Tag Archives: Django Bisous


POSTED: August 1, 2023

My physical world is quite small. Yes, I live on the planet and have traveled but on a day to day basis I don’t take up a lot of space. En Plein Air is a bit over 18 meters (59 feet) long and has a beam of 4.41 meters (about 14.5 feet) so while some people live on hectares of land my boat and her slip is pretty modest.

It means that much of my life is not wrapped up in owning stuff. Eventually everyone gives up the possessions they have collected over a life as they downsize or move to smaller accommodation to cope with their age but along the way most do amass serious collections of things.

I get it. Some objects are just nice to look at – art for example. It can take us away to a different place without ever leaving home. Some of it also has some great utility, like cool vintage furniture that you can appreciate for its design, materials and craftsmanship but also just use as a coffee table or lounging chair.

But there is a special category of things that people value as identifiers. Some are literal identifiers of course – the bracelet with a person’s name or the ring with their initials or birthstone. Some are more group identifiers like religious symbols or peace symbols, letting the general public know that they are part of a subgroup and proud enough of it to have it as their pre- eminent message. The first thing you must know about me is that I am …..


I get this for those things that are fundamental to a person’s sense of self but it is interesting to me how many will attach themselves to a more half-baked cause or idea – the Make America Great Again hats or bracelets for various causes. Some of these of course are a negative expression of identification – I am part of this and if you aren’t with me than you must be against me.

Usually when I talk to people about some object they value it is because it is a memento of some great memory or experience. Their dads watch or a piece of their moms jewelry, or something they bought on a trip long ago. The object is a manifestation of good memories. I like that aspect.

But some objects are not so overt but still are tools to help a person define who they are. The motorcycle jacket or the bike they ride, the watch they wear or the type of knives they use in the kitchen. It is as if by owning such an object we have acquired the same attributes it possesses – its uniqueness, attractiveness, or cache.

As a guy and a baby boomer I have always had a relationship with cars. As a kid and then a teenager the ranking of them, the details of their features, elements, engineering or physical design occupied a lot of my time. I was chatting recently with Larry, an old friend who had owned a couple of Isuzu Troopers over the years, much like my buddy Jim. They were utility vehicles that were overtly proud of that heritage, much like old Land Rovers and the owners saw themselves in much the same light – a bit rough and tumble, but capable.

Over the last while I have come to notice that as the world has become more complex and so many elements are interrelated, younger people have a much less shallow relationship with objects than some of us. They might love the lines of an old Jaguar XKE but be appropriately outraged environmentally by the notion of two seats combined with twelve gas guzzling cylinders. That objectivity is something that has taken me a lot of time to find.

I don’t have a lot of objects partially because of the space. But beyond that I would like to think that any really important ideas can’t be expressed neatly on a bumper sticker or a tattoo, as most good thoughts are more nuanced and contextual. But that notion of objects as manifestation of memories is an important one. I do value a little card with a recipe from my grandmother and a few other similar objects that can transport me to where I was when I received them.



POSTED: May 1, 2023

Once you reach a certain age, retirement creeps into your mind. You watch friends do it, your partner talks about it, there are pieces on the news about it. Much of the world’s population is quite young, but the western parts of the world are aging fast and its only immigration that is not making it worse. This whole generation of baby boomers has retired or is just about to retire.

Just the word retirement brings out crazy feelings in people ranging from elation to dread. For some of us who have not accumulated “stuff” to sell or mortgage, or the credits to a pension or other income retirement in the conventional sense, is not really an option. Similarly, for those who have worked in the gig economy or otherwise been self employed or on contract work the whole retirement thing is not as binary. Just dial back the amount of work to make life a little easier as needed is the way to go. No gold watch, no cleaning out the desk, no drunken goodby party with coworkers.

So what I mean by retirement is that traditional version – you work at something for forty or forty five years and then you stop working at that and have the income to do whatever you want without worrying about the financial side of the equation.

This has been raised in my consciousness recently by my friend Peter’s sharing with me that he is going to retire. Now unlike some friends who, like him, have worked regular jobs, largely for others and have been counting the days to stop going to a repetitive job, where their work has been eclipsed by younger, higher energy, better educated or trained people or not very personable microchips, he always enjoyed his work and has usually been senior enough to drive the culture, the work ethic, and the focus of the company’s activities. He has enjoyed his work life and had by all accounts a successful career and has I think accumulated those pension credits and paid off the debts and can do retirement fairly well financially. No regrets on the work life, but its now time to retire and do something else.

