Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Reginald Iolanthe Morrison

That gorgeous creature - all neatly tucked in, fast asleep and impossibly cute - is our cat, Reggie...or, as my dear wife decided to fully name him when we adopted him, Reginald Iolanthe Morrison.  (I had nothing - I repeat, nothing - to do with that.)  Yesterday, this utter bundle of joy celebrated the fifth anniversary of his birth.  Or rather we did, as he was obviously utterly oblivious to the fact, presumably unaware of the concept of time.
Anyway, I digress.  Reggie is a fantastic critter, unlike any beastie of his species I've ever owned or encountered.  His personality continues to surprise and delight, four years and forty-two weeks since we brought him home as a tiny kitten, all shaking with fear as we took over his full-time care from his foster mother.  Since then it's been wonderful companionship all the way, with a great deal of hilarity as, a small piece at a time, his personality has unfolded.
As I type, Reggie is sprawled across the heat register in my office, totally blocking any heat from coming my way, as he warms his belly and bum.  It's just one of hundreds of his lovely ways, some of which I will, in no particular order, recount here...
He loves to be brushed, so his coat is silky and immaculate at all times.  When we brush him, he'll allow his flanks, bib, legs and back to be done, before throwing himself over so his belly can be brushed.  He behaves in a similar way when we return home from work, greeting us at the front door before literally falling over, stretching and exposing his belly for rubs.  "Drop, thud and roll," Susan calls that.
Our 'Mini House Lion' plays fetch.  Yes, just like a dog.  His favourite fetch games involve his two favourite ball toys, the Bonker Ball and the 'Wee Ball,' which started life as a pompom on one of Susan's woollen gloves.  We stand in the kitchen and hurl one of these things into the bedroom, above the bed, uttering a loud, shrill "Boooooo" as we do so, whereupon he tears after it, leaping onto the bed, skidding right across it with his back legs splayed, before disappearing over the other side.  Seconds later, he'll appear proudly in the kitchen with said Bonker or Wee Ball, and drop it at my or Susan's feet so we can do it again.
He loves to scrap feistily with me in what I trust is a spirited attempt to usurp me as the Alpha Male of the pride.  This occurs mainly when on the rug in the lounge, or the runner in the dining room - areas we have consequently designated as Reggie's 'Combat Zones.'  With regular occurrence and utter predictability, he'll roll about all cute in these zones, luring me in to rub his belly, then he'll grab hold of my arm and clasp on with his front legs, sink his teeth into my hand (which rarely hurts) and kick away at my arm with his back feet.  'Kangaroo Boy' is what we've called this ultimately futile and unfailingly amusing act of aggression.  When he thinks he's got the upper hand, I'll scoop him up and cuddle him, whereupon he looks so guilty and apologetic.  I just love that he does all this, as he retains a degree of wildness.
It's easy to directly communicate with Reggie.  I'll look at him intently, blinking slowly in an exaggerated manner, and he blinks right back.  It should come as no great surprise that we have called this lovely feature of his behaviour 'Blinkies.'  (Classic middle-aged, childless cat nuts - that's us!)
He gets 'Full Moon Fever' and can detect storms on the way long before we do.  When there's a full moon or inclement weather coming in, he'll run around the house at top speed, a grey blur, howling something like a wolf in cat form, which is just another example of his frequent dog-like personality traits. 
He does so many beautiful, side-splitting things, with new tricks on a regular basis, that I could write about our nutty, gorgeous feline companion all day long.  At this five-year mark we look back at how he has grown and developed, just as a parent would and does with their children, and we feel so lucky that the little blighter entered our world.  He brings us so much happiness, fuzz therapy whenever we need it (which is often), and whatever the feline interpretation of unconditional love is (especially, as a Mama's Boy, for Susan).  He's such a little star.
Happy Birthday, Reginald Iolanthe Morrison!      

