POSTED FEB 1, 2023

Malta enjoys a special place in the world. I say this speaking both geographically and culturally. Sitting between Africa and Europe it physically enjoys proximity to both, and culturally is a mix of many cultures, owing partially to having been “annexed” or occupied by a long line of nations.

But the special status it also enjoys is being one of those outposts that people talk about running off too. At various points I have chattered on about the uniqueness of Key West, where many arrive to disappear and others to find themselves. Something of an irony, I think. Other such outposts are in the south Pacific, various remote Scottish islands and Haida Gwaii off Canadas west coast. Every region has its outposts or little oddball communities that have not adopted all that is current. All are places that are seen to be remote or detached in some way. Eccentricities, political views, race, gender preference etc. are often not only more tolerated in these places but celebrated.  Most are islands figuratively and literally.

So while some who come to Malta are attracted simply for its great moderate climate, many fully embrace its diverse heritage, independence from larger societies and seemingly remote geography.

A pair of fellows two slips over from me are something of a recent arrival to Malta and to our  marina. Their power yacht is new, and huge and more than a bit out of place in our little water community. I have never met the older of the two but by all accounts he is a nice sort and I have met his much younger partner a few times. I have known a lot of gay couples and find that whether it’s a gay or straight couple one is usually the chatty one and the other is more reserved. It’s the older one I have not met who is the reserved one in this pair.

As I was hosing off the deck one afternoon I couldn’t help but watch him as he was unaware that he was putting on quite a show. He was wearing some big, expensive looking wireless over–ear headphones and was bouncing about / vacuuming / dancing to some music. As I listened more intently it was Joe Cockers Mad Dogs and Englishman album so as he worked through the two disc album (he is a vinyl nut) I would hear the gaps when he would put on another side. He was really working up a sweat with all the dancing and vacuuming.

The hoses we use to wash the boats in the marina are all shared and I was finished my clean up and was rolling it back to the main dock and to turn off the valve there when I encountered his partner. I don’t know him well but we have more than a nodding acquaintance and I remarked how much his partner was enjoying the vacuuming and remarked that I know the music well enough to often figure out what cut was playing. We both turned and watched for about half a minute and said almost simultaneously “The Letter”, and began to laugh.  Yes, he said, his partner was very into his music, particularly from the late sixties and into the seventies, but some new artists as well. As he said this, we could see the Dyson handle being used as a fictional microphone stand while dancing like a combination of Joe Cocker and James Brown.

And then he shared something that said so much. “Glen loves his music and he finds that doing chores like vacuuming not only less tedious but actually enjoyable when he is listening to his favourite music, particularly with his new headphones. He has had a lot of stress in his life and has found that this is his yoga. Some go to Pilates, some see a psychologist, some drink and some vacuum while listening to music. What he often doesn’t realize however that the fairly quiet cordless vacuum we have sometimes he has inadvertently turned off when he is dancing around while vacuuming.”

My grin must have given away that I understood as he touched me on the shoulder and walked away with his final words “his cancer may overtake him but its not for us to take away his joy of being oblivious to the spectacle him dancing and vacuuming with the power off.”

I couldn’t agree more.



Posted: January 1, 2023

I had a rather awkward session at my medical appointment this week. My regular doctor is off on maternity leave and as part of a multi- professional practice I was seen by one of her partners. While it is not the traditional structure of just seeing your same doctor all the time and initially I was skeptical of the arrangement, I have actually come to like the structure as they are all quite skilled in their particular interests and sometimes you will get one who knows more about immunology or geriatrics, cardiology and so on. As much of their client base is over fifty some of these other specialties are a real bonus. It is also a large enough practice that they have a full-time Dietician and Psychologist as well as an onsite lab and a nursing staff to administer regular shots such for influenza, pneumonia, shingles, and of course Covid. As it is also a teaching clinic there is a steady stream of young, bright doctors around who bring a freshness to the operation as well. With a great digital filing system and everyone keeping good notes what is lost in not having “your own doctor” all the time is more than offset by the other perks of their structure.

But one aspect I had not experienced before occurred this week. Now this doctor I was seeing is not a regular family practitioner or a specialist focused on other adult medical issues but a Pediatrician. For my needs I did not expect it would be a problem but something just didn’t feel right walking into a room adorned with stuffed dinosaurs and pictures of unicorns and a big fish tank on one wall. It also did not help that I am a conventional full size male mammal and the only chair in the room for patients was a little stool in the shape of mushroom.

But the bigger issue was the context. She is in her late thirties and it seemed normal to her to talk to me like as if I was a child. I am old enough to be her father and I am sitting there on my toadstool with my knees up beside my ears trying to have an adult conversation. And the nature of that conversation was the real issue, having succumbed to the need to ask for some pills to enhance my performance. Now this is not something I have come to all that easily to start with and the whole experience in the kiddy playroom was getting more surreal with every passing minute.

Part of the problem was that she seemed to be somewhat amused that: a. I would still have any interest at my age, and b. that there would be a woman interested in being with me.

Clearly, she uses a lot of humour in her practice with children as the whole topic seemed amusing to her. She has one of those faces that is always in a perma-grin which must be comforting for kids but was quite off- putting in this context.

And that is when she started to call me Jack. Now some people stumble over the pronunciation of my name, trying to vocalize that unused D at the beginning, but this was something else as she pronounced it properly when I first arrived in the dinosaur den. My puzzled look was all she needed to start into her questions about how many magic beans Jack was looking for and whether the beanstalk might grow on its own somewhat or really need lots of nutrients. At that point I turned the colour of a cooked lobster and the conversation turned to hypertension.

After taking my blood pressure it was concluded, and I am quoting her here: “no magic beans for Jack until he sees a cardiologist”.  So, I now hook myself up every morning to a blood pressure monitor that sends the data to an app on my phone and in the next month I am off to see the cardiologist for a stress test but am still shaking my head about that visit.

I did like the little red sucker she gave me when I left though.



