A Truly Brave Man

April 12, 2021

The first hero that I remember having was Duncan Edwards, the Manchester United footballer who was killed along with many others in the team in the Munich air crash of 1958.  The second was Yuri Gagarin.

Sixty years ago today, Yuri Gagarin entered history as the first human being in space. A few years earlier, just before my 8th birthday, my father had taken the time to get me interested in the Soviet Union’s feat in putting Sputnik into space. I was entranced and remained an avid follower of the space race for decades. I followed the Russian dogs going up, and Gagarin’s flight was the obvious next step.

It wasn’t revealed for forty years that the cosmonaut ejected from the capsule before it crash-landed, parachuting to earth. And it was definitely sad for Gagarin that he was thereafter too valuable to put at threat and so he was never allowed to return to orbit. No matter.  That first flight was a glorious triumph for mankind!


Anniversary Post

February 3, 2021

In the 1980s and 1990s I ran a number of BBSs (you have to be ancient to even remember what they were), and I opened my first actual blog in September 2001. This version (v.3) of Jak’s View from Vancouver is 13 years old today.

Over all that time, the top five posts (by view) have been:

Lucian Freud

The 2012 Summer Olympics Are Already With Us

Venice Becoming A Ghost Of Itself

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

Les Sapeurs du Congo

However, since the beginning of 2019 when it was first published, this post about Love and the Oxford Comma has swamped all others with its popularity.

Here’s to another thirteen years!


Spies: A Memory of 60 Years Ago

January 24, 2021

When I was eleven years old I lived in Ruislip Gardens which is a tiny suburb of Ruislip which, in turn, is a small suburb hanging on to the western edge of London.  I had a newspaper route which I took care of seven days a week starting at six each morning.

In London in those days we had a dozen or more daily newspapers and each subscriber to our delivery service could receive any permutation of papers. Most houses took two papers, and some many more. Sorting the right papers into the the right order in the right bags was a vital part of each morning’s routine at the shop.

By Christmas 1960, I was one of the senior delivery boys and had thus inherited a long route that covered the main road from Ruislip Gardens to Ruislip and included several side streets along the way. It took almost two hours and I sure earned my breakfast every day. On school days, it was split between two boys.

One of the side streets to which I delivered newspapers every day was Cranley Drive. And at 45 Cranley Drive lived a Canadian couple, Helen and Peter Kroger. I know I delivered papers to them but I don’t recall them at all, not even from the Christmas tip. However, in January 1961, the Krogers were arrested, and I do remember the street being closed off one cold morning by police cars and constables. It was revealed over the next few months that the Krogers were really Russian spies Morris and Lona Cohen, and that their basement on Cranley Drive included a sophisticated radio communications setup with Moscow.

It seemed exciting to a young kid in those dangerous days of Atom spies, the Third Man, Checkpoint Charlie. And I have kept my fascination with moles and sleeper cells ever since.


Memoir: King

January 19, 2021

 

The dusty road had held us all day long. Huge trucks belching choking fumes had raced past us, barely missing our outstretched thumbs by inches it seemed. Sometimes they blared their industrial strength horns at us, scaring us, pushing us away from the road edge. There had been very few cars, and those mostly tiny SEATs already filled with farmers and dogs and kids, and certainly not looking to pick up two hippies dirt-encrusted from too much unsuccessful hitchhiking.

I guess we managed to walk three or four miles that day, in the blazing sun, just south of Valencia. We had expected better luck (“Gibraltar by evening!” had been our war cry as we emerged from a night in a roadside culvert) and had not prepared for such a long long day trudging through heat and dust and flies. We were exhausted, and more, we were dehydrated, the half dozen blood oranges we had each consumed notwithstanding.

Ahead of us we could see the outskirts of a village, and a village meant a cafe and Coca-Cola and even iced water, perhaps. It was one of those days when we knew we were willing to spend a few of our remaining pesetas. We stumbled forward, the dust scuffing beneath our feet, coughing. We must have looked liked ancient mummies straight from the desert as we finally collapsed into the two canvas chairs set out under the tin-roofed patio of a tiny cafe. I can only imagine the thoughts that were flowing through the old man’s head as he took our order for two Cokes.

