I was early and luckily a couple just freed up our usual table in the corner on the patio overlooking the harbour and the calm waters of Howe Sound. The view never tires me and there is always something to watch. I’ve seen seals popping up their whiskered heads for a look around; herons are a common sight waiting patiently at the end of the dock and once in a while an eagle cruises overhead, getting the best view of all. I was jolted out of my reverie by my friend who had just sat down.

“You’re early, “ he said, sounding kind of grumpy.

“Clare is in the city tonight, for a two day conference,” I explained to Campbell who is known as Camp, owner of Coast Books – a non-profit public service enterprise – as he calls it.

“Oh, does that mean you can have a few extra beers.”

“That is never an issue. Who stepped on your shadow today?” I asked, “you seem to be in an owly mood. Nothing to do with Muriel I hope.”

Camp gave me a shifty look from under his bushy eyebrows. “No, Muriel is fine. Mind you, I hardly see her these days what with summer break at the council and her daughter Sophie in town. It’s the Feds who are bugging me. I just found out that we need a federal permit for the harbour expansion and that could take months. It’s a snag I didn’t expect. “

“Oh,” I said, “but it’s just a formality right.”

“Let’s hope so but this is just more fodder for the opposition. With a dismissive wave of his hand Camp changed the subject. “Anyway, this beer tastes good and the view is spectacular.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I said and added: “I might just have to eat here for a change since I don’t feel like cooking for one, maybe have one of those sixteen dollar burgers.”

“I don’t know about you but I can barely afford to drink here, never mind eat. A burger and a pint will add up to $ 30 with tips. I can buy food for the rest of the week for that amount.”

“Tell me about it.,” I said. “At least some greens, eggs and fruit are grown locally but at exorbitant prices. I try to buy locally but more often than not I end up buying the Mexican tomatoes and the Argentinian bananas. Or what about meat? Have you seen the prices lately? Pork is the only bargain in the meat department,” I lamented.

“Lucky for us infidels and gentiles. Almost forces one to become a vegetarian, Camp countered and then went on to expound: “Humans are omnivores, opportunistic feeders, meaning they can process both: vegetable and animal proteins. Vegans, and to some extent vegetarians, are lifestyle choices, some dictated by religious dogma, like the Jains and most Hindus and even Jews. Atheists and Christians have one thing in common: they love their bbq’s.”

“Thank God for that but I think you’re out on a limb here Camp. Food choices can be rather complex, dictated by health, affordability, availability and subject to information and food education. Remember when the Atkins diet was all the rage. The protein only diet. We called it the teamster diet. All those chubby drivers were in food heaven. Losing weight by eating only meat. It drove the caterers crazy.”

“Did it work?” Camp asked.

“For a short time until they were all so plugged up that they became very irritable. Nothing worse than a teamster full of shit.”

“Food is politics,” Camp said, shaking his head full of unruly grey curls. I was afraid he was embarking on one of his passionate soliloquies. “When I grew up we had to eat everything on our plate because the Africans were starving and meat was only served on Sundays and holidays.”

I stopped him right there and said: “Where I grew up we had to eat everything on our plate because it was hard to come by and meat was for holidays and special occasions only. The rest of the time we ate innards: Liver, tripe, kidney pie, blood pudding and even fried brain. I also remember having to sit and eat my porridge with raisins, forcing it down bite by bite until I was allowed to get up from the table. I hate porridge and raisins to this day.”

Camp laughed. “At least you were taught respect for the food on the table. I’m not so sure if that holds today. I doubt that many families even sit down for a meal together. It’s everybody for themselves, eat whenever you have the time, eat standing up in front of the fridge, and cooking is a senior’s hobby and for those parents who can find the time.”

“Three isles at every grocery store are freezers, full of pre-cooked, frozen dinners.” I said.

Not to be outdone Camp doubled down: “And one isle is for chips alone. Can you believe it? Chips or as the English call it: crisps and a whole other isle for pop.”

“When I grew up fast food was a buttered slice of bread dunked in Ovaltine, much to the chagrin of my mom.”

Camp laughed. “We did the same thing but with sugar.”

“Today, fast food is the mainstay of the American diet and pop, which is basically artificially flavoured sugar water, the most popular drink.”

“More popular than beer?” Camp asked, raising one of his shaggy eyebrows while at the same time raising his pint to illustrate the point.

