06 October 2016

Susan and the Medicine Chest

Charlottetown, 2014:

I winced. "Think I have a bit of a sore throat coming on."

"Take a spoonful of honey mixed with cinnamon," Susan advised.

Grateful but unconvinced, I suggested a visit to my medicine chest, a box of pharmaceutical wonders which Susan had yet to glimpse.

"What on earth have you got in there?" She asked, peering in as I removed the lid to reveal a cornucopia of salves, balms and ungents, bottles, packets and tubes.

"I think I have Chloraseptic Spray. Yes, here it is," I announced, as I proudly withdrew the dark green bottle from its somewhat battered box. "Look, you pump the top and a jet of soothing goo drowns your tonsils." I demonstrated the procedure with a flourish.

"Give me that. Looks like it's old," Susan said. I handed it over with a degree of trepidation. She squinted at the small print and her eyebrows arched suddenly, always a cause for concern. "This says 2007!" She barked.

"But, but, but..."

"No buts. It's going in the bin right now!" I watched as she tossed the wondrous potion into my bin. I was crestfallen. Honey and cinnamon it would have to be.


Charlottetown 2016:

"I'm all congested." Susan whimpered.

"Awww, poor you. I think I have some Dristan nasal spray. Hang on, I'll check. I could feel her eyes boring into the back of my head as I skipped to the bathroom. I returned with a smile carrying my medicine chest. No sooner had I located the squeezy bottle than she whipped it from my hand and began examining it.

"Geez Paul, 2004! Did they even make it back then?"

"But I've used it recently," I offered. "And it still works."

"I'm not squirting that ancient stuff up my nose, " She said, snorting loudly for emphasis. "And while we're about it, what else have you got lurking in there?"

"Errr, umm, nothing much." I hooked a defensive arm around the medicine chest. "Just some things." I avoided eye contact while s he stirred the contents and pulled out a small box, still sealed.

"Good Lord Paul, these eye drops are dated 2002!"

"Oh, that'll be ok," I said. "I'm sure they're fine. Please may I keep th..."

"And what the heck is this? And this? And this?" came the snapped response. Now she had her hand on her hip and was tapping her foot so I knew she meant business. "In the bin, all of it! And no dumpster-diving!"


I will have to find a new hiding place for my 1999 vintage eardrops.

16 September 2016

Harmony and nostalgia

Tonight I watched a BBC documentary about The Everly Brothers. It didn't tell me anything I didn't already know but those sweet voices got under my skin. There is something about brotherly voices, a baritone and a tenor singing one third apart on the scale, something in the DNA ensures a perfect blend.

It was the entrance to a wormhole from which I have only emerged two hours later. After the documentary I delved into distant parts of my music archive to seek more harmony. A big dose of Buddy Holly, a dash of The Beatles, and I'm wallowing in half a century of nostalgia. What's this dad? The girls were curious. Resisting calls for Taylor Swift I persevered with a medley of The Beach Boys' Californian genius. Remarkable that bitter in-fighting and drug-fueled arguments should produce such enduring melodies. Then Barbara Ann got all our feet tapping.

After a while I realised I had been singing loudly for longer than I can recently remember. I hope the neighbours shared my enthusiasm. After a further brief run through Blondie's hits and a detour via Cockney Rebel and Squeeze I decided our time in 50's 60's and 70's harmony was up. The spell was broken. But it can (and will) be cast again.

31 July 2016


6:30 and a glorious summer morning, perfect for an early grocery shopping expedition. There would be few people around; just how I like it. So I roused the girls and marched them, sleepy-eyed and stumbling, to the car.

"Aren't the roads lovely and quiet this morning girls," I remarked into the rear view mirror. (That's because it's Sunday, the little voice in my head affirmed.) "I love Sundays!" I said aloud. "I'll get my groceries in peace and quiet, far from humankind, and be home in time to watch the Formula 1 motor race from Germany."

I cruised along the deserted streets of Charlottetown, all the while patting myself on the back for my foresight until we swung into the Superstore parking lot. It was empty. The huge sign reminded me Sundays, 12:00 - 17:00. I muttered an internal Fuck!

"Sorry girls, for waking you so early. Right now I'm the only idiot in the whole of Canada driving with his shopping bags and shopping list to a closed store." There came no reply.

A little later as we rounded the corner by Ellen's Creek Maisie asked, "Daddy, what's the opposite of idiot?! "Genius," I asserted. One good thing is, I would definitely be home in time for the German Grand Prix. Yes, genius!

07 May 2016

In celebration of Naked Gardening. (I think!)