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Wisdom of Robyn

Susan and I are big fans of the veteran English psychedelic pop singer-songwriter, Robyn Hitchcock, currently resident in Nashville.  Since 1972 Hitchcock has kept us hugely entertained with his wonderful, frequently whimsical and surreal songs, and he never really drops the ball with album after album of  consistently good material.  Live, between songs he tells the strangest, tripped out stories that seem to be improvised on the spot, and they are usually hilarious.  The odd sense of humour he employs in his songwriting and stage banter is clearly displayed in his Twitter feed, with random 'nonsense' pronouncements such as:
"Music is really good fun, and some musicians even play golf.  Our cat is going to sneeze.  It's not long 'til Easter.  I like mint chocolate."
"If we were more evolved we would sorvkng dfhi cgui wotdb until we zoefmu forever."
Delightful and silly, but of late Hitchcock has felt compelled to join the billions of right-thinking individuals around the world with a stream of powerful statements about and against Donald Trump and his insane 'executive orders.'  He has just about nailed it with the following quotes, with which I will conclude this brief post.
"Either we will eventually become extinct and be replaced by cats with articulated thumbs, who have evolved the way apes slowly evolved into us, or we will become empathic and mildly telepathic.  People like Donald Trump won't happen because biologically no human will be born with that lack of empathy."
This next one is an open letter to Trump, published on certain music blogs the day after the inauguration.  It is, in my opinion, very powerful, beautifully measured, and absolutely right on:
"Yesterday the whole thinking, feeling world gave the thumbs down to Donald Trump and everything he stands for. 
What does he stand for - or stand against, more importantly?
He's against every single gain we've made as a species in the last sixty years: in racial equality, in gender parity, in sexual tolerance, in environmental awareness, and in welfare, just to start the list.  Less than a day into his presidency, he has begun to nullify and marginalize all that so many have fought for in these areas since the Civil Rights movement.
But you can't marginalize the melting ice caps, Donald, and you can't nullify people's feelings when they get sick and starve.  You can't steal a woman's body from her, or steamroller someone's sexuality.  No matter hard you legislate.
Your supporters are mostly either so wealthy that they feel immune to life and death, or so misinformed that they think losing their health care will somehow help them.  Or they just can't face a female president, for reasons of their own.  We don't understand them, and they don't understand us, frankly.  You're presiding over the United States now - a nation with a greater divide than the Rockies ever were. 
You're not alone.  Your greedy, vainglorious, vindictive nature finds its echo in Britain, Russia and other lands.  But you will never find the admiration you lack, or the respect you crave, by alienating every empathic soul on earth.  And right now you're doing just that; you may relish it, but it's not making you happy, is it?
Yesterday my old friends marched in London, my partner marched in Washington DC, and my Nashville friends and I marched here in Tennessee.  I'm proud of them all, and proud to be among them.  There was no violence - just a bunch of us across the social dial celebrating what we believe in, and celebrating each other.
You must believe in something - other than the lustre of your own gold, and hurting those who disagree with you - or am I missing the point, Donald?"   

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration Day

                                                    (Thanks are due to Sherri Israels.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Starting Again

