Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Blitz Cafe - Hebden Bridge

A Step Back in Time

It was just how I had imagined it to be. An older three storey building proudly straddling a street corner with a few tables and chairs placed out front for those dining outdoors. It appeared to be constructed of concrete block bricking - hardly cosmetic but inside - just on the other side of the front door was a different world. A world that had been displaced. A world that belonged eighty years ago in the past. A world that I used to belong to. A world I still belonged to deep in my heart. I was already beginning to choke-up. This was the famous Blitz Cafe famous for serving meals from the WW11 era. How on earth was I going to feel once I got inside? I was not disappointed. Suddenly, I was five again.

An English Lunch

Waiters and waitresses dressed in  
serving attire from that period were serving portions of meat and potato pie covered with copious amounts of warm Bird's Eye Custard. That used to be my favourite of all deserts. I could have died for a second piece. My saliva glands were doing somersaults as if they were saying "I haven't felt this good in fifty years".   
The entire restaurant displayed numerous 
posters; original photographs; and articles of war collected from that period. One poster that caught my eye as I was enjoying my slice of meat and potato pie was a large picture of Adolf Hitler urging a group of English mothers not to send their children and their babies to safe havens such as Canada and Australia for the duration of the war. He was trying to persuade them to keep them in England where, according to him, they belonged. There were so many articles of war scattered throughout the restaurant that it carried an odour synonymous with that period. That is not said as a statement of disapproval. It all, in fact, added to the authenticity of that period.

Family Life During Adversity

I was old enough to understand that some families on our street never spoke to other families. That's how things were. That was normal but all that changed overnight as soon as the War began. There was no money - none at all - and each family was given a book of coupons. It was called a Ration Book. Before you know it coupons were being traded between neighbours that had never spoken to each other in years. "I'll trade you two tea coupons dear in exchange for two coupons for bread." Neighbours began to work with one another and look-out for one another. It was as if the whole street became one big family. It became a lot more friendly. The entire mood of the street changed. I couldn't believe the changes that happened almost overnight. The Restaurant displayed the same kind of friendliness and camaraderie as was displayed on the streets during WW11. The only thing missing was the sound of the Air Raid Siren which signalled that all families should take refuge in the nearest community Air Raid shelter without delay. The writer of this blog was born in an air raid shelter during an air raid. My mother told me that I was delivered by a fireman. Lucky me!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

I Got Shoes

The Town of Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire

I was in for an extra special treat today. My three cousins had told me about Hebden Bridge in the County of Yorkshire lying just on the Eastern side of the Pennine Hills. I was not too familiar with the towns and villages on the east side of the Pennines because I was born and raised on the west side, in Lancashire. 

My Old Beat-Up Shoes

It was a very beautiful and quaint Yorkshire village with cobblestone streets and lots and lots of hills. "Nearly new" shops were prevalent. They could be found on every street and they specialized in selling discounted shoes and clothing at dirt cheap prices. I was in one of these shops when I saw a pair beige casual shoes almost identical to my very beat-up old shoes which were ready for the garbage dump. I picked-up a pair of nearly new beige casuals, size 10, for next to nothing. I'm not one for getting all excited about saving a few dollars on shoes but this time I felt over-the-moon. I put them on right away and I wore them for the rest of the day. I was just about ready to ditch my old shoes into the nearest garbage can when a little birdie told me to hang on to them - you know - just in case?

Shoe Surgery

A few days later while on the beautiful Isle of Anglesey my new discounted shoes began to hurt when I walked. They began to hurt so much that I could no longer walk in them without limping. The pain was so intense that I had to remove my shoes completely to cool-off my feet while paddling in the sea. When I tried to put my shoes back-on my feet it was impossible. I became so angry that I borrowed a pair of heavy scissors and I cut the toes out. It was then that I noticed the words "Size 9" in the inner lining. They were supposed to be "Size 10". They had somehow magically converted themselves from a ten to a nine. I put on a pair of slip-ons until I got back to my cousins' house. 

Cooling Off

Even following the shoe surgery, my feet continued to be very painful. The cooling sea water helped a great deal, so I spent an hour or so enjoying the cool, refreshing waves splashing around my feet and ankles. They soon started to feel a lot better. For the remainder of the day, I continued to enjoy splashing around in the sea as well as taking a good look of the magnificent scenery all around me. It was intensely beautiful. This became more apparent when I noticed very few people around. It was almost as if I was in my own private paradise. 

