The LNG powered ferry from Tallinn, Estonia, to Helsinki takes two and a half hours and is a glitzy, floating restaurant, lounge, bar and garden patio with several large TV’s, a kids era, a live band and a whole floor dedicated to shopping.  You can buy a fancy watch or designer clothes while drinking a glass of champagne. Living in a ferry dependent community as we are here on the Sunshine Coast, this was a jaw dropping luxury cruise compared to the old rusty and creaky, diesel powered boats plying the waters of B.C. Mind you that crossing cost $ 50.- p/person as in compare to $ 17.- or free for seniors during the week.

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Senior Stoners

“Did you read Trudeau’s announcement that Marijuana will be legal by October 17th,” He needs one good news story and I think Canadians in general will be pleased,” I said after I joined Camp who was already seated at our usual table at the pub.

“Yeah, except all the small growers, the experienced specialists who have been refining the art of the perfect Ganja, will be gobbled up by the big corporations or be left to remain underground,” Camp said. “Not good for all the small towns where these Grow-ops have contributed to their local economy for the past 30 years.”

“There will be problems with quality, standards, taxation and distribution,” I said. “and people who rely on medical marijuana will be taxed just like recreational users. Not fair, they say, since it should be treated like any other medicine.”

“Yeah, it will also be interesting to see what our bullish neighbour to the south thinks of this and should we even care?”

Vicky brought us two cold ones and I couldn’t help myself and asked her opinion about this issue.

“I don’t indulge, but it should be up to the people to decide what they consume, not the government. Most people are smart enough to decide what’s good for themselves, without the government getting in the way,” she said while giving the table next to us a perfunctory wipe.

“Exactly,” said Camp. “It smacks of legislating morality.”

“Guess which is the fastest growing population segment that indulges these days.”

“Teenagers?” I ventured.

“Seniors!” Camp said triumphantly, smacking the table with the palm of his hand for emphasis. “It’s senior stoners which are the biggest new Cannabis users according to a New Yorkerarticle. A US government survey found that cannabis use for those 65 years old and up increased by 250%. It’s simple demographics. Seniors today are the boomers, the first generation to seriously embrace Marijuana and now that they’re retired they’re taking up old habits. Remember those lids of Mexican weed or the Thai sticks?

“Yes, I remember,” I said. “You could tell a toker by the holes in their T-shirts from the exploding seeds.”

“Those were the days,” Camp waxed nostalgically.

We both concentrated on our beers for a couple of beats.

“I guess between the old stoners and those looking for health benefits you can add those who follow the law and are now free to get high and then there are those who never stopped,” I said.

“It’s not the teens but the geezers who will drive the green wave,” Camp said, “and the market will be driven by edibles, not smokers. Gummibears and popcorn, brownies, candy and vaporizers.”

“Amen,” Camp said and we finished our pints which didn’t last in this summer heat.

Vicky brought around a fresh round of cold ones and said. “While you two are concerned with recreation and high times, I’m more worried about the smoke covering much of the Okanagan. Over 120 wild fires are burning right now in B.C. and there is no rain in sight. I don’t even want to think about the horrible fires in Greece. My boyfriend just signed up with the fire fighters. He’s off to Kelowna today.”

We both looked a bit pathetic with our silly pot concerns in view of this real devastating threat to property and lives.

“I remember the awful Mountain Park fire in 2003,” I said.

“Or the Fort McMurray wild fire that destroyed 2400 homes and took 15 months to put out,” Camp added.

“Vicky you’re right of course, we’re very worried and fully support your boyfriends commitment,” I said rather lamely.

“You two don’t worry, I didn’t want to spoil your happy hour. Enjoy the breeze, the super weather and the free second pint.”

“And may the rain come soon,” I said, not believing I just said that.

