Thursday, 16 May 2019


Rumours of Spring Authenticated

Every year about this time Ann and I take a drive beyond the ever-spreading outskirts of the city. Our destination is always the same, J&C Gardens, a pacific greenhouse operation situated off Airport Road in the rapidly disappearing farmland southeast of Edmonton and the newly incorporated city of Beaumont.

Mill Woods, now a long established capital suburb, almost encroaches on the corporate limits of Beaumont, once a remote French-Canadian farming community. The demarcation is the Anthony Henday ring road. Beaumont’s population has more than doubled since 2006. It is now home to nearly 20,000 commuters. Its main street is faux quaint, anchored by a French restaurant that gourmands swear is worth the drive.

Beaumont’s most impressive and dominant structure is the lovely red brick Saint Vital Catholic church with its steeple and pristine white trim. It sits at the crest of a steep hill which descends to the older, other side of town and leads ultimately to J&C Gardens provided you take a left at Airport Road. The straight ahead vista through the windshield before the drop suggests 100-yard elongated shadows at noon even though nothing in the unfolding landscape is taller than a fencepost or a yellow traffic sign. The not so distant right showcases all the signs of progress: the oil patch-centric Nisku industrial area and its empty travel hotels, the grey ribbon of Alberta’s major highway, the new outlet mall with its prison guard towers, the even newer racetrack and casino and of course the corkscrew control tower of the Edmonton International Airport.

Saint Vital (Vitalis in Latin and men’s grooming) is not so obvious. St. Vital is a Winnipeg, Manitoba, city ward, originally a vibrant and now historic enclave of French-Canadian and Metis settlers adjacent to Fort Garry. It’s easy to infer how the name leapt further west over Prince Rupert’s Land to Beaumont. However, my searching of both the Catholic Encyclopedia and Wikipedia has dredged up eight Saint Vitals, five of whom were Italians and three of whom were martyred. Faith is a complex construct; said Saints Vitals are not be confused with Saint Vitus, he’s a wholly different dance.

The layout of J&C Gardens resembles a human hand, palm up. The main structure is the base which includes a splayed, possibly green, hitch-hiker thumb. The too many fingers, pale tents shaped like Nissen huts, extend from the perpendicular. We turn up every spring always hopeful that the dirt and gravel parking lot won’t be a shoe-sucking quagmire. Ann brings a list of her summer planting plans which also includes notations of past failures, flora to avoid. This is big, important and ultimately fleeting stuff, a lot like life.

I man the three-tiered blue steel cart. Ann examines the plants as if they were Lawren Harris paintings in the National Gallery; a book in a bookshop too, you know, you never purchase the one atop the stack, you have to dig. I’m the runner even if the process involves a pleasant and leisurely couple of hours. I move the potato vines and sunpatiens from tent to cart and everything must be just so because there’s more to come and the gartenmeister fuschia and the alyssum will need their spaces. Ann’s walking up and down the floral rows three inches off the sagging concrete. Man, she’s shimmying on an ether of scent and colour, even the neon geraniums are impressed. All you Saint Vitals, here’s a genuine sense of wonder, sense of joy.

And, believe it, there’s another attraction at J&C for me that just enhances a happy errand. There is a cat who hangs about the main greenhouse. Its fur is charcoal accented with some faint caramel markings resembling incomplete tiger stripes. I deserted Ann and our cart to go searching for my indifferent harbinger; we’ve been tight for years. I found the little soul curled up sound asleep in a picked-over black plastic tray of sweet peas.


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Monday, 13 May 2019


Game On!

The bathroom door isn’t ajar but the game’s afoot at the Crooked 9.

I don’t believe Ann finds me overly annoying to live with. I get things done though perhaps not as promptly as I’d promised. I don’t floss my teeth over simmering pots on the stove. I don’t clip my toenails in the dining room. I squeeze toothpaste tubes from the bottom only because Ann squeezes them from the middle but that’s an easy twice or thrice daily correction. We both make certain the cap is on when we’re done. And we agree that rolls of toilet tissue must be dispensed from the over-the-top position and not from the bottom – this is just plain common sense.

