Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Black and white photographs, there's a certainty to them that freezes me.  Even in those famous ones where a moment of pain, doubt or confusion is captured, accidently nailed down for all of us who follow, the faces seem to know more than I do.

Maybe colour is too messy.  My first day at the shop*, I crashed my bike on the way there.  Tore up my knee pretty badly.  I spent my first hours as a small business owner with blood dripping on my boot, eventually I had to turn my sock inside out because it had become crusty with dried blood.  The colour of it was vivid, shocking, I would look down and not know what to do, not believing it was real.  I can picture the same wound on a solider from the Second World War, published in some high school text, grainy and grey.  He might be grimacing or making light of it, the fear of his situation might be clear in his eyes but those old photos never seem to show people unsure of their reality.

I wake at night and wonder what the hell I've gotten myself into and don't fall back asleep.  I work 10 and 12 hours a day but none of it seems real.  Any yet I'm not petrified, not like I thought I'd be.

My daughter now remembers me even though we only have an hour or so together before she goes to bed at night.  She can't possibly see how confused I am; she seems to know that everything will be alright.  Could it be that I'm so old to her that she sees me in black and white, all the mess and existential angst leached away?  Am I just surface and certainty to her the way old faces in monochrome are to me?  Perhaps.

But then it doesn't really matter does it?  Despite everything I will still tickle her feet until she screams with toddler laughter.  I will still crumble when she puts her head down next to mine and clutches me tight.  I will lock my uncertainty of everything inside my skull.  In technicolour, in greyscale, in hand-bloody-tinted daguerreotype even if that's what it takes:  I will be as real as she needs me to be.

*We've purchased a bike store in a small town in Australia.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Us and Them

I bear witness.  It's not my job, I'm there to fix bicycles, and it's not my choice.  Somehow the community has decided that that's my role.  I'm comfortable with this, I've played the interested outsider often enough in the past.

They tell me the details, mundane and fantastic.  Non-sequiturs abound and stream of consciousness rants are less art and more necessity.  They go out of their way to keep me informed.  He came back a week later to tell me his bike was still fine and that "It was all lies and bull-shit." His girlfriend, then only 3 days into their relationship, hadn't slept with anyone else.

He laid out one of the rules: advice isn't wanted.  On first hearing that "I haven't slept since Monday, if this keeps on I'm going to go back to my bad old ways and end up dead or in jail."  I suggested that a 3 day relationship wasn't worth this kind of angst.  His silence as I said this was exactly the same as the one when the 3 Harley's roared by, proudly mufflerless and deafening.  He politely waited till the noise stopped and continued on with his thought.

Questions are ok, sometimes.  When I asked another client, as I tried for the fifth time to make incompatible parts play nice together, if panhandling was hard work he laughed. It was the only sincere laugh I heard that day, and said "I'm totally lazy, I just sit there."

"Yah, sure." I said, "But don't you get lots of abuse."

"Well, I sit with my head down like this."

He hunched over and put his hands up over his face, covering his eyes.  I've seen people begging like this before, perhaps even him.  Huddled in a posture of abject misery, feigned or real, it always seemed like a silent plea.  But it also is an insulation, a defense.  If you can't see the person verbally treating you like you're sub-human you can pretend their not there.  If they can't see you react, you win.  A paltry victory perhaps, but the only one that that situation affords.

So I'm learning.  I'm learning what the people who have the least in our society do to get by.  I'm also learning how they treat each other.  Anger is common.  No surprise.  But so is affection, sometimes fierce, sometimes tender.  I never noticed this before because it's mostly quiet, unlike the anger which can often be heard blocks away.  Really, it shouldn't surprise, the only people these folks really have is each other.

I'm learning.  Generosity is as common here as it is anywhere.  On my first day they we're serving pastries donated by a local bakery.  They looked fantastic.  A guy who'd been watching me work suggested that I should snag one.  I demurred, saying that I'd wait till the end.  He looked up at me smiled without guile or irony and said "You know, it's ok to have a home." I was so taken aback by his kindness that I'm not sure if I thanked him.  I did have a slice of cake though.  It was fantastic.