POSTED: DEC 1, 2022

Several weeks ago, my neighbour Gabrielle was walking by a construction project, that coincidentally was being done by a carpenter, Henrik, I wrote about in The Turning Point, posted on Dec 1, 2021.   He was clearing up some materials and was good enough to give her some large planks that she was keen to do an art project with. Because she knew him as I had introduced them when he came over to thank me after that jam he was in, the ever-cheeky Gabrielle was able to convince the lad to let her use part of the house that he was renovating, for a few days for her art projects.

Gabrielle and Gerhardt live on an absolutely massive steel hull trawler, so she is able to keep a set of cordless power tools as well as lots of hand tools and art supplies. But even a big steel hull trawler still sits very close to other vessels in our little marina. The point is she has the room to work on some big projects if they are quiet tasks, but can’t really cut loose on noisy endeavors, using tools like reciprocating or circular saws, power planers or belt sanders. While some of those things are used in the marina from time to time, it is for limited periods when someone is doing a specific repair or upgrade, not a recreational art project.

The day she made these arrangements with Henrik she told me over dinner with the others in our group and while I listened with interest, my ears certainly perked up when she told me of my involvement. Apparently to sweeten the deal she had offered that over the three days that she would get to use a room in the house under construction, I would bring the onsite workers a fabulous lunch each day. I had not really planned on this. Now to be fair she and Gabrielle do pay for all the groceries that Ciara and I as well as Malcolm and Martha and her and Gerhardt consume so I agreed that this was a wonderful plan. She would work like mad on the rough and noisy components of her new woodworking art project on the site, I would bring them a nice lunch (I downgraded it from fabulous) and in three days things would go back to normal.

Her project was an interesting one. She is usually somewhat secretive with her art until a piece is finished but because I was there to deliver lunch and then clean up, I got to see the progress each day.

Now I need to back up a bit here. Most of us are like pet dogs – we are off leash in our own homes but have to live in those confines unless we are on a leash. Most artists however have fewer boundaries, their lives more like cats, letting the full world be a place they can wander. Some cats like Gabrielle are somewhat feral. My point is that her art is not very conventional. She doesn’t paint still life depictions of a bowl of fruit or a life drawing of Gerhardt but produces thought provoking interpretations of life. For those who do not read this little blog of mine regularly go back to Gabrielle: Meta & Metaphor from September 1st 2020, and you will see some of the kinds of art she does.

Now this project, initiated at a time which is on the cusp of what might be another major wave of Covid is about a dream or hope, which we know is horribly naïve in a time when we have no friggin idea what is going to happen.  It is based on the Greek myth about Icarus, the lad who got it in his head to stick feathers on his arms with wax, with the idea he could fly to the sun. Of course, the myth ends in the wax melting as he got too close to the hot object and he fell to the ground. Like most myths and religious parables, they are little stories to both teach and to keep us in line.

This project she is working on is a pair of life size wings for a person, carved out of wood as if Icarus had a Beta version. And her take on the Icarus mythology is not the hubris of Icarus to think that he could fly, but the optimism he had to think that it was worth trying.

Over the time she had at the house to do her rough work she began with laminating the planks with dowels and glue to create two large slabs of wood each about a meter (40 inches) long and half a meter wide. She had made up a template on construction paper ahead of time and did a rough cut of the shape.


That day I took her and the guys a muffuletta sandwich full of nice locally sourced meats and cheese and lettuce. I had made up some homemade chips and a lot of veggies with a dip.


I went back near the end of the first day as I was intrigued by the project. By the end of Day 1 she had done some strategic cuts at different depths in the wood with her circular saw. Each cut was at a different depth starting from what would be high point on the wood to the cuts out near the sides which were very deep. These were depth guides, so she could consistently create a curve to the wings.















The next stage was much more labour intensive, sawing off the edges to rough cut the depth on the sides, then planing the wood to get down to those marks to create the general arc of the wing.

I was hanging out watching but she threatened to make me do some work, so I headed out of there. I had a lot of clean up as that day I had taken over a big salad and baguette and had mixed it with salad dressing on site.

By lunch time on Day two she had both of the wings to the same stage. With the rough chiseling to get the arc of the wing she had moved on to planning it to make it a less rough surface.

With only three days available she was pushing pretty hard and I went over with Gerhardt at dinner time and took over her dinner and a bottle of wine. She was at the stage of using a belt sander with a really course grit to start to build the general shape of each of the layers of feathers. I eventually went home but Gerhardt stayed with her for the rest of the evening as she went through a lot of sandpaper belts, and a bit of wine as well.

Then with some carving chisels and knives on Day 3 she started to define the shapes of the feathers she had transferred from her plan. The original lines she had cut into the wood for depth now appeared as pencil lines so she could make sure the two wings would be the same on a grid. I think a lot of art making is just hard work and only a bit of it is the artistic part.

In watching the process, the parallels of the art and life, as a series of iterations started to jump out at me. When the project was young, it was a very rough project, and one slab looked much like any other. As it evolved, mistakes were made, and corrected and techniques perfected. The adjustments to the nature of the material, and the goals involved kept the exercise quite fluid but also growing on the experience of working on an earlier component. Some of the big shapes developed early, and some of the early templating kept it on course. So, the smaller details that were worked into the project as it developed later on, while the most striking visually, are actually just the last superficial layers.

On that last day I had prepped ahead the components for pad Thai, or my version of pad Thai and took it over and prepared it on a little butane stove, Malcolm and Martha have.

As it turned out with another job on the go and rain expected, Henrik was unable to move to working on the room he was letting her use and let Gabrielle come over for two more days. It allowed her to get the second wing to almost the same stage.

With all the rough work done she can now sit on the back deck of their yacht with some chisels, sandpaper and wine and enjoy the completion of the project. She plans on doing a lot of detailing in the feathers. She envisions making up a set of leather straps so it can be notionally worn by a person but more realistically just hung on a wall as an art piece.

