January 1st 2020

All went well with our New Years eve dinner party – lamb tagine with couscous, roasted bok choy in ginger soy and a nice caramel like pudding with middle eastern flavours.

Our friends discussed the coming decade – Boris, The Donald, Trudeau and the general state of the world – as well as good places to eat here in Edmonton. There are lots of good places now, not like when we moved here in 1986. It is a real restaurant renaissance and it is good to see. Beira was our discovery in 2019.

Lazy day today as we start to gear up for re-entering the world of work.

January 3rd

If one can have a literary hero – someone whom one admires and sees as a legend – then my choice would be Alan Bennett. In part this is because he is a fellow Yorkshireman (I am from Bradford and Alan is from Leeds), but more it is about the fact that he found an authentic and clear literary voice early in his life and has developed and matured that voice, so that now it is clear and focused.

Each January for the last many years, Alan publishes a diary in the London Review of Books (listen to Alan read it or read it yourself here). Droll, full of the dry humour I love from the North and insightful.

His plays are an inspiration. Whether we look at the Madness of King George, Kafka’s Dick, Allelujah!, A Question of Attribution, The Habit of Art, The Lady in the Van, or The History Boys, we are talking about a major British playwright here. As he would say, not Shakespeare, but close to a Breakspear.

Alan has also written marvelous biographies, all of which I have. He came close to dying from cancer and in 2019 had open heart surgery and suffers now from arthritis. But he is still with us and still making me smile. His large volume – Untold Stories, published in 2005 – provides in depth insights into his character, approach to writing and a strong account of his upbringing. Many aspects of his childhood and early life parallel mine.

Alan and I met in Harrogate in 2002. He was doing a reading from his work for a charity event which I had something to do with. We had dinner at a wonderful Harrogate hotel (The Crown) in which he had filmed (many years earlier) a brilliant piece in which he speculated why some of the people who took lunch and afternoon tea were there. This was also the hotel that Agatha Christie retreated to during her disappearance.

One his achievements is a series of seven one person monologue pieces with some acting which he wrote for television – Talking Heads. With great actors like Thora Hurd and Patricia Routledge, it was a smash success and also an excellent series of short stage pieces.

In person Alan is exactly the same as he is in any TV or radio interview – what you see is what you get. He is blunt and focused. For example, he writes extensively in Untold Stories about turning down both a CBE and a Knighthood. On the CBE he turned it down because the Prime Minister was Margaret Thatcher and he “didn’t want anything from that woman’s handbag”!.

Now 85 and getting less agile, he his still writing and still thinking and seeing. Let’s hope there is at least one more great stage piece to come.

January 6th

Today would have been my mothers 93rd birthday. She is no longer with us in person, but will never leave me in spirit.

She was an inspiration – a creative, smart women who never once got in my way if I was engaged in learning, creating, inspiring. The only time she was angry with me was when I was wasting time, doing nothing when I could have been reading, listening to music, playing the violin or not engaging in meaningful conversation or doing something that created laughter or connections with others.

She was not politically active in the sense of being a member of the Labour Party as I was growing up, but she was acutely aware of politics and social events. On the day Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, she came home from work (the public library in Bradford) crying and shared what she felt this event meant for us all – a loss of hope, of imagination in government, of social change.

She had her challenges. Mother suffered from mental illness for many years and was, on a cycle, hospitalized and subject to treatment which we referred to as “the shocks”. She would get depressed, disoriented, angry (but never violent) and did not respond to the (rather pathetic) drugs the doctor prescribed. Her eventual cure was education and achievement – she fulfilled her life-time ambition of securing a degree and a teacher qualification, taught as a supply teacher and rarely had but a moment of mental health challenges again.

She was also funny. She loved to laugh and, like her mother, had a wry sense of humour.

She died, as she wanted, in her own home of a massive heart attach. My brother found her when he visited and her life was over all too soon. She leaves my brother, sister and I with wonderful memories and many aspects of our character. All three of us miss her. All three of us cherish her memory.

