While my authors have had real adventures around the world, their publisher has confined himself to local excitement.
In preparation for our big move to Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island, I was getting the old condo ready for its new owners.
I had a stroke. The stroke was a surprise, needless to say, and perhaps more so to my friends and family. I have not eaten any meat since I was five and am physically active (having played briefly for the Hamilton Tigercats and Montreal Allouettes) and I bike and walk every day. Don’t drink more than a few glasses of wine a year and have never smoked. So it seems the higher fat yogurt for dessert, and snackfood muffins from Tims are a problem 😕.
As a writer, I am compelled to set down events – you are certainly not obliged to read this but perhaps my lesson can be your lesson:
Had the stroke on Monday, alone, while putting the last of our boxes together. I had done a deep cleaning of the fridge then pulled it out to clean around it.
Looking up from the floor, it was quite frustrating to discover that my whole left side had suddenly decided to go on strike. A simple pull up of the body was quite simply no longer possible.
When I lost all control of my left leg and arm I had gone down hard. The formidable bruises show where I fell, then subsequently crawled on my back. (My wife was freaked out by the bruises more than when, over the previous 2 weeks, I had a series of heavily flowing nosebleeds – connection?). Those bruises looked a lot worse, apparently, due to the blood thinners the doctors from VGH’s Stroke Clinic used on me. Especially the life-saving tPA.
Anyway, incapacitated on my back, I recognized the stroke (please do look up “FAST”, with respect to strokes) and quickly found that my only form of locomotion was to push on my back with my right arm and leg. I pushed out of the kitchen to the stairs where my phone was sitting two boxes high. Slithering up stairs is really hard with only one side working. The set of black bruises on my back matches the distance between stairs. That maneuver took a surprising amount of effort.
Finally I got high enough to reach the phone, called 911 and told them to contact the manager or someone to get into the condo building’s front door.
Then I had to flop back to my prone position, without hitting my head, to reach the unit’s front door. It was locked, of course, and having just sold the condo I couldn’t have some beast of a fireman smash through it. Imagine the cost 😊.
The 911 operator advised me to come back to the phone, which I had put on speaker. Right.
Made it to the door and found a clothing brush that I had placed inside the piano seat at the door, unused for 5 years. With it I was barely able to reach up high enough from the floor to knock open the lock. It was just in time for the eager mob of firemen and paramedics to stomp down the long hall. Thanks, guys, for opening the door carefully.
The paramedics went through a protocol that I was to hear endlessly over the next week from every medical specialist who saw me: “What happened? What day is it?” “Where are you?” “Can you move this arm?” “Can you press these toes up against my hand?”
Agreeing with me that I had experienced a stroke, that protocol was enacted. Fortunately, the paramedics followed the stroke protocol and skipped past Richmond hospital (1 kilometer away and en route) to take me directly to Vancouver General.
A really good move. That specialist stroke team zipped through their own stroke protocol (which, yes, included all the previous questions). With CAT scans, they determined that the blockage was not bleeding, so they were free to inject the tPA. On interrogation they couldn’t really come up with a cause for the blockage, other than the possibility that all the airline miles I had put in during my younger years had produced deep vein thrombosis, causing a pulmonary embolism in my lungs. A capitalist shout-out to the airlines for making flying both remarkably uncomfortable as well as medically dangerous! Indeed, the filter did later catch a few more little globs migrating up. (Is there a class action lawyer in the house?)
This being their one clue to go on, they inserted a temporary filter in my one artery coming from my right leg.
As they wrapped me up on the operating table, the neurosurgeon, Dr. Gary Redekop, finished by saying, “Hold up your left arm and wave.”
I did and he said, “Take that picture! He’s the poster boy for what needs to be done correctly!”
They kicked me out in a week. No physical or mental ill effects at all. If the whole event had taken more than 2-3 hours I would be in a wheelchair now.
The whole team, including stroke and heart specialists (who were confused by my weird neandertal specs for blood and and heart rate), radiology techs (even the young newbie who was tasked with ultrasounding my cohones – still not sure why?), the nurses on 2 floors, dieticians, gurney drivers and cleaners all did an outstanding, professional job.
The followup team led by Dr. Sharan Mann is making sure I stay away from their kind services in the future. Heartfelt thanks to all!
My new diet is being aggressively supervised by my son and wife. Oh well. So much for Tim’s muffins and donuts. Come to think of it, Qualicum Beach only has really good, locally made food in their cafes. Maybe that’s what happens when you have a town of “survivors”. QB boasts the oldest average age of any municipality in BC. The sirens rarely sound here, as opposed to their constant wail in the Lower Mainland.
After being kicked out of the hospital I was supposed to restrict over-exertion. Being temporarily alone in the new house full of boxes and furniture means that nobody could scold me for pushing it all around. The rug shampooer really wasn’t that heavy, and the queen-sized mattresses move fairly easily if one swears a lot at them. That slope up the thick front lawn provides an excellent workout, just like my therapist recommended. Sort of.
I decided to forego painting all the rooms at this time. Just some trim touchup around the outside. Oh, the garden. Even after I pointed out to my long-suffering wife that our street name was in honour of a Scottish castle, she still did not consent to leaving the thistles in the garden. A couple of them looked like they were quite prepared to be the Scottish equivalent of Jack’s beanstock. Alas, they are now in the bin.
Sincere apologies to my wife and son for putting you through this adventure! At least we are all eating much better now.
The publishing business is back online and in production! Thank you to my authors for your very kind patience.