While Gabrielle is pretty damn guarded with her art, she has agreed that as the project progresses, I can post a few more progress photos so stay tuned.



Posted: November 1, 2022

This week I was writing a nice post about my friend Gabrielle who has been working on a really neat wood carving. But yesterday I sat down to write about two models instead. Now before you get all wound up thinking that I am going to talk about my relationship with two supermodels, I should clarify that my topic here is not about that. Nor is it about car models I used to build as kid.

Its about two role models. When I was growing up my buddy Jim, the focus of much of my writing on this website had an amazing aunt, Vera Preston. My other buddy James (he was once a Jim as well) had a pretty cool mom, Isobel Hale.

What has sparked my writing this today is that Isobel passed on October 15th. She was born on August 28, 1919, and yes, your math is correct, that’s over 103 years old. That in itself is a rather significant feat. But the real story is what her life was and how she managed it. As one of six children in that family and growing up in several small communities in Saskatchewan and Ontario in that era, it must have been a stimulating time with so much changing in technology and society, especially with five siblings! But later when raising her own children at a time when mothers were to stay home, she was running a nursery school and growing a body of knowledge about early childhood education. That experience she went on to share and became a portion of the foundation for much of what we know today about how young minds think and how to help them grow.

Now Vera Preston was the aunt of my other buddy Jim. She was of the same era as Isobel, being born in 1916 and lived to 2004. Like Isobel, Vera grew up in a modest house in a small Ontario village. Unlike Isobel, she did not have children or marry, but was dedicated to her work. In her case, it was nursing. She went through the nursing program at Brockville General Hospital, and after distinguishing herself in that coursework and as a nurse went on to be the Director of Nursing at Brockville General and an important part of what later became the Nursing Program at St. Lawrence College.

What struck me this week is how similar both of these women were in both their personal traits and in their dedication to various causes. They grew up at a time when the only occupations open to most women were teaching and nursing and while each chose one of those very defined fields for women, they were able to not only excel at the task but move the professions forward.

And again, as they aged, in a very similar way, they both went on to teach, to participate in various boards and causes. This was not because there was an artificial goal of equality in gender representation on those boards but because they could bring important ideas, experience and insight to the table. In her later years Isobel evolved her relationship with children to designing kids clothes and Vera to more medical related charity work.

Both had a very wry sense of humour, and a restrained response to bad decision making or the behaviour of others. As a generator of serious “tomfoolery”, “shenanigans”, and outright “mischief” myself, I always knew each of these women would have a measured response to my behaviour in contrast to most adults I would encounter.

I am sorry I did not know either of them better. I would love to have asked if the experience of Vera watching her farmer father die of pneumonia while working the field, set her on the course to pursue nursing or the experience of Isobel in a large family watching her younger siblings learn and process new information set her on her path to early childhood education.

There is no better a tribute than to say it was a privilege to have known these two woman, at least a little, and that I am a better person for it. At a time when we are rethinking the statues of big men, these two small women stand pretty tall in my memory.



Posted: October 1, 2022

Over the last year or so the toppling of statues and renaming streets and institutions to try to correct the wrongs of the past has really taken on a new momentum. Much of it has been focused on the worst offenders – slave owners, and others who overtly set out to harm others. Of course, we have a long way to go in that regard. There have been so many who, by today’s standards, did awful things – benefited from financing Hitler, exploited workers, done atrocities to animals and the environment, who still have statues, cities and streets named after them. I don’t think we will ever get to the stage of calling out all the bad deeds of the past and the associated renaming. That is a good thing.

Names are used to respect those who have come before, or as aspirational names to try to live up to.

My own name is a strange amalgam of my heritage, my parents character and a bit of mischief. For anyone new to this website you can read some detail of that history in the piece ON LEARNING I WAS A BAD SON posted in December of 2015.

But while the elimination of names to correct past sins is common it is also interesting to see the reclaiming of names that have been misused. That in fact is what got me to thinking about names this week. I was at a gay pride event and was impressed by a fellow wearing a T shirt which said it all.  I would put his height at two meters at least, (six foot seven inches). The physique was less muscular that a body builder but as substantial as a rugby player. Where most of us have some flesh he had muscles, sometimes with multiple layers on display. His other features were also striking, an attractive face with some strong lines. But he moved not like a brute but like someone with discipline. It was clear to me that this would be the fellow chosen by most people to be stuck on a desert island with, ready to fight off the tigers or build the hut from palm fronds and shark skeletons. Probably the guy we would all vote for or chose to have as our doctor if such things were chosen by visuals alone. This guy just seemed substantial and trustworthy.

And the T shirt told the rest of the story. It fit just a little snug, like he had bought it before getting the last installment of muscles. Pale pink with just one word in purple on the front where to see it you would also be looking him in the eye. Well in the case of most of us, looking him in the neck, but you get the point.

SISSY. Yeah. SISSY. I can imagine him as a tall, sensitive kid getting taunted and razzed, maybe pushed around a bit, always challenged to respond. In the world of bullies taunts it is not as heavily loaded as some racist terms, or some sexist terms but as a fairly innocuous one it still has some nasty barbs to it.

But like some of those racist terms, and sexist terms, here was a huge powerful attractive and confident man taking it back and throwing it in the face of anyone who ever used the term. A challenge to allcomers to bring it on.

I am straight. I have been bullied for reasons that I don’t even know were clear to the bullies. And I learned to bully back with words, not physical abuse. The power feels good initially to play the role of David to a Goliath but once you realize just how much damage you can do, most of us learn from it and keep it handy for just those specific underdog applications.

We have only started to get to a point where othering is called out and that evolution is at various points on the spectrum depending on our location in the world, socio-economic status, race and other factors. But on that one day, in a little gay pride parade in Malta that powerful message said it all.

I think names matter. I think they matter a lot.