In some respects it is impossible to comprehend, but today - December 20th, 2016 - marks ten years since Susan and I landed in Nanaimo to start a new life in our forties.  Ten years!
Looking back over this decade we have crammed in a lot of living, doing the thing we do, and considering the state we arrived in, we have come an incredibly long way.  Six weeks prior to our arrival we lost our Brighton home to fire, an understandably traumatic event that considerably expedited our original plans to move here.  The fire started in the apartment above ours when the moronic son of the woman that lived there fell asleep drunk, dropped a lit cigarette, then woke up and went out.  How can that even happen?  How can someone wake up to presumably find the place on fire, then go out?  We have never been given answers to how everything unfolded, and will never receive any, but it is what happened.
Consequently, we had no choice but to up sticks and head over here, a moved sanctioned by Canada House when Susan was approved as my sponsor...the day after the fire!  Remaining in ultra-expensive Brighton and starting over there simply was not an option.  Susan desperately wanted to come home; we had somewhere to temporarily stay - with Susan's ever-supportive parents - and it felt like my time in Brighton, just short of twenty years, had run its course.  Besides, my mother - never a fan of Britain - urged me to get of the 'shithole' if any opportunity to do so ever arose, so hey, mum, I did it, and with an incredible woman I wish you could have met, but alas...
Our exit from the UK was a six-week blur of goodbyes, packing, planning, fretting, paying off debts and other outstanding expenses, and a ton of other things on our to-do list.  I could go into the chaotic events that transpired in the wake of the fire, but I would rather not recall them, especially such as witnessing Susan burst into tears upon the sight of any passing fire truck.  Let's just say it was a highly emotional, crazy, frazzled and hectic time that, even if paid handsomely to re-enact it, I would politely decline for the sake of my mental health.
The day of departure was one of the most stressful days of our lives.  As we were leaving just before Christmas, Gatwick Airport was absolutely crammed to the rafters with travellers, all about as nerve-fried as each other, eager to get the fuck on planes and get out of there.  For us, leaving our beloved cat Eddie in the hands of the live cargo department was awful.  He was thirteen years-old, not in great health, and we genuinely wondered if he would survive the flight.
After having bid an emotional farewell to our dear friend Shaun, who had kindly driven us to the airport, and his two lovely daughters, we joined the masses moving like molasses through the terminal, firstly to ask where we needed to take Eddie (which proved to be somewhere so far away we had to get a taxi to and from it), then to check in and join the endless queue to get to the departure lounges.  It was absolute hell, and so slow-movingly busy we thought we would miss our flight.  Then when we finally did get on the plane we couldn't even sit together.
What seemed like an eternity later we landed in Vancouver, where after a right rigmarole and rip-off scenario we collected our freaking-out cat, then were scooped up by Susan's friends Carol and Ariane, whisked off to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal at high speed, only to be the very last passengers (and cat) aboard.  It was madness, and not at all how I had ever envisaged arriving in my new country.  It was freezing cold, but because we had an animal with us we had to huddle in a particular area on an outside deck.  The journey to the Duke Point terminal was only two hours, but it felt like two days.
Collected by Susan's parents at this end, we were taken 'home' to begin our new life.  I could relate the events and emotions of the first few weeks and months, but will resist.  I will say that it was a period of unexpectedly enormous adjustment that brought with it high emotion, a great deal of uncertainty, and not a little fear...
...but it all worked out in the end.
As I type I am in my office in our dream home, a beautiful and large house, the basement of which was once a noted recording studio.  It feels very, very right living inside these walls.  We continue to make it our own in terms of adornments and upgrades, and in truth I have never felt happier living anywhere than I do in this wonderful dwelling.  Our condo - bought in 2007, and lived in for five happy years - was great, but way too small for our needs and desires.
We both have work, as well as a wonderful cat, Reggie; a community of fantastic friends that took time to find, and are generally very happy with our situation.  Like anyone we have our problems and situations to deal with, but we live each day as if it's our last, making the very best of our time together and deal with the crap as it comes along.
We have absolutely no regrets.  Moving here, albeit with forced hands at the time, was one of the best decisions we have ever made.  Susan needs to be here, near her family, while perversely conveniently I have no one left, so we have that support network as well, without whom we would have truly struggled.  We are so very lucky in that respect.
A suitcase each, $1,000 between us, and a cat in a basket: that's what we arrived here with ten years ago today.  Now, an extraordinary decade later, in all but wealth we are millionaires.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