The first thing I saw was my old beat-up casuals waiting for me in the corner of the room. The little birdie that had cautioned me against throwing them out - had been right all along. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Train to Llandudno

My cousin Lesley who I was meeting for the very first time asked me what I would like to do during my holiday in England. My answer required no thought at all. I said that I would like to visit my favourite place - Llandudno. I made arrangements to meet her at her house located in the picturesque lowlands of Cheshire early the next day but I got lost. Further, my cell-phone didn't work in the UK and it was early in the morning so no-one was around to ask for directions. I was running out of options fast but, guess what, McDonald's came to the rescue. I asked an attendant to call Lesley's house to explain exactly where I was. She came to get me laughing. I felt like such an idiot. 

When we arrived at Newton Le Willows Station I felt that I had been transported magically back in time eighty years. The stations were very small with one platform on the one side connected to the other side by an over-head corridor. Sadly, gone were the old majestic steam trains but it was still a thrill to have the feeling of travelling back in time. What had not changed was the pungent odour of massive slow-moving locomotives satisfying the commuting needs of working folks from Newton Le Willows, Earlstown, St. Helens, Widnes and Chester through to the gorgeous North Coast of Wales terminating at Llandudno Station. I'm kind of an emotional guy and I was awestruck by the sheer beauty of N. Wales opening-up right in front of my very own eyes. This was for real. I was not dreaming and I was not watching an old movie. I felt a need to try to control my emotions. Sometimes I get carried away a little but I do my best to suppress them. It was evident that Lesley knew the area like the back of her hand and she provided me with an excellent running commentary. 

John at the Station

I had explained to Lesley that once we get to Llandudno my first and only priority was to visit the impressive and magnificent Great Orme. The weather was not on our side. It was dull and rainy. I was glad that I had been alert enough to bring along my umbrella which Lesley and I shared. We discussed various options available to us. Since there were tour busses waiting and ready to tour the Great Orme it seemed the best thing to do at the time. We had an excellent driver who gave us an in-depth history of the Great Orme over the years. I never knew that Sir Cliff Richard owns a house there. Lesley went pale and looked shocked when I explained to her that I had almost drowned in the sea by the Great Orme when I was ten. You never forget that kind of thing. We both agreed that the tour had been an excellent choice. Both of us had been impressed by the presentations made by the drivers and it was now time for lunch. Lesley asked what would I like for lunch and she wanted to know why I was smiling from ear to ear just like Cheshire cat. I said, "Get real Lesley!" I'm here in England; in the rain; over-looking the ocean and you dare ask what I want to eat?" "First and Chips of course!" We both laughed and we headed for a nice fish and chip restaurant along the promenade. Since Lesley and I were new Cousins and she had a healthy curiosity about her new family we discussed more about our two families than most families do throughout their lifetime. 

View from the Great Orme

During the afternoon we took a second bus trip to Conway. We were enjoying the trip so much that we had not even noticed the rain. After all these years, Conway was still familiar to me. In comparison, England has no crippling snowstorms that maroon folks in their small villages for months on end. No devastating forest fires that level entire Cities and make 80,000 people homeless in one go; and killer floods that drown entire villages outright. Thank God for England's mostly moderate climate; green fields and relatively calm oceans. During the late afternoon I had to quietly turn my head to conceal a great big gaping yawn from prying eyes. Where on Earth did this new cousin of mine get her boundless energy from? "Hey slow down Lesley - I feel like I'm trying to keep up with my daughter Alison. She's tough to keep up with too. 

Afternoon Nap

It was time to go home. We left the train at Colwyn Bay and we walked around the town. It was fascinating and I saw remnants of an old Castle that I never saw before. I treated myself to a giant rum and raisin ice-cream cone but it became a constant battle between me and the seagulls to get to finish it off. I finally won. Lesley knew what trains to take so we boarded yet another train to head towards Lowton. Sometime later I felt a gentle tug on my jacket. It was Lesley smiling at me. I had been sleeping like a baby. Yes, I felt just a little embarrassed but what a terrific day it had been and it wasn't over yet. Lesley and her husband Jim had invited me to stay for a real roast beef supper (I've got to re-learn how to say "tea"). It was an extra special treat for me. They don't have roast beef in Burnaby at all but they have tons of chop suey and egg fu yung. That's what I've learned to live on. Jim then showed me his magnificent display of a thousand toys. He even gave me a few as a gesture of friendship.

