Today In Salsbury Park

October 31, 2019


It was a really beautiful fall day today.  Bright sunshine, a pleasant chill, no wind.

After a long walk, I rested a while in Salsbury Park which was looking at its autumn finest.  I noticed as I always do that a wide range of children’s toys are left for anyone to play with in the playground area. It is a small but tangible indication of the trusting and friendly community we have surrounding this little oasis of green.

Select image for a much better view.

Image: Family Portrait

October 31, 2019

On Crime Writing

October 31, 2019

Regular readers will know that I am a voracious reader of crime fiction.  I have written before of my binge reading of Vancouver’s own Laurence Gough, Norway’s Jo Nesbo, P.D. James, Michael Dibdin, Ian Rankin, and many others.  Even today I am bingeing my way through Peter Temple’s excellent four-book Jack Irish series set in Melbourne, Australia.

Back in April I reported on some discussions on the genre at the 2019 Edgar Awards. Now, at Boucheron, we have a long and often informative debate on the current state of the crime novel as discussed by crime writers themselves.

The second question asked (after the now-obligatory nod to diversity) asked whether crime novels had a responsibility to grapple with real world issues. It received a mixed response. On one side, Alex Segura noted:

“The best crime novels, for my money, also serve as cutting social commentary—they put a mirror up to our world, and show us how we live and are, warts and all. I don’t think crime novels should—or can, really—come up with solutions to all of society’s ills, but they should damn well try to show us a world that is like our own, so readers can at least take their vitamins with their dessert.”

While James Ziskin disagreed:

“Not at all. Sometimes we want to be entertained and other times we want to change the world. There’s room enough under our tent for pure escapist fare, farces, capers, and comedies of manners as well as fiction with social themes or conscience.”

I probably agree with Ziskin although my own reading tends to match Segura’s take.  For example, the Jack Irish books I am currently reading are teaching me a great deal about modern life in suburban Australia, and Jo Nesbo’s pieces did the same for me about Scandinavia.

There is a lot to take in here, not least a long list of writers I have yet to read. One thing to notice, though, throughout this long piece, not one of my favourite crime authors (see first paragraph above) is mentioned.  Hmmm.


Absinthe Bistro

October 30, 2019

Finally, we made it to Absinthe Bistro on the Drive tonight.  The Everloving bought me a fine birthday dinner.

After seven years in a tiny unsuitable space in the 1200 block, and after their rent doubled, Absinthe recently moved to 952 Commercial. The building was erected in 1963 for Babic Lighting and was separated into two storefronts in the early 2000s.  Since then, the 952 space has been occupied by Pane Vero bakery, Adeline’s Restaurant, Cafe Shibuya, Nonna’s Sandwiches, and Joe’s Grill, with long vacancies in between. That doesn’t sound like a great pedigree for a new business location; however, I suspect that Absinthe will break that unlucky streak.

First, the space.  They have cleaned and refreshed the place considerably, with white walls and black ceiling and floor. It looks a lot better than it ever has before. The counter/bar has been pushed further back, giving the impression of much more space. A quick peek into the kitchen was very satisfying. The owner told us that it was a joy to have a good size space after the cramped quarters in which they had laboured for seven years.

The tables were elegantly set with simple glassware and candles. And the tables are placed such that, even with the thirty or so diners we saw in the room, it never seemed crowded.  The service was extremely friendly and relaxed.

Then there was the food.  They have a very short menu: a couple of starters, three mains, and two desserts. The choices change on a frequent basis.  We shared a beef carpaccio starter that was beautifully dressed. I had a hanger steak with a mushroom and spinach side in a rich glaze. It was perfectly cooked.  The Everloving had the duck cassoulet which she adored.  There was excellent bread with perfectly seasoned garlic butter.

We finished by sharing a decadently rich chocolate lava pie with vanilla ice cream. My dessert was served on a Happy Birthday plate complete with candle!


All in all it was a delight.  We’ll be saving our pennies for another visit!


Night Music: Pachelbe’s Seranade

October 30, 2019

Winning Weather Images

October 30, 2019

The photographic awards season is still with us.  This time we feature the Royal Meteorological Society competition.  The winner was:

“Above My Expectations”, Gareth Mon-Jones


My particular favourite was this:

“Tempest”, Dan Portch

Dinner Tonight #61

October 29, 2019


My birthday meat pie, made by the Everloving.  It was perfect!

Image: Self Sequence

October 29, 2019

Birthday Memories: Me and the Internet

October 29, 2019

Fifty years ago today, the very first connection was made on Arpanet, the precursor to the internet:


That was on my 20th birthday,  I was in Yugoslavia, working on a contract, oblivious to that particular history being made. I probably got drunk on bottled beer and slivovic that night but, luckily, there were no smart phones with cameras then to capture me at my worst.

