‘How was jolly old England?’ Camp asked me after I sat down, happily surveying the unchanging moving picture of the harbour, the comings and goings of boaters and people and the noisy gulls. It feels good to be home again and have a pint with Camp who looks a bit like Einstein in his dotage. I think he needs a haircut but I better not say anything because he prides himself not to give a hoot about his appearance. ‘Did you like London?’
‘Yes, I did. We walked for miles around the old city, along the Thames and past all the iconic buildings and landmarks. Lucky for us, we were there just days before the Queen died, so we still had unrestricted access to all the gigantic stone monstrosities: castles, cathedrals, bridges and towers. I was most impressed with the Modern Tate gallery which is in a huge old former power station.’
‘Did you go to Stonehenge?’
Once in a while my good friend Campbell or Camp as everyone knows him goes off on a soliloquy or monologue, usually classified as a diatribe. Since this is not a discussion with differing points of view but a sermon aimed at a choir of one – me – I find it easiest to listen and look out the window at the water, the gulls and boats and let him get it off his chest. It went something like this:
At an anniversary celebration a couple of weeks ago, one of the guests asked of the long-married couple what it takes to make a marriage last. The usual banter and jokes were offered like ‘make love not war’, ‘too busy to think about it’ or ‘time is not the enemy of everlasting love’. I asked Camp what he thought.
‘Well, that’s a loaded question,’ he said, ‘since I’m only wedded for a few years I’m not the expert on longevity in matrimony. I would say that tolerance of each other’s idiosyncrasies and giving each other the personal space is probably the most important facet of my relationship with Muriel. Without her support for some of my silly habits like reading the news at 3am or my bizarre conviction that I’m always right it wouldn’t last.’
‘I’ll let you in on a little secret Camp,’ I said.
The pub was busy with the summer crowd. I love this time of year when I don’t have to worry about socks and sweaters, pants and jackets. This is T-shirts, shorts and sandals weather. Except we have local water restrictions and wild fires in the province.
After my walk along the shore I half emptied the cool refreshing pint that Vicky sat down in front of me the moment I sat down. Camp was late, which was usually good news since this meant customers in the book store. He finally arrived and like me downed half his pint. These are thirsty days. ‘What’s on your mind these days? Plenty of things to worry about I take it.,’ Camp said.
There are three things that scare me Camp,’ I said.
‘What are those? Old age, incontinency, losing your mind?’
‘Are you familiar with the Magna Carta?’ Camp asked me when we were comfortable settled at our usual table at our favorite seaside pub.
‘You mean the English Common Law from the Middle Ages? I’m superficially familiar with the term. What gives?’
‘A friend handed me a printout the other day pertaining to this charter of liberties of which the English barons convinced King John – yes, the one of Robin Hood fame – to give his assent to this document in June 1215 in Runnymede, along the river Thames in Surrey, about 20 miles west of London.’
‘Ok, why is it called the Magna Carta?’
‘It means ‘Great Charter’ and it was mainly composed by Cardinal Stephen Langdon as part of a mediation agreement for peace between Pope Innocent III and King John. But the Pope was infuriated by the arrogant behavior of the 25 barons who enshrined the Magna Carta into law and he annulled the Charter which he deemed a threat to his authority.’
‘Power and Politics?’
‘Yes, the usual I guess but the charter stands up through the ages while that Pope is long gone.
‘Ok, so how does it compare to our Charter of Rights?’
‘Emergency rooms are closing; paramedics are struggling to answer 911 calls and hospitals all over the country are stretched to the limit. We can’t just blame Covid for all that can we?’ I wanted to hear Camp’s opinion on this issue.
‘The pandemic just highlighted what we’ve known for years. Not enough physicians, nurses and hospital personnel, underpaid care workers, immigrant doctors not able to get their Canadian license, family doctors a dying breed. Exasperating all of this? The same driving factors as in the worker’s shortage: Aging population, boomer retirement, not enough training and a lack of incentives for rural doctors and nurses.’
‘I read about a desperate senior – one of nearly one million people in BC without a family doctor – who took out an ad to find one. That got the attention of the premier who quipped he might do the same in order to get the federal government’s attention, which is woefully underfunding the provinces.’