Salmon Arm

How many people still read? Or write?

In a culture such as our west coast is developing, that may sound like a silly question. But consider the analogy of driving a car. Fewer people, on average, drive in the big cities. Of those, how many use a stick shift, or change their oil, or, themselves, repair the clattering valve lifter?

As technology changes we become more removed from the nuts and bolts of our daily tasks. That’s a good thing, right? It leaves us time for more cerebral pursuits, such as ordering a frappalino with exactly 2 centimetres of water at our favourite coffee house and then dealing with all those friend requests.

What do so many of us read? If one were to suggest Plato’s Dialogues, or a modern retelling of it by Rebecca Goldstein, Plato at the Googleplex, one ‘s coffee would curdle with the derision.

The nuts and bolts of reading and writing have been smoothed and smothered by our convenient technologies. Where we would once have been expected to know how to construct an argument from solid substance and well-considered analysis, today that is actually frowned on as being way too formal and complicated an approach. “Like, I don’t have to know, like, that stuff. I know what I like!” “Oh yeah. I’m a writer. Like, I write all the time! Got calluses on my thumbs! See?”

In the bulwarks fighting the good battle against the Dark Age Ahead (2004, Jane Jacobs) stand local writers groups and regional writers’ festivals.

Leading the fight are such festivals as Word on the Lake, held in May at Salmon Arm. While the desire to have such festivals may be general, it requires a particular strength of leadership and persistence of vision to carry it off successfully for more than a dozen years. Sincere thanks are gratefully extended to Kay Johnston and her enthusiastic volunteers in and around Salmon Arm for the consistent quality with which they do so.

Dr. Patrick Taylor was this year’s Keynote Speaker, and a wise choice it was. Imagine, if you haven’t met the man, a rather large leprechaun peering up over the podium:

Keynote Address

Councilor, on behalf of the Mayor – who is marching this morning in support of the local missing women and children – Madam President, Fellow Faculty, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is for me a great honour to have been invited to give the opening keynote address to the Word on the Lake Writer’s Festival. Thank you. I promise that like me the address will be short.

Since the invitation, I have been wondering what should I say. And I wondered… and finally I decided to talk about anniversaries and how they might relate to the writing life.

That’s right anniversaries.

This year is a big one. Canada will mark the 150th anniversary of the British North America Act which, on July 1, 1867,  made our country the Federal Dominion of Canada. As an aside, allow me to mention that it is Montreal’s 375th anniversary.

Can I make a connection between that as an example of an anniversary and writing? I can, but it’s a tenuous one at best to start with. I’ll try to get better as we move along.

A mere thirty years later, in 1897 (our 120th anniversary) the Canadian government established a National Policy of Tariffs, taxing imports from Great Britain in defiance of the mother country, occasioning Rudyard Kipling, a literary giant of his time and a fervent imperialist, to pen the cautionary, Our Lady of the Snows, which begins,

A nation spoke to a nation,

A queen sent word to a throne,

Daughter am I in my mother’s house,

But mistress in my own…

A polite but forceful way of using poetry to suggest Britain under Queen Victoria should butt out of Canadian affairs. That took a while and five more monarchs until, with The Canada Act of 1982 (35th anniversary) was the constitution patriated and at the same time the Charter was adopted, Kipling’s advice had come to fruition and Canada was her own nation.