She Gave the People What They Wanted

Of the deaths from the music world that have shocked us all this year, the one that has affected Susan and I the most, genuinely reducing us to tears, was the passing of 'soul revival' powerhouse Sharon Jones.  I may have grown up with and possess twenty-odd CDs by David Bowie, or have been such a huge Prince fan that I once flew from my workplace in Belfast to London to see him perform, then caught the next redeye flight back to Belfast, so was naturally shaken when both died this year, but it is the death of Sharon Jones at just 60 years-old that has upset me the most.
On April 4th, 2014, we travelled down to Victoria to see Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings perform at Alix Goolden Hall.  It was the first of two back-to-back shows for us that weekend - with the mighty, reconvened Neutral Milk Hotel in Vancouver the following evening - and what proved to be the most powerful live music double whammy either of us had ever experienced.  Sharon and her kickass funk-soul outfit were simply world class, and considering I have been fortunate to see the ilk of James Brown, George Clinton, Etta James and Marvin Gaye, it was hands down pretty much the best soul show I've ever seen.  The band were absolutely smokin' on all cylinders and Sharon danced like a thing demented, singing her ass off all night.  It was fantastic, and everyone in the venue that night would agree.
One significant factor making Sharon's hi-octane performance so extraordinary was that she was just four months removed from debilitating chemotherapy treatment, as she had been battling the usually fatal pancreatic cancer.  I've had chemotherapy and can tell anyone that has not that it utterly kicks your ass.  For months after my treatment I had zero energy, some days barely able to put one foot in front of another, so full recovery from what is effectively being poisoned is slow and difficult.
Not for Sharon, it seems!  She danced so hard all night that all I could do, understanding what she had been through, was marvel at her superhuman stamina and shake my head in disbelief at her commitment to putting on the best show she possibly could.  Most admirable of all that she was not in the slightest a vain woman, so even though having lost all her hair during chemo she refused to wear a wig or disguise it in any way, so her head was covered in a light fuzz as her hair began to reappear.  To my mind, this made her all the more beautiful and impressive a human being, but it is important to note what a tough, tough lady this was.  It is not just anyone that can conquer pancreatic cancer, but then not everyone has the grit to work as a corrections officer at the notorious Riker's Island facility in New York, or as a guard on armoured Wells Fargo cash trucks.  Sharon did. 
After the show, compelled to soak in some of her inspirational energy, we decided to go hang out in the merchandise area of the Alix Goolden Hall where it is common in our experience for visiting musicians to meet fans to sign stuff and pose for photos.  It was, as you would expect, busy with excited fans wanting to meet this remarkable woman, and we were as anticipatory as anyone present.  Out came Sharon from a side door, only to be mobbed, respectfully I might add, by a gaggle of adoring fans.  We just stood back and watched in awe as she worked and controlled the room, aware that a lot of folks wanted a piece of her after an exhausting night's work.  She visibly made note of everyone, including us, that were patiently waiting to say hello, gesturing that she'd be with them 'in a minute.'  As she made her way towards us, she signed something for a couple, then span round to greet us.
Sharon was (I will find it difficult for a time to refer to her in the past tense) a tiny woman, but muscularly built like a pitbull terrier.  She also had the most beautiful imaginable smile, and exuded warmth and compassion.  She also commanded the room with such authority that when she was talking to someone, everyone waiting stood back to await their turn, giving space to show her and the recipients of her attention the respect they and the situation demanded.  I don't think I've ever seen that before.
So, it was our turn.  We both reached out to hug her, and overcome with emotion I clumsily called her 'sister' when telling her I was a three-time cancer survivor, and that I found her an inspiration considering the hell she had recently been through.  Sharon answered by saying that she hoped to God she wouldn't have to go through such a nightmare as I had endured, hugging me again and tenderly touching my face with her left hand.  It was truly one of the most profound moments of my life, a huge deal for me that is scorched into my memory and will remain there vividly until my own time is up.
Susan's turn then came, with more hugs and beaming smiles from both, then with trembling hands I took a couple of photos of these two women I love, but then we had to withdraw to let others bask in Sharon's humanity.  Dazed, we made our way back to the car, barely able to articulate to each other our feelings about the show and meeting its incredible star.
When the November 13th death of Leon Russell was announced, I said out loud to my boss Steve that I hoped against hope that I was wrong, but bet that Sharon Jones would be next.  I just felt it.  Five days later, she was dead, and like so many millions of fans of one of the greatest soul singers of all time - who broke through so late in life to give hope to those who might feel their chance has gone - I was heartbroken.
When it was reported back in September last year that Sharon's cancer had returned, I thought it would only be a matter of time.  And so it was, but she fought to the bitter end with all she had, and exited this world with grace, singing gospel songs with her band around her hospital bed, before a second stroke in the space of days silenced her amazing voice forever.
There's not much else I can say, but there will always be Sharon's great albums, legendary live performances, and personally speaking the precious few minutes we spent in her beautiful company.  If anyone reading is unfamiliar with her brilliance, just watch this mindblowing, fan-shot video (hence the shakiness), filmed at Stade de France in Paris on June 30th, 2011.  Sharon and the Dap-Kings were opening for Prince at his request, and holy moly what a show that must have been.  There they are, sharing the stage, two musical giants that have both left us in this strange, stressful year.  It is one of the most exciting live music videos I have ever seen, and you will know I've seen quite a few.
Thank you Sharon, thank you Prince, for everything you gave me during your lifetimes, and will continue to give me during mine.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Are You Lost in the World Like Moby and Me?

