Category Archives: 2014 Archive


Posted: March 24, 2015

Well, that title is a bit over the top, not totally accurate and a little pretentious to refer to me in the third person, but yes, by the back half of 1990’s things were going better for me.

They did not start out that way. A cruise line that will go un-named decided to make an example to the staff by firing me for a long series of complaints about my behavior. At that time the cruise lines were all trying to fight each other for creating “a whole environment” for the passengers and part of that was to upgrade the staff. Up until then, it had been that if you behaved yourself and you were off duty and were discrete about it you be in the pool or go to one of the bars. No more. The new ships had much nicer kitchens and cafeterias on the lower decks just for the staff and more places to hang out with other staff members but if you were not to be on a deck for a reason as an employee doing something for a passenger (increasingly being called a “guest”)  than you were not to be on a guest deck.

So, it was in this environment that a young crew member had convinced me to go for a jog with her (something I would not characteristically do, so you can appreciate how nice she must have been) on the exercise deck. That was the excuse for getting rid of me. She got off with a warning, but I wasn’t even able to finish the cruise. Just me and my backpack on the dock in Amsterdam.  It was November 1992.

I thought that I had done alright with my finances at the time but had no idea what life was like when you had to pay for a place to live and for groceries. Living on the ship and being provided food every day was just a way of life for me. While my pay had been acceptable, I would blow most of it when between cruises and when you are only off the ship for a few days you don’t really gear up for buying groceries, preferring to just eat at restaurants or take out. During the previous decade, I had saved a grand total of $3,250.00. I had no idea how bad an achievement this was but I quickly learned that a few thousand dollars will not take you far, especially in Amsterdam.  Within weeks I had moved further north to the port of Harlingen in Friesland province on the coast of the Wadden Sea. While a nice enough historic town and place to summer today, it has a long history as a seaport and still counts fishing and shipping as major employers. As a cook, I was able to find various short-term gigs as the cook on working ships till the spring when I met Marc and Lotte.

Now as a little background, working as a cook in various jobs, particularly around large private yachts is a good gig if the yacht is large enough and if the season is long enough. The boating season in southern Europe, and North Africa or the Caribbean can work year round but getting up into France, Belgium and the Netherlands, the season ends with a thud in mid-September.

The positive part is that like other northern climates the summer gets jambed into about twelve weeks and often the pay can be very good, albeit for a short time. It also gets you out of those southern locations that are so nice in the winter but sweltering in the summer. So that spring I knew that I would need to take the best paying job I could find to start to build up a bit of a cushion for making my way back to the warmer weather when the fall would hit the Netherlands. The job was posted at the posting board near the port as a CHEF/COOK, but when I spoke to them it was very clear that it was a chef and babysitter role.  But Marc and Lotte were nice, the boat was amazing and fifteen euros an hour for 10 hours a day for six days a week could really add up. The math was dampened a bit by having to live at a nearby campground and buy my food for one day or two days a week but otherwise, the money I would save would hold me over for several months down south when the season wrapped up. My life was very much feast and famine at the time. So I took the gig – Chef, and Babysitter!

To say babysitting four kids sounds pretty ominous but the reality is that two were almost 17, twins – a girl and a boy, Luna, and Lars, and the other two were 14 and 13, both girls – Isa and Tess.  They were all pretty good kids and the twins I really didn’t have to do anything for other than feed. We were docked on a large canal in the old town, so there were lots of things to do but unless the younger ones were with me or with their parents or one of the twins they were not allowed to be off the boat. Isa and Tess were good kids but a boat, any size boat, is not big enough for teenagers to spend the whole summer and I spend a lot of time trying to find ways for them to be entertained. Their parents’ boat was a 22 meter (so about 72 foot) power yacht, only about four or five years old and was very well equipped.  While a boat of that size sounds large, once you put a few full-size mammals in it there was not a lot of extra room. They were all large Dutch people. The twins were both taller than me and even Isa and Tess were over 1.75 meters (5′ 9″).

During the middle of the week, we were docked and it was the kids and Lotte and like clockwork, on Thursday night Marc would arrive for three or four day weekends.  The weekends were when I would get some time off. I would prepare some things for them on the Friday or Saturday morning and they would head off for the day and evening and occasionally overnight, and rarely for two days and by Sunday or Monday morning, I would be back on board working on a big breakfast. It was a bit tiring as one of the girls would always be wanting something or me to take her somewhere in town and on my time off, living at a campsite was not ideal. Most people who are camping are off on holiday and cutting loose a bit. It’s not that they are doing anything wrong but for them, every day is a holiday and for me, I would have to be up pretty early to be out on my bicycle to get groceries, load up my panniers and get to the boat. I was also one of the few tents in the campground and the various caravans and trailers were all big looming structures around me.