January 7th

I dont know why, but we always watch the Golden Globes and The Oscar ceremonies. It is certainly not because I want to hear a bunch of rich people lecture me on climate change, Donad Trump or Borish Johnson – I can lecture myself. But it is more becuase I want to discover movies or TV that may be worth watching.

For example, until last night at the Golden Globes I had not heard of Dolomite is My Name with Eddie Murphy or Bombshell with Charlize Theron. But I will find them and watch.

I have already watched Judy (excellent), Knives Out (fun), The Irishman (good, long and in need of an edit), The Two Popes (really excellent work), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (fell asleep), Booksmart (yawned and gave up half way), JoJo Rabbit (hilarious). I am still waiting to see The Joker, Marriage Story, Parasite, The Farewell, Little Women and 1917 – the latter especially.

James Martin (the chef whom I admire and follow on Twitter) reports that The Gentleman with Hugh Grant is also a “must watch” fun gangster movie.

One problem with the host of these events is that they get in the way – Ricky Gervais was essentially obnoxious, but we all know (and really hope) that this was the last (and 5th) time he was doing this. He wasn’t wrong about some of the things he said, though I suspect the next time he’s on Graham Norton’s couch sitting next to Dame Judy Dench she’ll punch his lights out! The speeches are also always disappointing. Phoebe Waller-Bridge (picture above), who won 2 awards, was smart and there were one or two focused pieces, but by and large a mess. Brad Pitt was funny – he wanted to bring his mother, but he is reported to be dating anyone he stands next to and thought a picture of him stood next to his mum could be “awkward!”. Olivia Coleman was on her way to being pissed (again).

But I will watch next year. And probably the year after…you never know…

January 13th

Let’s take a walk around the world and see what is happening..

Iran admits it shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet with fifty seven Canadian’s onboard, including many from Edmonton. Tragedy, made worse by the fact that the Iranian’s were acting following the murderous action of an out of control President of the United States. The victims are victims of a phony war between the US and Iran – they were innocent. All in this city will take quite a while to grieve.

Also grief world-wide over the continuing fires across Australia, with now well over three quarters of a billion animals dead as well as at least twenty-eight humans. With many friends in Australia, the suffering of all on a daily basis (especially those with breathing related illnesses like asthma) is unbearable. All made worse by a governments whose attitude to climate change is beyond stupid. The price of big coal buying a government is death, destruction and dismay. Australia is now a totally different place from the place I visited in May 2019 and passed through briefly in December.

Meantime, Megan Markle is starring in a soap opera. It’s a cross between Days of Our Lives, All My Children and East Enders. Some say that Megan wants out of her royal duties so that she can play herself on The Crown. Others than she is following in the fine footsteps of Princess Margaret and Diana. While yet others think she is the new Wallace Simpson or Yoko Ono, breaking up the truly hypnotic dynamism of the Windsor’s (not). The reality is that Harry, Megan and Archie are getting out before they become growingly irrelevant and trying to do something really useful with their lives. Some hope they will live in Canada for part of the year (Tim Horton’s have already offered free coffee for life, which would push me to live in LA – worst coffee you can actually buy) while others have suggested that Harry and Megan are eying up property in LA.  Charles has already made clear he wants a slimmed down royal family if Elizabeth ever passes away (she is 93) and William, George are already lined up for succession. Harry and Megan have no real place in this pantomime.

Speaking of pantomime (we enjoyed Cinderella in Edmonton), we are getting near some actual voting in the US primaries. Jo Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Peter Buttigieg (with a growing interest in Tom Steyer) will soon experience reality in the Iowa caucuses. Voting is on February 3rd and I am as excited as a rabbit in a stew.

Vladimir Trumpkin continues to show signs of dementia, aided by Moscow’s Mitch McConnell. As we approach the new Washington pantomime, not starring John Bolton or Mick Mulvaney, Mitch is preparing to play Ugly Sister. Ivanka is not cast in any part other than fly-by-night wannabe someone important but can’t quite make it. Her husband, Jared Cushionmaker, who is responsible for the US’s middle-east peace strategy (seems to be going well, don’t we all think?) is off on a new project designing handbags for the Oscar celebrations (he might as well be). The villain is being played by Nancy Pelosi.

