘Rumors.’ I spent too much time trying to identify the escaping convicts depicted on the cover. It was mind blowing to think that McCartney could press-gang movie stars and such to pose for his record sleeve. ‘Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five’ seemed centuries’ distant: I’d be a university graduate wearing a varsity jacket with stripes on one sleeve by then and impossibly old.

Rolling Stones: It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll: A Christmas gift from my brother and sister. The departed returned to the house in December, 1974 for, I now suspect, an awkward family finale. I was na├»ve enough to believe that maybe things would turn out all right after all. Perhaps that single moment of idealism explains my incalculable fondness for this middling Stones effort. On the upside though, ‘Ain’t Too Proud to Beg’ opened my ears to the Temptations and the glories of Motown, and ‘Luxury’ was a crude and crunchy nudge in the direction of Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley and the Wailers, and Toots and the Maytals.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

SAINTS PRESERVE US

Dear Prudence

In remote St. Paul, Alberta there is a circular concrete UFO landing pad on the main street. Provided the aliens arrive in a shuttle craft no larger than an SUV it should serve its purpose. The pad is a giddy relic of the Space Age, one small town’s goofy way of marking Canada’s 1967 centennial year with a cash infusion from Ottawa. God help us all, the then-Minister of National Defense cut the ribbon.

Next July 1st will mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation. As far as nation-states go we’ve had a pretty good run, a few insurgencies but neither a civil war nor a revolution. Reports in the national news sections of the papers I read indicate there is half a billion dollars available in the federal pork barrel to encourage Canadians to celebrate six generations of ‘peace, order and good government’ in a vast, regionalized and diverse land that existed ‘long before the white man and long before the wheel.’ Here we are now; all of us included, book-ended in a sense by a phrase from our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and a lyric from a treasured Gordon Lightfoot epic.

I needn’t cite studies to prove that people are inflamed by peculiar passions and prone to spending money foolishly. During the last year of the Harper government’s reign there was a ‘Mother Canada’ initiative, a Stalinist statue in design and scope to be erected on a Maritime promontory to greet visitors to this country. Halifax’s famed Pier 21 is now a museum and anyway nobody arrives in Canada aboard a Cunard or White Star ocean liner anymore. Meanwhile, in the nation’s picturesque capital prime downtown real estate was earmarked for an expansive and elaborate memorial to ‘Victims of Communism,’ an ideology that has barely registered a peripheral impact on Canada. Fifty years ago in St. Paul a few crazies with access to funding believed constructing a UFO landing pad was a great notion, genius.

Parties are fun. The best ones I’ve attended or co-hosted (that I can remember) were organic. There was nothing firm beyond the date and the suggested start time. There were no themes or scheduled activities. Nobody cared if the guests congregated in the kitchen or milled around outside with the smokers. Parties are not permanent states, just fleeting events, here and gone, and momentarily immortalized in the wreckage of the morning after. You wake up to find a guest utilized your patio furniture to build a UFO landing pad because it was a really good idea at the time.

Saturday evening I moseyed into the den to find the Montreal at Toronto hockey game on TV. I didn’t bother turning on the sound because inane, painfully obvious commentary on any subject has become unbearably annoying. I noted the time left in the period and the score and then left the room to do something useful. When I returned for an update the tilt was in intermission. Three analysts sporting blue turbans were apparently discussing the highlights. I’d stumbled across a Punjabi broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada. I paused and chuckled at the incongruity because it wasn’t quite cricket, but where else in the world? This is us.

I associate overly orchestrated national fetes with countries that stage military parades on May Day. In the alternate universe that is this immediate era, Canada is regarded as something of a progressive redoubt by thoughtful people who do not read nor report fake news. Nationalism in this country is soft: we’re kind of proud to be lucky; we don’t feel compelled to whip out our red and white banners, flags and pennants. The Canada 150 logo is just one more graphic icon in the relentless and shrill white noise of marketing, advertising and public service announcements.


Half a billion dollars are burning a hole in the Heritage ministry’s breeches. Why spend it on a moment, a lost weekend, a nation-wide howler and possibly a new UFO landing pad? History may or may not repeat but it surely lengthens. Why not consider the next 150 years? Why not present all current and future Canadians a gracious gift by directing that money into the preservation and restoration of our national parks, our national historic sites and our UNESCO World Heritage sites? If Canadians feel compelled to celebrate a significant anniversary of Confederation, friends and neighbours will chip in for the two-fours, hamburgers and hot dogs. This is us.