We had been sitting for some minutes before we realized that an old radio was scratching its way through the late afternoon heaviness. And it may have been a minute or so more before we understood that it was speaking to us in English. American Forces Radio, probably from Germany. “…And as the crowds begin to gather from all across Memphis, we remind our listeners that President Johnson will speak to the nation this evening, on this day when Dr Martin Luther King has been shot and killed on his hotel balcony…”

The Cokes, glistening as the ice melted down the sides of the bottles, stood unremembered as our tears washed black gullies across our cheeks.


JFK and False Memory Syndrome

November 22, 2020

Fifty-seven years ago today, my mother and father visited their closest friends, Ron and Betty, who lived a few miles from us in West London. I was in the backseat of the small black car.  It smelled of leather and my parents’ cigarettes. I was sullen because I was just turned 14 years old and I had far better things to do than visit my parents’ old fogie friends to play cards.

I remember this all so clearly because, just as we pulled up outside Ron and Betty’s row house, the car radio broke off its normal programming and a solemn voice replaced the happy chatter.  The voice announced that President John F. Kennedy of the United States had been shot and probably killed.  I can still feel the goose-flesh that crawled over my skin. I remember the loud gasp as my father realized what had been said.  John Kennedy was one of my father’s heroes, and he was mine too. He was our hope for the future, and now he was dead. Nothing else about that evening do I remember. I’m sure my folks and their friends discussed the assassination, but that has passed from recall.

Within two years of that day, though, JFK had — in my eyes at least — fallen from the pedestal upon which his charisma, his beautiful family, and his martyrdom had placed him.  He was quickly revealed as just another centre-right US politician who was happy to send the boys to war, who was happy to squander the nation’s wealth on weapons and imperialism, who had no answer to segregation but brother Bobby’s federal agents.  We also learned (perhaps we always knew) he wasn’t quite such a great family man, either; that Camelot was an expensive sham.

Kennedy and his people lived in the tuxedoed world of High Society that was soon to be swept away by the real world of Soul on Ice and Revolver.  We might have hated that big Texas bully who followed Kennedy, but it was Kennedy not Johnson who pushed the US into South Vietnam, and it was Johnson not Kennedy who brought forward the Civil Rights Acts. Looking back, we can now see that both Kennedy and Johnson were equal participants in the cabaret that is America the Superpower. Unfortunately for the truth, Kennedy will always have the smile, the beautiful wife, the cute John-John and Caroline, while Johnson will always be pulling the ears off those damn beagles.


Remembering A Day of Infinite Possibilities

November 9, 2020

Thirty-one years ago today: It was 9th November 1989 and I was watching TV, watching the news from Berlin.  And soon a dozen people are hacking at the Wall from both sides and the party has begun and CNN’s cameras bring this extraordinary and historic wish-fulfillment into the living rooms of the world, and my living room in particular that November night.

And within moments, it seemed, there were thousands singing and candles blazing. And even though I was in Vancouver at the time, my heart was with them because at heart I was and remain a Londoner. And Berlin is VERY close to home to Londoners, especially to those who had spent decades watching people die as they tried to go over and under and around the Wall. And I wept openly and for days when the Wall came down.

It was a day of ultimate possibilities because here was an impossibility happening in front of our tear-misty TV-mediated eyes.


Battleground Grandview is Now Available

November 8, 2020

If you are interested in Vancouver politics and urban development — and the future of Commercial Drive and Grandview — this book takes you into the nitty-gritty of how City of Vancouver Planning Department and the Vision-majority City Council ran rough-shod over a community, pushing through major changes in the look and feel of a successful and well-loved neighbourhood against the wishes of a significant number of residents.

It describes how public “consultation” was corrupted into nothing more than a public relations exercise, ticking all the progressive boxes while actually delivering the pre-determined outcome preferred by the Planners and Vision Vancouver’s financial backers. CityHallWatch calls it “an X-Ray into the City’s planning” process.

The 288-page book includes detailed coverage of the 2014 civic election, and shows how the Grandview debacle fits in to the trajectory of similar anti-community planning exercises in Mount Pleasant, Norquay, Marpole, Downtown Eastside, the West End, and Oakridge.

Battleground: Grandview retails at $25.00 and is available at:

  • People’s Co-op Bookstore, 1391 Commercial Drive
  • SuperValu, 1st & Commercial

You can also get a copy direct from me at jakking@shaw.ca — $25 including postage — via Interac Email Transfer, adding a mailing address to the message.


On Being Seventy-One

October 29, 2020

Today I am seventy-one 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!