Ann has often remarked that our togetherness at this stage of our lives is “simple but complicated.” And so are the rules of our devious game. As with any human contest, the ultimate objective is victory; in our case that margin is measured in two-ply, four-inch squares. It’s so easy to change a roll of toilet paper. It takes ten seconds or less, you’re right there and there’s not much else to do.

I am a member of a music chat board based in the United Kingdom. Some years ago American singer and songwriter Sheryl Crow pronounced in the press that nobody on the planet should ever need to use more than three squares of toilet paper. A noble environmental sentiment since creatures equipped with lungs appreciate forests and trees are better left standing instead of being pulped into bleached tissue. Still, toilet paper is one heck of a modern convenience and manufactured from a renewable (albeit shrinking) resource. And as one poster speculated, it’s highly unlikely that Ms. Crow had ever consumed a curry takeaway after a night at the pub.

In our game, leaving a bare cardboard tube on the spool isn’t cricket. Skunk! Default! Game over. Cheaters never prosper. No, the strategic player will leave enough squares on the roll as to be useful to Ms Crow but not entirely useful to the average housemate. Talk about three sheets to the draft of the heating vent. Well played, Madam. As always.

Bookmarks are so 20th century. Use that thingy on the right to sign up for e-mail alerts from meGeoff.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019


Hello Again

As I suspect is much the case with most music fans my tastes were formed in my teens and early twenties, directed or misdirected by the foundational noises crackling from the mono hi-fi of my childhood. I like to think that my tastes have not petrified because, man, a lot of great music has been released since Bob Dylan went to Jesus and Mick Jagger figured a solo career was a no-brainer. Still, I’m no schoolboy anymore and I know what I really like.

The somewhat imprecise measurement of time is one of humanity’s great achievements. Time is however a primitive element, like air, fire and water. As far as I can discern, no one of us can exist outside of it. Not even a boy prophet who once walked handsome and hot. Bruce Springsteen’s latest single is called ‘Hello Sunshine.’ It’s the first release from the forthcoming Western Stars. I’ve not been so jacked about an album teaser from the aging Boss since the post-9/11 ‘The Rising.’

Artists are no different than us, their fickle fans. They move through phases in their lives and careers much like we who exist in suburbia and book economy class. Except we tend to project our nostalgic aspirations on our heroes because recording another masterpiece after 45 years have burned down the road must be like riding a bicycle, right? In his autobiography Springsteen reveals his vexation with his audience’s indifferent reception of Wrecking Ball which he felt was the most accessible LP he’d waxed since Born in the USA. He and we had grown up and were worrying about different things. One of the few songs on that album that resonated with me was the tardy studio version of ‘Land of Hope and Dreams’ which reminds me of ‘People Get Ready’ by the Impressions and, anyway, as a Canadian I’ve a thing for rolling steel both metaphorical and actual because the railroad stitched this fragile federation together.

‘Hello Sunshine’ is underpinned by a genteel hip-hop syncopation, maybe with a bit of a nod to the Tennessee Three – after all, everything in music as in life is connected. That percussive sound reminded me of Springsteen’s ‘Streets of Philadelphia.’ Springsteen is the cosmic kid no longer, that hipster in the wife-beater and greasy leather jacket who somehow successfully blended Phil Spector, Dylan and Roy Orbison into something we’d never heard the likes of before. ‘Hello Sunshine,’ lush and shimmering, is his admitted attempt to echo classic Glen Campbell. And Campbell is probably one of those country artists who made Waylon and Willie shake their heads on the outskirts of Nashville and roll another number.