After the first couple of weeks, however, we discovered that the twins liked the task of taking the car to go to the market to shop for me. After I showed them how to spend time at the market and how to choose produce, fish and meat they were pretty good but would often come to the boat with some off-list items to challenge me or with some pretty dreadful cuts that they thought were a bargain.

The younger girls both liked doing art and seemed to have an endless supply of art equipment and supplies and would work on that and sometimes would go into town with one of their older siblings to buy more supplies, books, and music.

The other big activity I got them onto was cooking. That was a sweet deal. I ended up with two “sous chefs” who seemed pretty keen. One of the things they loved to make for their parents and older sister and brother at the beginning of the summer was homemade pizza. I would make up the dough and they would do the rest. But part way through the summer I showed them how easy it is to make risotto. What is really good about risotto is that it is all happening in slow motion – so no issues of critical timing etc. It also lends itself to doing it several ways. The first couple of times we just did a fairly plain one but by the end of the summer I would just do the clean up while they would do the meal and it would have lots of variations.

I set out to include my recipe for MAKING RISOTTO WITH KIDS here but it was getting a bit long so it will appear as my next post.


Posted: Dec 11, 2014

In my last Dispatch and Ramblings about life in the 1980’s, I talked about a course that I went to for friends, partners or relatives of people challenged by mental health issues and addiction.

It had an effect on me at the time but has come to have a greater effect on me over time. It is one thing to sit in a class and work through issues and problems in dealing with someone who is dealing with these challenges but a whole different level when I would go to the Monday night group sessions. The group sessions were run by a couple volunteers, one with an alcohol history and the other with a drug history. They were typical group sessions where no one is judgemental but you are in a supportive group talking about your day to day issues in helping someone who is addicted and your personal problems flowing from your relationship with that person.

When you are young and partying with people your age it is very different than hearing from the anguish of the mom of a young person knowing their kid is living under a bridge somewhere with a needle in their arm. Another one that bothered me was a young guy who would talk about how his high school life had been, going on his bicycle most nights to the local bars to find his mom and try to get her home.

So why am I going on about this? Well for two reasons.

First, if you are dealing with this kind of thing today there are a lot of programs to help those with mental health issues and addictions and lots of programs to help you if you are the one trying to help that person on your own. The internet, of course, will have an amazing array of material available but stick to credible medical sources. Your local library will have lots of books on the topic but a good starting point is Codependent No More by Melody Beattie, published by Hazelden.

The second reason is to tell you that one thing that helped me was to write about it. I wrote a bunch of letters to my buddy and several to myself to reinforce what you need to do, to cope.

And here is a poem that came out my memories of those sessions and my thoughts on all of this. One of the constants that seemed to come out with various people at the group, whether the person they were dealing with had issues with dope, or alcohol or gambling was denial.

I wrote it in 2012.


                                                  HONEST DENIAL

                                                     I am a drunk,

                                                     not an alcoholic.

                                                     I am sad,

                                                     not depressed.

                                                     I enjoy life,

                                                     but not all the time.


Posted: August 13, 2014

A decade is a long time and if you are young and hardworking and have any smarts at all you can really make things happen and get ahead. For me, that did not happen until the 1990’s.

For the 1980’s I worked the cruise ships – always in the kitchen. For the most part, they were the big cruise lines. The joy of working for the big operators is that it’s a bit like being in the military. They tell you what to do, they feed you, house you and give you a bit of money. Even on my time off, I didn’t really have a home base. I would share with other shipmates a furnished apartment where I had nothing but my backpack I had brought from the ship. One of my Kiwi shipmates had been working the cruise ships for about eight years and had a tattoo on her bum that summarized the whole program:



I really did not understand what my life had become. Only if I had a toothache would I get my teeth looked at. If I had an illness I would see the ship doctor. Otherwise, my life could be summarized in that young woman’s tattoo and I literally and figuratively cruised along with a bad diet, way too much booze, and what I realize now, no real focus. I would visit my parents a couple times a year, well sometimes only once a year, and my grandmother in Brittany at least twice a year but sometimes more often.

The vibe on the cruise ship was also a bit over the top. Most of us had some level of addiction – drugs, alcohol, gaming, sex, food, risk-taking. If you have read Anthony Bourdain’s expose on the restaurant kitchen culture in Kitchen Confidential, you will have some sense of the manic, drugged up world of the kitchen staff in a lot of restaurants in those days. But the people in Bourdain’s book all got to go home at night, not still hang out with the same people they had been with all day. The bully you were living in fear of would be there at night and at that point with a few drinks in him. Women who were being sexually harassed during the day would be expected to be around these same weasels at night.

