Night Music: The Unthanks, “King of Rome”

November 30, 2014

If you love great singing and you love silver bands as I do, and if you love working class heroes, then this is really hard to beat.  If you are not from the north of England you may have trouble understanding all the words, but it rewards two or three listens.  You could even print out the lyrics and sing along.

I love this with a passion.

Happy Times

November 30, 2014

We spent some of this afternoon saying goodbye to Australian planner and irreverant wit Wendy Sarkissian who returns home on Wednesday after a busy three months here teaching at Langara and UBC.  The goodbye party was in the bar at the Sylvia Hotel, with a fine fiery sunset colouring English Bay.  Good to see Wendy again, plus lots of good discussions about planning and a lot more.

To get to the Sylvia, of course, we had to pass through the A-maze-ing Laughter, better known as the Giant Laughing Statues.  The everloving had wanted to come down here for a while, so Wendy’s party was the perfect opportunity.


Wise Words

November 30, 2014


“Count no day lost in which you waited your turn, took only

your share, and sought advantage over no one.”

— Robert Brault

The Evil of Television Recognized Early

November 29, 2014

As most people reading this blog will know, I wrote a history of Commercial Drive.  In the midst of the research for that I found an editorial in the Highland Echo, Commercial Drive’s local paper, that took a prescient view of television.  They described it as:

… just one more of the influences currently being brought to bear on the American people to render them incapable of independent thought and independent decisions.”

Not much to add to that really.

The date of the editorial?  30th November, 1950.  Sixty-four years ago.

Image: Turban

November 29, 2014

turban 1

Cult Books

November 29, 2014

The book critics at the Telegraph have produced a list of The 50 Best Cult Books.

What is a cult book? We tried and failed to arrive at a definition: books often found in the pockets of murderers; books that you take very seriously when you are 17; books whose readers can be identified to all with the formula ” whacko”; books our children just won’t get…

Some things crop up often: drugs, travel, philosophy, an implied two fingers to conventional wisdom, titanic self-absorption, a tendency to date fast and a paperback jacket everyone recognises with a faint wince. But these don’t begin to cover it.

Cult books include some of the most cringemaking collections of bilge ever collected between hard covers. But they also include many of the key texts of modern feminism; some of the best journalism and memoirs; some of the most entrancing and original novels in the canon.

I find I have read 32 of the 50. Does that make me a cultist? And have I really missed out on the other 18 books? Most of all, I am astonishingly pleased to see “A Confederacy of Dunces” on the list. Years after we both read it, my wife and I still throw Ignatius-isms at each other on a regular basis.

First published in May 2008

Night Music: Grace Potter & The Nocturnals

November 28, 2014

Completely by chance, we caught a TV concert of theirs.  Just outstanding energy!

Small Spaces

November 28, 2014

For more than a decade, I have written short  fictions about people living in small spaces:  a couple who live on their balcony; a street person who makes a home in a doorway, for example.  My stories, and plans for more, are filled with the ingenuity required to live in such tight spots.  But nothing I had fantasized about prepared me for the real-life inventiveness of Gary Chang in Hong Kong as told in this fascinating piece from the New York Times.

Chang has managed to cram 24 different floor plans into his tiny 344 square foot apartment.


Using shifting wall units suspended from steel tracks bolted into the ceiling, the apartment becomes all manner of spaces — kitchen, library, laundry room, dressing room, a lounge with a hammock, an enclosed dining area and a wet bar.


In the last two decades, he has renovated four times, on progressively bigger budgets as his company, Edge Design Institute, has grown. His latest effort, which took a year and cost just over $218,000, he calls the “Domestic Transformer.”

Incredible ingenuity.  I couldn’t possibly live in it, but I appreciate the design skills that have brought it about.


First published:  January 2009

Buy Nothing Day 2014

November 28, 2014

Buy Nothing Day 2013

To Sleep, Perchance To Nap And Sleep Again

November 27, 2014

buddha sleepsI have always had sleeping schedules that were out of the ordinary (assuming that a single period of 6-9 hours sleep at night is considered “ordinary”).  Since retiring five years ago, and thus not having to meet any kind of official schedule, I have expanded the oddity of my sleep.

My basic sleep pattern these days is to go to bed around 11pm and wake about 3am; return to bed about 5am and sleep until 7 or 8am; then have a two hour nap in the afternoon, usually from about 3-5pm. That gets me about eight hours of segmented sleep each day. None of my sleep or wake times is mediated by alarm clock or other device; it is all natural.

During that middle-of-the-night waking period, I often seem to get a lot of basic work done — collating, filing, researching, scheduling — that I tend not to do in the daylight. That organizational work allows me to get straight into action-oriented stuff first thing in the morning.  Sometimes, I just spend the night time playing backgammon or watching sports. In those cases the great benefit of having been up is simply the tactile pleasure of getting back into a warm cozy bed and snuggling down again.

I assumed that my sleep pattern was unusual. Imagine my surprise, therefore, to discover today there is something called the Polyphasic Society that promotes multiple periods of sleep each day.  According to their definition, I seem to be practising Dual Core Sleep.

I can sleep a lot better now knowing that I have a whole Society behind me.

P.D. James R.I.P.

November 27, 2014


It is with sadness that I hear of the death of the geat British novelist P.D. James at the grand old age of 94. In my review of Serial Detectives earlier this year, I noted that, once I had discovered James’ work, I had devoured them whole.

