Tuesday, 13 September 2022

SAINTS PRESERVE US


Queen Elizabeth II, 1926 - 2022


“I’m the best thing England’s got, me and the Queen.” – Mick Jagger, circa 1977


Canada’s parliamentary democracy is based on the Westminster System. Protocol necessarily involves ritual and tradition. When the House of Commons sits, each day’s session begins with the placing of a mace on the table before the speaker of the House. The same ceremony plays out in the Senate and in provincial and territorial legislative assemblies. The stylized weapon symbolizes the authority of the British Crown while crucially conceding that its power has been ceded to the people.


I like living under a constitutional monarchy. The reigning sovereign as represented by their vice-regal surrogate, our Governor-General, is our head of state. Our prime minister heads the government. I took journalism in university. Thought maybe I’d be a newshound. I ended up a news junkie in advertising. In recent years I’ve read about democracies, some established, some nascent, unraveling. I’ve come to appreciate Canada’s creaky colonial model. That subtle layer between entities, the nature of the state versus the nature of its executive is a crucial buffer. There is decorum and stability up here north of 49, imperfect as any human construct, surely, but in Canada, it’s impossible for an “elected” head of “state” to actively sabotage the peaceful transfer of power.


The Crown is similar to a kitchen wall calendar, a little old fashioned but unfailingly reliable. For the past 70 years (eight years longer then I’ve been alive) the face of this Canadian calm carrying on was Queen Elizabeth II. I’ve devoted more thought to this archaic and dubious institution, its lasting impact, importance, meaning and place in history, then I have to the throne’s lottery winners and members of the Royal Family. They are separate yet the same. Still, I believe the late Queen recognized the blind luck of her birth and possessed the fortitude to make the best of an unwanted gift of fate.


When I picture the late Queen, it’s her classic, primary portrait, young, attractive and defaced by the Sex Pistols. I wonder if that “God Save the Queen” sleeve was another “Oh, fuck!” moment, a coughed regal giggle behind a daintily clenched fist. An icon to iconoclasts. Canadian pop artist Charles Pachter had already lampooned her in his painting “Queen on Moose.” Warhol had rendered her hipper than thou, Marilyn and Mao. After the Stones had her bravely shouting “What the hell is going on?” in “Jigsaw Puzzle” she was the subject of a lovelorn, throwaway Beatles ditty.


I took for granted that Queen Elizabeth II would outlive me. Maybe there was something in the water of the River Thames or perhaps she shared some sort of alien genetic material with Keith Richards. The Queen wasn’t just the Monarch, she was the entire monarchy, existing for centuries past, weirdly immortal.


Seventy years of human history from an elevated perch. Witness to and part-time player in change and turmoil, triumph and tragedy in the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, Europe and the rest of the world. She spent some time in the dock too, a complicit figurehead for every single crime ever committed in the name of the British Empire. Closer to home, “Buck House” or Balmoral, the hot mic wit and wisdom of her toff husband the antics of her own family, her idiotic children and grandchildren, and their insufferable partners. I wonder if Her Majesty ever contemplated writing her memoirs. I’m somewhat charmed by an irrational fantasy, my hope her working title might’ve been something like Oh, Fuck! What Now?


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of breathless Royals coverage since 2013. The novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit www.megeoff.com for links to purchase it in your preferred format. 

Sunday, 11 September 2022

EDMONTON EXISTENTIAL


Before the Fall


The Rolling Stones have released something like 20 live albums since Ann last taught music in Edmonton’s public system (of course I bought them). “Back to school” for me was an annual advertising theme, tired, difficult to keep fresh. “Back to school” for Ann remains the start of a new year; old triggers still fire.


Ann’s orchestra is gearing up for what its members hope will be a proper season in the wake of two years of pandemic confusion. Stats Guy and I are musing about reviving the Tuesday Night Beer Club because who hasn’t longed for sub-pub, par-for-the-main-course-your-choice-of-two-sides grub, disgusting toilets and televised sports? Covid’s not going anywhere anytime soon.


September arrived hotter than July. I ceased my bread baking operations while reminding myself to have the furnace inspected; funny, some types of heat are better than others. The Crooked 9’s lawn was crispy underfoot, no point cutting short straws. My axiom of 12 mows between Victoria Day and Thanksgiving will prove false this year. Coincidentally, those holidays now bracket the extended wildfire season in western Canada. Distant fires change the colour and composition of the sky, sunbeams crashed on the ground register more orange than yellow or white, and orange should only be smelled as fresh fruit, fresh ink or fresh paint, not smoky like paprika.