World Naked Gardening Day is a recent tradition for the first Saturday of May, encouraging us to tend our gardens au naturel, a curious yet alluring notion in which I participated with gusto, diving into the great outdoors, fork and hoe in hand, wearing only a winsome smile. What could possibly go wrong?
Some months ago, the custom of vacuuming in my birthday suit was exposed after Susan caught me red-handed (and bare-cheeked) skipping around my apartment clutching my hose and crevice tool, so venturing into the great outdoors was surely a logical progression.
I wish this event were held a tad later in the growing season, then my neighbourhood might resound to cries such as, "nice cucumber, sir!" Or "impressive hollyhocks, my friend!" And "I see your gherkins are coming on nicely, gentlemen!" However, custodians of this celebratory date have dictated May, and we all know nature is not gloriously rampant at this time of year, in fact it can be decidedly shrivelled. But it's not what you've got, it's how you garden with it which counts, so...
"Hello there, neighbour. I notice you're trimming your bush, Ma'am!" I called. She was clipping her Forsythia and my double entendre was likely lost on her as she was fully clothed. "Careful with those shears when it comes to 'the lady garden' Ma'am!" I offered with a chuckle. She gave me the stink-eye.
Oh well, I myself intended to mark the day 'renewing my earthly bonds' and was sure others would soon join in. It was time to fire up the weed-wacker. I yanked the crank, announcing my presence to the world, and skipped merrily along the path to trim up the gooseberry patch.
Caught up in the emotion of the moment, the early spring breeze ruffling my seed packet, I pranced from spot to spot, relishing the gorgeous, trouserless freedom of the day. Bugger the gardening, I thought and for no reason other than sheer exhibitionism I sprinted the length of the lawn. Had this been a running race I might well have been disqualified - for 'flapping' into lane two.

When gardening, you can lose yourself in daydreams and it's easy to forget you are as naked as the day you were born. So when I switched off, and the deafening sound of silence descended, I was startled to see a row of grinning faces peering over my fence. I'm sure at least two had binoculars out and one was scribbling notes with a pencil, or was it a field sketch.

"That reminds me. Meat and two veg for dinner tonight," one remarked.

"Sausage for me!" cackled another. At that, I clutched 'Mr. Sniffles', acutely aware I was the only one marginally under-dressed (albeit impeccably manscaped).

The wail of a police siren; then a cruiser pulled up.

"Move along. Nothing to see here, folks," the cop observed.

Girding my loins, I galloped for my door calling out limply, "Forgive me, officer. It's all been a dreadful mistake."

Oh no! Did I get the day wrong?

26 March 2016


I have recently been delving into human history. Not for the first time, but now from the perspective of late middle age with a good deal more reverence, compassion and humility. "Sapiens" a remarkable book by Yuval Noah Harari, prompted this, with its startlingly clear descriptions and analysis of modern man and our development over the past 75,000 years.

Listening to the audio version at night has at times kept me from sleep, pondering astounding discoveries, calculations and achievements. From humble beginnings of foraging and survival to a world of science and medicine, philosophy and an appreciation for the arts, the journey is breathtaking.

But not all is rosy. In forming the cultural, technological, legal and political environments we take for granted, applaud today, man has displayed a selfishness and an ugliness of nature we can easily despise. Entire genera of native wildlife were hunted and chased from all continents that man sailed to. Not least of that wildlife were pockets of early man himself; remote branches of the tree of life stranded in their simple ways, uneducated in the ways of the latest incarnation of Homo Sapiens.

Indigenous peoples everywhere are still suffering at the hands of invasive western man. I am not opening that debate here but have been thinking of the tragic fate of Tasmania after its 'invasion' by Captain James Cook in 1777. Unsullied by the western world, the aboriginal inhabitants had enjoyed their pristine island for tens of thousands of years. That all full blood natives were banished to Flinders Island within fifty years and not a single one survived beyond 1860 is a crime against humanity and morally bereft.

I was viewing other material on the subject this morning with my girls sitting beside me on the sofa when I pointed to an 1860 image of four Tasmanians and little Kathleen said the unsayable, "she looks like a monkey."

I could not disagree so decided to explain and that led us to a discussion about the evolution of man involving the 'tree of life' and other visual renditions. In these days of extreme political correctness it was refreshing to answer an innocent question. The Big Bang and the origins of life I will leave for another day!

25 March 2016

good lord, I think I have a 'Susan'.....

my bath robe sleeves are folded up half way

toilet tissue stocks dangerously low

tweezers on the night stand

lottery tickets on my notice board

freezer full of amazing baked goodies

copious Tupperware

rice steamers/dutch ovens

toiletries, face cloths...


and a step stool


thank you!

24 January 2016

Gloves or Panties?

A young man wanted to purchase a gift for his new sweetheart's Christmas present. As they had not been dating for very long, after careful consideration, he decided that a pair of gloves would strike the right note, not too romantic and not too personal. Accompanied by his sweetheart's sister he went to Harrods and bought a dainty pair of white gloves. The sister purchased a pair of panties for herself at the same time. During the wrapping the shop assistant mixed up the two items and the sister got the gloves and the sweetheart the panties. Without checking the contents the young man sealed the package and sent it to this sweetheart with the following note:
Sweetheart, I chose these because I noticed that you are not in the habit of wearing any when we go out in the evening. If it had not been for your sister I would have chosen the long ones with the buttons, but she wears the short ones that are easier to remove.
These are a delicate shade, but the lady I bought them from showed me the pair that she had been wearing for the past three weeks and they were hardly soiled at all. I had her try yours on for me and she looked really smart in them even though they were a little tight on her. She also told me that her pair rubs on her ring, which helps keep it clean and shiny, in fact she had not needed to wash it since she had begun wearing them.
I wish I were there to put them on for you for the first time, as no doubt many other hands will touch them before I have a chance to see you again. When you take them off remember to blow into them before putting them away as they will naturally be a little damp from wearing. Just think how many lips will kiss them during the coming years. I hope that you will wear them for me on Friday night.
All my love
P.S The latest style is to wear them folded down with a little fur showing.