“I read somewhere that Americans consume 20% of their food in the car. That means, burgers, pizza, fries and pop.”

“And then they toss the empty packaging out the window. Have you ever noticed that most of the roadside garbage is fast food containers.”

“And did you know that US schools class French Fries and Pizza as vegetables?”

“That is just wrong,” I said, “What does all this fast food do to the brain?”

“You are what you eat and drink,” Camp said while holding up two fingers for Vicky to see. This was going to be a thirsty Thursday. “On the other end of the spectrum are the health food fanatics. Food obsession is every bit as damaging as food negligence. Diets and fads, eat like a pig then starve like a fashion model,” he added.

“Everything in moderation, as Clare always maintains,” I said.

“Would you boys like to eat?” Vicky asked, plopping down a couple of menus. and then offered the coupe de grace: “Thursday is prime rib night; two for the price of one.”

“Come on Camp, my treat. I don’t want to eat alone. Let’s go for it.”

“What’s the vegetarian special?” he coyly asked Vicky who gave him a wary smile.
“You’re kidding me? Not on prime rib night!” I exclaimed.

“I got you, didn’t I. You thought I’d gone over to the other side.”

“I need another drink..”

“I’ll join you, Cheers.”








Moral Bankruptcy

“It’s been a crazy few days; that is if you watch TV or read the papers. First it was the ludicrous spectre of nuclear conflict, promoted by the evil troll in Pyongyang and Darth Vader in the White House and now we have seen the worst of Trump in the aftermath of the Neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville.”

Campbell or Camp for short, had barely sat down at our usual table in the corner on the patio, under the TV, when I assaulted him with this barrage. He held up two fingers for Vicky, the waitress who was well versed in the pub’s universal sign language.

“As you know,” Camp said, “I don’t have a TV and only read the papers sporadically but I do get my news from my customers, if there are any, and from the all-knowing world-wide-web. The consensus is unanimously that the Nasty Leader in Washington has now shown his true self to the whole world, which should not come as a surprise to anybody. He’s always been a racist – remember the birther witch hunt – and he’s always been a bigot and a misogynist and as we all knew that he is basically a white supremacist. None of that is new, it’s just that he is now the president of the USA.”

“The president is supposed to be the moral compass of the nation, especially in times of domestic trouble,” I said. “Obama always stepped up and tried to heal the wounds inflicted by murder and terror.” Vicky dropped off a couple of pints, which remained uncharacteristically untouched since both of us were quite upset, as were most sane people.

“Remember, he has been elected by a majority of white people, two thirds of white males and over half of all white women voted for him. They supported a blatant racist and they should all take a hard look at themselves and ask: Is this really the man I wanted for my president?” Camp said.

“Do you really think that will happen? And what will the next three years look like? There doesn’t seem a week goes by without a dramatic and potentially dangerous wobble at the top of the pyramid which is the American government structure.”

“Maybe it’s more like a volcano, about to blow.”

On that note we both took a tentative sip from our beers, which were in danger of going flat. That in itself was a measure of our common distress.

It was Michelle Obama who said: Being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are, I said.

“And it’s Trump who said that there are some very nice people in the Nazi/ Alt Right rally in Charlottesville, shouting ‘blood and soil’, waving swastikas and yelling Trump heil’. Hard to believe,” I said.

“Anybody who was part of that march of hate is definitely not a nice person and anybody who supports and votes for a racist is also a racist. There is no ambiguity there,” Camp said “ and whoever does not recognize the pure evil and hatred in these ultra-right fanatics has no sense of history, justice and place,” he added, shaking his head full of grey bristles in dismay.

“There seems to be a lot of young, white males who are attracted to these noxious hate groups, influenced by a myriad of racist and conspiracy sites on the web, which speaks volumes about their collective void of moral guidance,” I said, feeling rather depressed and somewhat at a loss but I could not ignore all this theatre of the absurd and bizarre that is filling the airwaves and news print.

“Maybe you should not watch any more TV news if it distresses you like that, it’s not healthy and there is very little you can do about it,” Clare, always the wise voice, advised me.

“But I cannot ignore it and stick my head in the sand,” I protested.

