Racism At Home

October 8, 2018

My mother was always a racist.

I was brought up in the working class London of the 1950s and early 1960s at a time when the city saw, first, an influx of eastern European refugees, second a surge of migrants from the West Indies, and finally many more from India and Pakistan.  My mother made it clear to me from an early age that she despised the Jews, the Greeks, the Cypriots and, most especially, “the blacks” no matter whether they were black or brown or anything in between.

When I was about eight years old, I had a “girlfriend” who turned out to be Jewish. Her parents were kind folks who invited me to tea and fed me Marmite sandwiches. My mother quickly put a stop to that. In the mid 1960s, with a youth group that I was a member of, I did some social work, helping young East Indians settle into West London. My mother was furious, calling me a traitor. She was invariably rude to black nurses, bus conductors, and others that came her way.

Vicious though she could be in public, at home mother’s racism was generally expressed only in private conversations between her and me. I am sure my father was aware of her prejudices but he, like his parents, was a man of immense toleration for people of all races and she rarely spoke about it when we were together as a family.

For more than 30 years, from the 1970s through the first few years of this century, my mother and I were completely estranged for reasons unconnected to her prejudices on these matters.  About ten years ago, a friend of hers who had discovered Skype, persuaded the two of us to reconnect. It was difficult at first but, these days, my mother and I have developed a good relationship based on telephone calls every two weeks. A few years ago, when she was stricken with cancer, I returned to London to take care of her for a short while. We got on very well.

I called her yesterday and we chatted for quite a while, laughing and joking about a number of things. Since my father died in 2000, she has lived alone in a pleasant cottage at the end of a pleasant cul-de-sac in suburban west London. At one point in out conversation yesterday she was explaining that both her neighbours on either side of her were even older than her: one is 91 and the other 93. Completely out of the blue and without any hesitation she said “When we three die, those horrible black people will take over our houses, I bet, and the neighbourhood will be ruined.” I swiftly changed the subject and we moved on.

It was the first time I had heard her speak that way since I was young. I guess I wasn’t shocked by what she said — I had heard much worse from her in the distant past — but I was taken aback, and I find it difficult to know how best to react.  My mother had very little schooling and she is not open to intellectual debate. She is almost 91 years old and in failing health; she and her opinions, though vile and against everything I believe, are no danger to third parties at this point.  Other than write this piece, I shall probably do nothing. But I fervently hope that this doesn’t become a topic of conversation ever again because I, too, am a man of strong convictions and I can only bite my tongue for so long.


Beep Beep Beep

October 4, 2018

I was just a few weeks away from my 8th birthday when my father sat me on his knee specifically to listen to our old radio spit out some strange sounds — “Beep.  Beep.  Beep.”  Even through the static we knew we had never heard the like of it before.

On October 4th, 1957 — just sixty-one years ago — the space age began with the launch by the Soviet Union of Sputnik, the first man-made satellite.  I’m sure the surprise in the US was far greater than we felt in Europe.  We Europeans were already terrified of the power of the grey beasts just a few hundred miles to the east of our cozy nest in West London.  It seemed to many that Russian tanks could overrun Europe at any moment, and the technological genius of Sputnik simply confirmed our anxiety.

But again, there was always that secret spot inside that reveled in the fact that a European power had beaten the Americans into space.  And for my socialist grandfather and his cadre of friends, it was yet another sign that the Workers’ Paradise was superior in every respect to the Mickey Mouse- and Doris Day-loving capitalists.

In the end, I’m sure this had little to do with the ultimate end of the Cold War.  The costs of the space race were minuscule compared to the economy-shuddering trillions spent on the arms race by both sides.  But without Sputnik and all that followed, we would be a very different and more distanced world today.

More Appreciation of BC’s Medics

September 20, 2018

The Everloving and I spent a good portion of the day today at VGH’s Kidney Clinic where we met with a social worker, a nurse, a dietitian, and a pharmacist to discuss the current state and the future of my deteriorating kidneys.