I remember 1969 being a swell year, and I am glad to share it with the internet,

On Being Seventy

October 29, 2019

Today I am seventy years old.

Just saying that feels unreal.  When I was born in 1949, average life expectancy for a man in the UK was about 65 years; I have somehow managed to beat that.

I am part of the generation that didn’t trust anyone over thirty, and who made terribly dangerous choices on a regular basis throughout their thirties and forties. By the 1990s, what with all the drugs and the booze and the carousing, I was certain I couldn’t possibly reach fifty, and I wasn’t all that sure I wanted to.

Now, I have kids in their late forties, grand-children in their mid-twenties, and I am sure that great-grand-children can’t be far away.

The fact that I am still here, walking and talking and pretending (to myself at least) to be young, is astonishing, a wonder, a miracle of modern medicine, and a tribute to the Everloving who takes such good care of me.

My future keeps catching up to my present and I hope it keeps doing so for a long time.  After all, I have promised myself my first ever Big Mac on my one hundredth birthday!

Night Music: Walk On The Wild Side

October 28, 2019


October 28, 2019

Some of the best times of my life took place in Morocco.

I was there for 6 months as a hippy at the end of the 1960s, and then as a contracted worker for another six months in the mid 1980s. On both occasions I was fortunate enough to visit and stay for a while in many different places right across the country: And the experiences were vividly memorable. It is still a place of wonder for me.

So I was interested to come across an article about Hassan Hajjaj, a Moroccan visual artist, and his new show in Paris.

Carte Blanch a Hassan Hajjaj is truly immersive. Bags of couscous cover benches at the entrance like cushions, street signs are used as tables, and cans are used as light fixtures. However, the focus is on Hajjaj as a photographer,  In the 1990s, Hajjaj was an assistant to stylist … for a photo shoot set in Marrakesh. He expressed his frustration at seeing Morocco being treated … as merely a backdrop for the shoot. He decided to plan an imaginary fashion shoot to celebrate Morocco and its people. Veiled women are dressed in djellabias, caftans, animal prints, and counterfeit brand logo styled to resemble traditional motifs. These audacious women are in poses typical of those in fashion magazines, offering a whimsical reflection on the image of Muslim women in Anglo-European societies, as well as Eurocentric codes of beauty.”

Here are a couple of my favourites:


Neither of these images are recognizable as artifacts of the time I spent there, but they are evocative of something (in colour and form) and I like them very much.

A Fortune In Plain Sight

October 28, 2019

An art dealer was hired to assess the contents of an old client’s home.  Most things in the house were expected to go to the garbage dump.  However, in the old woman’s kitchen, she happened to notice a small painting hanging on the wall.  Looking at it more closely, she was sure it was an old pre-Renaissance Italian work that might have some value and he forwarded it to experts for analysis.

The experts determined that it was indeed an original work called Christ Mocked by Cenni di Pepo, known as Cimabue, the teacher of Giotti.  As noted in the Smithsonian Magazine:

“Based on their assessment, the researchers suggest the panel belongs to a polyptych created by the Old Master around 1280. Today, just two other sections of the work are known to survive: The Flagellation of Christ, purchased by New York’s Frick Collection in 1950, and The Virgin and Child With Two Angels, acquired by the National Gallery in London in 2000 … Speaking with the Art Newspaper’s Scott Reyburn, Turquin says a key piece of evidence supporting the attribution is a trail of centuries-old tracks left by wood-gnawing larvae. All three boast comparable worm hole patterns. “You can follow the tunnels made by the worms,” Turquin says. “It’s the same poplar panel.”

Its importance was highlighted in an article in The Art Newspaper:

“The Paris-based dealer Giovanni Sarti [said] “It’s very important and Cimabue paintings are so rare—this is the beginning of modern painting. People say Giotto was the father of modern painting but really, it’s Cimabue.”

It was sent for auction this past weekend with an anticipated value of $6 million.  However, interest was so great that the final winning bid was for an incredible $26.8 million!  The price makes it the eighth most expensive Old Master—and the most-expensive pre-1500 painting—to be sold at auction.

Poem: Canada

October 28, 2019


Big in size

but with a squeaky little voice,

Canada is like

an effeminate linebacker

facing the south-of-49ers

across the goal line of an undefended border.


We have steroids without strength

mass without muscle.

We are

a huge collapsable shell of a country.

We survive

because the Americans cannot be bothered

to deal with the

PR flak

that would inevitably follow

the easy pushover.


Could Celine Dion save us?

Or Bryan Adams or Margaret Atwood?

Or even Douglas Coupland, Tony Onley and the Bare Naked Ladies linking arms?


Not even the whole mess

of Canadian culture

— bilingual and multicultural —

could save us

if the Americans put their minds to it.


The manifest destiny

of globalization

ensures that it will happen

one day, some day.

And then many of us will become

marginalized Americans

like Idahoans or Puerto Ricans.