‘I want to recommend a book I’ve just read by Ben Rhodes, Obama’s former speech writer. After Trump’s election Ben travelled the world, visiting former politicians and friends he made in the eight years working at the centre of power. It’s very insightful and he is able to explain a lot of what is going on, how social media is able to shape peoples mind and what motivates politicians like Putin and Xi. I highly recommend it,’ Camp said, taking a sip from his pint.
‘When do you have time to read?’ Isn’t summer the busy season?’
‘There are always lulls between the onrush of crowds and I consider reading working, sampling the wares I sell.’
‘If you say so.’
‘Rhodes points out that while the XXth century was about ideology, the XXIst one is about identity,’ Camp said, ‘and this identity is constructed from inward looking nationalism, flag bearing and partisan patriotism and a revisionist history. More and more we’re pulled into a nationalistic and fascist maelstrom that is promoted by a slew of US- social media which is gobbling up all the advertising, away from print media and even TV. We know that and don’t seem to do anything about it. We always blame the Other for our societal failings. It’s the foreigner’s fault, the Jews, the brown and black migrants, or these days the liberals and socialists who is anybody not in the neo-con camp. No matter if it’s inflation, skyrocketing Real estate prices or even climate change. It’s all the Other’s fault.’
‘I guess we’re part of these Other’s then. I’m a liberal social democrat, read established print media and do not subscribe to any social media platform.’
‘We’re now the minority,’ Camp said, ‘and it’s also generational. Millenials are all connected and that electronic connectivity is their religion. It tells them how to live, what to buy, read and believe.’
‘I’ve read some articles by journalists who do not condone Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but insists that our reporting in the west is equally propagandized as the Russian media. I’m not even talking about social media and the profusion of conspiracy and opinion trolls. The Counterpunch Website and main stream journalists like John Pilger point out that Ukrainian nationalists – Putin’s Neo Nazis – have infiltrated the Ukrainian army as well as civic life in much of Ukraine for the past dozen years. He also claims that Russian speaking people of the Crimea, the Donbass and Donesk regions would choose Russia over Ukraine if a referendum were held.’
‘No doubt, our view about the whole conflict is shaped by our mainstream media which is a lot more diversified than the Russian media. We still have choices of news sources, TV channels and print media that the other side does not offer anymore.’
I stopped by Coast Books the other day and handed Camp a free-form translation of a recent article in my Swiss Paper. It deals with the concept of Utopia from the vantage of a millennial. A bit of an eye-opener I thought. He promised to give it some attention, time permitting. ‘As you can see, I’m here by myself, since nobody wants to work for the wages I can pay,’ he lamented.
‘Where have all the workers gone? he said, shaking his head.
‘To work from home or sorting packages at Amazon,’ I said. ‘What could be better than listening to podcasts and music all day long, standing at a conveyer belt, instead of working in a care home or waiting on demanding patrons in a restaurant or store.’
‘My staff quit because they couldn’t find affordable housing and this is in a small town. Unskilled workers on minimum wages cannot afford to live near their places of work like care homes and hospitals, restaurants, department stores or small retailers like book stores. Lack of affordable rentals is at an all-time high and the ludicrous real estate prices don’t help. People are renting their trailers and wood sheds to desperate tenants.’
We’ve got music in the park, jazz fests with many different, excellent musicians, all of them super excited to be out playing again. Covid has forced most performers and entertainers into a two-dimensional digital world and lonely isolation for the past two years. ‘Musicians, maybe more than anybody else need each other to play. Zoom bands is not where it’s at. That’s why it’s fantastic to see live music once again,’ I said to Camp who was sporting sun glasses and a Hawaiian shirt for our Thursday meet at the seaside pub.
‘We are headed for a two-dimensional world as it is. Many administrative and office jobs will never return to in person work spaces and the advent of AI interactive Atavars like physicians, counselors or investment advisors will save you a trip to the clinic or the bank.’
End of Democracy
‘Is the end of democracy in sight?’ I asked Camp, after we both commiserated about the sorry state of the union down south.
Listening to the news and reading the papers there seems to be a creeping sense of going backwards towards a time when moral, social and judicial lines of demarcation were more clearly defined.’
‘As in right and wrong, left and right, straight and gay, liberal and conservative?’