As we come to the end of the pantomime season over here, Brexit is happening over there. Borish Johnson has got his Brexit Bill through the commons and it is now in the Lords, who will no doubt mess with it, send it back to the commons who will simply ignore the Lords and the deal will be done. Britain will be out of the EU by the end of the month and then all the bullshit will start all over again focused on the trade deal. Meantime, almost going unnoticed, Northern Ireland’s assembly (Stormont) is back in business after a three year hiatus. Sinn Fein and the DUP finally agreed to settle their differences and start working together again. Thank goodness.

The Golden Globes came and went and largely went by without too much fuss. Ricky Gervais was obnoxious but right, Joaquin Phoenix (outstanding in The Joker) was rambling but right, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge was right and nice while Olivia Coleman was on her way back to the bar. All in all a pointless, but fun night – more panto with better costumes.

January 14th

Let’s take a walk around the world and see what is happening..

The Queen (93), Prince Charles (71), Prince William (37), Prince Harry (35), Megan Markel (38), six corgis (7,9,11,and 12) and various onlookers and courtesans agreed that Harry and Meg’s can live in Canada for part of the year and begin to transition to become tax payers in both countries, which will be welcome as both the UK and Canada need to have more revenue to pay down growing debts. Megan will be looking to buy property and is keeping an eye on real estate in Toronto, Vancouver, Vancouver Island and Muskoka. Tim Horton’s is offering free coffee for life and Prime Minister Just-in-time Trudeau is offering to pay for their security. What can go wrong? A lot said Prince Phillip (98), who is known to angry at these developments – so angry in fact that he is thinking of taking up driving again. Phillip has offered to drive the couple to Heathrow.

The impeachment trial of President Trump is getting nearer the start-up gate, as Nancy Pelosi (80) is about to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Moscow Mitch McConnell (78) has promised the Donald, his Lord and Master, that all will be well and that he will not be impeached. Donald wants the whole thing done with and is suggesting that the Senate simply dismiss the case as having no evidential base. The President faces two charges – abuse of office and obstruction of justice. Apparently, it is not an offence to lie on a daily basis, belittle veterans or be a dangerous idiot.

McConnell is an interesting character. He has been an elected official since 1977, following his discharge from the army reserve as being unfit to serve for medical reasons (poor vision). Many think this is a good description of his time as Senator for Kentucky – he is unfit for service and has poor vision – and he faces a real challenge in the election in November from within the GOP. Kentucky ranks 44th in the US for healthcare, 38th for education and 39th for economic growth (45th for fiscal stability). It hasn’t changed much since Moscow Mitch became a Senator.

In Alberta, teachers and unions expressed disappointment and anger (but not surprise) at a wage arbitration which gave them zero wage increases for the next two years. This means that teachers, over a ten-year period, have received no wage increases for nine years and in just one year (2015) secured a 2% rise. In this same period inflation in Alberta has been around 12%. Simple math: the buying power of a teachers take home pay has fallen significantly. Meanwhile, oil and gas workers who have been able to retain their jobs (and we all recognize many have not, as companies seek to reduce labour costs and invest in technology or exit Alberta), have been able to stay 9% ahead of the cost of living. Teachers matter. They change lives every day. We need them to support and develop one of the best educational systems in the world.

The Oscar nominations are out and already there are complaints about the lack of diversity – no women directors, too few black actors, not enough LGTBQ2+. I also noticed a real absence of Welsh language films, not enough tap dancing and a total absence of films about toilets. Really. The Oscars used to be about the recognition of quality, irrespective of gender, colour, religion or sexual orientation. We will soon have a conversation about quotas. What those complaining need to recognize is that the decision for the Oscars (unlike the Golden Globes) is a peer review process. If you want to change, then the very people you all work with need to change. There are some excellent films around this year, 1917 is one of them. Little Women as a film is a bit of a mess, despite some quality performances.