Like a lot of people he has a partner who has been chomping at the bit for him to do so. They have watched friends do round the world trips, or pursue specific hobbies at a higher level, moved to a cottage or downsized the house and bought a second home.

I don’t have any first-hand experience with retirement. I expect I will never retire as some would argue I never really got started. But as Peter is going into this with some trepidation and because I know so many people who have worked the conventional jobs and then retired, I decided to do a little survey of them to get any insights on what to expect and what to do and what to avoid. Part of my motivation for this endeavour came from the painful exercise of watching my friend Jose who loved her job as a physical education instructor at a private school, who had decided to retire and was encouraged by many to do so. She put in her notice for a school term ahead and then was loving her work even more with the knowledge it would soon end and reversed her retirement plan. She still sits on the fence on this.

What follows is my understanding of the various things told to me by these friends who have all retired from conventional jobs and gone on to have fulfilling lives after their careers. Some of the advice is expressed in the negative and some in the positive. Some have some real scars to show for their bad decisions, while others rave about how fabulous retirement has been.



What came up more than once was the overindulgence in the first year from a pend up demand for a change. Many commented that they travelled too much in the first year but hardly appreciated the expensive trips they were on. Their suggestion was that if travel is a real interest to plan one big trip per year and to really research it before hand. Learn some of the history, a bit of the language, understand the culture and the politics and geography. Then go and try to travel with a greater depth of understanding. The word savour comes up a lot when talking to retirees.

The same applies to starting a new small business or moving to a different community or changing houses. You have the time. It doesn’t all have to happen right away. Take a deep breath, do your homework and enjoy the journey – don’t just devour it and then look up and burp!


While the first point above was raised by many, almost the same number commented that there needs to be a healthy recognition that the time ahead is not endless. You may live a very long life. I have two friends in their nineties that I could certainly win against if in a boxing ring or foot race they would still win a debate with me on any topic. But too often there is a physical element or two to slow us down or otherwise impair our abilities. And the most insidious thing about aging is not the deterioration of our health, but that if we have a partner we don’t deteriorate at the same rate. One persons bad hip may hold up both for certain activities.

The point here is that at sixty or sixty-five if you have three or four things you would really like to pursue, recognize that if competing in a triathlon is a goal, its not for your eighties but for your sixties.


Ah, money. It came up a lot in my chats. It is clear to me that the world is made up two kinds of retired persons – those with a pension and those without. Good pensions that have some benefits and a steady and inflation adjusting income are what let you take that out of your stress basket.

The relationship of money and health came up a lot too. What does it take to go into a retirement home or have home health care at some later point? Those numbers are a bit scary and need to be considered, particularly if you live in a place that does not provide these things as part of a government programme.

While the comments came from retired people in all walks of life, a common bit of advice was to be honest with yourself when looking at the future and your finances. Property taxes, groceries, utilities etc. will all keep going up in cost – will your income move with those costs or be eroded over time? Can you realistically work part time if your costs and income don’t match? Perhaps for the short term, but not over the longer haul.

Sit down with a big pot of coffee and a calculator and set out conservatively what your income will look like over the next twenty years and what your expenses will probably look like over that period. It will tell you just how much you can spend each year on those trips or dinners out. It is also the exercise that has kept many from taking the retirement leap.


This title sounds grand doesn’t it. What it needs is the tag line or caveat below within your resources and capabilities. When chatting with very elderly people I have learned that very few regret trying something – even something that turned out to not be the best thing for them financially or that did not live up to their expectations. If you have worked as an accountant your whole working life and always loved  flowers and longed to have a flower shop, it may be better to have that flower shop for a least a few years, even if it does not work out perfectly financially.

There was a time when retirement really meant retiring from and not retiring to. This is a fundamental distinction. A head chef I once worked for had a little tattered and stained cartoon up by his meal planning area. It showed two old fellows sitting in a boat fishing. The dialogue box said “I don’t really like fishing, but I like golf even less”.  The implication was that these  were the only two things you could do in retirement.

The really interesting thing is how much this time is like that period right after high school or university when you have your whole life ahead of you and you get to do whatever you want. Don’t waste it. So think big and make those changes or undertake those projects (within your resources and capabilities).


Like the comments earlier about being realistic about setting the different goals for different stages of your retirement,  the notion of the right thing for right now is an important one. I have talked about this before and it is simply the idea that an activity or pursuit doesn’t have to be forever, but might be the perfect thing to do for a time, and then have as a memory. The beach house or country cottage may not be sustainable in terms of costs but might be a possibility for a few years.