Thanks Lesley and Jim for a truly wonderful day. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pocket Change

As most men do, I carry a few bills in my wallet, and any loose change I might have would go in my pants pocket. Who knows when I might need a little change – right? Life was good. I was happy until the time came for me to visit my darling daughter and her family in Ottawa. What happens is that the sound of loose change jingling around in my pants pocket used to annoy her. It was a “thing” she had, an irritation, where the sound of loose change seemed to rattle her a bit. She would approach me with a smile on her face with her hand outstretched expecting me to hand over my coins which I did of course because I like to think I was a good Dad. The problem with this, however, was when I needed coins for parking meters; various dispensing machines, the laundry-mat and even when I bought an ice-cream cone I had to change a bill which led to even more change in my pocket for her to claim. The time came when I decided it was time to sit down and discuss with her how we might solve the matter of my pocket change stretching her nerve endings to the limit. She suddenly disappeared upstairs and returned about ten minutes later with the answer to the situation. It was her old change-purse long since discarded.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Miracle on the Bus - Part 1 of 3

Passengers names are changed

I really wanted to go to Ottawa to spend Christmas with my family but I couldn't get a flight. Everything was booked solid. I checked-out the train but that was prohibitively expensive. Sadly, I was left with only two choices - stay home that Christmas or take the bus. Friends of mine advised me against taking the bus because it was a four-day non-stop trip; sleeping all night on the bus; and snacking on whatever bits and bites you can carry in your pockets most of the time. More importantly, they made me acutely aware that I would not necessarily be travelling in the company of - let's say - the upper crust of Vancouver's finest. To my way of thinking, however, if I can ride alone from Burnaby to Ottawa on a Harley Davidson motorcycle with just a pup-tent to keep me dry I can certainly handle whatever unpleasantries and minor inconveniences long distance bus travel can throw at me. Just so long as I don't meet my next wife on the bus like my father did – God forbid. I decided to bite the bullet and buy my ticket. Surely, it was going to be a picnic – right?

Miracle on the Bus - Part 2 of 3

We pulled into the deserted Calgary bus station around midnight where several security guards advised us of the security measures. Firstly, all of the doors would be kept locked all night and no-one would be permitted to leave without permission. Secondly, this was a no smoking building. No smoking allowed- period. One our three smokers from the back of our bus asked if he could just nip-out for a quick smoke and come right back in again. The head guard said that if he wanted to leave the station, one of the guards would let him out but he would not be permitted to re-enter. The guy had a fit saying that he couldn't go all night without a smoke. I felt sorry for him. As a last straw he asked if he could have a drag in the wash-room. The guard said that if he was caught smoking in the wash-room he would be evicted immediately and not allowed back in until the next morning.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Miracle on the Bus – Part 3 of 3

Miracle on the Bus – Part 3 of 3

(Passengers names are changed)

For those of you who may not be aware, when I ride West to East on my Harley it takes
two days to get through BC; one day through Alberta; one day through Sask and Manitoba and four whole days to Ottawa on the far side of Ontario. Some passengers were jumping for joy when we got to Thunder Bay, ON thinking that we were near Ottawa. I felt honour-bound to burst their bubble by announcing that we had five great Lakes and the Georgian Bay to get around before we would see Ottawa.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Red Torch Parade

I'm not a skater. I'm not a skier. I don't even like ice and snow nor anything that is in its natural state at zero degrees or less. I inherited this trait from Clarice, my mother. How I survived forty years living in frozen Ottawa and walking on ice and snow for half of each and every year is beyond me. During the 2012 New Year's celebrations with my family, however, I was surprised and delighted to see something so spectacular that it helped turn my head around. It was the Red Torch Parade at Mont St. Marie, Quebec. Now, I see things in a different light.

Friday, December 9, 2011

My Santa Clause Letter

Some readers have asked me to re-post “My Santa Clause Letter” because its Christmas. How can I say No! ...It happens to be my favourite too.

Dear Santa Clause,

I am writing to ask you to make my Christmas wish come true, Santa Clause.

I want you to bring me a clock and leave it in my Christmas stocking, that’s all.

I don’t want just any old clock. I don’t want a digital clock; I want one with great big hands. I don’t want an electronic clock or one that runs on batteries; I want to wind it up using a special key. I don’t want it to beep, buzz, jingle or chime; I want to hear it go “tick-tock”. It doesn’t even need to light-up in the dark. I want a magic clock, you see! One that can take me back to any Christmastime I set it for.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Red Light

Red means danger. Its the universal non-verbal language. Red lights stop traffic all over the world. It doesn't matter which country you are in. They are used to stop trains, planes and ships when there are indications of danger. Red is the colour of danger and that's why fire trucks, fire extinguishers and fire bells in buildings are red – because they stand-out and are easy to see. They catch your attention especially when they light-up. Thank God for the colour Red. It can be a life-saver. When I was cruising in the fast lane of the Ottawa Queensway doing 120 Kilometers per hour in fairly heavy traffic I saw my red oil light suddenly come on - and I knew I was in trouble.