Our weather has since settled into more seasonal norms. Mornings on the front porch with coffee, cigarettes and the newspaper now require an upper layer of flannel or fleece. The sun’s a little lower in the sky. Ann has begun cutting back some of the perennials in her garden. The arborist has visited to prune the birches, the crabs, the buckeye, the mountain ash and the giant lilac bush; the dead and distressed are best revealed through the camouflage of verdant foliage. Ann’s patio flowerpots and hanging baskets are still thriving albeit ripe for the taking by the first overnight frost.


I have started work on another novel. Its premise is universal boomer, an old folks’ home as high school or university dorm living. What could possibly go awry should a man like me with his addictions and Rolling Stones records move into a seniors’ residence? I won’t want to play canasta. I won’t want to watch The Sound of Music on movie night. Fuck chair zumba. My trouble with long form storytelling is that after writing the beginning, I find I require a middle and an end; winter’s promise is time to plot.


Bob Dylan once said, “Nostalgia is death.” On that note, Ann and I will spend a portion of the Thanksgiving long weekend in Montreal. We are hopeful the city’s maple leaves will have turned red by then; a vivid display of a season’s end just for us, summer gone. I wish to attend my 45th high school reunion. Time has recast hell in a better light, a rosier hue. Ann, wisely, will take a pass on spending time with the old boys; ironically, I’ve not kept in touch with the vast majority of my graduating cohort. But back in my old school I won’t have braces on my teeth anymore, my complexion will be sort of clear; my body remains fairly trim if a tad heavier, an additional inch around my waist. Most of my hair remains, each single strand thinner and greyer. I intend to say hello and trawl incidental material for my manuscript. And I do hope a fellow whom I’ve not seen since 1977 will turn up insisting that the Faces are still better than the Stones. Then again, maybe he’s all grown up now.        


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of casual bus stop weather conversation since 2013. The novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit www.megeoff.com for links to purchase it in your preferred format.

Wednesday, 31 August 2022

SAINTS PRESERVE US


Notes on the Fringe


Spring in Edmonton, its possibility and possibilities at least, is heralded by repeated arrivals of squonking formations of Canada geese. Robins, savvier, turn up later. Summers here are short yet the days are long. The geese are quiet, content. Summer is festival season. Edmonton’s largest festival, maybe not by box office but certainly by duration, is The Fringe, an august, 10-day celebration of theatre in all its guises. Once The Fringe winds down, the Canada geese wind up, squonking travel tips throughout their flocks for the web-footed return leg of their annual migration. Cacaphonic cues of another summer readying itself for departure. The robins always elect an earlier check out. Alas, in times like these, the provincial fringe lingers, much like Moe’s Three Stooges haircut.


Chrystia Freeland is the most powerful and influential Albertan in Canada. Her remit includes the two major federal dauphin portfolios: Freeland is this country’s Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister. She was the face of Canada’s shy and tentative foreign policy; Freeland renegotiated an already perfectly adequate North American free trade agreement with der Trumpenfuhrer’s inbred administrative toadies. And she has somehow navigated the vagaries of her boss’s vacuous “Sunny Ways” and his litany of ethical lapses.


Freeland was born up north in Peace River. Friday she was close to home, visiting Grande Prairie with minimal staff and no security detail. Routine government business. Entering an elevator in the foyer of city hall she was accosted by a lout, a big man sporting a ballcap, a wife-beater and a delightfully bouncy pair of pecs. He screamed at Freeland, calling her a “bitch” and a “traitor.” He was emphatic that she was not welcome in his province. The one-sided encounter was planned; his female companion was video-ready. This is the nature of civic discourse in these days of inarticulate rage.


Alberta is home to some 4.5 million souls. Most of us live in the big towns, Calgary and Edmonton, Lethbridge and Red Deer. The large-breasted Grande Prairie clown and his auteur consort are two of the province’s 2.8 million eligible voters (I have rounded Elections Alberta’s 2021 figures). About 120,000 of these eligible voters have ponied up $10 for membership in the United Conservative Party (UCP), an asinine ride beneath a big circus tent. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, the party’s founder and the Jesuit-trained brains behind its formation experienced his “Eh tu, Brute?” moment last spring when the rank and file, prairie hillbillies, decided he was jist too durned progressive as far as sweaty, uptight libertarians go. Time for a new leader even as the party wields power.