My second day I was outside.  Everyone was lining up for food bank handouts.  At the end of the day I found a packet of apple chips in my helmet, deposited when I wasn't watching.  They could have just as easily made off with my lid and gloves.

I'm learning.  These people are often damaged: drugs, injury, genetics, you name it.  They're rough around the edges and sometime right through the middle.  Their humour isn't subtle or sophisticated.  Their anger in barely restrained and often self directed.  And yet...and yet they still can laugh.  They still forgive.  They still love.  They look on their children with wonder and joy.  They rally around the ones who are hurting the most and search for those gone missing.

I'm learning the most important secret of all.

Come closer and I'll whisper it to you, don't be afraid, it won't be a surprise:

They aren't really "they" at all.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The State O'Things

Well, thanks to Fritz I've got a lot more traffic here than I usually do.  Thank you sir, you're a gentleman and a scholar.  I don't feel like I'm back as such, but I certainly haven't been posting for the last little while.  Being a new father will do that. Mind you, I've never been particularly consistent about posting.

I'm a little at sea about what to do about this blog.  It started as a motivational tool to keep me practicing guitar and soon developed into an exploration of just why I spent so much time playing music when I never got paid, recorded or even played more than two gigs a year.  I found an answer to that question and my motivation to write ebbed, as did my desire to play.

I can't really call myself a musician anymore.  The band has folded and even if it hadn't I'm on the other side of the world.  I don't practice as such, my only playing is strumming for my daughter, singing her #1 favourite: "Yummy Yellow Strap".  Our routine is for me to play some simple changes she can shriek along with.  Then I tune the guitar to a chord and she has a bash until the yellow strap on the guitar become more interesting, and tasty apparently, than the music.  I then sing a couple of rounds of  YYS and we move onto something equally fascinating, like chewing on junkmail or bashing empty boxes.

So what do I write about?  I'm reluctant to become a daddy blog although that's a subject I have very strong feelings about.  I'm not likely to become a cycling blog although that's a passion of mine for the last 20 years.  I've never really felt the need to be exclusive in content, to the detriment of my hit count.  I guess I'll just carry on as I have been, writing about the things that move me and things that I need to figure out.

In honour of Fritz's kind link here's the state of my cycling life.

I mentioned my dilemma about what I'm going to do for work in this dry, dry land.  Since I wrote that post we went to the Victorian government department of small business.  They were very encouraging about starting a cycling business.  I got a bunch of handouts and have started reading them with an eye to compiling a list of questions for a professional to answer about owning and operating a small business. It's been pretty straightforward so far.

I'm uncharacteristically optimistic about this endeavour.  During the day I'd have to describe my mood about it as positively cheery.  At 3 in the morning whilst cradling a screaming Em, pacing the hall in a soothing march my doubts gnaw away, digesting all that yummy positivism.   "What if I can't get financing?"  "What if I get financing and can't make a go of it?"  "Will I have to flee back to Canada or will I end up in debtor's prison?"  "Will getting the LUC to smuggle me dope and cigarettes keep me from becoming some hairless felon's special friend?" "Will I ever get a decent night's sleep?" and so on.

I've also been wondering if my optimism is coming from somewhere else.  You see, the light here is different.  It's somehow cleaner, purer, like it's fallen straight from heaven unsullied by common air.  I'm not the only one to notice this; I first read about it in Bill Bryson's book "In a Sunburnt Country."  Mind you I didn't give it much credence, Bryson's book is as much a love letter to Australia as it is a travelogue, and those in love aren't the best of witnesses.  Is this light illuminating things as really are, a celestial arc-lamp of truth?  Can it be as easy as making the decision and putting in the work?  Or am I being fooled, being sun-addled into risking money that I don't have, risking my daughter's future?

Ah well, self-doubt is a comforter I've had since my bike had 3 wheels and no brakes.  Nevermind that it's ragged, faded and in bad need of washing.  It's mine, and I won't be parted from it without throwing myself down and screaming until I turn blue.