Friday, 6 January 2017

HUMAN WRECKAGE

Mission: Absurd

The voice over the line instructed me to remove the front panel of the motherboard. I was crouched in somebody else’s house disarming the security system. There was African art, from somewhere, some region of that big continent, masks and fabric hangings up on the walls of the home office. The dusty bookshelves held works of philosophy interspersed with multiple biographies of the major theological figures in recorded human history. Prophets and thinkers side by each. My knees were getting sore. I jimmied the plastic plate away from its base and peered at a network of solid state circuitry and a battery pack encased in green cello wrap, a miniature brick of six low voltage batteries.

‘Done,’ I replied. ‘What’s the next step?’

I’ve been acquainted with our neighbour Forest about 25 years. He used to zip around town shifting the gears of a Jaguar. His back garden was always elaborately landscaped and maintained, some sort of Oriental Zen aesthetic of ornate, albeit compressed meandering paths and meditation nooks. Forest doesn’t drive anymore and his yard now resembles the neglected grounds of a ruined temple. He shuffles with a cane. His hands shake. He is losing his eyesight. Through it all, he’s always had cool hair, a little long, a little Dylanesque. His rock ‘n’ roll locks are grey now.

As far as I know, Forest has always lived alone. He has a sister in town and they go out for breakfast or lunch a couple of times a week; she can’t see anymore either. Forest and I have compared notes on the nature of existence, fence staining, shrub pruning, bird feeding, football and hockey. Sometimes I shovel Forest’s walk because his snow removal crew is a family of Seventh Day Adventists and they will not work on a Saturday whatever the weather. Forest likes me, he thinks I’m clear-headed, logical and not prone to panic; we don’t know each other that well.

Of late I’ve been acting as Forest’s secretary. Once a week or so at a time mutually convenient to him I cut through the cedars growing along the property line and pull up a chair at his kitchen table. I read his correspondence to him. I write out cheques for him to sign. I put stamps on envelopes. Ann and I buy him backup batteries and light bulbs to add to his cache of backup batteries and light bulbs. Over the holidays I brought him a couple of containers of Ann’s exquisite and proper home cooking.

‘There should be two wires, a red one and a black one.’

For a single, goofily delirious instant I am a suave, high octane celluloid hero acting bemused, nervous and confident in the greatest heist flick ever filmed. No! I am a genuine secret agent whose very existence, my entire life, will be denied by the Canadian government should I get caught.

‘I see them.’

Forest’s home security network has its flaws, Ann and I often receive calls to investigate his property as we’re the designated backups. One sensor in particular is persnickety. He bought the system from a company that no longer exists, absorbed by a rival. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve changed all the batteries, reset the motherboard, pressed the STATUS button twice. There have been futile service visits to his residence.

All of this insurance policy modest discount technology comes with a price when it malfunctions: BEEP. BEEP. A couple of years ago Ann and I had a carbon monoxide detector installed in our home during a renovation. One day it went off. BEEP. BEEP. My first thought was to just disconnect the damn thing. And then I said to Ann, ‘If they find our bodies gnawed on by cats and the alarm dangling from the ceiling, well, that would be embarrassing.’ I knew Forest’s house was secure but the BEEPs were driving him into a realm beyond madness.

Our first phone call to the alarm company was straightforward once I explained to Forest that the phone number was prominently displayed on a decal on his front door. We were told to simply unplug the adaptor extending from the motherboard in his office from the wall socket. The second step was easy too: remove the batteries from the keypad unit at the front door where the sticker was adhered. We scheduled a service call. I went home through the cedars.

Within half an hour Forest phoned me. The BEEPing had recommenced. I said, ‘There must be a failsafe somewhere.’ He wondered why they hadn’t informed us of that. I said, ‘What the hell would an untrained kid in a call centre know about an alarm system his employer hadn’t even manufactured?’ It was also possible that the call centre was unexclusive, a call centre for many different businesses. I went back through the cedars to my neighbour’s house. Once again I dialed the company’s toll-free number to somewhere and handed the handset to Forest.

Our furnace crapped out a couple of years ago. As I stood in Forest’s kitchen I remembered Ann, exasperated, in our kitchen on the phone with Sears which was being represented by a very polite lady in the Philippines: ‘No, I won’t schedule an appointment for next Monday. You don’t understand. It’s January in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. We have no heat.’ When Forest’s second call was answered with the proviso that it could be monitored for training purposes, he was transferred to sales. I listened to his patience dwindle and his ire rise: ‘No, I’m not interested in a system upgrade now. I have a problem in this moment that needs solving. No, I’m not interested. You are not listening to me. I have an immediate problem that requires an immediate solution. No, I cannot wait until the service call tomorrow. Are you not hearing me?’