Friday, November 4, 2011


He was a coal miner from Lancashire. Each and every weekday afternoon I used to see him coming home from the pit still wearing his safety helmet and steel-toed boots after finishing the six-to-two shift. Tommy and his family lived right across the street from me. As soon as he'd got cleaned up he'd be out in his back garden tinkering with his Ariel 500 Twin motorcycle with sidecar until his wife Kathleen called him in for tea. It wasn't until some decades later that I heard a rumour that Tommy had challenged my dad to a friendly wrestling match in our front garden but for one reason or another it never actually took place. It’s the kind of thing Tommy would do on a whim. That's why I liked him. If I had to, I'd have stuck-up for Tommy. That's because he taught me all about motorcycles, you see.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Post Scriptum

It had been overcast for most of the day which was typical for Ormskirk in late October. I had bought a caravan on its outskirts just four miles due east of the sea-side town of Southport along the A570. Ormskirk had stolen my heart. I was in love with that olde English village with its cobblestone streets; its Pubs loaded with history going back beyond the twelfth century; its pastry shops; and its butcher shoppes which still hung freshly killed turkeys, pheasants and rabbits inside their front windows. But,...most of all, I loved their magnificent olde parish church, St. Peter's and St. Paul's; one of only three in the British Isles that was gifted with both a tower and a steeple. Today, however, I felt different. I felt as though something ominous was going to befall me. I wasn't able to explain it but I couldn't shake the feeling.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Visitor

It was time for bed. There were no arguments. There were no time extensions. No excuses. That's just the way things were in my house. My dad ruled the roost and when he said it was time for bed I closed my school books, finished or not, and headed towards my bedroom. I shared my room with my younger brother, Peter. In our bedroom were two single beds. My bed lay just under the two windows on the southern exterior wall. Peter's bed lay against the north interior wall and a narrow walk-space separated us. The only other furniture in the room were two small dressers and a bare wooden chair at the foot of my bed. It was placed in the SE corner of the room. The room was a little colder than usual that night. I closed the door while Peter got into bed. Then, I got into bed and we both fell asleep.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Get Out!

Almost done! I'd spent the last six months re-doing my house. Before that, I'd hired a contractor to transform the concrete walled-dungeon downstairs into a beautiful, bright utility room that could be used as a fourth bedroom or family room. Then, I had repainted the entire house myself. My stairwell covering five levels was now a neutral two-tone beige. It was quite the radical change from the battlefield-red and white that I had personally enjoyed for more than ten years. Neighbours of mine had commented on my new kitchen cupboards when in fact, they were not new. I had refurbished them myself. I had received certificates of inspections and approvals from the Electrical Safety Authority of Ontario and the Gas Utility Company. I was stressed-out and exhausted. The only thing left for me to do before calling the Realtor was to get rid of my unwanted visitors.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Count Back from...99

Each time I watch an old episode of MASH on TV I just can't help thinking about Leigh Infirmary in Northern England back in the late forties and very early fifties. I remember clearly walking through the “plaster room” where patients were sitting on each side either getting a cast put on something , or removed from something. Particularly ominous were those giant stainless steel snippers used for removing old plaster casts from healed limbs. They looked a bit like a pair of oversized secretaires. Us kids called them nippers because they left a fresh red “nip” every inch and a half or so up your arm or leg. You could estimate how much longer before the medical assistant was going to be finished by counting them. Of course, this was long before the invention of the zippy bone-saw that used to cut through plaster casts like a hot knife through butter - without nips. Yes! In those days, the plaster room at the Infirmary was so busy it made MASH look like a Sunday school pic-nic on a lazy summer's day.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Hairpin Bend

I've known for a long time now that I am truly blessed. There's no other way to say it. Ever since my near drowning when I was ten (Ref: My Favourite Place) and my very serious car crash in 1969 (Ref: My Unknown Angel) I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that I am being guarded and protected by my Unknown Angel. I could not have made it this far without her. Twenty-seven smashed-up bones later and I'm still fully mobile and able to ride a Harley. This essay reinforces this declaration for the third time.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bug In My Bonnet