I don’t tend to think of things as either strategic or tactical. Strategic are those decisions that are fundamental building blocks to achieve long term outcomes, while tactical are just those opportunities that come up from time to time that are beneficial to pursue. A formation for a soccer team and plan is strategic, but an error by the other team creating an opportunity to score is a tactical opportunity.

A few of my better educated friends went on at some length about how this applies in retirement.

Have a series of plans – short, mid, long term that will help you fulfill yourself. Anything that supports these should be a real priority as they are strategic.

But sometimes opportunities come up that are tantalizing. They need to be evaluated as whether they support, are neutral or a negative relative to your longer- term strategic goals. At earlier stages in life you can go off and pursue these tactical opportunities, sometimes for years,  and still have a chance to get back on track later. But in your retirement years I have learned you can only pursue those tactical opportunities that are positive or neutral to your longer term strategic goals as you wont have the time to recover.

I had not really thought about it in these terms but now that I am and looking back, I wish I had thought this way earlier in my life.


If you are a couple you need to think about these things individually and then see how you can mesh it all as a couple. A tough challenge I think, but a necessary process.

If single, several friends told me they found it, in most cases, rewarding to share their longer term plans with their children, siblings and close friends and often had some valuable feedback. Feedback is good, particularly from those you are close to and respect.


This whole exercise I set off on was triggered by my buddy Peter telling me about his plans to retire, and I hope these comments help. The truth of it though is that he is a fellow who is one of those methodical, honest people and good thinkers who  everyone would like to have in their lifeboat. I expect he is all over these concepts already.


If any readers have comments, I don’t have a comment section but send me comments on your retirement experience and I when I have enough will do an update to this post at some point. djangobisous@bell.net




I am no stranger to rejection. I experienced it quite a bit in my youth in particular. I am referring here to the classic garden variety of rejection of course – Don’t come near my end of the bar, you creep!

It hurts, but its superficial, and a learning experience.

Some people embrace it and it makes them learn, makes them stronger and better. I have a friend who is in business and who loves to rant on about the joys of failure as a learning tool. Well some of us like the equation to not all be equal in the successes and failures but more like: WIN,WIN, WIN, loss, WIN, WIN, WIN. I have known some people who just trick themselves into thinking the loss or rejection is not a loss at all but merely a deferred acceptance or win. I don’t have that skill.

The reason this topic has come up is because I am about to enter another season or waves of rejection. This stems from my finishing my manuscript some time ago and then submitting it to agents. The protocol is to submit it and then wait politely for six to twelve weeks and if you have not heard from them over that time to understand that they don’t have an interest. No letter thanking you for your nice submission but declining the opportunity. No, just an absence of a response is the big indicator that you should try with someone else. The other big kicker here is that the convention is to only submit to one at a time. It doesn’t take a math wiz to realize that with a timeline of months between submissions you can spend years being passively rejected without one clear formal rejection.

Now psychologically I guess not being formally rejected may allow you to believe that the manuscript was delivered to the wrong person, or fell behind a cabinet or was lost by the postal service, but for some of us it is quite a disconcerting process. It is as if we have proposed marriage to someone only to have the response – I’ll get back to  you on that, and if you haven’t heard from me in the next few months, propose to someone else, but don’t you dare think about proposing to someone else until the few months has passed.   WTF?

Am I longing for active rejection vs. this passive rejection? Well, not exactly, but some clarity would be nice. With that said I am sufficiently fragile that I don’t know if I can handle a ruthlessly honest response. There are only two of us on this isolated, desert island, with all variety of perils, and frankly I wish you would leave.

So when I did all that submitting to potential agents for my manuscript over a sizeable period of time, I also did not go back to the manuscript to polish it further. But there was a little burr irritating me on a key aspect of it and as time passed, I came to realize that perhaps the manuscripts rejection or lack of acceptance was a good thing in that I could make it better before submitting to a new set of rejection suitors.

In January I dove back into my manuscript with a renewed vigor as I had figured out the problem. I pulled out the burr that had been irritating the beast and rewrote key elements and can now say that I am truly proud of the outcome. The earlier version was not worthy of acceptance. This version is.

But time is a nasty mistress. As you age some rejections or failures are just not bumps in the road, or learning experiences, but indications that you may never accomplish what you are trying to achieve. So I am taking my new manuscript and sending it out to agents one at a time but with a three or four week gap between submissions. In a world that is so screwed up, I think this bit of acceleration of the waiting process between submissions is not the biggest crime of the century.

