Bill Murray’s Hangover

So.  The Cubs, hey?  108 years of misery finally coming to an end, although not with a few coronaries along the way.  Up by three runs with an inning and a half to go?   Almost a sure thing, you would have though.  The defibrillators at the Cleveland stadium would have no doubt been needed once Cleveland tied it up – for fans of both teams.  And how they came back from a three games-to-one deficit was pretty impressive.  It was only the sixth time in World Series history that a team has come back from the brink like that.  Just cements the train of thought that this was a team of destiny.

The opposite side of the coin (known in the numismatics business as the “obverse”), of course, would be how the Indians would be feeling.  And, indeed, how the city of Cleveland would be coping.  Having won their first “city” title since 1964 a few months back, with the Cavaliers winning the basketball championship (strangely enough, coming back from a three-games-to-one deficit as well), the denizens of that city would have, no doubt, been pretty confident about needing more champagne to celebrate their superiority in a particular sport.

But this is the beauty of sport, is it not?  As Jim McKay used to quote at the start of the Wide World of Sports back in the 70s – it’s the thrill of victory, it’s the agony of defeat.   And if you can remember Jim saying that, you’ll also always remember the ski jumper going head over heels in the introduction.  You’d probably remember the weightlifter, too.  I don’t know who that guy was, but I’m sure the World Anti-Doping Agency would like to have a retrospective word with him.  For those of you with a nostalgic bent, here’s the promo:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2AZH4FeGsc.  Apparently, David Letterman was a reporter on the Wide World of Sports.  See?  You CAN learn something every day.

There are people in the world who say they don’t care about sport.  I have a feeling that these are the same sort people that eat brussel sprouts on a regular basis, or willingly drink non-alcoholic beer (unless they’ve got a medical condition, of course – hi, mom!).  I don’t understand how someone can’t feel even a small sense of excitement if there’s a close game or a playoff game is on the idiot box.  I have always felt it’s a primal instinct, to watch individuals or a team beat the holy hell out of each other.  I dunno, maybe it’s a missing gene or something.

For the rest of us, though, the mad sports followers, we can be split into two groups:  one is the group that will watch ANYTHING sports related, such as tractor pulling, volleyball, the first rounds of a golf tournament or even cricket.  Oops, I’d better be careful, might be some Australian Immigration Officer who catches wind of that.  Anyway, you’ll usually find these people live in a small apartment filled with lots of sports memorabilia on the walls, and zero female companionship.  The other group, and the group that I probably relate to most, is the group that will sit down and watch most sports, assuming that either the other half doesn’t have the remote and isn’t interested in watching the game.

Naturally, I don’t mean to insinuate that women aren’t as dedicated to the sports-watch as the fellas, of course.  Some of the most intense sports people I’ve met or known about are women.  My wife isn’t one of them, nor have I had any past girlfriends that have shared my dedication – but I’m certainly working on brainwashing indoctrinating my daughter.  The thing with the kid, though, is that she doesn’t really want to WATCH the game – just wants to know what the results are.  Very happy when the team wins, very disappointed when the team loses.  Guess there’s still some work to do there, though.

It would be a shame, though, to perpetuate the myth that most women follow sport simply for watching the men.  While, admittedly, my blushing bride started following Australian Rules Football in this way, she’s become quite the passionate and knowledgeable supporter ever since.  Long story short, I dragged her to the footy one day (I didn’t want to go by myself, and she had a rare weekend off), despite having a life-long distaste for the game.  Once she saw a certain player on my team, her interest was piqued.  But after that player was traded to a different team, she became more interested in the game itself, and now loves the game as much as anyone.

One of my former bosses, Dawn, has written a book (“Real Women Love Footy”) about what Australian Rules Football means to her, which is worth a read.  The missus and I get a mention in the book, describing the tale above, which was nice.  But Dawn is most definitively not the sort of supporter you say bad things about her team.  While I’m certain she has nothing against me personally, there always seems to be a bit of underlying tension, considering my team has beaten her team every time since 2011.  The things said about my side after the latest loss was rather uncomplimentary. Her passion, though, is undeniable, and most indicative of the support that women have in any particular sport.

Personally, I’m pretty fortunate in my sporting life.  I’ve seen my BC Lions win a Grey Cup with zero time left on the clock (with the great, nay, LEGENDARY Lui Passaglia kicking a field goal as time expired).  I’ve seen my AFL team do something that only five other teams have done in the history of the game (spanning over one hundred and fifty years) and win three premierships in a row.  I’ve seen the Seattle Seahawks fulfil their promise a few years ago and finally win a Super Bowl.  I watched Joe Carter hit a home run to win a World Series for the Toronto Blue Jays.  Pretty good, yeah?  Well, all that good stuff is balanced out with my lifelong love affair with the Vancouver Canucks.

I can’t remember exactly what year I started following the Canucks.  I think it was 1975 but it might have been 1976.  I remember, vividly, waking up one day and seeing a Canucks team calendar in my room.  My dad had gone to the gas station, or Shopper Drug Mart, or somewhere and picked one up for me.  I don’t recall much about hockey at that age – although no doubt I was watching the iconic Hockey Night in Canada at the time.   But that calendar opened up, somehow, the pathways to a passionate following that lasts to this day.  But really, I’ve been following them for forty years.  What else am I going to do?  Follow some other team?  Too late for that.