It was one of those rare, sleepy, quiet, warm Sunday mornings in East-end Ottawa in the summertime. I decided to finish my morning coffee sitting in a lawn chair in my garage with the door wide-open. It was early July and! I was admiring my Yamaha Virago 920 . She looked good. She was clean and her chrome sparkled in the sun. Then it hit me! “What on earth am I doing here?” ...Ten minutes later I was dressed for the road complete with leather jacket, leather gloves and my full-faced Bell Helmet. This was my favourite helmet because I had won it in a competition a year or so earlier.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ice Cream - You Scream

One of the nicest sights and sounds of life especially when you were a little kid were the familiar chimes of the ice-cream truck appearing in your neighbourhood on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Back in Atherton, that was the time when kids in our neighbourhood played rounders or tennis in the street while Mr. Manfredi's ice cream truck slowly navigated its way up Flapper Fold Lane to Car Bank Street.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Lisfranc Injury

It happens when you least expect it. You never see it coming. That's when most serious accidents occur. I've had more than my fair share of broken bones in my life; twenty-seven to be exact. This injury, however, which I call my snap, crackle and pop injury, resulted in three foot bones, called metatarsals, being not only broken, but dislocated as well. I wasn't doing anything risky, daring or sexy. I wasn't riding a super-fast sports bike on a race-track or anything. My accident was the result of sheer stupidity. All I did was fall down the stairs. Simple–eh? ...Just like I said – when you least expect it!

Friday, May 21, 2010


From "Hunt for Red October" starring Sean Connery, to "Run Silent, Run Deep" starring Clark Gable, I must have seen every Sub movie ever made including the all-time classic – Das Boot. I have been fascinated with submarines ever since I was a kid in short pants but at the same time, they terrify me. I think it was the late Sir Winston Churchill who said, "Of all the branches of the armed forces in wartime, the submarine service is the most dangerous." If I were asked if would I serve my country by becoming a sub-mariner, I'd have to say, "I don't know!" I made a trip to Birkenhead, to view the HMS Onyx. I wanted to see how I could answer that question.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Atherton Central Station

We couldn't afford a car in those days so whenever we went to the sea-side on our summer holidays, our first stop was the train station. The ticket office was at the entrance to the station located to the left side of the elevated walkway as shown on the photo. British Railway Stations all had the same peculiar odour. I'd say it was a blend of burning embers; super heated-coal; steam under pressure; axle-grease and industrial strength cleaners. You couldn't miss it. The most exciting part though was waiting for the train. You could hear it panting and puffing and bellowing large clouds of black smoke long before it came around the bend and into the station.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Oh Rats!

If you've been reading my stories you've probably formed an opinion of the kind of person I am. You have probably gotten to know my likes and dislikes. For example, you will know by now that my number one love, apart from my family of course, is motorcycles and anything else that goes on two wheels that you don't have to push or pedal. My number two love is ships, not boats. I'm not talking about the rinky-dink speedboats that buzz up the Ottawa river for ten minutes and then back down again when they need gas. I'm talking about real ships with names like the HMS Hood, Prince of Wales or Hermes. My extra-special favourites are the dreadnoughts of centuries past, you know, the 104 gun men-of- war, like Admiral Lord Nelson's Flagship, the HMS Victory, shown here. I've always carried with me a passion for the Navy even though I never served with the armed forces. In retrospect, I wish I had. That is why I made my way to Portsmouth on England's south shore to get a closer look at what they had. ...Boy, did I get a big surprise!

Friday, April 30, 2010

What A Glorious Sight

Each time I went home to England I never failed to visit my favourite place, Llandudno. Read my story “My Favourite Place” posted January 9, 2010 to find out why. One of my earlier trips was with my daughter Alison and her best friend Laura. I wanted to show them the City of Chester and the north coast of Wales. I planned to stop at the sea-side towns of Prestatyn, Rhyl, Colwyn Bay and Llandudno. North Wales is a special place for me. Visiting there, gives me the chance to re-live my holiday adventures from my childhood. But, ...I had a two disappointments on that trip, both of which evaporated into nothing when compared to what I saw on the very last day.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Mardi Gras - Dunedin Style