So here I am ready run the submission gauntlet again, wiser and better equipped. Stay tuned.



POSTED: March 1, 2023

In last months post I referenced the notion of some places being seemingly on the edge of the world, or at least at the extreme edge of a continent and the sense that the idea of isolation creates in people. At various times I have also chattered on about Key West. That stems largely from my buddy Jim and his partner Janice hiding out there each winter. Well today I am going to share some images of that place.

But first, a little background. I have been receiving an image or two a day from my buddy Jim. He has been walking around that little island (its about two miles by four miles in size) for about an hour every day since the beginning of January. While the island is beautiful and visually stimulating his walking is not just because he likes the scenery. Back in September of last year he had a similar diagnosis to the one I received recently for hypertension. So over the months last fall he really worked on his diet, and dialing back the wine. His blood pressure numbers improved but when he came back to Key West at the end of December, he decided to walk for about an hour a day. That really made the blood pressure numbers come into line.

Now just to go off on a bit of tangent here, the little piece I did on January 1st MY DOCTOR DOES NOT KNOW JACK  generated the most number of emails of any post I have written. Apparently both hypertension and the other issue referenced in that post are pretty common and the piece really struck a chord with people. By the way, while I don’t have a comments section on the website I am always pleased to get emails from readers. djangobisous@bell.net

So when he walks he takes his phone and then sends me a couple shots each day. The images below are not intended to be an intro to Key West or a comprehensive travelogue but just some random images that caught his eye.

I will put in a bit of commentary to try to add some context for those who have not been.

The foliage is full on. This place is exactly halfway between Toronto and the equator and has much more in common with the tropics than most of Florida. The issue is not as much what to plant but what to hack back as everything grows,  and grows quickly. I saw an image of a small palm tree pup that was in Jim and Janice’s yard when they bought their place, and within a few years it was over three meters (forty feet) high!


Key West is also closer to Cuba than to Miami and before the embargo was created by the U.S. to try to destroy the Cuban economy the flow of goods and people between Havana and Key West was extensive. The image below is the White Street Pier that Flagler built after completing his railroad from Miami to Key West. That railway linked various keys or islands with causeways and bridges. The longest of those bridges is seven miles!  The pier shown below was his start to the railway bridge he intended to build to Cuba so is a comment on both the ingenuity of Flagler but the hubris as well. Mother nature took out his railway from Miami to Key West with one significant hurricane.

That intertwined heritage of Americans and Cubans is quite common in many old Key West families. The success of wrecking (taking the cargo of ships wrecked on the shallow unmarked waters at the time) sponging, shrimping and cigar making has been replaced by tourism but in each phase many of the successful entrepreneurs have been from both cultures. All kinds of sponges thrive in these waters but are now protected. The water is clear enough that the shot below was just taken from above the water line in about two meters of water.

Today, because of American foreign policy Cuba of course is being starved and boats arrive each week carrying a few who have put together a very rough vessel (chug) to make the 90 mile crossing. They arrive on the various beaches in the night if not intercepted by the coast guard before making it to shore. Each week Jim sends me pictures of new chugs that have made it to the beach.

Antique cars abound. No salt on the roads, and limited mileage (where are you going to go on an island that’s two miles by four miles in size) makes for a great environment  for cars to just keep going whether pampered like collector cars or just used as regular vehicles for driving every day.

And as so small a place and with the highest point on the island being less than three meters bicycles and scooters are much more common than cars.

This island has always been a location for writers, poets, musicians and dreamers and the houses reflect that, with various expressions of creativity. The first image below is a house made of stone and coral, while the second one is more typical. Most of the houses were built in the late 1800’s when Key West was one of the largest communities in Florida. Many of the smaller houses were actually barged over from the Bahamas.


Feral chickens and roosters are everywhere. It is illegal to kill them so they just run around the streets and yards and reproduce and poop and the roosters wake people up in the morning and often throughout the day. While locals hardly notice them if you stop and spend any time observing they really are quite beautiful creatures.

Various times of the year bring out the decorations – some traditional, like Christmas, but much more significant is Halloween, the Day of the Dead, Carnival. And once a nice decoration is up, well you might as well just leave it up as that celebration is sure to come up the following year!

Now by my calculations, while I am guilty of not putting pictures in many of my posts I am hoping this post redeems me.


P.S. As always, no problem using images you have seen here but please acknowledge the source.


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: 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: 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? ..you 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.