Thursday, 14 February 2019

What happens in Vegas...

Well, I’m now back from a four-day guys trip to Vegas. While a core group goes yearly for Superbowl weekend, I tag along only periodically. As one would expect there’s usually some golf involved, some drinking involved, some eating involved, and some gambling involved, and this year was no exception. What was the exception was the weather. It was, compared to previous years, dreadful. Freezing temperatures, cold winds, drizzle, and some hail made the golf memorable, even if for all the wrong reasons.  And having to bundle up in layers to go walkabout was not my idea of fun – even if the scantily-clad showgirls on the Strip still managed frozen smiles in hopes of getting tips for photos from parka-clad passersby.

And, as usual, there were the characters. The most memorable for me was the 60-year-old (she told us) female cabbie who entertained us with tales of her grandfather’s golf with Sam Snead, how her grandmother was a rich socialite from Pittsburgh. Married twice, subject to spousal abuse in both cases, divorced, she now has a room-mate (male) who spoils her dogs, softening them up to the extent that the police are no longer afraid to come to her house. Never prejudiced before coming to Las Vegas, she now hates pretty much everyone – and she wasn’t shy about articulating why. And Uber drivers “are the worst”. It was a 20-minute monologue, frequently punctuated by a smoker’s hack, that left one wondering if it was all just an act put on for the rubes.

Then there was a friend’s shuttle driver whose story was he hailed from South LA. A gangbanger gone straight (he says) after a couple of prison stints. He has 9 children by 9 different baby-mamas back in LA. He was married to a “crack whore” but that didn’t last once he found out she was into drugs. He is now remarried but is having trouble with his wife because he refuses to buy a tent for her homeless brother so he’ll have a place to sleep. “He can get a job and buy his own damned tent!” He doesn’t know how long this marriage will last. Perhaps he’ll soon need his own tent. And just what are the qualifications for driving a cab in Las Vegas anyway?

But the strip was as gaudy and glitzy as ever, the new Harley dealership was imposing, the casinos were rowdy, and the drink girls were omnipresent and generous, so it was a good time overall. And a nice break from the bone-chilling temperatures we’d been enjoying (?) in January. Now if only I had more than lint in my wallet when I got home...

Thursday, 31 January 2019

The Secret History of Soldiers - a review

I don’t consider myself an expert on the First World War, but I have always had an interest in the human side of that horrific conflagration. Books exploring the soldiers’ experiences in the trenches, behind the lines, and back home fuel my fascination with the incredible sacrifices made by those men (and a few women) in a war, and at a time, that is quickly fading from our collective consciousness.

Some of the very best books I have read in that genre include William Faulks’ Birdsong, Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden, and Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy. There are many others but those come first to mind. And now I can add to that list The Secret History of Soldiers by Tim Cook.

Tim Cook is an historian at the Canadian War Museum and has written several books about the Great War (many of which I have read) but in terms of hitting my sweet spot, this volume nails it. In it he explores (from the flyleaf) “the daily lives of the combatants, how they endured the unimaginable conditions of industrial warfare: the rain of shells, bullets, and chemical agents.”

While not a fictional rendering like the books previously mentioned, The Secret History of Soldiers draws from thousands of letters home, postcards, trench art, and other sources to provide a brief glimpse into life in, and behind, the trenches. With life expectancy at the front often measured in hours and days, Cook describes the ways in which soldiers found the strength to face horrors beyond imagining and “push[ed] back against the grim war, refusing to be broken in the mincing machine of the Western Front.”

Highly recommended.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Get me out of here!

I have a love-hate relationship with winter. On occasion I have been heard to say that I don’t really mind it all that much. Of course that’s when I’m rationalizing to all my snowbird friends why we aren’t spending the next 6 months golfing in Florida or Arizona with them. And usually I don’t mind a normal winter where there are enough ‘nice’ days to offset the frequent miserable days. A day with temperatures about –5C, sunshine, and no wind is kind of magical. Being out in a pristine white landscape marred only by our snowshoe tracks and the meandering trails of nocturnal critters, birds flitting about, the heat of the sun warming our backs, is a fantastic feeling.

But this year the pendulum is definitely over on the 'hate' side of the arc. We’ve had snow on the ground since forever, and January has battered us with well below normal temperatures most days (-25C again this morning), cold north winds have been persistent giving wind chill readings in the –30s and lower, and the sun has made only rare appearances. A sort of cabin fever has set in that makes even disappearing into the shop feel like more effort than it’s worth.

In short, I’m done! So I’m really looking forward to a few days’ escape with a guys trip to Vegas. It won’t be hot, but even 15-16C will seem balmy in comparison. Throw in a round of golf, some time on the strip, (hopefully) a bit of luck at the tables, and I should be ready to face February when I get back. And from there it’s all downhill to spring and (again, hopefully) an early riding season.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 22 January 2019


Okay kids, gather around the woodstove and let this old man tell you how life used to be. Once upon a time, when we actually wrote letters to each other, we sometimes used typewriters. They looked like this:

To transfer the desired letters to the page the typewriter used a ribbon, a carbon-embedded strip of cloth. Hitting the cloth with the appropriate key transferred a wee bit of the carbon to the paper, leaving an imprint of the letter. Of course, over time, all the carbon in the ribbon was used up and the ribbon was then replaced with a new one in the same old typewriter. The ribbons were generic, and very inexpensive compared to the cost of the typewriter. They were considered ‘consumables’.

Skip forward 50 years.

Now when we want a written document we print it from a computer using either an inkjet or laser printer. Similar to the ribbons of the past, the ink (or toner) gets used up over time and must be replaced. Except now there’s a twist. Thanks to the Chinese a printer can now be had for less than the cost of a decent meal in a good restaurant, while you have to sell your first-born to pay for replacement ink cartridges. (Sorry kiddo, I should have prefaced that with a trigger warning.)

So now, based on comparative values alone, the printer itself has become the ‘consumable’. Cheaply made, it might have a 12-month lifespan before some tiny, critical, molded plastic piece snaps off, rendering the entire device useless. And forget using the expensive, left-over ink in the replacement machine. Manufacturers have figured that one out too, releasing new, non-generic cartridge designs with every model thus ensuring no savings can accrue to the the frugal consumer. In fact, as most printers come with a partial ink load included, there’s even an economic argument that can sometimes be made for simply tossing and replacing the entire printer when the ink runs out. Environment be damned.

And so it was that I recently cleaned out the office cupboard and headed to the recycling depot with this load.

What a waste.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Sad news

Going through some papers today I came across these tickets for a ‘69 Pontiac GTO and wondered why the organizers hadn’t reached out to advise me of my win.


A quick check of the website explained the oversight.


Sad news indeed.

Well, there’s always next year.