In 1982, when I was twelve, we made our first Stanley Cup Final.  (As a side note, have you ever noticed that fans use the term “we” in relation to their sports team, even though we don’t have any physical connection?  Perhaps it’s the spiritual, emotional and monetary connection that causes us to do so).  I was probably too young to appreciate the effort that it took to make it to that level.  I just remember the series leading to that point, and how we were led by my second favourite Canuck ever (#12 – the Steamer, Stan Smyl) into battle against the mighty New York Islanders.  Unfortunately, that Cup Final ended in tears.  We lost the first game in overtime, and got our butts handed to us in four straight.  The Islanders were in the middle of their dynasty – eventually winning four in a row – and the general feeling in the community was that we’d done well to get there.

We had some pretty awful teams after that Cup run, though, so any thoughts of future glory quickly dissipated.  So, it was with great anticipation that we found ourselves in the Final in 1994, against the powerhouse New York Rangers.  To be honest, we were lucky to get to that series – we had to overcome a three-games-to-one deficit against the Flames – thank the hockey gods for Pavel Bure – but we earned our spot in the final by beating Dallas and Toronto in relatively short order.

I don’t remember many people giving us too much of a shot that year, but while we had the heart that the team in ’82 had shown, we also had better skilled players that our team was missing twelve years prior.  Players like Greg Adams, the aforementioned Pavel Bure, Kirk MacLean, and Jykri Lumme were all skill to go compliment guys like Cliff Ronning and my all-time favourite player, the captain, Trevor Linden, who were the heart and soul with that game.  We started to really believe when we went to Madison Square Garden and beat the Rangers in Game One.  Unfortunately, it was all downhill for the next few games, and we found ourselves down – you guessed it – three games to one.  But the team rose to the challenge, and beat the Rangers at MSG in game five – disappointing all those who were waiting for a coronation.   Then the Canucks played the best hockey game I’ve ever seen, beating the Rangers 4-1 to take it back to New York for a Game Seven.

Being the Canucks, though, there was no happy ending.  We were down 3-1 by the end of the second period, and despite the heroic efforts of Linden, and a near miss by Nathan Lafayette, hitting the post with about thirty seconds to play – oh, I can still hear the “ping” off the post – bloody Mark Messier was the one accepting the silver trophy.  And our dreams had to wait.  Again.

That series hurt, but it was nothing compared to what happened in 2011.  If you were to ask any Canucks fan, 100% of them would tell you the worst experience they’ve ever had in their lifetime would be the Stanley Cup Final that year.  You want know how much it still hurts me?  I was driving home the other day, and I was about to pass a car – until I saw the car had a Boston Bruins sticker on the back window.  I followed him the rest of the way home.  There was no way I was going to let him see the Canucks sticker on my bumper.

We were the best team that year – by a long way.  We had the equivalent of five more wins than the next best team in the league.  We had the best scorer in the league, we had the best goalie tandem, and we have the best defence in the league.  Why wouldn’t we be confident?  Oh, sure, it took us to overtime in the seventh game against Chicago in the first series (despite having a – you guessed it – three games to one lead) – but once we made it past Nashville and San Jose, we felt – we knew – this was the year.  And then it was time to face Boston.  Mother-loving Boston.

Boston and Tampa Bay played in the Eastern Conference Final.  I wanted Tampa to win, because I knew what Boston’s goalie, Tim Thomas, was capable of.  But Boston won 1-0, in a game that didn’t have any penalties for Boston.  I felt, without any logic, that was BS, but at any rate, it was Boston in our way to glory.  Any thought of game-rigging disappeared when we went up two-zip in the series.  That was it – I made plans to be on a plane to Vancouver within the next few days.  Sadly, it was not before the Canucks lost 8-1 in Game Three.  I was even more chastened when the stewardess told me over the Pacific that the Canucks had lost 4-0 in Game Four.

I went to Game Five with my best mate, and without a word of exaggeration, it was the best sporting event I’ve ever been to.  It was electric.  It was a tight, hard, defensive game, each side doing their damnedest to win the game, and be one win away from the ultimate glory.  And it was us who scored early in the third period.  And the atmosphere got even more intense.  I still have the video of the last minute or so from the game, with about twenty thousand of my closest friends and I in the arena going absolutely insane.  It was beautiful.  It was magical.  It was… our last win of the year.

We had both a 2-0 and a 3-2 lead in the series, and we went back to Boston for Game Six, and got smashed – the Bruins had a 4-0 lead after ten minutes, and ended up with a 5-2 win.  The series went back to Vancouver for Game Seven, and it wasn’t close.  We lost 4-0, the first time the home team had lost on home ice.  It was the first time I cried after a sporting event.  Me, an adult, crying over a damn game.  But I don’t think for a minute that I was the only one.

And so, Cleveland fans, I know exactly how you feel right now.  It’s a lost opportunity for your team, and the pain is so, so vivid.   I’m hoping that you guys can make amends, and win your first Series in almost seventy years next year.  I want to see Drew Carey doing exactly what Bill Murray was doing during the Cubs celebrations over the past few days.  We all know that’s a lot more fun than having to deal with a victory hangover than a defeat hangover.

Sport is an integral part of life.  It brings, sometimes, the worst in us, but it also brings many people together.  After each of the championship games I’ve been to, I’ve hugged many people without fear of being arrested, and we all shared euphoria that lasts to this day.  Of course, on the other hand, many of the Canuck fans I’m in contact never talk about 2011, but we could if we wanted to.   And so, since you’re reading this, I like you, and I wish you have some sporting success in your life!  Unless, of course, you follow the Bruins.