If you don't know the City of Dunedin, next door to Clearwater, Florida, get to know it! It's one of the most beautiful small towns in N. America. It is twinned with Sterling, Scotland, and you can see and feel the Scottish influence there. I had the distinct pleasure of spending three months there in 2005; an experience I shall repeat at my first opportunity. I took out memberships at the Library and at the City swimming pool and, frankly, I didn't want to leave. That's not to say my stay was all good. My short little holidays that I love to tell you about mix the good with the bad. That's what makes them so interesting.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Everglades

I was renting a friend's Condo in Dunedin, Florida. I was all alone except for my 2002 Mustang GT with a full tank of gas and I was just raring to go some place, any place. I looked at a roadmap for the State of Florida and I decided that I'd start heading south at 5:00 in the morning. I spent the rest of the night making my lunch and preparing an overnight bag.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Deja Vu

Friends of mine who were trying to get me to like winter challenged me to change my stubborn attitude and get with the program. “Try outdoor activities!” they said. So, I quickly scanned the full spectrum of winter sports in my, skiing, skating, curling ...and then back to skiing. I had seen skiers of all ages gliding gracefully down the mountains with joy in their hearts and smiles on their faces, so I informed my friends that I would try skiing.“It's easy!” they told me...and I believed them.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Red Carpet

Puerto Vallarta on Mexico's Pacific coast presented an unforeseen challenge for me, but fortunately, I had my holiday tools with me which always ensure a good time. They are; an open mind, a positive attitude, and most importantly, a good sense of humour. This trip was no exception.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Nylon Pool

I love to tell this story about my holiday on the beautiful tropical Island of Tobago lying only twenty-one miles NE of its big sister Island of Trinidad. Even though its just a small island, twenty-six miles long by nine miles wide, I have big and wonderful memories of Tobago. I was delighted to see that the island was more British than my home town of Atherton in the UK. Tobagonians drove on the LHS of the road; sent their kids to school in spotlessly clean and starched uniforms and served meat and potato pies which they had re-named “Rotis”. Having lots of sun and very little rain, it was England in reverse.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Test of Courage

It was the most frightening experience of my life. I don't think I've ever been as scared as I was during my initiation ceremony at Fletcher College in South-West Lancashire. Ironically, I could have opted out of the ordeal, but only at the risk of being sent to Coventry. That, would have meant punishment from hell so I chose the lesser of two evils. I chose to accept whatever challenges my senior prefect had in store for us, knowing full well, that I would have to just grin and bear it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Special Announcement

Come with me, and my son Brad, on our Motorcycle Trip 2009 where we travelled 10,058 Kilometers across the continent with just two bikes and two pup tents. It was the trip of a lifetime and we would like to share it with you. Click on John's Motorcycle Stories in the upper left hand corner of this page. Nine parts will be posted, one each Friday. Click the photos to enlarge them. Feel the energy, the thrills, the adventure and live the dream! If you'd rather not rough it on a motorcycle – take the luxurious train to Varadero (scroll to next story).

Train to Varadero

I awakened refreshed and raring to go! It was the first day of my holiday in Varadero, Cuba. Whenever I see a new place for the first time, I like to go exploring, so I went to the hotel reception desk to ask them, “ How do I get to down-town Varadero?” A very charming hostess, with the most beautiful smile I have ever seen, told me, in broken English, that I could either walk there in about half an hour, or wait outside the hotel for the bus. But, ...just as I was about to leave, she said with a mischievous grin on her face, and a wink in her eye ... “....o, usted puede tomar el tren, Señor ”

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Squire

The Squire lived an extravagant lifestyle in his stately mansion surrounded by his horses and stables and his large apple-tree orchard. Manicured rose-gardens were nestled between a maze of stone footpaths each with their own fish pond. The cobblestone driveway stretched for a hundred yards to the front gates. He hosted lavish garden parties and fox-hunts on church holidays for England's upper crust, by special invitation only. That's the way it used to be one hundred years ago. The Squire fell upon hard times. He lost his wealth through bad debts and obsessive gambling and had to declare bankruptcy. It was rumoured that he walked into his apple orchard with his cigar, a bottle of whiskey and his twelve-gauge shotgun - and blew his head off.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Cold Snap

February 1994 was indeed the coldest winter in Ottawa that I can remember. I am not referring to the amount of snow and ice we got that year. I'm talking about extreme cold where the mercury falls well below minus 30 degrees resulting from air sweeping down on us from the Arctic. There's no need to check with the weather office. Just listen when I tell you that I had to look down when I was trying to find the red mercury column on my thermometer nailed to the garden fence. I don't like cold. Cold to me is anything below the freezing point. I wanted to be born in the sub-tropics but something went wrong. Notwithstanding, here's what happened.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mr. Green