The only positive part to that was the rough justice that was liberally dished out for the worst of the jerks who would be bugging the girls. The walk-in freezers had a lock on them and while it would take a few lads to do it, throwing in the worst offender for a bit of time would usually reform not only him but others who were perfecting their bad behaviour as well. And of course, the stories were then repeated of various people who had lost toes and fingers to frostbite when left in the freezer a little too long. YIKES.

The addiction part was not solved as easily. Today most of the cruise lines recognize addiction and mental health issues and have programs and support. Today as well with so many well educated, talented young people looking for work the percentage of new hires who are pretty “damaged” already is lower I think.  But in the late 1970’s and through the 1980’s – it was a crazy environment, and the line between addiction and not was whether you could get your shift finished.

Many cracked. After a news story was published about our cruise line in a major, respected magazine with an image of a number of staff members washing a deck while others were handing guests towels came out with the caption Happy Workers Going About Their Day, about a dozen of my co-workers had T-shirts made with Happy Addicts Going About Their Day on them. Two were fired, and the rest of the T-shirts were confiscated.

In 1988 I was sufficiently concerned about one friend that on a break between cruises I took a free course in Miami on “Helping an Addicted Loved one”. The whole idea was how to cope with a partner, child, parent, sibling or co-worker who has an addiction. It was an eye-opener. In the world I was in,  drinking a bottle of wine, or ten or twelve beers a day was not considered over-indulging so you can imagine how out of control some of the drinkers were. And rarely was it booze or dope alone. The magic formula for most of my friends was some combination of the two. I went to the course to learn to help a friend but realized how deep I was in myself and for a couple of years whenever I would be in Miami on a Monday night would go to a group session run by volunteers for people who had taken the course and were still grappling with someone important to them who continued to live with addiction.

The friend whose problems had triggered me going to the course was eventually fired but was hired by a competing cruise line immediately. I had hoped that he might have gotten some help but he was right back into the same situation and was not coping well. That cruise line, like most of them at the time, was trying to manage this environment that was not healthy, to say the least, and would eventually need to be cleaned up or it would take them down. Earlier I referenced the employees at the cruise line I was at being fired for having T-Shirts that said Happy Addicts Going about their Day. That story of course was repeated like wildfire in the industry and the cruise line my friend went to, in trying to get ahead of the same problems on their ships tried to make light of it and every member of staff was issued a T-Shirt that said “Work Hard, Play Hard, Don’t Fall Off The Ship”.  It had a mixed response. Most staff members saw it as a lame attempt to manage a virus with a band-aid. About a month later it was viewed as a failure when a thirty-year-old member of the laundry staff jumped to his death off the ship wearing that T-shirt. I was upset for his family but relieved to learn it was not my friend.

It may sound like I was becoming a normal person and managing my own intake and partying. Unfortunately, my experience from that course, the Monday night group sessions and losing a few friends over the years had only had the effect of slowing me down enough to be alive today. I was still barely straight enough to go to work each day.

I didn’t hear from or speak to Jim and Janice all through the 1980’s. What they were doing was much more “traditional”. During that time that was a derogatory term for me. “Comfortable” fit into that category as well. Janice built her fashion business, Jim rose through the ranks working for others, and they start to buy and renovate houses on the side. They had their first child, Jade, in 1985 and their second, Jason, in 1988. Then with everything going well, Jim left his job to set up his own company with two other guys. It took a while to really get going but during this time they built a cottage, did a few more house moves and renovations and by  the end of the decade  they are really doing well, and the business is on a good footing and Janice had wound down her business and is home taking care of the kids.

And at new years 1989 what was I doing? Well, I don’t remember but based on how the decade had gone it’s a reasonable guess that it would have been like a decade before – with a group of fine young creatures partying like the night before.


Posted: April 3, 2014

I am new to this website business and not familiar with the best way to relate some of the ideas and stories that Jim and Janice and I want to get down, so I am just going to jump in. If you have read the ABOUT section, you will know how this site came to be and why it covers the topics it does. If you haven’t read that you should probably do that, or you will be a bit lost and it might be helpful to read the first post as well.

Today I am going to look back to the 1970’s as a bit of a way for me to get warmed up and a way to introduce you to some of the characters you will be reading about here.

That ten-year span was a time of massive change for Jim and me. I started it in early high school and finished it as a full-time drifter. He started it in high school and ended up with a few degrees.