And, en passant, Canada is something very special to Dorothy and me, a couple of Irish waifs and strays whom you have graciously taken into the family. Coincidentally we are both half our adoptive country’s age in this, Canada’s 150th birthday year.

Now to return to my theme: so far, I’m afraid I have only managed to make one connection between anniversaries and writing but others began slowly to appear and I hope as I develop my argument you too will see the co-relations and perhaps be a little scared as am I. I believe, however, that I can end on a positive note.

Don’t hold me to it for complete accuracy but it is somewhere between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago something miraculous happened in Mesopotamia or Egypt, and in India and in China. The human primate began to communicate in writing. Ideas could be recorded, stored, discussed, passed on from one generation to the next. And it is that writing we are here now to celebrate thousands of years later.

Six hundred and seventeen years ago, approximately, Johannes Guttenberg was born and shortly thereafter the printing press with moveable type arrived. Since those years, the written word ruled. And old fogies like me hoped its rule would last forever, despite the advent of television and more recently the w.w.w. (predicted by a great Canadian, Marshall McLuhan). His earlier pronouncement, in 1967 (this is its 50th) that “the medium is the message”, encapsulated the concept that people were then understanding their world in images not sentences, and the written word, with its connotations of quiet reflection, expenditure of effort to comprehend its meaning, was losing ground it would never regain.

Purely by chance I have just finished re-reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (95th anniversary of publication), and 1984, by Eric Blair, aka George Orwell (58th anniversary), I made a particular effort to see how each predicted the fate of books.

To paraphrase:

Orwell believed that the governing power would ultimately ban books. The step prior to that, and I quote, “Books were just a commodity that had to be produced like jam and boot laces”, was to corrupt the language. In 1984 this was overseen by the “Thought Police.”

His Appendix, The Principles of Newspeak, demonstrates how those wishing to control how we think must degrade and control the language. An example “This dog is free from lice” was acceptable but, “Intellectually free”, was not. I am sorry if I offend—these days it is practically impossible to open your mouth in public without doing so, but my friend John who has been smitten with retinitis pigmentosa assures me that telling him that he is visually impaired improves his vision not one whit. In 1984, adding the prefix “un” to cold meant warm, and plus cold, and doublepluscold (a term reserved for Winnipeg in winter) cranked down the heat and banished warm and its variants forever, thus simplifying (dumbing down) the language. “I am waiting 4 U 2 come”, is the modem equivalent, but at least that corruption has no political overtones—yet. A report in the Times of London noted that children from 8-18 might have vocabularies of 40-50 thousand words but only used 800 on a daily basis—and one third of them are yes, no, and but. Our language is under threat.

Huxley, on the other hand, predicted that there would be no books because no one would  want to read anymore and I personally fear Huxley may be close to the truth as well. In 2016’s first quarter, sales of paper books fell (1.3%) and Barnes and Noble reported a downturn of 24.5% in its Nook division. One only has to take public transport to see the hordes of pathological thumbers.

So, as I wondered if the wheels were really falling off, if we as writers and readers could do anything to reverse these trends and to quote the tailor (no relative) Motel Kamzoil in Fiddler on the roof, “Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles,” I stumbled on a think piece by Sean Iiling in Vox, discussing the implications of Neill Postman’s Amusing ourselves to death.

This is the 32nd anniversary of its publication.

Postman’s thesis was like McLuhan’s: “We are a culture whose information and ideas are now given form by TV not the printed word.” The Vox piece largely dealt with the influence of non-written imagery on politics, but right at the end I came upon, to quote Kenny Roger’s in The Gambler, “An ace that I could keep”.

In the opinion of Lance Strate, Professor of Communications at Fordham U, and I quote:

“I think Postman held out great hope for education as a way of addressing these problems [loss of the printed word]. Which also means really emphasizing the enlightenment tradition of rational discourse and just plain literacy, and not giving in to the latest and trying to make a school compete with television or the internet. So that is certainly part of the solution.”

He goes on to say, “I think we have to talk and to read. It may well be that the only way we ever get things done is locally, and through personal connections, and trying to work that way. I just don’t see any top down solution to this. But I think that we can certainly try to improve things. If everyone did that or if enough people did that on a personal level, that’s one way that this could be countered.”