 

About Time

Henry Rollins is a man I admire and respect.   Most people would say, ummm….who?

It would be quite fair to say that while Henry has never kept a low profile, he’s not usually that the forefront of the public’s mind.  Allow me quickly introduce you:

  • Have you seen Heat with Pacino and De Niro? (And if not…WHY NOT!  Get thee to a Blockbuster or Netflix or whatever.  Just watch it).   He’s Benny, the burly, frowning assistant to Van Zandt.  Van Zandt is the character that gets on Robert De Niro’s wrong side – never a good idea.
  • Have you watched Sons of Anarchy? He’s A.J. Weston, your not-so-friendly neighbourhood neo-Nazi.
  • He’s done voice overs for cartoons, ads, and video games.
  • He’s produced and hosted a number of documentaries on the National Geographic channel.
  • He’s a musician, radio host, writer, raconteur and, most importantly, a man with an enquiring mind.

Anyway, it was the bride’s birthday three weeks ago today, and fortuitously, Mr. R happened to have a show in Melbourne on the night.  Naturally, being the good husband I am, I got tickets for Henry.  Front row.  Dead centre.  Close enough to see the sweat drip of Henry and have it splash on our shoes.  The purchase of those sorts of tickets can only be a good thing for me, considering the crush that the bride has on Hank.  #InTheGoodBooks

We got to meet the great man after the show.  He looked tired, which I can imagine would be natural if you got up on stage in front of about two thousand people and talked non-stop for two and a half hours about at least five or six different subjects with barely a pause, or, more impressively, without drinking any water.   We weren’t allowed to have pictures with him, since he had to go back to his hotel room, finish writing an article for the LA Weekly, then get up about three hours after that for a 615am flight to Alice Springs, where he was doing a show the following night.  But he shook the hands, and signed memorabilia, for all the dozen or so of us that huddled outside the artists’ entrance.

The point to all this gushing is that the reason that Henry is such an inspiration to me is that he gets out into the world and makes things happen.   Every year, he uses the Christmas holidays to go out and explore some part of the world that he hasn’t been to.  Last year, he spent a few days with scientists in Antarctica, mixing with a colony of penguins, whilst learning about how climate change is affecting that fragile part of the world.  I’ve heard he’s been to one hundred countries, but based on what I’ve heard him say, I wonder what countries he hasn’t been to, because it doesn’t seem to be many.  Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Russia, Antarctica, India, Pakistan, and a few of the “-stans” are the “out there” countries that he’s had the passport stamped in, based on what he’s spoken about on his tours.  Maybe I need to drop him an email and ask him!

How I wish I had half the drive that Henry does.  Admittedly, it’s probably easier to make things happen when you’ve got a reasonable thirty-plus year career behind you, with no family and no kids to tie you down.   But, with that said, just because I have my own set of responsibilities, does that mean that I can’t be living life a bit more productively?

I – and I suspect a good many of us – have what could easily be described as a relatively ordinary life.  We get up and go to work (hopefully to a job that we like).  Then we come home to the wife or husband/kids, have dinner, watch some TV, and go to bed, only to get up and do it all over again.  Then, on the weekends, there are chores to be done, friends to be visited, sports to be watched.   Next thing you know, you’re back at your desk at work, grinding it out.

A few years ago, I made a list of eight things I wanted to accomplish during that calendar year.  At the end of the year, I discovered I did not one thing on my list.  These weren’t difficult tasks to do, either.  Make some money playing poker.  Do more writing.  Run a marathon.  Be debt free.  Get my Australian citizenship.  Finish my passport application.  Go skydiving.  Travel to Uluru.  I can only be excused with the marathon thing, since, at the time, I had some knee issues flare up as a result of me shredding my ACL a few years back.  But what was stopping me from writing?  What was stopping me from learning from mistakes that I used to make in poker to make some serious money?  Simply, I didn’t make or take the time that I had to do these things.

The weird thing is that, even after two or three making this list, I still haven’t got off my ass and got my Australian citizenship.  I’ve been here for about eighteen years – what am I waiting for?  The only downside to getting the citizenship is that I’d have to vote in the next election.

There’s an airport for skydiving about forty-five minute away from my house.  I could have saved some cash over the past few years and gone and done that.  Probably a few times over.

The point I’m trying to hash out is that our lives are short.  No one is getting any younger.  I’ve just turned forty-seven a few months ago.  I used to think that fifty was old – and I’m not that far from that.  With that, of course, I’m not feeling like my mortality is creeping up on me.   I feel, for the first time in a long time, that I have regret – that is, I haven’t to this point got myself motivated to be making the most of what I’ve got.

Well, that ends now.

I’m taking the advice that my inspiration gave me and two thousand of my friends on that Tuesday night, and I’m going to do something and not sit on my ass and watch life go by.

I will be getting started on my Australian citizenship.  First stop, though, is to ensure I can keep my Canadian citizenship.   I’ve got the Maple Leaf tattoo; you think I’m giving that up??

I will be going skydiving before the Australian summer is out.  Pictures, I’m sure, will be available.