P.S. The pride parade in Malta is not like the big ones in major centres but one of the things that is nice about all celebrations of Pride is that whether it’s a little town in Germany, Brazil or Japan, it is a message and one that needs to continue to be told. Unlike Pride in many parts of the world that occurs in June, the parade in Valletta, Malta occurs in September. This one was Saturday September 10th.


POSTED: Sept 1, 2022

I like eating and drinking. There I said it. Flavours, textures, smells, umami. I like holding burgers and corn on the cob in my hand, cutting fresh bread, and breaking a just out of the oven scone. I also like cooking and smelling the change when zucchini slices just start to grill or onions begin to caramelize, or a simmering Irish oatmeal wafts through my little kitchen in the morning.

So as I have passed through the last few decades it has been a real disappointment for me to learn at various points about the perils of many of the elements that make food so great. Those scientists want us to live forever, and keep identifying the bits that close up our arteries, screw up our hearts or brain or cause cancers.

Now we don’t need to manage these things. Like exercise, a “proper” diet will mean we will probably live a normal life but a “perfect” diet will result in us outliving our friends and there will be no one to say nice things about us at our funeral. But on the other hand if we want to hang out a little longer than otherwise we really have to manage our intake of these monsters, especially if we aren’t about to submit to an exercise regime!

Fats of course were the first nasty to be identified, particularly those trans fats. The latter had never been a big part of my life but conventional fats of course were. Yes, you can reduce their component in a dish, use substitutes and other tricks to reduce if you are cooking at home but if you go out to dinner or buy take away food or prepared dishes at the supermarket – there they are, lurking behind the proteins and green vegetables ready to ambush you.

The same is the case for salt. My buddy Jims paternal grandmother used salt like she was melting an icy winter road. Almost killed the taste of everything with it on her own plate but when making a nice tourtiere or pie for others she would restrain herself. Virtually any product you buy in a grocery store that is not a vegetable or a meat is full of sodium. Almost anything in a can or jar is loaded up with it. I have almost cut it out as a component in my cooking but must admit that there are a few things that I still will put a little pinch on.

Being a baby boomer, an ever-present part of my childhood was sugar. Everything was better with sugar. And if the massive dose of sugar in the products was not enough well lets just put a few extra spoonful’s on your cereal Django.

Some things are the holy trinity of these three – Ice cream – fat, sugar, salt and you might just want to put some more sugar sprinkles on top. I love a good ice cream cone but it has been ruined for me given what comes hidden in that lovely treat. Now sometimes I make homemade frozen yogurt, or a nice fruit sorbet that are better on the nasty components but just don’t measure up on the taste front.

You may wonder why I am ranting on about fat, salt and sugar. Well, I was watching the BBC last week and they ran a piece on a recent study. Apparently, alcohol is a carcinogen. Yeah, that age old favourite is killing us. When I dug a little deeper I learned this has been fairly well documented for some time, but of course the industry does not want to promote this, nor the governments who tax the product and enjoy the  employment numbers from its sale directly as well as the sale of wine beer and other alcoholic drinks in restaurants. And beyond governments own self interest the alcohol lobby is massive. It may be bigger than the NRA in its various efforts around the world.

At this point  in time it is becoming clear that a good time is to be had with a glass of water and a celery stick and its only a matter of time before we learn just how terrible that celery can be.

I am not about to cut out all the fats and salts and sugars and alcohol but want to be around a bit longer so will do my best to try to keep them in check but not beat myself up when I fall off the wagon. This week I have taken to only having wine on the weekend. Boy its hard to do. It has been a long week so far and its only Wednesday!



POSTED: August 1, 2022

I really love Malta. It is a great place that I have adopted and many of my posts reference how nice it is. But its not perfect and like most of the world there are times when… well, shit happens.

Such was the case last week when an older woman, Isla, who lives on an old vessel in our marina was out later at night and confronted by a young woman on a scooter who tried to steel her bag. In so doing she did not get the bag but did knock Isla. She incurred a few multiple fractures from the event when she tried to regain her balance she fell over a high curb.

The marina community has rallied to help her with her chores and some financial help and I have taken over some prepared meals.

But the community has also taken to talking about their various encounters with people who attempt to rob others, and are prepared to get into a physical confrontation in doing so. The experience is quite traumatic for most of us and the effects linger for some time, even if we were not physically hurt or financially impacted by such an event.

One such experience sticks in my mind from when I was just out of high school. As regular readers know it has only been in the last year that I have connected with my old high school friends and only a few years since reconnecting with Jim. If you are not familiar with that aspect of this website you should read the ABOUT section.

But back in the spring of 1974, it was less than a year since graduating high school and I was still very much in touch with many of them and was off and on living in South Florida with a bunch of people as I was working on a cruise line that went out of there. My buddy Jim had contacted me in early March to see if I would be around as he was contemplating a trip to Ft. Lauderdale over university spring break coming up in a week.

The trip, like most things that happened to people like Jim and me and most of our friends had come together quickly and with not a lot of preparation.  The background is that Jim and another high school buddy Bo had really enjoyed their photography hobby through high school. Bo was off to college for it and Jim as teaching a rudimentary, non- credit course in it to pay for university. So with a few bucks in his Jeans from that job and doing some freelance work for UPI, the wire service that bought photographs from freelancers like him, he had been saving to go to New York to the camera district and buy a Nikon F2 Photomic. At the time, unless you were going to mid or large format cameras like Rolleiflex,  Hasselblad or Linhof, this camera was one of the best in the small thirty five millimeter film format.

Now sometimes a variety of things just come together as if they were meant to be. His girlfriend at the time had made the decision to fly to Ft. Lauderdale with a few of her girlfriends for the spring break. At the same time Greyhound, the American bus company had announced a new promotional programme. For $99 you could have unlimited travel on Greyhound busses throughout North America for seven days. Jim figured he could take the bus at midnight to NYC, spend the day shopping for the camera, then get on another bus heading out late at night for an all-nighter and much of the next day on the bus as well to get to Ft. Lauderdale. He would have a few days there with his girlfriend, see me and then get back on the bus in time to make it back to Ottawa within the seven days.