The first part was with Jim in high school. Neither of us was very good at the high school thing in Ottawa but enjoyed music, partying, fighting with parents, trying to figure out why the world was so screwed up. Jim had a pretty tight string on him for a while coming into high school after that summer incident.

In the summer of 69 before this decade began he was involved in – well caused – a nasty incident and it sort of scarred him and certainly did not help his relationship with his parents.  In an earlier post I wrote about it so check out the piece here or in the PROSE & POETRY section called My First Post and you will find the piece “Summers End”.

He was an average to bad student and I was a worse one. It’s not that I wasn’t any good at it, but I was just always screwing up. So, there was always a bit of summer school involved for me and sometimes for him as well. We had a great group of friends and I don’t know if any of us appreciated just how good we had it then.

Now for anyone who has read the ABOUT section they will know that I am also to be reporting on Janice. I did not know Janice until Jim met her many years later, so I can only relate what I understand her life was like. She was a very good student, liked sewing and music and art and skiing both in the winter and water skiing as well. Her dad had been in the Canadian military, so they had moved around a lot until he left that and went into business and they settled down in Ottawa and had a cottage near Perth. Jim’s family had a cottage in that area as well. In the summers I would usually just go to summer school and hang out.  Janice had a brother who was only a year older and a sister a few years younger – still does.

None of this sounds very memorable, does it? Well, where the plot thickens is when Jim and I and our friends finished high school in 1973. Jim had been the school track star and ran for a club in Ottawa as well. He did not make the team for the 1972 Olympics and realized he was never going to amount to anything. It put him kind of adrift for the next year as we finished grade 13. Yes, for those Americans, Europeans or millennials reading there was once a grade 13! It was a year for the female students to mature some more and for most of the male students start to mature and focus on getting their grades up.  The universities were all gearing up for us – we were this mass of humanity all about the same age – the baby boom and colleges and universities were expanding like mad and if you had a pulse and a blood type you could get in and get some level of scholarship or financial aid. Even with that Jim, another buddy, and I decided that we would go to Europe with no particular idea of returning. With that said our other buddy was fully expecting to come back to go to university at the end of the summer but Jim and I were open-ended about our plans.

We had been touring around Europe, splitting up for a few days and then meeting up at rendezvous point and traveling together for a while and then splitting up again. It worked well, and we had some great times together – getting kicked out of Ibiza, arrested in Monaco, staying in hostels and making friends. It seemed everyone was traveling then, and we met people from everywhere.

But near the end of August Jim had another life-changing event. He had a job in Munich being the photographer for an Israeli doctor who was writing a book on the Holocaust. Touring around Dachau on a rainy day in August he learned some things that set his thinking on risk and life for good. How he relates it is that while the Holocaust itself was unique, the survivors share a common set of ideas with others who have been through such traumas. The Armenian slaughter by the Turks for example. Someone can take all your possessions, your titles and dignity, and even your family and your health but if you have your memories you keep yourself intact. Life is a collection of memories. Memories are depression proof, inflation proof, portable and your own. So, the trick is to have as many experiences as you can and put them in your memory bank. Don’t fear failure, fear not trying. Keep moving forward. It all adds to your memory bank.

I am probably not doing justice to this, and while some of this sounds self – evident it certainly was a life changer for him. Coming out of that experience he called his parents from Europe (quite a costly endeavor in 1973) told them to accept a spot at Carleton University if there was still space and to choose some courses if he did not make it back in time. They were a bit taken aback as the relationship with them was mixed and it did not sound like the son who left for Europe just months before.

At that point, my relationship with Jim took a big departure. While we both went to university, for me it was an extension of high school and never really stuck. By what would have been second-year university I was roaming around the U.S. and fell into a job working on a cruise ship in the kitchen. By the end of first year he was a top student always in the top ten of his classes. He had worked as a security guard all through first year working midnight shifts then going to school during the day. Driven. I mean really driven.

During this time Janice (who is a year younger than Jim and me) finished high school and after a false start at college ended up in Fashion Design College where she excelled. Jim and Janice met when she had about one more year of college to go and he had about one more year of his first degree to finish. A year later they were married in ’78.

Now at this point and through the back half of the 70’s I really did not know Jim at all. There was no internet, I was working the cruise ships and he and Janice were blasting away on their life together. He did a graduate program then more graduate work then went into a doctoral program. She finished her fashion design program and after working some jobs in that industry set up a clothing line in Toronto.

On new years eve of 1979 they were living in Toronto and were poor with a fledgling clothing line, Jim’s doctoral program had been discontinued and I was with a group of fine young creatures throwing up on the side of a ship.