And wasn’t this deaf discourse our modern, social world in a sound byte? Two people talking at cross purposes about the same topic and each one insisting they be heard over the other? Forest eventually got a techie on the line. As he returned his handset to me he wondered if he’d been rude. Merely frustrated, I assured him. Just like most of us.

‘Disconnect the red wire and the black wire.’

Done. Mission finally accomplished.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

HUMAN WRECKAGE

For You, Herr meGeoff, zee Vore Is Never Over

Born in February, 1960, I was amongst the last of the baby boomer brood. Before I was old enough to participate in organized sports and discover the devil’s music, I refought the Second World War daily. The war was close: my father had served, as did many relatives, neighbours and family friends. Our house was filled with actual artifacts – souvenirs of Dad’s (all of which eventually ended up on display in Ottawa’s Royal Canadian Air Force mess); and my toy guns, Airfix soldiers and spring-loaded metal artillery pieces that launched slim finishing nails lifted from Dad’s basement workshop.

My First Communion took place in 1967. It must’ve been a Saturday because afterward Dad took me to the local hobby shop. Those were the days before Sunday shopping. Maybe it was my Confirmation? Anyway, I selected a panzer, a Tiger Mark IV, as my Catholic reward. The tank was destined to be blown to smithereens by ladyfinger firecrackers. The war was everywhere: dirty, rotten Krauts were being dispatched in our backyard, in Sgt. Rock comics, movie theatres and on syndicated American network television shows like Combat and Garrison’s Gorillas. Budda-budda the best, most exciting, most exotic was The Rat Patrol.

Thanks to time well wasted inside the YouTube vortex, I’ve been able to revisit my favourite ever television show. In colour and everything. A search of the Irish rock band Boomtown Rats whom I once anticipated would be the new Rolling Stones instead led me back into the Libyan desert following a 50-year interlude. Two jeeps rigged with heavy machine guns leapt sand dunes and shot up hapless German convoys. To date I’ve watched six of 56 half hour episodes. Despite the show’s absurd historical inaccuracies each once weekly ‘raid’ has so far aged remarkably well. Inside of 24 minutes a somewhat plausible adventure story with a beginning, a middle and an end, and a sub-plot is told.

The Allies’ Western Desert Force was mainly constituted of Britain’s Eighth Army, the famed ‘desert rats.’ It was augmented by Commonwealth troops and free fighters from German occupied countries in Europe. Axis forces consisted of the woefully inept Italian army bolstered by Germany’s hastily formed Afrika Korps. The enemy goal was not so much to drive the British out of Egypt but to move beyond that country and take control of the oil fields of Persia and of course dominate the Mediterranean Sea.

War is a messy business. Nothing ever goes at planned. Desert warfare is particularly tricky: sand and mechanical materiel do not mix well. The front lines were not clearly demarcated, porous. Too few good roads made for vulnerable and tenuous supply lines. The British were wilier than the Germans, improvising, innovating and adapting to the conditions of the North African landscape. The Long Range Patrol, shortly thereafter re-dubbed the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), was formed in 1940. Its mission was to penetrate enemy lines for intelligence purposes. Its members became pathfinders, navigational experts in a monochromatic and ever shifting theatre of sand. In 1941 the elite and now legendary Special Air Service (SAS) commando regiment was conceived and named as such to mislead the Italians and Germans about its combat role and operational capability.

These confounding Rommel raiders, the LRDG and the SAS, are the genesis of The Rat Patrol, a renegade and incongruous quartet of three Yanks and one Brit wreaking havoc miles behind enemy lines. Troy wore an Australian bush hat. Moffat, like Monty, wore a black beret. Hitchcock wore a red French Foreign Legion kepi. Tully wore a standard GI-issue steel helmet. I suspect the headgear wasn’t paying homage to the various combatants so much as acting as character cues to viewers watching a war that was all yellow. I’m now reminded of the bleached, chalky beauty of Three Kings, a caper flick set in Iraq during the first Gulf War and likely inspired by Kelly’s Heroes.

What became of the cast? For the most part, I don’t know nor am I curious. They were good looking and clean shaven, immaculate heroes wearing pressed, comely uniforms amidst the dust and grime 50 miles beyond the front. The actor who played the recurring and always outwitted foe, an Afrika Korps captain, a ‘good’ German, an ethical soldier, still works, starring as the evil and manipulative Victor on The Young and the Restless.

I think Hollywood is a cesspool of unoriginality. I am tired of sequels, remakes and television series revivals. And yet... If a major studio were to revive The Rat Patrol I would happily pay my money at the box office and take my chances in a darkened cinema. My only advice to the would-be producers and writers would be: don’t think future franchise; don’t spend too much time explaining a hopelessly inane and inexplicable origin story; just get to the derring-do; think Mad Max with Nazis.