Eleven Years Of Freedom

October 22, 2020

Eleven years ago today, I was called into my boss’s office and told that I was being laid off.

The locally-owned company where I had worked for a good many years had been taken over by a larger American group earlier that year, and they wanted to put their own people into senior management positions.  I wasn’t the first or even fourth senior manager to be sent packing, and I had expected this meeting all through the summer. I was almost sixty years old and bored with working for someone else. When the hammer fell, I was greatly relieved and happily accepted the generous severance pay they offered.

Luckily, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the first part of my enforced retirement. I was keen to write a history of Commercial Drive and over the next fifteen months, that’s what I did.  Along with this I helped establish the Grandview Heritage Group which kept me busy and interested.  At the same time, I wanted to become a lot more involved in local politics, knowing that a Community Plan was about to be thrust upon us.  Any regular reader of this blog will know that I was and remain deeply involved in those matters to this day.

The Community Plan experience led to my third book Battleground: Grandview which should be available in the next few weeks.

So, I have been busy these last eleven years.  But the genuine sense of freedom has been the really exhilarating feeling. I wake up when I want, dress in whatever I want, spend time with the Everloving, cook, take long luxurious naps, read, write, and relax.  We certainly don’t have the money we had when I was working, but we get by OK, and I’ll swap the money for such freedom any day.

It has been a grand eleven years, and I quietly thank my old firm for laying me off when they did.


Beep Beep Beep

October 4, 2020

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-three 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.


Why Is The Nanny State Against Me?

September 30, 2020

These days you cannot get a bag of peanuts on an airplane, and peanuts and peanut products are completely banned at schools. Why? Because the rest of us have to sacrifice in order to protect the small minority of kids and adults who have a life-threatening allergy to the snacks.  I actually don’t agree with the ban but, OK we’ll let it go.

Years ago, the nanny state banned lawn darts even though no child had ever been killed or seriously damaged by one.  That’s a really dumb rule, but still …

My wife and I and several other folks I know have a tendency to stop breathing when confronted with heavy perfume smells. Not get upset or angry or disturbed, but actually stop breathing. I wouldn’t want people to stop using whatever perfume they want but I would like a campaign to educate those people doused in the stuff not to get into crowded spaces, like transit or elevators.

Is that too much to ask from the nannies?  Where are they when I need them?


The Quiet Dark

September 30, 2020

I spend some of my waking time with my eyes firmly shut.  I find it peaceful, and it allows me to concentrate on what I want to think about with far less distractions from the outside world.

I shut my eyes through a large number of TV commercials, most TV news, and, indeed, a wide range of general programming.  I shut my eyes when I am relaxing outside on the patio, listening to the neighbourhood. I shut my eyes when I am listening to the radio, when I sit at my desk doing nothing in particular, when I am traveling on my usual bus routes. I am not usually asleep (though I guess it is always worth checking), but nearly everyone who sees me in this condition assumes that I am. Usually I am not.

But I can understand this assumption because almost everyone else spends the entirety of their waking lives (other than blinking) with both eyes resolutely open, and for most of you sleep, yoga practice and prayer seem the only reasonable excuses for keeping them closed. Perhaps you all don’t want to miss anything, or are fearful of the dark, or something.

I really enjoy being awake with my eyes shut. External audio — TV, radio, the street — can be trained to be just one of the thought-threads running through your mind.  Shutting the eyes allows one to focus on the available audio or simply to ignore it in favour of your own thoughts. Visual stimuli, with the eyes open on the other hand, seem far more difficult to overcome or channel.

Don’t get me wrong; I am a painter and photographer: I love and often crave visual stimulation. But there are times when I just need to shut it all out  — and closing my eyes is simple, immediate and always available.  I urge you all to give it a serious try.


Plus Ca Change ….

September 26, 2020

British_Columbia_Flag-contour.

This was my wrap up of the 2009 BC Provincial election. I thought it might be an interesting contrast with today’s situation which has changed drastically.

 

**************************

 

So we had the election yesterday.  Overall, little has changed.  Gordon Campbell and his BC Liberals were returned to power for the third election in a row, while Carole James’ New Democrats stay as Opposition.  The number of seats held by each side was essentially unchanged.

It was, I guess, a perfect recession election where the electorate decided to keep the status quo to get some stability.  Regardless of the NDP ads, most voters see Campbell’s middle-to-right policies as safer at this time.  And it means that Campbell’s innovative Carbon Tax keeps going, and Gordo will be doing the glad handing at the Olympics next year.