I will be doing more writing.  As some of you know, I was pumping out a few blog articles a year or so ago.  I stopped doing them because my last missive had a total of readership of…three.  I took it as such that my audience didn’t want to hear from me.  Well, I’ve realized that – respectfully – it’s not about you.  It’s an outlet for me.  I have always loved putting my thoughts down on paper, and I will be putting it out in the public.  If you don’t like what I’m saying, or you don’t want to ready it – OK.  But I want to do this.  I need to do this.

I’m already working my way back to fitness for the marathon thing.  I have a full year before the next Melbourne Marathon.  I was close to being ready before I stuffed up my knee – again – early this year, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get back into the groove.

I’m not sure of the poker thing, though.  I’m starting to realize that I’m really not that good.  Although, it would certainly help with the debt-free thing.  We’ll see how this one goes.

And so, as I start my journey, ask yourself – are you doing enough for you, and your goals?  As the great man has said:

There is no such thing as spare time, no such thing as free time, and no such thing as down time.  All you have is life time.  Go.

Let’s All Rejoice

New Year’s Eve and Day are a distant memory; people are getting back into the swing of work, after their Christmas & NY holidays; the NHL All-Star Game is in full swing; the cricket is, for some – OK, me – mercifully coming to an end; and the Australian Open tennis is into its’ second week (hmm…lots of sports around this time of year). And as the first month of the year comes to end, the best holiday shows up on the calendar – and that is Australia Day – today!

I have a slightly different perspective on this holiday, mainly due to the fact that I’m not Australian. I’ve said at this time of year – for too many years, now – that “this year is the year that I get my citizenship. Well, it hasn’t happened yet but I will be by this time, or at least near this time, next year. Hey, it’s documented now; I’ve got to follow through, don’t I?

I’ve been extremely fortunate to live in the two greatest countries in the world – Canada and Australia. Canada, for me, will always the motherland, but Australia is now home. This is, naturally, simply because my wife and daughter are here, but I’ve also been living in the sunburnt country for over a third of my life. Thus, it’s only natural that I’ve settled into Australia’s beaches, and her wide open roads, and her vastly different scenery. I’ve been lucky enough to travel, from my base in Melbourne, as far north as Noosa, and as far south as Hobart. I tried making it to Adelaide once upon a time, but, well, the car just wouldn’t let me (it’s a long story). I’ll try again to get to the City of Churches sometime (just not during football season – also a long story).

When I consider the places I’ve been, I also have to consider the places I haven’t been. The Blue Mountains. Perth. Uluru. Darwin. King Island. Bruny Island. Coober Pedy. Byron Bay. When I hear of people going on their holidays to Bali, for example, I wonder if they’ve ever stopped to consider exploring their own country? I know – it shouldn’t concern me…but there’s so much here! And the exchange rate to go to Brisbane or Alice Springs is pretty good for Australians, too.

So, what makes Australia great? Well, first, there’s the people. I’m not sure where I read it, but I know there’s a stat that Australians have the lowest tolerance for bullshit in the world, and they have the best ability to accept outsiders. In my somewhat limited travels around this fair island, people are welcoming, friendly and helpful. Of course, there would be exceptions to the rule, but I’ve been fortunate enough not to meet many of them.

It’s also the homeland of Thomas Keneally (who wrote Schindler’s Ark); Barry Humphries (as Dame Edna, but if you’ve never seen Sir Les Patterson in action, get thee to YouTube promptly); Lionel Rose (the first Australian aborigine to win a world boxing title); Dame Nellie Melba (one of the greatest sopranos of all time); Dawn Fraser (swimming sensation extraordinaire, who some, including, apparently, Muhammad Ali, call the greatest athlete of the 20th century); Banjo Patterson (the author of “The Man From Snowy River”); Steve Irwin (The Crocodile Hunter); Olivia Newton-John (“Sandy??”); and….oh Lord, there’s so many.

You’ll note that I didn’t mention Tony Abbott, Nicole Kidman, or Rupert Murdoch. There are varying levels of unpopularity with these and other Australians – some because of the “tall poppy syndrome (where someone is cut down due of their level of fame), and some just because they’re politicians, and frankly, mentioning some of these people in the same breath as Steve Irwin or Howard Florey is a debate I neither want nor need right now.

Then, there’s the wine. The wine industry seems to be blossoming, and for good reason – so many good wines from all over the country. If you’re a sports mad human, we’ve got Formula 1, international cricket (if you’re into that sort of thing), an excellent domestic cricket and soccer league (so I’ve been told), rugby union, rugby league, Australian Rules Football, a Grand Slam Tennis event, the Melbourne Cup (one of the great horse races in the world, probably only behind Ascot and the Kentucky Derby for prestige), and even a domestic baseball and – yes! – ice hockey league. These alone make me not want to move anywhere else.

Moving on. As I’ve already touched on, there are the different towns and sights of Australia. Eating fish and chips on one of Oz’s thousands beaches as the sun goes down (as you fight the seagulls for your chips). Walking along the trails of Cradle Mountain after a snowfall. Walking on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge during the sunset session. Watching fairy penguins as they waddle into their night homes on Phillip Island. Having your picture in front of the Big Pineapple. Seeing the Sydney Opera House for the first time. I’ve done all these, and am more than eager to do more.

But Australia is also a state of mind, where “She’ll be right, mate”, and “Fair Go” aren’t just expressions, they’re part of the national consciousness.   Helping a mate out in times of trouble – floods, bushfires – is simply something that is done. Some will argue that “fair go” is fading from existence nowadays, but I’ll argue that if you take the politicians out of the debate, you’ll understand that, deep down, fairness is something that all Australians strive for.