(I believe this joke was first attributed to JRR Tolkien in his college days.)

16 January 2016

The Life We Bury - Allen Eskens

I lost the compulsion to write reviews of every book I read but this one I will make an exception for. 2014's The Life We Bury was the first offering from Eskens, a Defence Attorney turned writer, and it's a cracking good read.
College student Joe Talbert has an English assignment: to write a biography of a stranger. He finds a man in a nursing home with an interesting history, Carl, a Vietnam Veteran and a convicted murderer, paroled from jail now that he is dying from cancer. The two make a seemingly unlikely connection and Carl maintains that his conviction was wrong - he did not rape and murder, nor burn the body of a teenage girl.
While researching his assignment Joe turns amateur detective and follows a trail which leads to spectacular findings. On the way he learns a lot about Carl's past and is forced to confront buried issues of his own. We learn about his grandfather's mysterious death, his mother's sorry life, his brother's autism and follow the subtle growth of his relationship with a female neighbour. The tale gathers pace and becomes a real page turner.
Characters are quite well drawn, some likeable, some detestable, all with pasts which weigh with varying degrees of heaviness on their presents. The writing is smooth and flawless; plenty of showing rather than telling. My one criticism is that the people Joe meets seem happy to open up immediately as if he were a long lost friend rather than a stranger. Some realism is lost this way but the tale's excitement is irrepressible.
Like many debuts, Eskens has had this work in mind for some time, distilling it, letting it ferment and grow, adding sub plots and themes, and refining his characters, making for a most entertaining read. 8/10

13 January 2016

The Incident of the Cakes

Office workers In England will know about the cake tradition. If it's your birthday you buy cakes for everyone. And not just simple tarts or squares but lavish cream cakes. This is how the ceremony might unfold:

The young lad returned from the cake shop laden with goodies. He placed bags on a central desk and carefully began to unpack them. Even as he arranged the square white boxes, eyes swivelled in sockets and heads nodded purposefully across desks. Helpfully he lifted the box lids and stood back to admire his work. The first gluttons were already out of their seats.

Birthday boy was back at his post, repositioning his telephone headset and mumbling, 'cakes guys' to his colleagues but scouts were already cruising the area, like sharks scenting blood. The first two lunged instinctively at their quarry, reaching, cramming, chewing. Other diners joined the throng, fist over flailing, grabbing fist. The desk was slick with cream smears and a box was tossed to the floor. The feeding frenzy reached fever pitch.

The larger beasts sank back from the feast now, gorged on cream, on cake, on chocolate and icing. Smaller, more timid feeders crept up to select dainty fondant fancies and pecked nervously over the remaining crumbs.
The office was noisy with the hum of conversation mumbled through stuffed cheeks. Birthday boy ended his phone call and walked over to the cake table. "Is there one left for me?" He ventured, his bottom lip trembling.

It's a cruel world out there. Eat or be eaten.

08 January 2016


English has an adjectival structure for comparisons: positive, comparative, superlative. As in good, better, best. We qualify these with: very good, slightly better etc. But many people find those expressions inadequate to the point where even best, the superlative, has lost its meaning in some circles and hyperbole has insinuated itself into everyday language diluting the strength of vocabulary.
It seems good, lovely or even great are no longer sufficient to indicate something's value. Instead we hear awesome, amazing, incredible. Such words were once reserved for the truly remarkable, the arresting. Did we say Alexander the Awesome? No, he was Great because great means great. Extremes have been hijacked, and thus devalued, so that we are in a position where we have nowhere to go when we want to express the highest of sentiments. Excellent has become lame whereas it should be the pinnacle of description.
No one gets upset any more, they declare themselves freaked out. And if that isn't deemed suitably exceptional then the adverb totally is employed. If something is one-of-a-kind we may hear it described as very unique. Unique has a complete meaning by itself. It does not require qualification any more then the word pregnant. Is insecurity at the root of this? Is there a fear of being accused of understatement, of not being sufficiently moved?
Popular news reporting has probably played a hand. Stock markets no longer rise and fall, they plunge and soar. As does our daily temperature. So when a true plunge occurs we have no way of distinguishing it from an ordinary plunge! Even mundane articles are peppered with adjectives such as horrendous, shocking, hilarious, stunning. Now when a truly terrible world event occurs the appropriate words have already been used up.
Nothing stands still, not least language, but our ability to communicate in rational terms is dwindling. Wild exaggeration abounds. In these days of thumbs on touch screens, even the simple smiley has been trumped by extravagant emojis. Language is starting its steady return to the age of the pictogram.
Long live the simple word!