I can see why Harley Davidson riders pledge allegiance to the maxim “Live to Ride”. I got the same feeling after I began taking day trips around North-West England and Wales. It didn't take long for me to perfect my touring routine. I bought a khaki shoulder bag in which I would carry my cheese and tomato butties along with an apple or two, and a flask of piping hot coffee. I was glued to my Francis Barnett motorcycle day and night, rain or shine. My next challenge was to off-load those embarrassing learner plates - so I booked an appointment to take my full driver's test. I asked my friends whether or not I could pass it. They all assured me that I was ready and that I would pass it with flying colours – as long as I didn't get Mr. Green.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Master of the Clutch

I still get goose-bumps on the back of my neck each time I read this story. If you don't like motorcycles, don't let the title or the photo put you off. This story is as much about drive, determination, perseverance, trial and error, and striving hard to succeed – as it is about motorcycles. The joy of achieving something important to you stays with you for life - mine did!

Holy Eucharist was concluded by the choir walking to the back of the church that Easter morning. I had led the procession as the Head boy. I went outside fully dressed in my surplus and cassock rather than go straight back to the change room. There was no traffic excepting a lone Triumph Bonneville approaching from the west. The solitary rider waved as he went past me heading to who knows where. I was transfixed. I had to get myself a motorcycle come hell or high water. It was 1958.

Friday, February 5, 2010

My Million Dollars

I’m sure we’ve all thought about it and we all dream about it from time to time. Having one million dollars put in your hand suddenly and unexpectedly. It will never happen to me during my lifetime but its worth spending a dollar on the fantasy. I’ve been buying lottery tickets regularly for most of my adult life and the most I’ve ever won is ten bucks. But, what would I really do if I received a late-night telephone call from the Ontario Lottery Association informing me that I had won first prize? Most probably, I would start planning my selfish little adventures right away.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Magna Carta

I was eleven. I was a good student at St. Georges Junior Boys' School in Atherton. As part of our Arts assignment, Mr. Martin had given us a special task to do. He had provided us with an extract from the Magna Carta - first signed and issued by King John in 1215. Our task - was to copy it.

Each student was given a single sheet of very stiff parchment paper; a small bottle of thick black India ink and an old stick-pen with the crudest metal nib you ever saw. I think mine had been bent out of shape several times. Someone had made an earlier attempt to bend it back to its original shape but had failed miserably in the process. Mr. Martin gave us thirty minutes to do the job.

Friday, January 22, 2010

My Swimming

I got into the wrong line when they handed out sports-performance skills at birth. I tried team sports but I was never very good at them. I never got asked to be part of a team except in cases where a football or cricket team happened to be short one player. I just didn’t seem to have what it takes to keep up with the other guys even though I was reasonably fit. That’s why I’m not a sports enthusiast today. I don’t watch sports on TV.

Something happened when I was about twelve. I was at my local indoor swimming pool one quiet afternoon when the only other persons there, apart from myself, were four older “bullies” from my school. They decided to have some fun with me. They held me down on the floor while they tied my hands and feet together with rope and threw me into the deep end even though I'd told them repeatedly that I couldn’t swim. We didn’t have lifeguards in those days. Then, they stood by the pool to watch me cough and splutter and beg for help. But, I disappointed them. I didn't do that.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

My Favourite Place

I’m already beginning to feel warm and fuzzy. The floodgates of my mind are letting in boundless times and events and places covering the span of my lifetime all of which I’d love to revisit. The problem is, which one is my favourite place?

Most warm memories come from my early years in England. I came here, but my heart stayed there. I feel displaced at times. My half-century of life here in Canada feels like a passing moment while my English youth makes up for the rest of it. I can’t feel warm in Canada. It’s sheer vastness along with its mountains, prairies and Arctic wonders somehow preclude me from embracing any single spot as my favourite place.

I’ve travelled a lot. I’ve walked through the rain forests on the Island of Tobago; ridden on horseback in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico, and touched a rainbow in Northern British Columbia. I’ve seen a mountainside quiver when countless millions of tiny crabs scurried instantly when I touched its base with my finger. Even though these places are awesome in their own way, I need something “extra special” for me to say it’s my favourite place.

King of the Castle

It wasn't me! It was my daughter Alison that drew the winning ticket in the Christmas draw. One week's all expenses paid trip for two in Cayo-Coco, Cuba. I was so happy for her. The only condition was that she had to take that trip before March 31st of the following year. Her boyfriend Lee was preparing for examinations at university and was not able to go. Her best friend, Laura, had just switched jobs and couldn't get the time off. I was third. My bags were already packed.