Baltic Impressions

Before we embarked on our Baltic holiday this June we watched ‘The Singing Revolution’, an Estonian documentary chronicling the subsequent occupations by Tsarists, then the USSR followed by Nazi Germany and back to the Soviets. The only weapon the Estonians brandished in their ongoing protest against the tyranny of the occupiers were their song festivals. Over a hundred thousand Estonians gathered to belt out patriotic songs led by conductors and dozens of united choirs, embraced by old and young. In August 1989, these singing protests culminated in a human chain, two million people holding hands, 630 km long, linking the three Baltic states from Tallinn in Estonia to Riga in Latvia all the way to Vilnius in Lithuania. This was before Facebook or smart phones. Two years later Estonia declared formal independence during the Soviet military coup against Gorbachev, when Yelstsin, standing on a tank, dissolved the USSR.  The film culminated in the heroic feat of two policemen defending the TV tower in Tallinn, against the Russian tanks who retreated when their command structure broke down.

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Only Change Endures

         It has been a hot week here on the coast. Perfect temperature, always a cool breeze off the water and no bugs. We eat outside, all the kids swim and play off the Granthams Wharf all day long and we leave every window open. Rich man’s weather, Clare calls it. She is out in her garden at daybreak when it’s still cool and only the birds are up. I live in T-shirts, short and sandals while my friend Campbell has to wear a proper shirt and pants, looking respectable in his bookstore. He sits down with a sigh of relief, looking for the shady side at our usual table.

         “It’s been a cooker,” he said, “and to Vicky who like a mirage set two ice cold lagers in front of us. “And how was the holiday my dear?”

         “It was a family reunion for my boyfriend’s tribe. We drove 2500 km from here to Winnipeg and then back again. I had no idea how big this country is and that wasn’t even half way across. He drove and I watched the scenery pass by. We got to talk a lot.”

         “Well, we’re glad you’re back although we really like Rosie as well,” Camp flustered. He’s just not good with compliments. His strength is more in criticism.

         “Enjoy the summer,” he said, “you know it won’t last,” but Vicky was already gone, missing his last comment.

         “So much for positive thinking,” I said but in response Camp warbled philosophically.

         “There is change in everything,” he said. “Climate change, change of partners, seasons, change of the guard, change of everything including the change in my pocket.”

         “It’s what it is Camp. Change is here to stay,” I said offhandedly. “What’s on your mind? Trouble with Muriel? Trump’s treasonous betrayal in Helsinki? or is it too many book browsers and too few book buyers?”

         “No, not really. I can deal with reality since I don’t expect too much, definitely not from Trump. I shouldn’t complain but I need a holiday, put my toes in the sand, gaze at the sky, maybe even read a novel in the afternoon. All work and no play makes Camp a dull boy.”

         “The Shining?” I asked.

         “King borrowed the saying from James Howards Proverbs, published in 1659,” Camp said dismissively. “I just could use a change of scenery I guess.”

         “Yes, change is a good thing, except climate change of course,” I said, taking a long thirsty swallow.

          “Without changing climates we wouldn’t have any seasons, any different fauna’s or temperate zones. The hysterics about climate change are a bit like the fears and complaints about stress. Here it is: Stress is normal; distress is not. Climate change is normal; Climate destruction is not.”

         I was a bit taken aback by his passionate response to my off the cuff remark. “I agree whole heartedly,” I said. “We need to curb our opinionated, emotional reasoning and replace it with sober, scientific and factual assessments and solutions.”

          “Yes, and we need to reduce our toxic emissions, manage our recourses, curb our population growth and educate, educate, educate. Education is the key to empowerment; it supplies the tools to change to a better world. Recognition of a problem is part of its solution. And in the end: Only Change Endures.”

       Camp’s diatribe resulted in a mighty thirst and there was Rosie bringing us two refills. “Vicky told me you’re ready for these,” she said.

         “Is it still happy hour?” Camp asked.

         “For you two lucky guys, it never changes.”

         “It’s a wonderful world,” I said, raising my glass in a universal toast.   

Sad New World

We live in the best part of the world I thought to myself as I walked along the pebbly beach towards our village by the sea and my weekly chin wag with my pal Campbell, simply Camp to all of us. I was early, worried that we wouldn’t get our usual table because of all the summer traffic. I needn’t have worried because Rosie, like Vicky, knew our habits and was holding the spot. I sat down, ordered and there was Camp walking in, his shoulders a bit slumped and his head slightly inclined, not his usual forward and upright stance. I immediately knew what ailed him. England lost against Croatia and even if he didn’t admit it, he had secretly been hoping for England, The Three Lions, to bring home the golden cup.