Prime Minister Trudeau has grown a beard. It’s a multi-colour experience, with hints of grey, black, brown and beaver. It’s a sign of him trying to be serious. For many, especially the Wexiteers (Western Canadian’s seeking to separate from Canada – I know, even I can’t believe this is a thing, but they are a registered Federal (no irony) political party), it makes no difference. For these people, he still talks nonsense. In fact, the beard makes it more difficult for the Wexiteers to take him seriously. Nonetheless, he was statesman like and showed real leadership this week in his measured response to the downing of the aircraft which killed so many innocent people, many from Edmonton.

January 18th

Let’s take a walk around the world and see what is happening…

It has been very cold in Edmonton, with some days at -50c. We don’t stop doing things – we have the underwear – but no one needs this kind of cold. A seven-day spell of this is enough. Meantime, in Nannup Australia, a small town in Western Australia some 175 km south of Perth, forty Emu’s have taken over the town. Wish they were here – it would be a sign that things are warming up.

In Russia there has been an unusual coup. This time led by the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin (67). He is basically working to stay in full control of government after his fixed and last term as President ends in 2024 (he has basically been in control since 2000). He wants to be Big Boss for Life and has already been in power for more years than Stalin. He is reengineering government to permit this. The government of Russia resigned en masse this last week, which is a rare event in any country, so as to make way for the reforms he wants to implement. Let’s hope Trump is not paying attention. The President of China is now there for life – we don’t want this trend to catch on.

Speaking of regime change, the British Labour Party (remember them?) is in the midst of a leadership election. Five candidates are vying for the top job – Lisa Nandy, Rebecca Long Bailey (currently running second in the polls, but only just), Sir Keir Starmer (the bankers choice and leading in the polls) and a lawyer (former Director of Public Prosecution for England)), Jess Phillips and Emily Thornbury. The final voting is on February 21st. The issue is whether or not the new leader will champion the same policies as Jeremy Corbyn or whether we will see a new version of the Labour Party. Long-Bailey is a Corbynista (and a solicitor and a Catholic) and Starmer isn’t – he’s a kind of new Blair-like character.  I joined the party in 1965 – the current version is not the party I was a member of. I left in the 1970’s to join Plaid Cymru as a political advisor – much more fun.

Staying in Britain, Megxit (the tabloid’s press term for Harry and Megan’s exit from the royal family duties) continues to preoccupy a lot of pages in the gutter press. Megan may face her father in court in a law suit she brought over the publication of a private letter from her to her dad. Looks like her dad sold it to the media. Oh dear. Megan is in Victoria, Canada with Archie and Harry is still negotiating their departure in London. Rumours abound. My favourite is that the Meg-Harry Duo will become King and Queen of Canada – just what we need! A close second is the rumour that British potato geneticists are working on developing the Sussex Royal potato – rivaling Jersey Royals. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have spent just six hours in the county of Sussex. They also will not be moving to Sussex, New Brunswick.

Brexit is days away. The big debate – should Big Ben ring out its big bongs to indicate that the deal is done. It will cost quite a lot of money (£500,000) and will be heard by very few – just the thing Brexit was intended to stop.

All new version of The Apprentice – The Impeachment Boondoggle starts on Tuesday in Washington. A new cast with the same focus: Donald Trump. We can expect wall-to-wall coverage of this, despite the fact that it will be as dull as ditchwater and as exciting as a bucket of rhubarb peelings. One phrase which we will not hear in this edition is “you’re fired!”. I am thinking of taking up knitting.

January 24th

Let’s take a walk around the world and see what is happening…

The year of the rat begins tomorrow (I know some of you think it was November 2016 when Donald Trump was elected President of the USA), but significant cities in China are locked down because of the outbreak of the coronavirus which has already killed twenty-six people, with many more under treatment. The virus cannot be caught from drinking six bottles of Corona, but can be passed from one human to another. It is a variant of the SARS virus, which we Canadians happen to know a lot about. Let’s hope it doesn’t become a world-wide scare, as SARS did.