There were other motivations as well. This girlfriend was a bit of wild card and not super predictable. He thought that her time in Ft. Lauderdale would be quite the messy business.

So the plan was hatched, the Greyhound pass purchased, and Jim was off to the Big Apple.

Today NYC is a fairly safe, major city but in the 1970’s this was classic Gotham. Hoods and gangs roamed the streets. The police, city officials, some ambulance services and most of the public had given up large portions of the city to drug dealers and gangs. It is hard to believe today.

The fourteen hours overnight to New York worked out but left him a big groggy for the wheeling and dealing that went on in the camera shops of the day in the Camera District. People would bump into each other at the counter and there was a lot of haggling and brinksmanship etc. They sold lots of new gear but the haggling really came to the fore when a purchaser would bring in a piece or two of used gear. The best deals happened on buying a new camera where there was very little flexibility on price, when combined with trading in something used, or buying something used in addition to the new camera. The used equipment aspect attracted lots of questionable characters and sometimes purchasers were vendors and haggling with people behind the counter or beside them at the counter with something to sell or trade.

As Jim tells it one huge fellow who looked like Samuel L. Jackson on steroids, wearing black jeans and sweater and a long black leather cape who was pretty loaded down with gear dropped one of his cameras and Jim happened to be right there and caught it. No big thank you or shaking of hands or anything, just a nod. If you are from Ottawa this is not the amount of recognition you would usually receive for such a fortuitous catch, but it was New York and when in Rome….  The guy behind the counter told him to check to see he still had all his gear as sometimes one person distracts you while another picks your pocket. Nope, he had it all, but when he looked around the huge guy with the cape was not to be seen.

The buy went off without a problem and after walking around Jim found himself Uptown. It was late afternoon and the sun was retreating quickly and he thought he might get a chance to see the Apollo theatre before heading back to the bus station.  But as he walked and the sun withdrew the park started its evening shift. Guys were appearing from almost nowhere and they were in little groups of two and three. This was not going to go well, and he wisely tucked his new prize camera into his coat as he picked up the pace to get closer to the parks edge where he could see there were more passersby.  But his timing was all wrong and a few of the little groups had become larger and it was very clear that it was not only the loss of the camera that would be at risk.

But just as quicky as the strange falling camera events had unfolded in Downtown Camera, the guy with the cape strolled along and asked if he knew where he was. “Uptown… wanted to see the Apollo… Jim struggled to get the words out. “You’re a dead white kid in Harlem” was the low octave reply. But as he spoke, he asked “are you the one who caught my Leica in the store? all look the same to me”. After establishing that yes, he was in fact that spindly white kid who had done the big camera catch, they walked together out of the park while sharing a couple of thoughts on photography. Well as Jim tells it he was chattering nervously and there was little said in response. And then after a pause as Jim turned to thank him the expanse of black leather cape moving into the subway was all Jim saw of angel.

He caught his bus, and after about another twenty hours of bus ride to Ft. Lauderdale stopping to drop off and pick up along the way, he made it to the address his girlfriend was staying at. It was clear to him pretty quickly that they were no longer together and her interest was elsewhere. I had been called up for a cruise on an unscheduled basis as someone had quit so we didn’t connect either. He didn’t have anywhere to stay and little money. I understand it was a long bus ride home for him.

My direct experience with this kind of perilous world of muggers and beatings was more recent.

Regular readers of my posts know that early in the Pandemic I went to Ireland to have a chat with a lad who was the ex-husband of my captain, Ciara. I did not say a lot about that in earlier posts and I won’t say much more here as it was a fairly unsavoury experience for all concerned.  But in my efforts to find the fellow I had not realized just a how tight the communities are in rural Ireland. If you walk into a village pub and are not recognized you might as well as be wearing a Bugs Bunny costume as the stares will be the same. If you then ask someone behind the bar if they know where to find a particular person you are quickly sized up and determined to be a long lost relative from America, which is not the best, or someone looking for another purpose, which of course is worse. You are also measured in terms of the quality of the person you are looking for. If it is any sort of low life scoundrel you are put in the same category. This was the case here of course.

So when the woman behind the bar told me he wasn’t around much, but that she would ask around and served me my pint, she gave me one of those piercing looks like film directors like to capture that cut out about a few hundred words of dialogue. I had two addresses of his relatives and decided to head off to find one of them before it got too late in the day. It was only mid afternoon but the two lads who met me as I stepped out to the street had been waiting. After a dialogue over why I was looking for their brother it was clear that they were not there to help. It didn’t help my case asking them to repeat some of their questions as if I needed a switch for close captioning to understand them.

I did not see the first punch coming. It was to the area not in my back but on my side just behind my stomach. Two of these guys were really not needed. One could have beaten me up on his own. But after falling over and catching myself on the stone wall of the pub, I nervously blurted out something stupid. “Well I guess if I have some super powers I am not familiar with, this would be a good time for them to kick in wouldn’t it.” They both looked stunned for a moment and then started to laugh uncontrollably. They both had gone through a lot of beer that afternoon I expect and I thought one of them might piss himself or have a heart attack they were so out of control in their laughter. And then after looking behind me and seeing we were being joined by a few people leaving the pub they sort of ran and stumbled away.

After a bit of searching, I found where I was going and did my business with Ciara’s ex.

I got off pretty easy on that one. The psychological effects of the actual meeting I had were worse. And that is a common result of these assaults, or attempted robberies. We are not as comfortable being out around people, we often look at strangers with more suspicion. It is a bad combination with aging where we are sometimes more reticent to get into any conflict.

My neighbour in the marina who was knocked down is certainly shaken, but she seems like a fairly resilient sort. Isla was from Utrecht originally. She is old enough to be my mom. She came here originally with her partner who was not well and has now passed and has lived on a boat for the last couple of decades so I am think she has some serious inner strength. I think she will be ok.