This is a wonderful country, and, of course, like all wonderful countries, it has its’ share of downside. There’s far too much accepted racism (frankly speaking, just because Australians accept an outsider doesn’t mean that they accept their own at times). The politicians are extremely unpopular because they don’t seem to do the right thing by those that voted them in. The political debate between the left and right has deteriorated to extreme slanging and name-calling. But guess what (and I’ll bet you don’t really need me to tell you this next bit): this happens in every country.

On this day, it is also prudent to consider the fact that some consider Australia Day “Invasion Day”, and want the national holiday moved to some other spot in the calendar. After all, January 26 is the day that the first fleet landed in New South Wales, and, as a result, was the start of the disruption of the lives of the indigenous peoples. I used to believe that a change wasn’t necessary, but the longer I live here, and the more I learn about Australian history, the more I wonder if it’s really that big of a deal to move it to another date. All I know is that the politicians, both federal and state, are going to have to agree to the change, and I don’t see that sort of cohesion happening any time soon.

In the meantime:  To all my future fellow citizens, may I please implore you: for one day, don’t worry about the knuckleheads in Canberra (or in your state capital). Make sure you’re doing your part in making everyone feel part of this great land. Pop a tinny, or a good red, and celebrate the good, and make sure you work on fixing the bad within this great country of yours. Take this day to appreciate what you have. There is a reason the world calls this “The Lucky Country”.

Happy Australia Day, everyone!

Angry Times

The world today seems absolutely crackers/With nuclear bombs to blow us all sky high/There’s fools and idiots on the trigger/It’s depressing and it’s senseless… is the start of “I Like Chinese”, a song written by one of my comedic idols, Monty Python. It doesn’t seem like the nuclear weapons are much of a concern nowadays – although maybe Putin and/or the haircut guy in North Korea may have some hidden away – but there’s definitely enough fools and idiots to go around, and it can be most definitely depressing and senseless in the world today.

Personally, I do tend to be a bit fatalistic at times – not so much the philosophy that believes that everything happens due to fate, but more so a personal belief system that everything is completely stuffed and we’re all going to die because people can’t learn to get their shit together. This particular mindset could explain an awful lot in my life. Anyway, because of this state of mind, I tend to get quite angry at the state of the world, and make me want to shake my fist at the universe. Sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally. And, me oh my, hasn’t there been a fair bit to get upset with about lately.

The state of the political landscape in my adopted country is a semi-decent place to start. It’s true that, once upon a time, my political leanings were (and probably still are) more to the right than the left, but nowadays, I consider myself a centrist than anything else. I don’t care who is in power, just don’t BS the people, don’t rort the system, and make sure the trains go on time (both figuratively and literally). Yes, I know…my standards for the politicians are way too high.

When Tony Abbott was first elected to the leadership of the Liberal Party, I thought that he’d make a good Prime Minister. However, he was defeated in his first contested federal election by Julia Gillard, (who had helped herself to the Prime Ministership by pushing Kevin Rudd out of office. Mr. Rudd, however, it must be said, was quite unpopular with the masses at the time). The Parliament that followed after Ms. Gillard’s election led to charges of misogyny, incompetence and negativity – which, naturally, are all the things you want to hear from your elected officials.

Fortunately for Tony, it turned out that the same masses that weren’t happy with Kevin also weren’t too happy with Julia, ostensibly for pushing out Kevin. So, eventually, there was a showdown in Canberra between Julia and Kevin, the result being Kevin getting his old job back. This lasted for about six weeks, when the people of this great land marched to the ballot, and Tony became the nations’ new leader.

A lot of people had an issue with Tony before he got into office, due to one thing or another.   Punching walls near a fellow student (never fully proven, so this has to be considered alleged), negativity shown in Parliament, reputation as a “hatchet man”, et cetera.  Me, with my cheery disposition and positive outlook, wanted to give him a chance to do what he said he was going to do. What a silly bugger I was. Needless to say, Tony has disappointed me, and a great many people who are actually allowed to vote in Australia. Barring a double dissolution, or a takeover similar to the one Julia undertook, the next election isn’t until late next year, so for the time being, we have to grin and bear it, which of course isn’t as much fun or therapeutic as being angry and bearing it.

Following that train of thought, though, another part of society that really disturbs me is the level of debate in politics – or, specifically, what masquerades as debate. For example, I love Twitter (@hawknut888 AKA Angry Canadian). I enjoy having little thought bubbles, and adding them to this part of social media, because, let’s be honest here: I’m self-obsessed enough to think that I have something to say that others will enjoy, laugh at, agree with or debate me. Due to the number of times that people have enjoyed or laughed at, or agreed, or debated me in recent times, this may not entirely be the case, but I still live in hope. The point is, Twitter can be quite the nasty place to be if you have a comment that doesn’t correspond with someone else’s point of view. Some of the more printable epithets:  Right-wing nutjobs. Libtards. Lefturds. Liebor (instead of Labor, which is one of the two major Australian political parties, geddit?).   Plus, being called racist, vile, or a troll (sometimes in the same sentence) seems to be par for the course.  Having gone though #auspol on occasion, I can confirm that I’m not the only angry soul out there.  In fact, some days, I realize I look like Buddha compared to some of these people.