Next week is Brexit Bye-Bye week. The legislation has completed its passage through parliament and received royal assent. It has also been signed by the EU President. While Big Ben will not ring out the event on 31st January, people across Britain will celebrate (or not) in their own way – some will cook kippers, others will have Black Pudding Festivals and no doubt some will roll a cheese down a hill and chase after it.

Staying in Britain, a team of researchers based in Leeds has been able to reconstruct the voice box of an ancient mummified Egyptian priest and reproduce the voice he would have used. His first words spoken after 3,000 years of silence were “you can’t be serious! Brexit! WTF!!” – well that’s what we think he said: he spoke in hieroglyphs.

The Director General of the BBC, Lord Hall of Birkenhead, is stepping down early so he can compete in Strictly Come Dancing. Despite strong public support, I will not be offering my services. But I nominate Dr. Sir Lenny Henry – the comedian, philanthropist, Open University graduate, documentary maker and actor – to take over and bring back fun and joy and get rid of the political correctness and “wokeness” which now permeates the BBC.

Meghan and Harry are back together with Archie and, according to reports, are looking at a property in Kitsilano on the waterfront in Vancouver. Good luck to them. Reports that Harry is training to be a Barista at Delany’s on Denman Street have been denied by official sources, though Meghan is back with her voice coach. They are having significant legal problems over their attempts to trade mark and protect the Sussex Royal brand and may in fact have to rebrand – perhaps MegHarry or No-One-Really-Cares-But-Here-It-Is or Just Royal Stuff may work, who knows.

The Apprentice (Senate Version) is underway in Washington and, as predicted, is about as exciting as pouring second hand gravy into a sink filled with bacon-bits. Trump’s thumbs are receiving treatment as he tweets up a storm, but meanwhile Ivanka is looking serene having spent a few days at Davos wasting everyone’s time talking nonsense – a skill she learnt from her father. At Davos, Trump rubbished climate change and, as he is a stable genius (according to him), no one took his ideas seriously. As it becomes clear that the US is rapidly becoming a third world country with more poor people now than China and a rapidly expanding divide between rich and poor, Trump’s “economic miracle” would not get past the Vatican Miracle Commission.

In the Vatican, there has been a fuss over a book published by Cardinal Robert Saraha (74) – who is amongst those who could succeed Francis – which he claims was co-authored by Pope Benedict XVI. The book champions priestly celibacy and appears at a time when Pope Francis (so many Popes..) is considering permitting priests to marry in regions with dramatic shortages of clergy. Benedict’s private secretary has said that, while the Pope Emeritus did contribute to the book, he is not the co-editor of the collection of papers it contains. Fuss, scandal and intrigue. It’s all about positioning. Cardinal Sarah is Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (a.k.a Catholic Thought Police) and a very conservative voice amongst the College of Cardinals. He is a member of Dignitatis Humanae – the right wing of the Church.

This week Pope Francis – who only has one lung (one was surgically removed when he was a teenager) – met Vice President Mike Pence. Pence was raised Catholic but switched to being an Evangelical Protestant when he calculated there were more votes to be had with this label. Pope Francis gave Pence a copy of his encyclical Laudato Si, which demands that the world deal with climate change. The irony was lost on Pence, but not on the rest of us.

In Canada, Prime Minister and Beard Grower Justintime Trudeau bought Doughnuts in Winnipeg. He got s**t for it. He bought “luxury” doughnuts from “Oh” Doughnuts ($47/ dozen) rather than shitty doughnuts from Tim Hortons ($10/ dozen) which taste like cardboard and are a perfect match to the coloured water they sell as coffee. He bought from a local Canadian company. While Tim Horton’s has its HQ in Toronto, it is actually owned by a Brazilian investment company (hedge fund) and is part of the Burger King empire who are a pretty poor employer, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.  The parent company did not help franchise holders offset minimum wage increases, which help stimulate the Canadian economy and take employees out of poverty. Well done Prime Minister – support good Canadian owned companies and don’t eat poor quality food.