‘Yes, in a way it’s a nostalgic, revised designer past that many are hankering after, when the world was more fun and everybody knew where they stood. Nobody worried about social norms and using the wrong pronoun or being politically correct.’
‘As in we had the best sex, the best music and the best drugs in the 70ies.’
‘Speak for yourself. The sex and the music are still good and I never indulged in the pot and psychedelics as you have.’
Best friends stand by and trust each other through good and bad times. Most solid friendships are based on shared experiences or childhood bonds. It’s comforting to have good friends with whom we can be ourselves and all pretense and role-play falls away. Such is my relationship with Camp whom I’ve known for many years. He’s like a brother and I value his advice and counsel. We know each other’s wives and family, share concerns about health and money and most times we are on the same wavelength with the state of the world and the big picture. We disagree sometimes and respect each other’s opinion. We depend on each other for honesty and solid judgement and we like each other’s company. Such is the state of our friendship. When I asked Camp what he thought of the bromance between Putin and Xi he scoffed at the idea of their friendship.
‘Although they have sworn ‘boundless friendship’ to each other, their relationship is above all a partnership of convenience. This was obvious by the recent phone call for Xi’s birthday. Both men are 69 and have met almost 40 times over the past ten years and both men think very highly of themselves.’
‘But do they trust each other?’
Camp is back from his Whistler sojourn and he has plenty to complain about the prices of food and accommodation in this holiday enclave. ‘How can normal people like teachers and nurses live in this hyperinflated town? Never mind artists and book sellers. It’s unaffordable for working stiffs like myself.’
‘I haven’t been to Whistler in ages,’ I said. ‘I used to go skiing there but like you I can’t afford a $ 200 day pass.’
‘Rich men’s problems, as Sophie would say. To change the topic, how is the world turning? I haven’t been paying much attention to the news in the past week.’
Camp is at a book event in Whistler, which gives me a chance to air some of my grievances. We live in troubled times, probably always did, but unlike yesteryear when radio, TV, newspapers and tabloids were the sources of information, today we are inundated with up-to-the-minute newsflashes coming from every political, social and media driven internet platform, as well as cable TV and national broadcasters. Who can keep up with this barrage?
The best of friends and family can be torn apart and separated by betrayals and divorce but these days also by big events like a terrorist attack, a presidential election or a pandemic. There is a point in time when there appears a crossroad. As the song goes: one path leads to perdition and one leads to sanity. It’s what Portugal’s Rear Admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo offered his country: Two roads, both with snipers on them. One road for the unvaccinated where the shooter will be able to take out one of 500, on the other road, the vaccinated path, he will only be able to take out one of 500’000. Which road do you choose?’
The days are long and the sun is trying to push through the haze, promising warmer weather and maybe even a summer up ahead. I love the long days and the fact that I can walk to our pub and back in full daylight. I could see Camp already parked at our usual table in the corner and he waved when he saw me approaching. How long have we met like this over a couple of pints? It seems like years, before, during and now, after the pandemic.
‘Did you see the announcement that BC is decriminalizing small amounts of hard drugs, a first in North America and highly overdue, I might say.’ Camp said as soon as I sat down.
‘Yes, I did read about it. Two and a half grams of coke, heroin, fentanyl or amphetamines with no risk of arrest or criminal charges and the drugs cannot be confiscated.’
‘A step in the right direction. Over 10’000 people have od’d since 2016 in BC. These were not criminals but victims of a volatile drug supply, mostly off the streets, mental health, addiction and cultural problems.’
‘Another mass shooting, this time by an 18 year old killing 19 fourth graders and two adults in an elementary school in a small border town in Texas. Only a week after a massacre in a grocery store in Buffalo, killing ten innocent shoppers. How can anybody think this is not about guns?’ Camp said, looking sad and upset.
‘Yes, only in the USA is this possible. Both killers were teenagers wielding military grade assault rifles, the kind used in wars, as in the Ukraine.’
‘How can teenagers be allowed to purchase and own such destructive weapons and tactical assault gear? It defies any kind of reason and common sense.’
‘And yet, politicians like Ted Cruz want more guns in the hands of Americans, even teachers, in order to protect themselves. If guns make everybody safer, the US would be the safest country on earth. I never heard of these protection rifles. They’re called assault rifles,’ I said.