“I’m not asking you to ignore it, just take a step back and don’t take it so personal. For example, Trump does not rule my garden and he is certainly not my moral compass gone haywire. I cannot give that charlatan the time of day and will instead concentrate on the good I can do in my little corner of the world.”

I sort of related that much to Camp who embarked on one of his diatribes.    “Clare of course has a point and maybe we should all just concentrate on our sphere of influence and make sure that the young people we come in touch with either as teachers, parents, politicians or shop keepers, like myself, know that they’re loved and respected. The antidote to hate and fear is compassion and nurture but of course our first instinct is punishment and retribution. A lot of these young Nazis are lost and abandoned by their parents, their leaders and elders and society as a whole. Tolerance, equality and understanding are virtues that need to be taught and led by example. Sadly, Trump is a despicable example and he is the enemy of decent, educated and compassionate people and he can only lead his flock into realms of fear and hatred.”

“When we were young, a lot of lost souls were gathered in by fake gurus and brainwashers but mostly under the guise of love and control, usually to further their own material wellbeing in this world in exchange for lofty rewards in the next one. Skinheads and punks were the antidote to these movements.”

“But they were only the lunatic fringe, never embraced by a racist president and 60 million people who voted for him. That is the difference. One can only hope that this is a watershed moment that makes people take another look at themselves, their neighbours, and the dubious leaders they elected.”

““Let’s drink to the common good people and to a bright future full of peace and love,” I suggested, trying to rally some positive energy.

“Always the optimist,” Camp said, raising his glass.

“A pessimist with a positive outlook,” I countered.



Fire and Smoke

We could hardly see Keats Island from our usual table at the pub, even though it’s only one kilometer from the Gibsons shore.

“Clare remarked yesterday that they’ve taken the mountains away,” I said, referring to the bad visibility due to the shroud of smoke hanging over the whole province as a result of over 120 active wild fires.

“Like China,” Campbell or Camp to everybody but his mother remarked, shaking his large messy head of grey locks in dismay.

“There are over 3500 firefighters battling the flames, many of them from Mexico, Australia and the US and apparently one third of the fires are human caused,” I pointed out.

“Yeah, I believe it. Idiots throwing cigarette butts out the window. By the way, have you noticed the sunrises and sunsets lately?” Camp asked.

“Can’s say I’ve seen any sunrises but you’re right about the sunsets and all day long the sun has a pink glow to it. One bonus is that this silky dome of smoke has kept the heat down. You can actually sit outside without shade and not be bothered by the sun. It’s a boon for outdoor patios and beer gardens.”

“I guess we should be thankful for that,” Camp smiled “and the beer stays cool a bit longer, mind you mine never has a chance to warm up. Oh, here is Vicky, I think we might as well have another, what you say?”

Never one to turn down a beer I simply held up two fingers to our waitress Vicky, the universal code for two more beers please.

“What do you think of the fierce rhetoric and sabre rattling going on between Kim Jong-un and Trump as of late?” I asked Camp, who is much more informed and politically savvy than I, even though he does not have a TV and doesn’t read the local papers. Still he is always well versed in present day politics, locally and globally.

“Seems we’re stuck with two psychopaths and egomaniacs trying to outdo each other. We’re used to threats from Kim and the bluster from the Donald but the response from him this week about answering North Korea with ‘fire and fury as the world has never seen it’ is very unsettling. It’s a game of chicken nobody can win and all the cooler heads in the room are biting their nails or checking their smart phones. Nobody laughed.”

“Do you think Kim and his generals would attack Guam with atomic missiles? It’s what he promised to do. Apparently they were able to miniaturize their nukes; make them small enough to stick them on a missile,” I said.

“Kim knows that he cannot win a war with the mighty USA”, Camp said, “all he wants is respect and ensure the survival of his regime and of course he also wants to annex South Korea, the ultimate goal of both his father and grandfather but today more unlikely to happen than ever. And let’s not forget the Japanese who have since last year the right to retaliate if any of their allies – Guam for example – are attacked. It is an escalating and worrying situation, hopefully all smoke and no fire but one that calls for more beer I think.”

“A nuclear war initiated by a tweet, that is really worrying me. What time is it on the doomsday clock today?” I asked,

“It was at ten minutes before midnight 20 years ago, today it stood at 3 minutes to the midnight hour at the beginning of the year and no doubt it has advanced in the last few day to within 30 seconds. Just ask yourself this: Is Trump the kind of guy who would pull the trigger just to show the world that he is a man of real power? Sadly this isn’t just a wildwest story, it is today’s scariest reality show.”