Three matters of interest:  turnout, the Greens, and electoral reform.

Back in the 80s when bare-knuckle politicking was BC’s style, the turnouts regularly hit 75%. In the last election in 2005 there was much gnashing of teeth and wailing because only 55% of the electorate bothered to vote.  This time, the numbers fell to an astonishing 48%.  I haven’t got a clear read on that (though I doubt so many consciously  decided to follow an anarchist path of non-voting), but it is the most interesting part of the election to me.  Were people too depressed about the Canucks loss that they couldn’t get out of the house?  Was it so obvious that Campbell would win?  Was the campaign simply so boring?

Then there is the utter failure of the Green Party.  They will finish with about 8% of the vote, a fall of at least a point from 2005.  And this in an election when Jane Sterk managed to force herself onto the Leadership Debate on TV.  They were definitely marginalized in the media, but they were last time too.  Even Sterk finished a bad third in her riding.  Perhaps the Liberals adoption of a Carbon Tax put such a dent in the Greens that they couldn’t recover.  Their failure to move ahead was a bit of a surprise to me as I thought they would do better.

And finally, we saw the death of a form of proportional representation called the Single Transferable Vote or STV.  My guess is that it was just too complicated.  The benefits (if any) were not sold hard enough to overcome the obvious complications.  It needed 60% positive vote to be adopted, but in the end 61% voted against it.  I’m happy to see it go as it distanced the elected from the electors even further than today.  It would have been the exact opposite of direct democracy.

So, the next four years here will be much the same as the last four.  Next time, we will probably have three new leaders to consider.


The Joy of Cooking

September 24, 2020

Cooking CurriesFirst, let me heap praise on a cook book: Jane Lawson’s wonderful “Cooking Curries“. Every double-page consists of one or two recipes and a gorgeous colour photograph. She covers the widest range of curries from the obvious — India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, for example — to the more obscure — such as Goa, Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Bali, and Kenya. Under her steady guidance, I have learned to mix and make a dozen or more new curry pastes, and she has really taken my hand and led me to a new confidence in using coconut milk and different fruits in my cooking. I picked the book up by chance from Book Warehouse for $7.99 more than a decade ago and have derived hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of education and pleasure from her writing. This was probably the best buy I ever made in a cookbook.

Some time ago, I wanted to cook supper and had actually remembered to get some chicken breasts out of the freezer to thaw in the morning. I had also vaguely decided that I would make something from “Cooking Curries” and had picked up a stem of lemongrass and some fresh cilantro from Chinatown. Other than that, I had no real idea of what I was going to do. As I slowly sauteed the chicken pieces in an oil and crushed lemongrass mix, I scanned my way through the book until “thai red duck curry with pineapple” caught my lemongrasseye. I chose it because I knew I had most (not all) of the stuff needed to make the red curry paste. The fact that I didn’t have either duck or pineapple was of no concern: I had sauteed chicken and — at the perfect suggestion of my wife — mandarin orange segments.

To cut a fun time of chopping and boiling and simmering and stirring short, we ended up with a pretty darned good meal. A chicken curry over rice, sweetened with coconut milk and orange segments (which, like good anchovies, had melted away leaving just their umami essence), seasoned with a hot red paste (made from homegrown Thai peppers, I am proud to say), and with strong Thai undertones from the lemongrass, lemon zest and fresh cilantro.

The late Vancouver chef James Barber taught that you make do with the ingredients you have; that you cannot not cook something just because you are missing an item from a list; that the spirit and love you put into cooking is almost as important as basic technique. Combining this ethos with Jane Lawson’s already inventive recipes allowed me that night to fully experience the joy of cooking.


Twenty Four Years and Counting

September 15, 2020

Yet another year without cigarettes. Twenty-four 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 Personal Reflection On The Election To Come

September 5, 2020

A government we had achingly hoped would inspire British Columbians has instead bowed to its Big Labour masters (often as reactionary as the most plutocratic tycoon), played fast and loose with its implied campaign promises (and overall economic analysis), and kicked the First Nations in the teeth over and over again. Reflecting on just how significant this betrayal is took me back a long time, back to the days when I realised I could never be a unionist, or a social democrat.