Maybe we’ll qualify for grants

and affirmative action

as the third largest minority


blacks and hispanics.

Maybe we’d alter American politics

for ever

with our semi-socialists

and our semi-fascists

and our quaint idea that government can occasionally

be a good thing.


More likely, we’ll become

a minor market for Wal Mart

an inconvenience for weather forecasters

and a fiscal drain

on southwestern startups

and other entrepreneurs.

If there’s a futures market for snow, native land

claims and Gallic intransigence,

Maybe they could sell us

to Norway

where benefits are better.

Babylonian Northern Lights

October 27, 2019


There are many wonderful sights to see in northern Canada, and one of the great joys are the Northern Lights.  But as new research reveals, these majestic celestial shows have been fascinating people for thousands of years — and thousands of kilometres from the Yukon.

The earliest records of the aurora have now been identified as coming from the middle of the 7th century BC — almost 3,000 years ago — and from the royal archives of Nineveh in the Assyrian Empire.  Three separate observers — known by cuneiform specialists for their regular and accurate astronomical observations — report “red glow”, “red cloud”, and “red sky” in reports to their royal masters. Exact dates are elusive, but they appear to be from about 660 BC.

We may wonder how the “Northern” lights could be seen in the Middle East.  The researchers explain:

“the Middle East was closer to the north geomagnetic pole in the Assyrian epoch. While the north geomagnetic pole is situated near the region of North America today, it was situated in the region of Eurasia in the mid- to early 7th century BCE due to the secular variation of the geomagnetic field.”

When we are lucky enough to witness these sky dances, we are sharing the pleasures and excitements of hundreds of generations of those who have gone before.

Image: Lighthouse Park #1

October 27, 2019

In Honour: Dylan Thomas

October 27, 2019

Alfred Janes - Dylan ThomasToday would have been the 105th birthday of Dylan Thomas, one of the finest writers (for me, perhaps, the finest) of the generation before mine.

Thomas was very popular when I was a boy and I was lucky enough to be in two different productions of “Under Milk Wood“, as well as doing a solo turn reciting large sections of “A Child’s Christmas“.  For decades, at least into my 40s, much of my own work was highly derivative of Thomas’ style, with aggregations of melodious adjectives cascading through the sing-song lilt of a Welshman speaking English.

He was a master poet, able to craft the most exquisite sonnets and villanelles, difficult forms to manage, concerning both the ordinary and extraordinary things of life and death.  “The Force That Through The Green Fuse“, “Fern Hill“, and his paean to his father’s death, “Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night“, are sublime beyond measure..

His mastery of prose was equally fine, shown best in “A Child’s Christmas In Wales” which needs to be heard as read by the poet himself.

And then there is the extraordinary masterpiece, the radio play “Under Milk Wood“.in which Thomas’ talent, both as a writer and as an observer of rambunctious village life, are shown to the full.  If you can get a chance to listen to the Richard Burton version, then that is an experience not soon forgotten.

Thomas didn’t think much of being Welsh, let’s be frank about it.  And in just a couple of weeks we will celebrate the 66th anniversary of his sorry and inebriated death at the early age of 39. But he was an original, a genius, and I suspect he got more out of his 39 years than most of us do with three-score-and-ten.

A Different View of Chopsticks

October 26, 2019

China is the world’s largest producer of disposable chopsticks:

“Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Daniel K. Gardner, a historian at Smith College who studies environmental issues in modern China, reported that some 100,000 laborers manufacture the implements at 300 factories … Annually, Chinese chopstick factories fashion 80 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks, according to the South China Morning Post, and many of them wind up in the hands of diners elsewhere. China exported 165,000 tons of disposable chopsticks between 2000 and 2006, according to the Japan Times.

Atlas Obscura has some wonderful photographs of the production:


Bamboo is the preferred material:

“Because it’s not particularly porous and doesn’t absorb much water, it’s less likely than other woods to be teeming with bacteria, and it can take a lot of abuse in the kitchen. In terms of tensile strength—the extent to which a material can withstand being stretched before it snaps—researchers have found that bamboo holds its own against steel and reinforced plastics. Many bamboo chopsticks can be reused again and again. And unlike trees, bamboo grows at a dizzying pace. “The main reason for bamboo being so useful is that it is basically a grass which grows very fast—you’re looking at 36 inches in a 24-hour period,” says Q. Edward Wang, [author of the book Chopsticks: A Cultural and Culinary History\ . “It can grow 1.6 inches in an hour. It’s crazy.”

I’ll treat them with more respect in the future.

Night Music: Teach Your Children

October 26, 2019

To Remember the Great

October 26, 2019

Today is the 1,120th anniversary of the death of King Alfred the Great.

And today, the English rugby team defeated the mighty All Blacks in the World Cup semi-final.

Definitely a day to remember.