I just watched this gorgeous video for the first time less than half an hour ago, and in doing so felt both smug and an odd kind of relief.  I talk on a tediously regular basis about the insane technological obsession our species is gripped by, but feel ever more isolated from the world in doing so.
Not that it bothers either of us in the least, it sometimes feels like Susan and I are the last people on earth to succumb to the highly addictive spell cast upon humans by these calculatedly slinky, sexy smartphones, and we gaze in despair at more and more people glued to their devices, unplugged from their surroundings, everywhere - as in everywhere - we go. 
In Victoria yesterday we (including our visitor Lisa, who owns a smartphone, but has barely touched it since she arrived) watched in fascination and sadness as a zombified public wandered about, cradling their phones before them, or just gawping at what was on the screen.  We all talked about it, at the time and later on, aghast at what has happened and is happening since these things were invented. 
So, a video such as the one above, for the Moby & the Void Pacific Choir song Are You Lost in the World Like Me?, seems to deliver some vindication of my thoughts and feelings on the matter, but also a degree of comfort that I am not alone.  Moby has always been a political animal, never shy of airing his feelings via his music, and it is clear from this beautifully animated (I am guessing deliberately) retro video (in reflection of more 'innocent' times) that he feels exactly like I do.
Anyway, watch the video and make up your own mind.  I think it says a lot about the modern world, not just from the perspective of technological addiction, but also the pressures and intensity of modern urban life.    

Kwinkydinks 2

So, our wonderful friend Lisa is here and we are having a grand old time.  But, in the wake of my "Kwinkydinks" post about the amazing coincidences that regularly come our way, with Lisa another has arrived.  Noticing the tattoos on my arms, she said, "I love tattoos and have eleven.  Do you have any others?"  "Yes," I said, rolling up my pant legs to show her the hummingbird on my left leg, and the maple leaf on my right.  Lisa looked at me, shocked, and said, "Look at this!"  She took off her left sock to reveal a pretty hummingbird tattoo, and lifted her right jeans leg to reveal a scattering of leaves around her ankle.  We both have hummingbirds on our left legs and leaves on our right legs...

Really, what are the odds?

And yesterday in Victoria, in Lisa's company, everywhere we went in the city we kept running into representations - paintings, plush toys, t-shirts  etc. - of one of Lisa's favourite creatures, the narwhal.  Unless at this time narwhals are a 'thing,' some kind of trendy creature in popular culture for some inexplicable reason, there were just too many encounters with them yesterday for it to be extraordinary coincidence.