OK, so you may not agree – in fact, vehemently disagree – with what’s happening with the leadership in Australia (or Canada…or America…or <insert your country here>, but is there really a need to create cartoons that make the leaders look like dribbling idiots? Because I know that nothing says lowering the commentary by calling the PM “clueless”, the Foreign Minister a “fe-man”, the Treasurer “slobbering”, and the former Immigration Minister “sociopathic, psychopathic, and racist Christian” simply because you’re on the other end of the political spectrum. And, yes, I’m fully aware that former Prime Minister Gillard was abused – horribly and undeservedly – by those on her opposite side, but the point is: have we really fallen that low as a society, where abuse and denigration is the only way to be understood or heard? It bothers me greatly that the answer appears to be “yes”.

Extremism in the Muslim community has also been front and centre in our lives recently, no matter where you live. Here in Australia, the nation was rocked like never before when an alleged “lone wolf” took about a dozen hostages in a Lindt shop for eighteen hours, before being killed, along with two hostages (one of which may, according to early reports, have been killed by a stray police bullet, which will no doubt cause some mayhem). In Canada, two separate incidents took the lives of Nathan Cirillo and Patrice Vincent. Both incidents were instigated by recent Muslim converts. Then, the horrific incident from last week – no, not the Paris shootings – as horrible as that was – but the atrocity caused by Boko Haram, massacring up to two thousand people, according to some reports.

What sort of mind takes passages from a book written over fifteen hundred years ago, and twists it to their own means to obliterate any of those who oppose their point of view? I know, I know, I’m being naive – some Christians have been doing exactly the same thing for even longer than that. Perhaps not quite as much nowadays as years past, (hello, Crusades and KKK), but the history is there. Having worked with a few Muslims in the past few years, and having been related to one through marriage (although never taking the chance to speak to her about this sort of matter), I can only imagine that there’d be quite a level of despair, as a slight minority ruin the reputation of the wider community.

The Paris shootings, though, really got my brain in gear. No matter how you look at it, the basic scene of these madmen extremists, running around and killing people for drawing cartoons is barbaric. And horrific. And wrong. But I keep coming back to the thought of: why was it necessary to upset a group of people, some of who take their religion that seriously, that they would kill to avenge the dishonour? Were the cartoonists brave? Were they thoughtless? I understand the fact that the French have a very different way of thinking, when it comes to liberty and freedoms. (Thanks, Mr. Rajotte, for your awesome history classes – RIP sir). But, assuming they’re Christians, are they forgetting a teaching of Christ: treat your neighbour as you’d treat yourself. Does that include mocking other religions? I wouldn’t have thought so, but there’s a good debate in there.

After all this, though, I suppose the biggest question for me, as I watched crowds in Paris with signs saying “Je Suis Charlie”, was:   what does freedom of speech really mean to a society if there is a smaller group within that society that doesn’t believe in a freedom of speech?

Please don’t misunderstand. Of course I think that killing people for a simple drawing is way beyond what we should be doing in the 21st century. But, in the 21st century, we also still have poverty in Africa, homelessness in our countries despite untold wealth, and people still being judged by both who we sleep with and by the colour of our skin, so perhaps it is no surprise that some may still be offended by these cartoons.

These are just three examples of things within this crazy, mixed up world that make my blood boil. So, how do we get through the times where we’ve had enough with the politicians and madmen (some of whom are the same people)? Well, that’s the hard part. And you’d think that someone with a big mouth that is happy to write about the problems of the world would have some of the answers. But really, I’m in no position to stop politicians on both sides from stuffing up, or stopping fanatics blowing up kids, or themselves, to get their message across. I suppose I could get off Twitter to help my blood pressure, but I do like keeping up with the world through this media. It’s usually a lot faster, and more often than not more accurate, than any TV news.  Plus I still live in hope that William Shatner will tweet back to me one day.

Perhaps the best thing to do in times like this is continue to refer to those comedy gods that I love so much:

Some things in life are bad/They can really make you made/Other things just make you swear and curse/When you’re chewing on life’s gristle/Don’t grumble…give a whistle/And this’ll help things turn out for the best/And…./Always look on the bright side of life…(et cetera).

Good luck keeping that out of your head for the rest of the day.

 

 

The Changing of the Calendar

If you’ve opened the link to this blog, then I will safely assume you have survived the Christmas season, and the associated food, in-laws and expense issues. Congratulations. But you’re quite not over the silly season yet. Tonight, or tomorrow, depending on where in the world you are, is the day that we celebrate trashing the 2014 version of a calendar, and pinning up the 2015 version (according to sales figures, for 47% of households, including mine, this will be a “Frozen” calendar). This celebration has potential associated minefields. Not least of which, of course, is the dreaded hangover, but you certainly don’t need me to tell you that.

No, other problems with waking up to January 1st is remembering to write “2015” on cheques and other important documentation; realizing that your holidays are almost up, and you’ll need to go back to work; and wishing “Happy New Year” to people you just don’t care about (but I know you do anyway, because I know you are all very polite people).

I’ve never been a big fan of New Years’, which will not come as any surprise to anyone that read my last post about Christmas. I think I was about nine or ten the first year I stayed up until midnight, while staying with my grandparents. Not sure where my parents were. Knowing what I know now as a parent, they probably headed off to some party for some no-kid time. I don’t blame them.