“Sorry about the loss,” I said as soon as he sat down.

He gave me a surprised look and then the quarter dropped. “Ah, yes, but you can’t win if you can’t kick the ball at the goal,” he said, shaking his head in sorrow.

Just then Rosie arrived with our pints. “Why so glum,” she asked. “Did you know that we now have Happy Hour in the summer. Two for one. And you two lucky guys just made it in time.”

“Fantastic,” Camp said, regaining some of his old composure.

I tried to change the subject towards something positive. “It’s amazing that all 12 teenagers and their coach have been brought to safety by a spectacular rescue operation in Thailand. I can’t believe that it took over 5 hours to bring each of the kids through 2.5 km of murky cold water and tight dark passages. This is surely a good news story,” I said.

“Yes, it’s fantastic and heroic,” Camp said but then added: “What on earth were 12 ill equipped teenagers and a young coach doing so far into an underground cave? Trying to find the arc of the covenant? A rite of passage? Anyway, you’re right, we’re all very happy they’re safe. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this was a welcome distraction from the usual smorgasbord of miserable news.”

Boy, was he in a foul mood. “Like what?” I said, “Merkel’s fight against the rise of the neo fascists or Trumps pick of supreme court judge or his latest verbal gymnastics at the NATO summit and in England or his ludicrous trade tirades or more importantly: how about those devasting floods in Japan or the sauna like temperatures in Montreal.”

“Yes, yes, all of the above but I just read the latest stats on refugees by the UNHCR.”

“That sounds uplifting,” I said with a whiff of sarcasm knowing that I was in for one of Camp’s lectures. Those usually made him feel better in inverse proportion to his audience.

“Just to clarify the refugee part: According to the report, one out of every hundred humans is on the run from war, famine or persecution, in other words a fugitive and potential refugee and asylum seeker in a safer part of the world. All together about 66 million people but the impression that the rich countries are the most impacted is simply wrong. About 85% have fled to countries close to home like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey but 3 out of 5 fugitives have remained in their own country but fled conflict zones.” Camp was on his soapbox, finger wagging and nose in the air.

“It’s a sad world when we start talking about closing boarders and building fences, going back to a medieval model of fortresses mentality,” I said. “Considering that all of North America’s ancestry came from Europe and other parts of the world in search of a better life. How quickly we forget and how convenient to blame the victims.”

“It’s about sharing responsibility,” Camp carried on, “and about finding common solutions. We should be concentrating on solving the causes of wars instead of managing the dire consequences but there goes Trump calling for doubling military spending as if there weren’t enough weapons in this world already.”

I couldn’t argue with that. “Closer to home we are not doing a great job either,” I said, staring into my empty beer. Vicky would have sensed that moment, but Rosie needed to be signalled with the customary V sign for a refill. “I was in town the other day on Commercial, known to be a trendy, fun neighbourhood full of cafes and funky stores but not so much anymore. The old hood seemed a bit downtrodden and stressed. And then I took the # 20 bus along East Hastings, that sad corridor of human misery. Everybody should take a ride on that bus once a year to see what I mean. It is depressing and infuriating how many people there are just barely existing. While stopped at a red light I watched three geezers dressed in Salvation Army fashion share a joint on a bench. That was one of the brighter sights.”

Rosie put down a couple of free and happy pints in front of us, which helped considerably to improve the mood.

“When is Vicky back?” Camp asked a bit offhandish.

“She’s due back next week, but you’ll have to put up with me for the summer,” Rosie said, giving me a conspiratorial wink.

“Oh, that’s great, I didn’t mean it to sound like I prefer Vicky. In fact, I love both of you,” Camp warbled and wiggled.

“And the feeling is mutual,” Rosie said, “You remind me of my dad. Mind you he ran away when I was a young teen.”

Camp was going to say something, but then he thought better of it.

“May you always have love in your hearts and beer in your belly,” Rosie said.