Posted: July 1, 2022

We all dread the call in the middle of the night. As we move to respond and open our eyes we make up stories about what it could be about.  A loved one who is ill ….a friend in trouble…. It amazes me how many fast thoughts you can process in just a second or two. I think this conditioning is normal. Its way out of the ordinary to get a call at some ungodly hour so it must be important. And not the good version of important.

But in my case both my parents and my grandparents have passed. I don’t have siblings or children, so it has to relate to a friend. While a have a lot of friends and acquaintances I don’t have very many friends I am so close to that they would be calling at this hour. That I think is partially because I am a Canadian and living in Malta so if it was one of my friends in Toronto or Ottawa, I am not really in a position to help them get to the hospital, or to post bail in Montreal. And anyone having a problem in the middle of the night in Malta that I know well enough to be soliciting help would just rap on the hull of the boat. I looked over and Ciera was in the bed sleeping (she sometimes comes into my room for company) and looking out a porthole I did not see any special lights on.

So, in that few seconds of processing time, I concluded it would be my buddy Jim calling from Toronto. This time of year, the spread is six hours so at 4:54 am it was only 10:34 pm the night before in Toronto. That timing is fairly consistent with his questionable timing in calling me. If this remained true to previous calls of this type, he would have had a glass of wine or two and be exceedingly stressed about something. Previous all time great calls have been about Trump, the mistreatment of indigenous people in Canada, Justin Trudeau in Blackface and similar topics. I have documented this behaviour before – check out my post on September 2019, for example.

The phone was on its second ring and as I picked it up, I was already processing the topics of the day that when combined with a nice bottle of Amarone might generate such a call: Putin and the war in Ukraine, mass killings of kids in American schools and the lack of gun control…… My imagination was interrupted when the call connected.

Yes, indeed I was correct and yes, two for two, he was intoxicated and sure enough he had some big thoughts on his mind. But unlike previous calls where it is a big issue of the day that has him incensed, enraged or otherwise stimulated, this time his tone, while still with slurred speech as usual for these calls, was more subdued. “I have done something really crazy” he began.

Now beyond these unscheduled late-night / early morning calls I chat with Jim regularly at normal hours. Usually, it is during his mid afternoon so it is after my chores making dinner for Malcolm, Martha, Gerhardt and Gabrielle, Ceira and myself or by email. So when he said this I knew instantly the range of craziness it might encompass. Janice and Jim have had many lives and relationships but they have all been with each other. They change things up every now and again and evolve into new activities, businesses or pursuits but always seem to be able to do it together. I envy them that ability to change their lives but go off on the adventure together.  In some of my recent chats it has become clear that Jim in particular is really chomping at the bit do try something new, and half jokes about restoring a lighthouse on Prince Edward Island or restoring an old Airstream trailer and with Janice and their dog Tuli going on a road for a year. But these are the kinds of things they have always done – a record label, a cooking school, Janice going to grad school in her sixties, so would not be characterized as “crazy”.

In that moment I processed the other things he has chatted about recently. Over the pandemic, like much of the world they have watched a lot of films on the various platforms out there. And like most the spectrum of what they have watched has broadened. Some of it is a bit dark and I have heard him muse more than once about Ozark and what it might be like to deal with a Mexican drug lord, or what it would be like to kill someone.

“Have you taken up money laundering” I quietly asked.

There was a pause.

“No, but something equally questionable” he responded.

My mind was now fully engaged and racing. What the hell had he done? Ciera was now up and making coffee for me so I could be equipped for the ensuing trauma.

Well, it turns out that he had not killed anyone, Janice was not laundering drug money, or any of the other things that I had imagined. No, it turns out he had bought a jerk marinade and cooked up some pork and used the mixture rather generously. To hear him tell it Janice’s head spun around, steam came out of her ears and his lips looked like he was just back from a Botox convention.

My hopelessly whitebread buddy had spiced up a dish too much and this was the crisis!!!

It is not the first time my imagination had run ahead of me. I don’t know if it is age or the pandemic but I have noticed that the risks or possible negative outcomes or anxieties bubble up more often than in the past.

Ciera and I enjoyed our coffees on the upper deck looking over the other boats, listening to the sail lines singing and watching the sunrise and sharing a chuckle over my buddy who gets a sunburn when walking by neon lights and who was feeling he might need be hospitalized over the spiciness of a jerk sauce.




Posted: June 1, 2022

Malta is an amazing place. It has had continuous civilization since 5,900 BC and has been occupied by the Romans, Greeks, The Knights of St. John, Sicily, France, and in recent times by the British from the early 19th century until 1964. During WWII the Germans desperately tried to occupy it and while they failed then, they have certainly succeeded now. There are people from all over the world who have chosen to live here. Some are wealthy, some are not, but a lot of people who are here have chosen this place with many other options available.

I travel in a fairly narrow circle of friends, acquaintances and neighbours. This is partially because I arrived at the beginning of Covid and did not have history here when people could roam about freely. But that exaggerates the role Covid has played in limiting my exposure. I am like a lot of people with my little routines and rituals and comfort zone and other than the occasional exception I largely stick to my own space and encounter the same people I usually do in a day.

So I was a bit surprised to be invited to a full-on post-Covid party at the home of a very significant designer. These are not the circles I travel in.  It happened because this woman had come to visit En Plein Air a few months ago to see the yachts propulsion and electrical systems and design features. Now for those who don’t read my posts regularly you should go back to a post on Dec 14, 2016 EN PLEIN AIR: LIFE WITH AMY & JUSTIN – DJANGO BISOUS  to understand the significance of this old wooden boats propulsion system and its crazy design that has secret compartments.

This woman had come to her design life by way of studying engineering, and then industrial design before pursuing more artistic design.  She had heard from a mutual friend about how special my old boat is and wanted to see it for herself so we had set up a visit. Then this week a little card arrived in the mail thanking me for the tour and inviting me to see the restoration she had completed of her rather magnificent home.