And where does that, tradition of rational discourse and just plain literacy, get done? Where do we talk and read through personal connections? At writers’ groups, at branches of national literary groups like CAA and TWUC, at international writers’ groups like AG of A.

I said at the beginning I might make you a little scared, but hoped I could end on a positive note. You, all of you who are here at this festival because you love reading and writing, you are an integral and critical part of where rational discourse and plain literacy live and grow and thrive. You are the torchbearers. Hold them high. Be hopeful that the word will survive. I am.

I have offered you some correlations between writing and anniversaries, This is the 14th of Word on the Lake. It’s 6,000 years since writing was invented. I have two more hopes: one is that you all will enjoy the remarkable programme that the organisers have put together; and the other is that on July 1st this year, when Dorothy and I will attend not one but two Canada Day functions, every last one of you like us will raise a glass and wish the true north strong and free a very happy birthday, Canada, and many many happy returns of the country’s 150th, and the festival’s 14th, and the written word’s 6,000th birthdays.

Thank you.

In A Cloud of Sails


Born in North Vancouver as the Monte Cristo, this majestic square-rigger sailed down the west coast of the United States then across to Tahiti. After changing name to Endeavour II, her young crew and skipper braved the vast Pacific once again to rendezvous in Botany Bay with Queen Elizabeth II to celebrate Australia’s bicentenary in 1970.
This remarkable story will be available in print by July 1st 2017.

They Walk Among Us

Aliens are already here. They have been here before homo sapiens walked out of Africa (either time).
They look just like regular folks.
Despite killing most of them off, the survivors have remained quiet, peaceful and nice. That was their problem.
An analogy: chimpanzees have very close cousins called bonobos. Living peacefully in loose matriarchies, bonobos happily forage for their vegetarian meals; they use the tools as needed; and they pass on cultural knowledge with a complex language. When occasional disputes arise in the extended family, they cuddle and make up.
Except for the regular cuddling, chimps are similar. However, in each chimp tribe, the prime male and his buddies can have an attitude. Every once in a while they get a red glare in their eyes. The boss and his pack start yelling and throwing branches around then go off on a testosterone-fueled hunting trip. They corall a hapless monkey, tear him limb from limb and gorge themselves with bloody meat.
While neandertals were larger than homo sapiens and had bigger brains, my ancestors assure me they were more like bonobos. They did catch and eat large prey but where they could, they preferred their veggies.
The downfall of neandertals came about because, among themselves, they were nice. Like gorillas, the only time their eyes showed a red glare was when they were wronged by an outsider. As happened too often by those new groups of homo sapiens that wandered into their area.
Over thousands of years of interaction and interbreeding, neandertals succumbed to the trait exhibited by homo sapiens male packs to get their testosterone-fueled rocks off.
Since neandertals lost the human race, the only thing left of them now is in the 1-4% of mostly European’s genetic code.
However, every once in a while, across the gene pool, a neandertal pops up. Most are reflexively killed or ostracized by punk packs of homo sapiens. Neither side knows why they do it. The response comes from deep genetic memory – like fear of wolves or snakes. Without knowledge of why he or she is bullied to death, the neandertal bows down to the punk pack and either expires or retreats from the world in other ways.
As the winners in the human race, homo sapiens demonized the losers. Neandertals were branded knuckle-dragging cave-dwellers who could barely grunt enough words to alert another one about an approaching Mastodon. The victors write the histories.
What were neandertals really like? May I suggest, from experience, that they preferred a peaceful family tribe whose eldest and wisest grandmother would be listened to with respect. And she, too, would listen to the young folks, respectfully. If a disagreement arose, it was talked out; at the end, the debaters hugged; the family went on with battling the outside forces of the environment. Creativity was cherished. Myths and magic of the world were interwoven with the news brought by travellers, and all was retold at the fireside so everyone could enjoy the talks and learn from them.
There was very little room for error, with all the other creatures battling for life, and the environment throwing up extreme weather changes, and random eruptions of volcanoes messing up everything. When the matriarch suggested a way to move forward, all the wise folks added their thoughts. The resulting decision was thoroughly considered, but all agreed that it was the matriarch who would finally state the direction of the path.
And so it was for over 500,000 years. Neandertals lived on by following the principles of respect, creativity and wise decision-making.
Then along came the homo sapiens. It only took 50,000 years for the testosterone-fuelled punk packs to eliminate their rivals in the human race. They not only eliminated the families, they soiled the memory of the “nice humans”. Eradicated to such an extent that even the rare neandertal who pops up through the gene pool is made to feel ashamed of being somehow “different” and inferior.
Perhaps, as the homo sapiens punk packs spin ever tighter into their gated communities of one-percenters – leaving the rest of their own kind on the outside – those few of us neandertals who have survived by pretending to be human can join with the 99-percenters barred outside the gates.
Perhaps we can teach the value of respect, creativity and wise decision-making.
Perhaps we should all just leave the one-percenters alone within their little gated worlds. If we all walked away from them, they can rattle their self-imposed bars as much as they want.
Just don’t force us into a red-eyed glare.
-a neoandertal