It was a remarkable series of meetings. We learned a great deal of useful information about food, about how to read and understand blood work results, and how to manage medications within the context of the disease. Perhaps more importantly we learned that we are now part of an incredibly supportive team.  Everyone at the clinic, from the receptionist to the doctors, were kind and courteous, and they gave of their service entirely without any judgement or insistence on harsh rules.

I understand that not everyone is or will be fortunate enough to find all the help they need. But for me, there are no complaints and I am deeply grateful for all the assistance that the BC medical system provides.


September 16, 2018

One of the joys of a full English breakfast are Heinz baked beans. At college, beans on toast were the staple supper whenever money was tight (like always). I doubt there is a larder in England that doesn’t have a can or two on a shelf.

I always assumed that the “Beanz Means Heinz” slogan pre-dated me but that is not so; I was in my late teens when Maurice Drake came up with one of the most durable of advertising lines in 1967. I know this now because of an article in the incomparable Creative Review.  From the same place I learn that Selfridge’s department store has made the bean can a feature of its displays this spring.


When I first arrived in Canada, it was a grave disappointment to me to find that cans of Heinz beans in North America were not the same as the English beans I grew up with.  However, I am glad to say that the original English flavour is now available here, if you know where to look — SuperValu on Commercial, for example.

They are one of life’s simple pleasures.


Twenty Two Years and Counting

September 15, 2018

Yet another year without cigarettes. Twenty-two years today, wow.

It might seem tedious to keep harping on this year after year, but frankly I think giving up smoking after 35 years of two-pack-a-day slavery to the habit was the smartest and bravest thing I ever did. And I know for a dead certainty that I would not be here writing this today if I had continued smoking the way I did.

So I’ll keep celebrating my freedom, year after year!

A Quiet Summer

August 28, 2018

Regular readers will have noticed that this blog has been noticeably quiet this summer — quiet in terms of my rantings, at least. We can blame illness and the inevitable processes of ageing for that.

For more than twenty years now, I have lived with what the medics like to call dual morbidities: two chronic illnesses, either of which could kill me. In my case, they are severe COPD and diabetes.  Apart from the occasional chest infection that develops into pneumonia (memorialised in blog posts throughout the years), or a low blood sugar event, I have managed these diseases rather well for two decades, and my regular monitoring results are steady.  Unfortunately, over the winter, a third problem arose.

Between the COPD, the diabetes, and their various medications, my kidneys have taken quite a beating over the years and they are now failing at an alarming rate. At the end of May, my nephrologist advised me that I had entered stage four of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) and needed to be monitored more closely. It also means I have have to face up to ongoing dialysis or a transplant or a fatal failure.

Although regular blood tests had shown me that the kidneys were beginning to lose capacity, the deterioration came rather suddenly and the news hit me hard. As I mentioned before, I have spent years “managing” both COPD and diabetes; but now there was a new threat that I had no idea how to manage. I might have been able to deal with that intellectually except that, coincidentally, on almost the same day, I was struck down by a pneumonia-like chest infection that laid me flat out for a week, and eventually lasted about a month even after I started aggressive drug therapies.

During those first few days, when I could hardly move from my chair without becoming totally breathless, and when my mind was swirling about the kidney issue, I made a decision to withdraw from public life and concentrate fully on looking after myself. I pulled back from much of my activity on Twitter, stopped attending meetings, and withdrew from some new responsibilities, at the People’s Coop Bookstore, for example.  I assumed that I would be spending a lot more time on blog posts. But for the first few weeks at least I could not concentrate on a topic long enough to write about it, and so that too became neglected.

I still spend most days at home — the hot weather and smoke have helped trap me indoors — but my chest is much improved and I’ll start to get out and about again.  In a couple of weeks I meet with my new team at the Kidney Clinic and we’ll see what has to happen then.  In the meanwhile, I hope to get back to a more regular schedule of writing soon.

A Day To Remember

August 12, 2018

Eighteen years ago today, at sunset, the Everloving and I stood on the dock at Trout Lake and plighted our troth. There were a few friends with us, we sang “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life“, and we had our wedding supper at Wazubbee’s.

Her mother said it wouldn’t last a year. My mother said it wouldn’t last a year. Just goes to show, mothers are not always right.