Grandpa went to bed pretty early – I guess he’d seen enough NYE celebrations that the appeal wasn’t there anymore. So, it was me, my sister and my very patient grandmother, watching TV and the feeds from New York, Toronto and, eventually, Vancouver. I asked Grandma if I could play “Auld Lang Syne” on the organ at the stroke of twelve, but she didn’t want me to wake Grandpa up, which was fair enough. But even at that early age, once the fireworks were done, and Grandma took the champagne away from us kids (kidding, kidding), the seeds of apathy to this night were sown.

Even when I’ve had a really great time on New Years’, I seem to recall that it wasn’t all that big a deal the next day. I stayed with my friends Pat and Sharla one year, and Pat and I went through a two-four (translation for Aussies: a slab), which was fine (although I can’t recall sharing any with Sharla, for some reason), since we were all adults and knowing of the damage we were doing to our brains. I woke up the next day, head pounding, mouth only to find that my friend was frying up eggs (a food which I absolutely, positively detest, and a cooking method for eggs that, for me, ranks with one of the worst smells in the world), with no apparent sign of a hangover.  Not sure how he managed to miss suffering, I didn’t seem him drink water, but my head, and my jealousy at Pat’s immunity system definitely contributed to the celebration of the New Year. By the way, guys – we should absolutely do it again one year. Minus the eggs.

I guess another problem for the start of the year is the pressure to make resolutions. I’ve surprised myself this year, in that I’ve made eight resolutions for myself. The first one is to actually use my twelve month day planner past February. I still have five or six planners in my study – Far Side, mostly – that I use religiously until about Valentine’s Day, and then…the rest of the year is used to read the comics. I don’t know why I’ve done this in the past. Perhaps I simply use my wife to plan my life, and that makes the planners superfluous.

I’m also going to get my Australian citizenship this year. Yes, I know I said that this time last year, and possibly the three or four years before that, but this year I really, really, REALLY mean it. I’m definitely going to go skydiving. I’m going to finish my book. It won’t be for publication now, which is fine, but I need to get back to having the discipline of writing, and this seems like a good way to do it. I’m going to watch my Canucks finally win a Stanley Cup, which, upon reflection, seems like might be predicated on twenty-nine other teams having a say about it. So, we’ll see about that. There are a few others that I’ve got written down, but I want to keep a few of them close to my chest, just in case it doesn’t work out quite as well as I’d like. It’s been known to happen in the past.

It’s also normal, I guess, to reflect on the year that was. Frankly, it’s not the worst year I’ve ever had, but it also isn’t the most spectacular I’ve ever had, either. I’ve celebrated my tenth anniversary with Samantha (by driving her to the airport for her five day trip to Sydney, but that’s OK); I’ve seen my Australian Rules Football team win another premiership (and got to hold the Cup) – that’s two in a row, which is a very, very nice feeling (and makes me long for that Canucks’ Stanley Cup even more); and I won a trip to Tasmania through the football club, which was a great chance to head back to Cradle Mountain, and satisfy Samantha’s and Lucy’s desire to play in snow (still cold, still overrated, but at least I didn’t have to shovel it).

I did lose my job but, honestly, that wasn’t really the worst thing that could have happened. I’ve been able to live for about nine months on the payout, and I’ve spent more time as a dad than most other people get to do, which was great.   Finding a new job in the current environment might be a bit tricky, but I’m not concerned…I’ve got my lotto ticket for Saturday’s $30 million draw.

My proudest moment was when I watched my daughter help close out her school concert, by using sign language to translate the closing song. I wish the clip was on YouTube, it’s pretty special. My worst moment? Maybe finding out that Robin Williams had died. That was a shock, and considering Sam and I saw him in concert here in Melbourne just a few years ago really set me back.

Other than that…it was a pretty ordinary year, with not much happening. See? This is maybe why I need a planner – so I can remember everything I do during the year!

I don’t think that our little family has a lot planned to bring in the New Year. Sam suggested cracking open a nice bottle of vino, and watching a movie, so, really, it’s just like any Saturday night. I’m going to try to convince the girls to watch Star Wars with me but I’m not sold on my chances on that. I would certainly hope that Frozen doesn’t get suggested. I guess we’ll find some happy medium.

So, with that, I wish you and your family a good, safe night, and a more than decent 2015. You’d be helping me reach that goal if you keep your fried eggs away from me tomorrow. Thanks.

Grinchville. Population: Me.

‘Tis the season for tinsel, sleighbells and the joyous laughter of children as they open presents from under the tree. It’s a season for love, and happiness and goodwill to all men.

Pffft. What a crock.

It’s true.   I am a card carrying member of the ACL – the Anti-Christmas League. (I’m also one of the few that’s a member of both this league, and another ACL group – the Anterior Cruciate Ligament Society, but that’s another story for another day). My Facebook profile picture, at this time every year, is a picture of perhaps Dr. Seuss’s most famous creation, the Grinch. And no, I don’t feel bad or sad, nor do I cry or sigh, about that fact one little bit.

To me, this time of year is painful. I dread going to malls. I detest carols. And I really don’t have the self-control to prevent myself from eating all that delicious chocolate that the merchants seem to put on at half-price this time of year.

My attitude has nothing to with the fact that I didn’t celebrate Christmas until, I was old (but still much younger than I am now). OK, that’s not entirely true. Apparently, I did have some Christmases up to when I was four years old, but that, frankly, was so long ago, I can’t remember that. Actually, I barely remember last week, so forty years ago is a bit of a stretch.