I pulled out my best jeans for the outing, and most fashionable jacket, fully aware that the age of the later might exceed the age of some of the other guests. I was correct. Most looked like they had just stepped out of fashion magazines, and had not been fed in months, but I was happy to be there and see her amazing home.

It was also nice to drink some wines other than Spanish. Now don’t get me wrong, Malcomb supplies my wine for free and I like the choices for the most part but he does like his Spanish wines and I, on occasion prefer some French, or new world from Australia or New Zealand, so the opportunity to sample (what a polite word for guzzle) some exquisite vintages was welcomed.

For privacy reasons all guests were asked to not photograph the house so my descriptions here will have to suffice. It was a typical large but non- descript house viewed from the small unmemorable lane it was on. The frontage had several different facades as if it was several attached buildings but once inside it was clear it had been done as a magnificent home with an unpretentious exterior, consisting of what looked like several different properties. It was square in shape wrapping around a central courtyard for its four floors. Each of those floors had extensive open areas overlooking the courtyard below and the top floor other than the façade at the front of the building overlooked the nearby rooftops and the ocean further on. While a guest I was not an honoured guest so when one of that variety was given a tour of the place I followed along like a dog on its walk. Without the tour it would have been impossible to know the magnitude of the work she had undertaken as it was all so sympathetic to the design and finishes of what I assume was a version of the house from about the late 1800’s. After the tour I wandered around a bit on my own enjoying the views, and the wine.

A short distance from the bar was a doorway that framed a new room our host had done to show off her collection of vintage handbags and luggage. All the big designer labels were represented on the walls, and they were for the most part the quintessential styles associated with each one. Along the floor were vintage luggage pieces by Louis Vuitton presented both for their own attributes but also to serve as plinths for other handbags.

Standing in that portico looking at the bags and enjoying my various wines over the evening I would overhear the various responses to the room – both the objects sitting on mahogany floating shelves and the painted walls behind.

The walls captured a lot of attention. “Pantone 287 – I love it” was one comment from a graphic artist, who was then corrected by another person with “Benjamin Moore 2046-50 Scuba Green”, and topped off by a very young consumer of such things with “Tiffany Blue”.   Ah yes, I understood now. They were all speaking their own language or jargon. It was all English but none of it related other than reference to the same colour.

When I was young, I often thought that people who knew all these words were smart. As I have aged, I have realized that every field has its terminology, jargon, lexicon. Sometimes these words exist just to abbreviate a bigger concept, notion or process so they are like a short form but other times their use is a method to insulate them from the outside world as an exclusivity tool.

In some places it is common for  people discussing a sensitive topic to slide into a language they share that is not commonly used by others in a restaurant for example. I know a few snippets of several languages and have heard some pretty scary things from guests on the cruise ships believing no one would understand their comments. This application of technical, or specialty terminology is a like a variation on that.

So whether its artists talking negative space, architects talking compression & release, oncologists talking remission, or lawyers referencing a pari pasu arrangement, you need to evaluate why the terms are being used – as a good abbreviated or short-form way to describe, or whether the purpose is to exclude the outsider hearing the terms.

This business of inclusion and exclusion flowing from secret terms or language fascinates me. I have a buddy who worked in the investment world for decades and liked to really play with this. When new members of the team would pull out their recently minted vocabulary from MBA school, stringing together multiple bits of MBA speak he would sometimes start into a dialogue with a colleague, so these young graduates would over hear, and the little patter was filled with financial gibberish just to mess with them. His little nonsense speak would always begin plausibly enough but after a few sentences be so absurd everyone would be in on the joke. As a humorous learning tool it usually worked without invoking too much humiliation.

There is a little lad who I encounter every few days who lives with his parents just a few slips over on a fairly modest liveaboard they have been restoring all during the pandemic while living in it. His name is Nico. He was born before the pandemic and is about three years old at this point, so much of his early learning has been influenced by the pandemic. It has been a long time since I have been around such little creatures and it is amazing to watch the evolution of all aspects of his life including his speech. His dad is from England and his mom’s heritage is Columbian so the mysteries of learning to communicate for him has both Spanish and English dimensions. Just as he has gone from barely walking to now riding a scooter in seemingly no time at all, his language skills and vocabulary have also gone on an exponential curve. It must be something to start to unpack all these hidden terms for the first time. Of course, he has discovered the power of NO, but seems like a good kid who is not going into a couple of decades of the terrible twos.

But these days when I think just as I am awestruck by the positive power of this learning children go through on the flip side of that, it is a reminder of the shame of what was done to so many indigenous children in Canada in Residential schools. Their language was taken away, and they were not even allowed to use their own names. There have been few things in history that have affected me as much as this. Perhaps it is because it happened as recently as in my own time. Perhaps it is because it was my government and the churches of my country that did these things. It is one of those things that we can never make right, or truly correct.

But if we are to move forward at all it is important that all the little Nico’s of the world  need to learn that some words are racially charged, sexually exploitive or disrespectful of one group or another. As I think about it, the dictionary of current words in use that should not be used is as extensive as the correct ones. Perhaps the world Nico will inhabit as he ages will be better.

The wine was really flowing that night and as I would lean there in the portico overlooking the bag room, as other guests would come along to look at the display, I took to sizing them up and guessing which descriptor of the blue walls they would respond to, and which designer bags they would identify. I was usually wrong, but had some interesting conversations and expanded my little bank of friends. And at quite a late hour I found myself walking home, having made the wise decision to not operate a bicycle after such an evening.


p.s. I have been really quite busy with giving cooking classes lately and was in a bit of a scramble to get this post done. As a result I did not put in any pictures of Malta but will be updating this post over the next week with some.


Posted: May 1, 2022

There is a young lad I sometimes see when I am out to the stores or just going for a walk. As I get older, I don’t have as good a handle on age as I once did, but I would place him at somewhere in his early thirties. Until a few months ago I only had a nodding acquaintance with him. Our paths would cross enough that we would acknowledge that we had seen each other before – something of a notion that we were functioning together in the same little island in the sea.