“We’ll drink to that,” I laughed.


No Home – No Health

“You know Camp, we’re lucky to have a permanent roof over our heads, unlike the over 3’000 homeless people in Metro Vancouver.”
Campbell or Camp for short was just putting away the local paper while Rosie, our new Irish waitress, arrived with two ice cold pints of happiness. “Yes, but luck should have nothing to do with shelter and health in our rich society,” Camp said, “the right to healthcare is universal but impossible to achieve without proper shelter and housing.”
“Exactly,” I agreed. “The reason I bring this up is I came across a year old report by the EU housing organization ‘Feantsa’ which concluded that every country in the EU is in the midst of a homeless crisis with one exception: Finland.”
“Really, so how has Finland done it?”
“By giving homeless people permanent housing as soon as they become homeless, rather than muddling along with various services that may eventually result in an offer of accommodation,” I quoted from the article. “They enacted a policy called ‘Housing First’ dedicated to ending homelessness instead of managing it. With Housing First people do not have to earn their right to housing by proving their capability to manage their lives. Instead, they are provided with a stable home and individually tailored support.”
“That sounds almost utopian and why can Finland do it but we cannot?”
“That’s the multimillion dollar question,” I said. “It’s quite simple really. They made Housing First a national homelessness policy, making it possible to establish a wide partnership of state authorities, local communities and non-governmental organisations.”
“There must have been problems and opposition to this common sense but albeit radical approach?” Camp said.
“Not really since the plan included concrete objectives and resources to meet them. However some attitudes did have to change I’m sure.”
“But how does it work? It all sounds so simple?” Camp said.
“From what I read the tenants pay rent and are entitled to housing benefits, depending on their income. The rest is covered by the municipalities or services they buy from NGO’s. It costs money for sure but there is plenty of evidence that shows it is more cost effective to end homelessness instead of trying to manage it, to say nothing of the human and ethical reasons.”
“Why didn’t the outgoing major of Vancouver look at this policy or was he too busy building bicycle paths? Imagine how many homes they could have built for the 400 million dollars they spent on bicycle lanes in the past 10 years,” Camp said. “Nothing against bicycles but isn’t housing a more pressing priority?”
“How about 1600 quarter million dollar apartments?” Rosie said – who was just swooshing by with a tray of drinks – while we were still trying to figure out the math with our smart phones. “I did study 2 years of engineering before I switched to the arts,” she informed us. “That’s why I need this summer job here.”
“I think Moonbeam, as the mayor of Vancouver is sometimes referred to, tried to address the crisis and he certainly started the conversation but he was up against developers, too many levels of government and independent organisations getting in each other’s way,” I said.
“It’s not too late but there needs to be a political will and a change in attitude. Homelessness is not a shame, it’s a personal disaster,” Camp said.
“Or as Juha Kaakinen pointed out, the chief executive of the Finnish Y-Foundation, which provides 16,300 low cost flats to homeless people in Finland: Helping homeless people starts with giving them homes.”
“Yes, that makes sense to me,” Camp said, “but as long as housing is seen as a speculative real-estate market instead of a fundamental right, we will not be able to duplicate what Finland has done.”
Just then Rosie showed up with our refills and Camp had to ask her what she thought about housing and homelessness. “Well, I stayed with my single mom, first in the Kootenays and then in Roberts Creek with my step day until I was 22 and then moved into a shared flat with two other class mates from Emily Carr. Now I stay with my mom and Robert – my step dad – during the summer. I’ve never had a home of my own. Most of my friends share and many stay with their parents until their thirties.
“And the flipside is the kind of new subdivision like behind us,” I pointed out to Rosie and Camp. ‘There are now a dozen new million dollar houses and only in one house is there a family with 2 kids, all the others are dream homes for baby boomers. 4000 sqft, or 370 m2 of ten shades of Hardyboard mansions with four bathrooms for two people. Something is out of sync in this picture.”
“You’re preaching to the choir,” Camp said while Rosie cleaned the table next to us. “And all they do is clean all day long like me,” she said with a chuckle. “At least I get paid for it.”