A Londoner, I grew up in a strongly union family: my grandfather, a railwayman, was involved in the General Strike, and both his sons — my uncle Alf who eventually became mayor of Brentford, and my Dad — though professionals, were active supporters of the Labour Party. As a very small boy I remember folding brochures for campaigns, and labour matters were always on the agenda when we visited my uncle.  By my mid-teens, I was a member and volunteer at both the local Labour Party and a Transport Workers Union office. It was the mid-1960s and Harold Wilson’s white hot technological revolution was leading us all to the labourite paradise.

By then I had started to read deeply in left wing theory and history, and I developed quite the revolutionary zeal against the evils of capital and the systems of oppressive inequality that were fostered by it. I shared these thoughts and ideas at the labour hall and the Labour Party offices. And I was laughed off, brushed off, told not to worry about “abstract theory.” At first I assumed I was being ignored because I was a young kid. But I swiftly realized that the party and union leaders were plainly uninterested in the failures of the capitalist and “democratic” systems.

They didn’t want to change the systems at all, they just wanted their share of what the systems could give them and their members; seats, sinecures, and power for the party apparatchiks, washing machines and a small car for the workers even if it meant sweetheart deals exploiting labour in other ways. Those leaders with intellectual pretensions argued for the value of “incremental benefits” and for the postponement of radical change until some indefinite future.

Even after this realization, I continued to make my arguments at the halls until, quite quickly, I was shuffled out the door as a malcontent. I then drifted through the CPGB, Trotskyists, and Maoists, finding deceit (and often undisguised disdain for the masses) among the nomenklatura everywhere. I wound up as an anarchist.

Today, I feel just as disappointed as I did fifty-plus years ago. I am disappointed in the NDP and the unions, of course; but I am equally disappointed in myself for ever hoping that social democrats and big labour could ever accept real change and the challenges it offers.

 


To Be A Canadian

August 18, 2020

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Thirty-four years ago today I became a Canadian citizen. perhaps the proudest and most satisfying day of my life.  In about two months from now, I will have lived in Canada, in Vancouver, for forty-one years — much more than half my life.

These lengths of time seem strangely enormous to me looking back because I had had a quite long and interesting life (with wives and children and a career) in England and Europe before I ever came here.  And that previous life — during the fascinating 1950s, 60s and 70s — now seems like a necessary and irreplaceable prologue to what my life became afterwards.

There were seriously important people and things that I left behind; but I don’t believe in regrets because they have no value. Even if I did, I cannot imagine that my life was anything but greatly enhanced by moving to Vancouver.  I am still a proud Brit, an unreconstructed Welsh Londoner, but I am prouder still of being — by choice — a Vancouverite, of being Canadian.

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A Great Day To Remember

August 12, 2020

Twenty 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.


Shooting The Moon, 51 Years On

July 20, 2020

On this day in 1969 I was in Yugoslavia working as a Third Assistant Director on a movie called “Kelly’s Heroes“. I was nineteen years old and having a wonderful time working with the likes of Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, Telly Salvalas, and a whole wild bunch of American actors. like Harry Dean Stanton and Dick Davalos.

We were living at the Petrovaradin Hotel in Novi Sad and most nights I joined the Americans in games of high stakes poker. We took over one of the small banquet rooms and several of the hotel staff were deputed to look after us with drinks and food. These games were a useful but expensive education for me; over a few weeks, I managed to lose several months’ worth of per diem expenses.

Apollo_11_bootprintOur game on the 20th July 1969 coincided with the first manned landing on the moon and we arranged to have a black and white TV set up in the room  so we could follow the action.  I remember that, just as Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Eagle and on to the moon, we were in the middle of a game with a good-sized pot of American dollars piled in middle of the the table. We agreed to pause the game to watch the historic moment.

Several of us took the opportunity to stand and stretch for a moment. As I did so, I noticed that the American actors were glued to the TV screen intent on cheering their countrymen while the hotel staff ignored the TV and were all staring at the big pile of money, mouths agape.

It was an unforgettable night.


Writing Relief

July 5, 2020

On 18th May this year, I wrote the first notes about a book I wanted to write. Today, on 5th July, I finished a good draft, 110,000 words. I had forgotten how very satisfying it can be to have completed a long story from beginning to end.

Lots of work, yet, to improve the manuscript, but I am satisfied I have the bones of a decent book.

Perhaps now I’ll have time to put more interesting stuff on this blog?