I regret that in the obituaries today she is invariably called a “mystery” novelist.  While it is true that her earliest works are classic and rather simple Agatha Christie country-house-murder style books, and her primary protagonist is a policeman, that was the least of it.  Like the very best of her kind (Laurence Gough, Michael Dibdin), James grew into her craft and transcended the genre to become simply a great novelist.  “A Taste For Death” (1986) and “Devices and Desires” (1989) were probably the tipping points in that evolution, at least for me.

P.D. James overcame very difficult personal and family crises in her early life to become the Baroness James of Holland Park and a formidable literary power.  A fine life.

Tree at Garry Point

November 27, 2014

tree at garry point small

Lame Turkey

November 27, 2014

I just don’t get the fuss about turkey as a celebratory meal.  Back in the days of the early settlers, I can quite understand the appeal of eating the largest bird in the yard. But not these days, surely.

Turkey is such a flat plain boring and generally dry chew that it really serves as nothing more than a platter for all the sauces and gravies we pour on top to hide the flat boring taste.

Why not celebrate instead with a fine pork loin, roasted and rested to perfection, glazed with preserves?  Or a fillet or two of baked cod with nothing fancier than melted butter. Or a toad-in-the-hole with rosemary sprigs and onion gravy. One of the myriad of curries, maybe, or a pasta, rich or lean. Or treat yourself to the best dim sum in town at Western Lake.

Anything but turkey!

Homeless Shelter in Grandview

November 26, 2014

Last night I attended the City’s public meeting on a new winter homeless shelter being opened in a week or so on East Pender Street.  On a very rainy night, about 40 local residents came out to the Wise Hall to learn about the shelter.

Brenda Prosken, CoV’s General Manager of Community Services, gave an informative presentation on the history of efforts in the city to deal with street homelessness and how winter shelters fit into the continuum of housing.


The shelter will be run by Rain City (who run some other highly controversial shelters, including in Mount Pleasant). There will be 40 beds, reservable, and will be open 24 hours a day — this is an excellent and much needed change from the system that used to force the homeless out of shelters each morning to fend for themselves until the shelter opened again at night.  Three meals a day will be provided, along with laundry services, and the homeless will be allowed to bring inside their pets and their carts of possessions.  Rain City will work with CoV and outside agencies to provide drug and alcohol harm reduction services.

After the presentation, we had small group discussions with City and Rain City staff.  My table included several residents who live around Woodland Park — close to the shelter — and I was interested to learn the issues that plague that Park.  It is, I learn, a daily hangout for alcohol and drug users, and the Park is gravely contaminated with needles and other unpleasant debris from their lifestyles.  There was concern that having a shelter so close would exacerbate those problems.

The RainCity folks suggested that, because of the 24/7 openness, the low-barrier entry, and their hopes to ensure local homeless get into the shelter, they hoped the new place might actually reduce some of these negative activities. They noted that their programs were designed to give priority to sheltered homeless in the search for more permanent supportive housing.

I am a strong supporter of the shelter concept.  I recognize that some homeless do not want to go into shelters, and that’s their right, so far as I am concerned; but others do want the help.

My only problem with this particular shelter is that they are to use a vacant building owned by Epic Developments, a building that is scheduled to be demolished for market housing next spring.  The taxpayers of Vancouver are therefore paying what I am sure is a handsome lease, giving an additional profit to a business for a building that would have been left empty.  I guess it is too much to expect a greed-driven developer to simply allow the use for a dollar a year?  Now that would be genuine public service.

Night Music: Anarchy In The UK

November 26, 2014

For those of us of a certain age, the release and success of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy In the UK” single on November 26, 1976, was the sign — if we still needed it — that the summer of love was long forgotten.

I became a hardcore punk — my wildly abandoned pogo’ing was known on three continents — and while my tastes became more attuned to the Clash and the Ramones, we have to look back on these pre-Sid Vicious Sex Pistols days with a certain nostalgia.  In the late-90s, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but they disdained the “honour”, calling the Hall “a piss stain”.  Ah, the charm of it all!

Poem: The Mayor’s Siesta

November 26, 2014

He snored.
And threads of thoughts of windy days
Rushed by like the rivers of Sierra de Ronda.

He turned,
And the heft and touch of the silken duvet
Slipped across his body like the soft waves of Estepona.

He slept.
And into his reverie the ringing telephone
Floated like a minor chord from a flamenco guitar.

He yawned.
And the dreamy grin of the old pepper merchant
Dissolved like tapas in the mouth of a hungry eater.

He answered.
And the sound of his hoarsely whispered “Ola?”
Crept across his chin like a shovel scraping tar.

He awoke.
And the everyday cares of the little village
Wrapped up his dreams like garbage and threw them afar.

Hills At Dawn

November 25, 2014

“Hills at Dawn” (2008), photoshop transfer to TIFF, 16″ x 20″

Off to Conker The World!

November 25, 2014

One day, the everloving and I were sitting on a couple of sidewalk chairs set out by a local cafe.  The sidewalk was overhung with trees which gave a pleasant shade on a sunny day.

Suddenly, a conker fell from the tree, hit the sidewalk and bounced right over herself, bounced on the table between us, soared over my head and disappeared down the street.

It was if it were auditioning for something.

Honest Republicans Should Weep With Shame

November 24, 2014

Regardless of whether you agree or not that the riots in Ferguson are justified, the following sequence of tweets by Todd Kincannon, recently the Executive Director of the South Carolina Republican Party, should shock.


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This is the same party that now controls Congress in Washington DC.  God help us all!

Night Music: “Chances Are”

November 24, 2014