When I was about five, my family joined a church that didn’t believe in celebrating Christmas. I may have kicked up a bit of a fuss the first time that we didn’t observe this festive season, but perhaps the habit hadn’t been fully formed, and it may not have been that big of a deal.

Even missing out at Christmas during my school years wasn’t that much of a hassle for me. From memory, there wasn’t that much of an observance of Christmas at school, as the school holidays had started about a week earlier – possibly because the teachers were too busy on the phone to their travel agents – and all the presents had been pretty much forgotten about by the time we got back to the learning after the New Year.

So, what is it about Christmas that makes me cringe? There are a few reasons. Here’s the first.

I love Australia. I’ve lived here for sixteen or seventeen years. I love the beaches, I love the footy, I tolerate the cricket, I adore travelling to Tasmania. But Australians have one big problem. They usually have Christmas when it’s 25 degrees Celsius (or more). It’s crazy. Christmas is a WINTER holiday. Christmas is, or should be, associated with snow. Or cold. Or frostbite. None of which you’ll find here in The Land Down Under. Santa would have a heart attack or stroke – fat guy in a heavy woollen suit, delivering presents in 35 degree heat? Give me a break. Either that, or he’s really lucky he hasn’t found Rudolph taking the place of the shrimp on the barbie.

Another reason for my distaste of this season is the simple fact that customer service exists only during the month of December. Hey, I’m looking for something for my wife’s birthday in September. Meh, whatever is the standard answer. If you’re lucky! OR…Hey, I’m looking for something for my kid for Christmas. Well, this is the best time of year for those that work on commission, so they give just a little bit extra into their service, don’t they. Well, stuff you, man. Help me twelve months a year, not just when you’re contractually obligated to do so!

Another reason to sleep through the festive season? Christmas parties. I guess if you’re lucky enough to work at a job where you actually LIKE the people that you work with – and admittedly, I have been – then it may not be so bad. But breaking bread with those that you have been countless hours during the year trying to avoid as much as the job will allow, just because society dictates that we’re supposed to be having fun? Forget about it.

Closely related to “parties” is the Kris Kringle. Seriously, this is the worst idea in history, ever since someone came up with the idea of “politicians”. Even if you’ve worked with someone for ten years, never mind ten weeks – how the hell are you supposed to know what they want for Christmas for less than twenty dollars? Therefore, the conversations in someone’s head could look like this:

  • You like cats? Here, have a funny book about cats.
  • You like wine? Here’s a nice bottle of vino that I like. Hope you do.
  • Here’s a used, crinkled movie voucher for you. Sure, it looks like it got wet and then put through the dryer, but it’s still valid for three weeks (this one actually happened to me).

I’m also not happy with the size of crowds in December. Actually…upon reflection, it may not be the SIZE of the crowds; it’s the SPEED of the crowds. Some of us actually know what we want, people, and know how to get it within three hours. If you want to walk slow while three-quarters of your town peruse every damned shop in the mall – don’t do it while I’m there! I’m a man on a mission. Get out of my way! Of course, all of this is based on the assumption you can find a parking spot at the mall in the first place.

There are a few other reasons, of course. James Brown, Charlie Chaplin and Eartha Kitt all died on Christmas Day. I repeat: The Godfather of Soul, The Greatest Comedian Ever, and Catwoman all shuffled off the mortal coil on the 25th of December. Who can celebrate after learning that?

Also, it annoys me that atheists get to celebrate Christmas. All they’re doing is freeloading on things they don’t believe in. Get back to work! Invent your own holidays!  Just let the Hallmark Cards people what you’re up to.

Oh, yeah, on that: is there any proof that Jesus Christ was actually born on December 25? Or does it just seem really convenient that it’s only a week away from the New Year, and therefore a good time for holidays? Perhaps those same Hallmark Card people are more powerful than we thought.

And what is the first thing we teach kids? “Don’t lie. Oh, and by the way, Santa will be here in a few weeks”. Hypocrisy at its finest.

However, even I will admit that there is something to be said for the look in a child’s eyes as he or she opens their present, even if it isn’t exactly what the kid asked for. Personally, I’ve always felt that that look is one of relief, knowing he ended up back on Santa’s “good” list for another year, and not the “naughty” list that perhaps the kid SHOULD have been on. But that thought may be a touch cynical, even for me.

I guess the one – yes, ONE – saving grace about Christmas is the time you get to spend with families. Life is short, and you’ve only got one family, so you might as well make the best of it.   That probably shouldn’t read as an expression of giving up to the inevitable. Instead, it’s a reminder that LIFE IS SHORT, and Christmas is really the one time of year that families get together to part-ay, no matter how close they may be. Take advantage of it.

This year, my missus has decided that our family – the in-laws and my brood – are going to … nah, forget it, I don’t want to tell you, just in case you think it’s a great idea, and then you crowd us out.

If you’re not close to your family – through distance or estrangement – and there are situations like that – no doubt you’ve tried to work through it, so I don’t need to say anything else, other than I hope you can work something out eventually.

If this is your first Christmas without loved ones – you have my sympathies. I hope it’s not too difficult for you.

Merry Christmas for you non-Grinch people in the universe. Happy holidays to the rest of us. May you all enjoy it to the fullest.