“Not a lot of good news I’m afraid,” I said, “and nothing you and I can do about it either Camp. On the positive side, Clare is picking blackberries today with our neighbour. It’s a bumper year for berries.”

“Is there any improvement in the weather forecast,” Camp asked, squinting toward the water as if trying to penetrate the fog like atmosphere.

“No wind, no rain and no more beer today,” I said, finishing my pint. “I better head back and keep the home fires burning.”

Tattoos or not

“Vicky, what’s with the new tattoo ?” Camp asked our waitress at ‘Gramma’s Pub’ when she set a cool pint of Golden Pale Ale in front of him. The tattoo depicted a mermaid holding a glass of what looked like champagne.

“Don’t you love it ! It’s my birthday present to myself.”

“It is kind of cute but what does it mean?”

“When I was a little girl I always wanted to be a mermaid and now I am one, meaning I can be whatever I want to be. Enjoy your beers fellows.”

“That’s what you get for asking, I said to Camp.

“Tattoos used to be the provenance of sailors and bikers. An anchor, a skull and crossbones, maybe a tall-ship or a snake around the bicep, or ritual tattoos like the Polynesian swirls, but today everybody has to have them. There isn’t a professional soccer player that hasn’t got the full sleeve at least on one arm, most of them have both arms, the neck and god knows what else covered in ink. When the flames come out of the shirt collar that’s it for me.”

“I know,“ I said, “and not every tattoo artist is a good one. What puzzles me is that so many girls are into this body painting. Do they realize that tattoos are forever ? Can you see all these grannies in fifty years with their tattoos of fairy princesses, Celtic knots and mermaids?”

“Not a pretty sight I have to admit.”

“What about all the tattoos gone wrong, the spelling mistakes.”

“I guess there is a market loophole there. If somebody can figure out how to disappear tattoos, they’ll have it made,” Camp said, taking a sip of his beer.

“I think there are over the counter skin bleaching concoctions,” I said “and I know a former actress who opened a tattoo removal business. I think it’s called ‘Inkoff’.

“Tattoo removal creams are like hair growing ointments. It’s all snake oil. I have a tattoo,” Camp said, “from when I was a teenager. It’s home made and we did it ourselves, with ink and needles. Sort of like a hazing ritual. We were young and stupid.”

“No kidding, let’s see it,” I said.

Camp reluctantly rolled up his sleeve and displayed a round, faded blob that looked more like a birthmark than a tattoo.”

“It’s supposed to be a ‘ying and yang’ sign,” Camp said defensively.

“Maybe you can have it made into a smiley face, like an emoji,” I offered, or how about a full moon.”

“You’re a lot of help you know,” Camp said, rolling down his sleeve. “By the way where is that ‘Inkoff’ business of your friend?”

“I’ll get you the details,” I promised. “By the way have you heard of those two business grads who took on the multi-billion dollar shaving industry with their own razor. I’s called Harry and quite the success story,” I said

“I also used to invent stuff,” Camp said, but nothing quite as successful. “I invented a floating platform with wheel wells and an outboard motor that you could drive any size RV onto and voilà, there is your houseboat.”

“Oh, that’s a cool idea. What happened?
“Nobody had any money to invest and then there were suddenly a plethora of marine regulations I didn’t think of. I guess that’s why the amphibian car died.”

“What else did you invent Camp.”

“Oh, a tie with a permanent knot but I think somebody else invented the same thing. Lately I’m thinking of those in-house lap-pools with the adjustable pumps so you can swim in place. I’m thinking of building on that and introduce kayaks, and water boards to it with a half surround screen so you could paddle down the Amazon or among Caribbean palm islands. All before lunch of course and in your own home.”

“That’s a crazy idea,” I said, shaking my head. “Who would buy into that?”

“That’s what they said about snowboards or the self drive car for that matter. Anyway I’ll better stick to books. Somebody else writes them, somebody else binds them and I just sell them.”

I offered a toast: “Here is to the simple things in life, tattoo removal and the Amazon in your home gym.”

“Are you guys ready for another one,” Vicky asked.

“Yes, please,” we both answered in stereo.