– upcoming book: The Antichrist of Stanley Park


I shouldn’t have done this

by Jeff Berry

When we moved to Dai Nippon, the Military Occupation was still in effect, meaning that Americans were treated by the Japanese public very carefully. To a youngster like me, aged about 11, the whole setup seemed to be made for me. I had free transport by bus from home in Negeshi Heights to downtown Yokohama. Once in Yokohama, I could board any one of dozens of ancient trams which took me to all sorts of exotic places. I embraced the Orient with its sights, smells and music. Loudspeakers played the hit tune that year, Kana Kana Musumei (in English, Can Can Girl).

Yokohama was still being rebuilt from its horrendous wartime firebombing by the “B-ni jus”, (B29s) as the locals called it then. The replacement houses were mostly the same type of edifices that had stood in the original spots before the war. There were a warren of narrow lanes for me to explore, where anything was possible. The local Japanese policemen were polite to me and never stopped me. The American Military Police seemed impressed by my father’s rank, which I dropped when needed. He was a Major then and they were mere enlisted GIs. Looking back through the retroscope, I can see that I was regrettably a spoiled stinker.

So I could explore to my heart’s content. One time I was walking through what was probably the Red Light District of the town, although I didn’t then know the meaning of the word, since I was obeying the Cub Scout Oath and was always mentally and morally straight, whatever that meant.

I was walking up a narrow path. From ahead of me strode two young ladies who probably worked near by. I will politely call them “entertainers”. They were laughing and having a good time. The girls split up as they espied me approaching. When they were abreast of me, they grabbed me by the upper arm on either side and picked me off of the ground.

I was now being propelled backwards down the road! I weighed about 85 lbs. in those days. Kidnapped!

I yelled to them, “STOP!”.

“Oh, American boy, we are going to show you something you will like very much”, one of them said. They giggled.

The trouble was that I did not want to go with them and was scared that I was being abducted!

After 50 feet or so, I managed to tear myself free and escape from their inviting clutches. (In later years, I regretted this move, but I was just too young for such adventures.)

Once free from White Slavery or something worse, I ran off. Still in a mood for (children’s) adventure, I stumbled upon a magic shop. Somehow I remember it as being out of the Willie Wonka movie, although I had not seen that film yet.

It was amazing! One could purchase all sorts of delightful things to scare one’s parents, like mechanical spiders, wind-up toy rats that ran around the floor, whoopee cushions and a wide range of costumes. I also discovered faux tattoos, where one could wet them and carefully apply them to the body. They looked real. I had to have one!

I chose an imposing crimson red heart. It took up my complete upper shoulder. The heart was pierced by a dagger which went in and then back out. It dripped graphic drops of blood from the wound. Most realistic, I thought. Above the heart I added the word MOM. All this cost me about Y400 (roughly $1.25). I put my shirt back on, covering my masterpiece and headed home. Wouldn’t Mother be surprised when she saw my latest joke, I thought.

When I returned Mom was waiting for me.

“What did you do today, Jeff?”

“Oh nothing much,” I replied. “I just got a tattoo.”

“A tattoo!” she exclaimed. “Show me!”

I proudly rolled up my right sleeve revealing my tribute to parental love.

Mother would break out laughing now, I thought. It was all so funny.

She didn’t, however.

Mother let out a wail and then gave a series of heaving sobs.

“Jeffy, how could you have done this?” she asked.

I had tricked Mom all right, but in the worst possible way. I had made her cry!

I made my apologies and scrubbed MOM, heart and dagger and drips of blood from my body.

Which explains why after all these years, I am tattoo free.


Check out Jeff’s book, Notes To Mother