Looking out at the world from our small community on the edge of the pacific, we are insignificant in the big picture but yet we have all we need for a good, comfortable life. We also have a big, panoramic window to the world which comes across in non-ionizing radiation in the form of RF waves for cellphones and computers and variable frequencies for TV signals. Great inventions, which connect the people on this planet and also lets us look far beyond our solar system and galaxy. But there is a hitch and it happens to be one of Camp’s major peeves which he willingly shared over a fresh pint at our watering hole.
‘Thanks to the profit driven social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, U-Tube and TikTok, lies, conspiracy theories, propaganda and fake news are proliferating to a point where those four platforms alone elected president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in the Philippines. His infamous parents stole billions from their people, imprisoned and killed thousands and have been tried and condemned for human rights abuses as well as exiled from their homeland. Much of their ill-begotten wealth is still tied up in litigation and sits in bank accounts from Switzerland to Hawaii. Marcos Junior does not acknowledge his parents kleptocracy but instead wants his paws on their money. Under the guise of ‘freedom of information and speech’ those platforms have become the voice and the ballot box for fringe movements, radical crackpots, and populist politicians like Trump, Orban or Marcos.’
Spring has bypassed the Westcoast and it feels more like October and November: Mayvember Clare calls it. ‘I have yet to see any bees in the garden,’ she said. Maybe we just forget and cannot wait for summer to arrive. It’s the middle of May and the temperature creeps barely into the double digits. La Niña. No matter, I love the long days and the fact that it’s light until 9PM.
Camp is back this week, already waiting for me at our usual table, glumly staring out at the grey, wet world. Before I had a chance to properly settle myself, he let me have the good news.
‘According to a recent article in the Economist, it seems that Russia’s economy is back on its feet, defying predictions of collapse. The Ruble is now more valuable than before the invasion of Ukraine and they’re keeping up payments on their foreign currency bonds, much different than Ukraine’s economy.’
I knew Camp had something on his mind that couldn’t wait to be spilled out and I was not wrong, but not quite ready for the intensity of his lament and soliloquy and it had nothing to do with the current war in Europe or China’s latest failing experiment in social engineering.
‘I’ve come across a quote by Rainer Maria Rilke, a Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist from the 19thcentury,’ Camp said as soon as he plunked into his chair by the window. ‘It’s still relevant for our times. It goes something like this: You must change your life’ in order to have a better life. My modern interpretation is that we all must change our lives, in other words, stop the spread of rampant capitalism, stop with the exploitation of the third world, stop with the manic consumer orgy, the over production of goods and waste, stop the excesses of the modern world. ‘
‘Except that none of us are willing to give up our luxuries that we consider necessities like cars, fridges, air travel, laundry machines, closets full of clothes and shoes, pre-packaged groceries, air conditioning, heating, cooking and kitchen equipment and all other manner of energy consuming gadgets,’ I said.
As the war in the Ukraine continues unabated, there are two facets of this horrific and unnecessary conflict that stand out for me. I voiced my concerns to Camp over a pint of beer, looking out at the peaceful paradise of Howe Sound and the picturesque harbour of Gibsons. So far removed from all the hurt and wars and yet, thanks to our up-to-the-minute coverage of all that goes on in this world, unable to escape the fact that we are all connected.
‘The first thing that strikes me is, while the Ukrainian economy is being devastated and its infrastructure demolished, Russia’s cities and industries have not been bombed and attacked, and despite sanctions, are able to stumble along. Families are ripped apart and uprooted and the remaining 35mil Ukrainians are traumatized and face a potential famine because they cannot plant, harvest and process their wheat and crops. Secondly, while more and more heavy arms flow from the west into the Ukraine, Russia finds itself in a war not against NATO but against the west’s military and arms industry and capability, including leading technology and advanced systems which have not been used in the theater of war before. The kind of war Russia was not prepared for and is certainly loath to be up against.’
Camp nodded. ‘In 1994, Ukraine gave up all its nuclear weapons. In return it received solemn ‘assurances’ in the Budapest Memorandum that Russia, the UK and the US would refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine. How did that turn out?’