But one day when sharing a park bench, I could hear from his headphones a band I have liked since the seventies and one that is not well known to his generation – Weather Report. When he took off his headphones and pulled out a journal to write something down, I remarked the bridge in the song. As it turns out music is his field. He is a musician/producer/ composer. It also turns out, as I have learned over a few conversations since that time, he goes to the park when he hits a creative wall. Sometimes it’s just a clearing of his head that he needs.

Last week was a fairly intense conversation. He is plagued by this question of the determination of when something is complete. In the non-creative, real-world-functional-stuff this does not come up. I have either pealed the potatoes or there is more peeling to do, but in the creative world there is no bell to say the meal is ready for pick up, no green light indicating its good to go.

Because I have been on the planet long enough to be his dad, and observed this mental maze before, I was able to share what I have learned about it, while observing similar creative humans.

The mind is really strange item. And the desire to make an artistic product the best you can produce when combined with the judgement that comes from putting your name on something as complex as art, is a challenge. It comes from the underlying problem of the final work being made up of those bits of nothing you have combined, whether it is notes for music, words for prose, or the elements of visual art.

One thing that I know he already does well is to go for that walk, and take his mind off the problem. The truth of it is that a persons mind is never really off the job, but the effect of doing something else, diversion,  means the mind can work it without you getting in the way. One  artist I know claims this is the real reason for sleep.

Some creatives have found the formula in working with an editor or to collaborate with someone else. Often the completion of a project is more easily identified than when working on a project alone. He shared that he loved doing this but had a rather upsetting recent break up with a musical collaborator and is not looking for another collaboration situation right now.

But there are also tricks and techniques for learning how to get your mind into the right place to sign off on a project. I shared the experience of a friend who was studying architecture. On the first day and the first class the exercise was to draw in pencil a facade of a building the student liked. They had fifteen minutes. Some of course at the end of the fifteen minutes were still figuring out what scale to use, others were creating a grid so the visuals could be accurate, but most had a finished drawing a façade and some were quite detailed. The instructor pointed out what had clearly been a matter of time mismanagement for some of the students in their desire to make it so perfect in scale and representation they did not get anything on the page and had missed the opportunity to show others what they actually thought. After some discussion it became clear that the students understood the value of the exercise – there are times where completing is the task, so they will be measured on that, not on the results.

A pretty good lesson, I think. But the exercise went on.

They were then given ten minutes to erase the drawing, crumple up the paper, smooth it out and then do the drawing again. Once again a few were challenged by this – either bogging down in erasing to make the paper completely free of any trace of the previous image and did not get the task completed, or the notion of crumpling up the paper before doing the new drawing was a leap a few could not fully embrace. Most instantly understood the significance – nothing you produce is precious – be prepared to mash it up and come back to it. The really important aspects or ideas expressed the first time will come back quickly and the drawing can be produced in less time.

Finally, after much more discussion the exercise took on another iteration. They were allocated five minutes to erase that drawing, do the crumpling up but this time to try to get it down to a very small little wad of paper before opening it up again. Now the challenge was to do the drawing with the hand they do not usually use. By this point all the students were on board and understanding the exercise. The drawings they produced were very rudimentary, but while pared back in detail and accuracy, most of them captured the essence of the best parts of their design. Every student completed on time and every drawing, while sloppy and basic had some architectural elements that could be discussed.

My young friend enjoyed hearing the story and related it to a performing a song night after night on the road, and cutting out the junk verses, and the trappings that are not needed and getting to the real elements of what makes the song work.  Or going from the fully enhanced product to an unplugged version.

It was a springboard for us talking about some other techniques. I have never been a farmer but have some extended family  members who are. They use the technique of letting a field lie fallow to regenerate. Over a period of one or more years the field would not be in production, letting it rebuild its nutrients. Leaving a creative work of any kind for a period of time does not change the work but you do come back to it somewhat refreshed as the creator of it and can see it in a new light and with some edits may be more easily identified as complete or the deficiencies identified to correct to complete.  This I have found works very well for me but unfortunately while the technique works like a charm, it can also become a nasty excuse for procrastination.

A real challenge for many of us is to find the way to access the second most important thinking organ in your body. We all use our minds, but what we think of as the gut is often better at processing complex decisions. But how do you access it?  My buddy Jim had a big investment company and tried to use consensus management as much as possible. When dealing with difficult decisions where various scenarios and proformas and risk analysis had been employed and put into the mix for decision making, the decision would usually fall out of the research. If the answer was not apparent, you needed to go back to do more research on the various risks, or opportunities. But when the answer would still not rise to the top, he would write a definitive action plan on a little yellow sticky note and post it on the fridge of the coffee room – WE ARE GOING TO BUY XYZ BUILDING, for example. This is the technique he has used in all his big life decisions as well – changing jobs, buying houses, having kids. If the next morning you get up and feel good about that definitive action statement, it’s a go. If you wake up at four in the morning in a cold sweat and go to the kitchen and rip it off the fridge, your gut has let you know.

But after sharing with him all the wisdom I could muster on the subject he raised another one that is as good as the rest – feedback. Hearing from others does not help you create but it does tell you how your work is received and that might prove to be a guide. His conclusion was to post a piece of his music or two on a platform that is a bit of showcase for his kind of music and see the comments that come back. Ultimately its his work, and his decision to keep it as it is, or erase, crumple it up and do it again. But getting a response from the public to what in his case is a largely solitary act of writing music, isolated from the rest of the world, was his conclusion. Many a musical performer have let their music evolve and respond to the audience.

Part of my sharing with him also got me onto thinking about those things in my life I have not completed. Some of these I have good explanations for, others I do not.

If there is one thing I have learned from Covid, it is the little day to day interactions we now experience, that  in the past would usually not be indulged, today are often what sustain us. I have a new young friend, his name is Jared, and we are learning together.