And yet. ‘Hello Sunshine’ is a thoughtful rumination on restlessness, depression and loneliness. Life. The hook, if there is one, suggests an illumination of the midnight soul and an openness to potential redemption: “Hello sunshine, won’t you stay?” Springsteen delivers the invitation with the same vulnerable intonation Campbell used interpreting the declarative Jimmy Webb lyric: “And I need you more than want you and I want you for all time.” I can already hear ‘Hello Sunshine’ coursing through speaker wires in the wee small, melancholy hours, lights out, bar open.

It’s dreadfully disconcerting to consider a new Springsteen album in the context of a late career renaissance. But here we are; time has exacted its toll. Springsteen remains one of my few ‘automatics,’ that is an artist whose work I will never fail to purchase. But I’m not that kid in his high school bedroom memorizing the words of the songs and the liner notes anymore. Somewhere along the line Springsteen stopped speaking to me and started preaching. I tuned out after one or two listens. ‘Hello Sunshine,’ as different as it is from anything he’s done, feels like we’ve resumed an unfinished conversation from long ago.      

Bookmarks are so 20th century. Use that thingy on the right to sign up for e-mail alerts from meGeoff. It’ll just be between us, nobody else needs to know.

Thursday, 2 May 2019


Another Letter from Tony

Driving across the country during the unpredictable Canadian spring can pose a dilemma and cause some consternation. My old friend Tony Intas writes from Montreal where he eventually arrived safe and sound.

Dear Geoff,

Change is inevitable, I guess; except maybe when it comes to tires.

This past month, I did a very Canadian thing, kind of like what I did last year, only three months earlier. I drove from British Columbia to Quebec.

Last year, I did the drive in early July in a land yacht that was as comfortable as a couch to drive. I gave it to a relative when I arrived in Montreal, who would get more use out of it than I would in a city where I walk, use public transportation and bicycle along the many kilometers of designated paths as a matter of course.

This year, I did the drive in early April in my late Mother's car, which one of my nieces had used for the past six years, a gift from Grandma - which I had to pay her for. (Yeah, I know!!) Like Grandma, my niece had treated it as a real "Little Old Lady Sunday Drive" special. However, it had winter tires on, something I had never required on the Left Coast for the 25 years that I lived there.

When I started my trip it was decision time. When to change over to the regular tires that were in the trunk and back seat? Change them too early and I would struggle if caught in a snowstorm or dangerous winter driving conditions that might end me and my trip prematurely. Change them too late and any fuel economy I might gain from regular tires would be lost but I would FINALLY get rid of that "low tire pressure warning" chime and dashboard light that would greet me very hour or so while driving.

I checked the weather forecast for the Prairies, Northern Ontario and la Belle Province. Temperatures would be below freeing in the mornings and warm up to a few degrees above during the day. A very strong possibility of the dreaded black ice! I decided to err on the side of caution and kept the winter tires on when I began my trip.

Kilometer after kilometer I drove, the "low tire pressure warning" chime and light taunting me as if to say, "Don't be a wuss, live on the edge, roll the dice, change the tires." Kilometer after kilometer I drove on perfectly dry roads with snow banks on either side leaking rivulets of snowmelt. Would tomorrow be the day the winter tires would save me? The day after that? The next one? I rolled on, comforted that my heavy rubber on the road would save me from anything, warning chime and light be damned. Thank God for the "reset" button, otherwise it would have been like being subject to the infamous Chinese Water Torture. I played the "when will the chime and light come on again" game, day after day.

Over some 5000 kilometers I lost about 1.5 litres/100km in fuel economy because I waited until I could see that I was the only idiot on the Trans-Canada Highway who still had his winter tires on. Oh well, less in the Estate for my beneficiaries when my time comes. As for giving this car away to another relative (I have lots of them here) I am going to wait until it at least warms up a bit more before  I walk, use transit or cycle the streets of Montreal. I think I have earned that privilege.



Readers of this blog who find themselves in places where they don’t normally find themselves, actual or otherwise, are encouraged to write meGeoff a letter detailing their experiences and impressions. Get in touch with me. I’m on Facebook.