The Platonic ideal of the Canadian federation is simple. Its aim is to elevate the subsistence level of everyone in the country’s provinces and territories. Canada’s national political parties rarely agree on the best course of action, but in general, pardon the hockey metaphor, they shoot at the same net. Everybody matters.


Alberta, formally established in 1905, has been a wealthy province since Leduc No. 1 first gushed black gold in February, 1947. Provincial governments ever since have relied on that primordial gravy train. If the train jumps the track, boom and bust, how does Edmonton claw its money back? Kenney’s regressive 2019 electoral platform was predicated on complaint, blaming distant Ottawa for decades of localized mismanagement, some kind of raw materials deal. After all, imaginary villains need labels, like “bitch” or “traitor.”


Kenney’s would-be usurpers have just wrapped up a series of leadership debates, one of which was co-sponsored by a pro-independence group and a right-wing media organization. The topics discussed have ranged from bizarre to fantastical. This is Orwell and this is Kafka unfiltered by people who’ve never read either author. These folks aren’t even trying to reach Alberta’s general electorate; they’re speaking to party members and whistling doggy style to the lunatic fringe because support from the likes of Misogynistic Paranoid Grande Prairie Boy might be enough to win a ranked ballot.


The next provincial election is mandated for May, 2023. The winning UCP contestant will be announced this coming October. The frontrunner in this painfully drawn-out race of slugs is Danielle Smith, a notorious political opportunist. She was the leader of the Wildrose Party. Still, it suited her to cross the floor of the legislature and join the Progressive Conservative Party. She has since spent her time away from politics assailing, among other things, the blatant character flaws of cancer victims. Should she win the leadership, she will not follow the honourable and traditional course of dropping an early election writ. No, she wants those seven unfettered, unelected months as premier to further disrupt already snippy federal-provincial relations and predicate a national constitutional crisis.


Smith’s platform plank, her legislative Rosemary’s Baby is the “Alberta Sovereignty Act.” No one, politicians, pundits or constitutional lawyers, knows what this means except telling Ottawa to “talk to the hand.” Elected Quebec separatists at least held two referendums. Brexit demonstrated that extraction from a political bloc proved much harder than the snappy, pro rhetoric promised. That poor policy decision wasn’t arbitrary, Britons voted, wrongly of course, but they were at least given the opportunity.


Canada geese are a nuisance. Loud and disruptive dirty birds, but, you know, at least they go away.


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of skewed espied askance since 2013. The novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit www.megeoff.com for links to purchase it in your preferred format. 

Friday, 19 August 2022

EAT ME


Breaking Bread in Baltic


There is a pub in Kensington, they call the Island Stone, there they make fine sandwiches and, God, I love them so.


History frequently manifests as an exercise in bureaucracy. For such a tiny place, Prince Edward Island has a lot of it. Once the Treaty of Paris was ratified in 1763, Prince Edward Island (then known en anglais as St. John’s Island) became a possession of Great Britain. The Crown got to work. The Mi’kmaq people were discouraged from infringing upon a portion of their traditional coastal territory. Established Acadian settlers were deported. British surveyors created three counties, Prince, Kings and Queens. These tracts of land were then jig-sawed with parishes to better orchestrate the ministrations of the Church of England. Subsequently, these 14 parishes were  subdivided into townships. The townships were not named, just designated as numbered “lots.”


My big sister, Anne, a semi-retired physician, and her husband, Al, a semi-retired scientist, spend their summers in Prince County, in St. David’s Parish, in Lot 18. This particular area is named Baltic for the purposes of the provincial government and Canada Post. Their home is rustic, isolated. Still, when sitting on their porch, I believe I could, should I still possess my teenage arm, throw a baseball into Lot 19, a one-bounce frozen rope. Of course, a bad hop off the weathered boardwalk, a frost-heaved cobblestone or a rusted rail might break the window of the Island Stone Pub in Kensington, which is housed in the town’s old train station, now a heritage building.


I love and admire my sister; of our immediate family we two are the last ones standing, five minus three; we are still getting to know one another after all these years following different lives in different places. Anne’s place is just 13 two-lane secondary highway minutes from a “Crusty.” In my pre-covid memory the Island Stone’s “Crustacean Special” is a club, a double-decker stuffed with minced crab, minced lobster and smoked bacon. This year’s version was more of a BLT on a brioche roll. Maybe it always has been? I ate two of them, anyway - in separate sittings.