What a fantastic vacation we had! We explored the rugged northern coast of Cuba on a motor-scooter; chatted with local workers at a lumber camp; went deep-sea fishing in the deep blue Caribbean sea; and cooked our catch on a small but beautiful island in the middle of paradise.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Music

Some people would tell you that I don’t like music because I complain a lot when someone leaves a radio on all day long. I’m just not into listening to the jingle of the day, everyday. That is not my taste. Music, for me, is a trigger that pinpoints and unleashes the power of my mind. My appreciation of it, knows no restrictions.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

My Santa Claus Letter

I am writing to ask you to make my Christmas wish come true, Santa Clause.

I want you to bring me a clock and leave it in my Christmas stocking, that’s all.

I don’t want just any old clock. I don’t want a digital clock; I want one with great big hands. I don’t want an electronic clock or one that runs on batteries; I want to wind it up using a special key. I don’t want it to beep, buzz, jingle or chime; I want to hear it go “tick-tock”. It doesn’t even need to light-up in the dark. I want a magic clock, you see. One that can take me back to any Christmastime I set it for.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

My Tribute to Clarice

It's late mam! It's far too late! I should have written this thank-you note forty years ago before you passed on to a much better place. Fortunately, I do believe in the maxim, “Better Late than Never”. More importantly, I also believe that you will sense this; hear this; feel this; see this, and perhaps even touch this note of thanks from me - to you.

I know now, how much you did for me. I know now, how much you sacrificed for me and I know now how much you loved and protected me - but I didn't know it at the time.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Unknown Angel

It was such a great feeling; yet, I had no “feeling” at all. It was more of a spectacular vision, the likes of which I’d never seen before. I did a lot more than just see it – I experienced it – I was inside it – I was a part of it - and it, was part of me. It was wonderfully awesome. It was dead quiet.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Humour Is Everywhere
(You Just Have to Find It)

I was waiting for an extra-ordinary good mood to come over me before writing this essay, but, alas, that didn’t happen.

Unfortunately, its something you just can’t force upon yourself. As consequence, this is one of those times where you just have to start writing and see what pops-up in the process. The title of this essay is highly appropriate. I do believe that humour is everywhere, all around us, but we are so consumed with the mundane tasks of daily living that we forget to go looking for it. At least, I do.

Monday, April 23, 2007

My Proudest Moment

It was not a happy time in my life. I was going through the aftermath of my divorce and I didn't know what life had in store for me just around the corner. The fog hadn't lifted yet. I did know, however, that I had to put my worries aside when spending time with my children. It was critical that we have some fun together. In view of the circumstances - this didn't come easy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

My Stories

Story telling is a passion of mine. I am the person sitting around the camp fire telling ghost stories to the kids; tales of action and adventure to young adults, or, of love and romance to the fully grown set. I seldom have a ready-made story to offer. I am more likely to ask my listeners what kind of story they would like to hear, and then simply make one up as I go along. Stories about ghosts and scary monsters are my personal favourites but I can easily create thrills and suspense surrounding any subject while spinning my yarns late into the night. My reward is the sheer satisfaction of seeing excitement and anticipation in my listeners' eyes, especially, after bringing my story to a tumultuous conclusion.

Friday, February 17, 2006

My Finest Decade

The air-raid siren perched atop the fire station was wailing again announcing the imminent arrival of German bombers making yet another attempt to wipe out the Liverpool-Manchester railroad lines. They weren't very good at hitting their target. During their last raid, two more houses on our street had been demolished and several more damaged. A few windows in my house had been blown out and our walls were cracked. My mother needed assistance to get down to the shelter because she was nine months pregnant. As more bombs dropped and searchlights and flashes of anti-aircraft fire lit up the night sky - I made my entrance into the world – delivered by a fireman.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

An Act of Character

Some years ago, I observed an act of character that touched me very deeply. I shall never forget it. It was simply a public declaration of love.

I was attending a science convention in Montreal. The chairman, and host, was a friend of mine. In August, the city of Montreal was at it’s best. It was alive with residents and tourists alike celebrating the joys of summer and the events and festivities that go along with it. The conference had been well attended. The grand finale was the annual banquet scheduled for the evening of second last day. That was an occasion not to be missed. It turned out to be the one banquet in my life that I remember with absolute clarity. No-one expected what took place that evening - not even me.