The top of a brioche glistens because of an egg wash. I’ve not been transported by the ones I’ve eaten in Edmonton. In my experience a brioche roll does no favours for its filling. Trendy does not equal taste. The bottom of the Island Stone’s roll was more alluring, lighter in tone, tastier, pebbled with cornmeal: bun conditionally delicious. I love sandwiches; I consume them like vitamins, one a day. I complained to my sister, who bakes her own bread, my frustration in being able to find manna in Edmonton - Jesus, my eternal afterlife in exchange for a mere decent loaf of bread. Anne, never passive and always practical, said, “Well, Geoffrey…”


My sister’s Beatles albums altered the direction of my life. That noise had so much more bandwidth than the Annunciation of Our Lady choir and the dining room hi-fi soft Muzak jazz of James Last or the choral warbles of the Ray Coniff Singers. God, you know, Anne had the London Records double A-side 45 of “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and “Ruby Tuesday.” The Young Adult literary genre did not exist when I was growing up. I read her paperbacks too, prose above my level. One that still reverberates with me is Chaim Potok’s My Name Is Asher Lev. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. A different world existed somewhere out there. I also read The Feminine Mystique; the jacket art suggested racy science-fiction: a bare-naked female torso on a clothes hanger.  That stolen input all took a while to gel, but I eventually stopped buying the Catholic catechism. I never saw Christ on the altar, not once and, frankly, His wafer-thin bread-body was a bit dry.


Anne holds strong opinions about pretty much everything, but they are never wrong-headed; I have always heeded her advice and counsel. When our parents were divorcing she sat me down in the screened front porch of our home that would necessarily be sold to state emphatically that what was happening to our family was no fault of mine; I’d been fretting because I was quite late to the game as the third child, Vatican roulette, and an angry voice from the living room carries up the stairs late at night and a baseball game playing on the radio in a darkened room is suddenly hard to hear.


And so, I spent a few hours of my time in Baltic learning how to bake bread. (As I type this, the dough rising here in the kitchen of the Crooked 9 is just about ready to go into the oven.) Anne’s kitchen is expansive, the locus of a century-old farmhouse. It makes me think of Celtic reels – a Maritime cliché to those of us who come from Away - and the blues of Robert Johnson, “Come on in My Kitchen.” There’s the large square table where we ate and played Dominos after dark. The picture hung above the wood stove to the left of the exhaust pipe has always struck me: an open window with fluttering, delicately precise, sheer linen curtains. How else may an artist depict a gust of wind beyond a bent tree? The frame of the sash window is brown. The sky is grey. The field is fallow, ochre stubble. I imagine the image as James Whistler’s mother’s view, a vague gothic dread of yet another winter storm looming low on the horizon (Wind from the Sea, Andrew Wyeth, 1947). This was my classroom.


My education required three steps. First, I shadowed my sister as she prepared the bread. Anne explained the process step-by-step in a faux Scandinavian accent, sort of a cross between the Muppets’ Swedish Chef and Frances McDormand in Fargo. “Yaah.” I liked leaning over her shoulder; the closeness of sharing a chore and a few cups and teaspoons of expertise. I made our second loaf of bread under close, hovering supervision. I told Anne I couldn’t make up my mind about being left-handed or right-handed for whisking and kneading. We talked about combining two different types of flour, ensuring the teaspoons of yeast and salt were separated in the mixing bowl, dissolving tablespoons of honey in warm water. We walked through all of the steps together. I believe we were actually alluding to other things, stuff we were raised to never demonstrate, like love and affection. Anne would consider the combination of those two nouns a Joan Armatrading song. Me, I’m more Def Leppard. But we mean the same thing.


I flew solo on the third loaf. Anne was outside tending to her vegetable garden and yelling at the rabbits; they’re not tame so much as awfully complacent. Skittishness is for squirrels and chipmunks. Al’s been musing about purchasing a pellet rifle to give those rabbits a nudge, a wake-up call. My sister is more eco-friendly; the township’s foxes and stoats are welcome to cruise the property any old time. A short layover by a bald eagle would suffice too.


This sort of setting is half the charm of the Island Stone’s “Crusty.” Another portion is made up by the company. Landlocked Alberta isn’t exactly renowned in culinary circles for the superior quality of its fresh seafood. This is a sandwich I can never replicate in the kitchen of the Crooked 9. The “Crusty” is rare fare, what the trade describes as a destination item, a signature dish. And I have returned home from Baltic a novice master baker. As for my own repertoire of sandwiches, oh po’boy, my big sister Anne has once again helped me improve my game.           


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of ecstatic gluttony since 2013. The novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit www.megeoff.com for links to purchase it in your preferred format.