As to actual cycling, I haven't done much since last September.  Let's not talk about how large my waist has become.  We brought our Brompton folders but the nearest town is 20k away, not too far to ride but too far to tote a 7 month old baby to.  Everytime we go to Melbourne if find myself oggling the cyclists passing by to the point were I feel just a little dirty about it.  I've taken to wearing sunglasses all the time and hoping that people assume I'm perving on all the pretty young things walking around.  Speaking of which, unless something has changed drastically at home the girls here wear a lot less clothes than I'm used to.  I'm terrified of Emlyn's teenage years, terrified.

Now, just in case I actually go through with this mad idea to start my own store I have some questions for you my gentle readers.

What was the worst experience you've had at a local bike store and what's the best?

I have my own ideas about what cycling retailers do right and wrong but a sample of one is pretty paltry.


Saturday, March 15, 2008


Coming from Canada to Auz isn't the transition it might be from other parts of the world. We're both big nations with lots of nearly uninhabitable land. We're both ex-British colonies with all the Queen still on the money and our beers are better than the American's. I've found it different enough here to be interesting and the same enough to be comfortable, a rather pleasant situation indeed.

I'm at a point in my life were I have to make some decisions. I spent the last 20 or so years managing a used book store. It was a dead end job but I was good at it and I enjoyed it a lot of the time. But when I told my boss that I was going to take a year off with the LUC to be there in the first year of little Em's life it was obvious he was glad I was going. And that as they say, was that.

I spent that summer being the full-time mechanic for the Edmonton Bike Commuters helping people fix their bikes. It was great. I loved working with my hands and teaching people, empowering them even. It was immensely satisfying. I would be happy doing that for at least a few years but of course moving to Australia is going to make that impossible. Besides, the LUC's earning potential as an engineer is much greater than mine so it looks like I'm going to be playing Mr. Mum for the next few years. I'm more ok with that now that I've met our daughter than I was previously. I've called myself a feminist in the past and agreed that raising a child is a job of equal or greater worth as any other. Now it's time to put up or shut up.

I have a notion for fixing up old bikes between nappy changes and selling them to make a little cash. I took the repair course from Barnett's Bicycle Institute last fall so I'm pretty confident about my repair skills. I've also got some ideas that would make these bikes more enticing to people than old bikes usually are. We'll have to see. It'll be a while before Em's independent enough to allow me much time to work.

The LUC and I have talked about setting up an alternative transport consulting business. She's a transportation engineer specializing in bikes, peds and whatnot. As much as I enjoyed teaching I'm not sure I bring enough to that party to be useful.

We've also talked about opening a bike store. One that specializes in commuter and lifestyle cycling. Really, it's the obvious thing to do with my experience in retail. I'm hot and cold on this idea. Small retail is a stressful way to earn a living and I've never met a bike store owner that I'd call happy. Mind you, I've only met them in their store with me in the role of customer, not exactly a situation that promotes easy confidences.

We return to Canada in June either to pick up where we left off or to pack up and move to Auz. It's looking 95% likely that we'll move. I'm really hoping to see my future clearly before then. Right now it's all a jumbled blur, the possibilities overlap and shift and I'm not at my best with these sorts of choices. I suffer from the delusion that there's a right choice, and only one right choice. All the others are traps loaded with poisonous spiders and rabid dingos. Much as I'd like to just close my eyes and leap I'm going to agonize and fret until fatigued and dehydrated I fall into the next phase of my working life.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Wedding II: The Sequel. "This Time it's Personal"

In a bid to show that it's not all angsty soul-searching 'round these parts I'm going to point out that not only am I getting married again today, but I'm hours from a second wedding night too.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


She has my father's eyes.

She's only 6 months old so there's still the possibility that they'll change to a shade of green like mine or her mother's.

Until now the only things that I've had to remind me of my father are his watch and a profound distrust of alcohol. Now every time I look into my daughter's eyes I see him. I see him and I'm reminded of the time he stood in the door of my bedroom and stated that I didn't love him. What could I, all of 9 years old, say to that? I'm reminded of how I dreaded weekends and holidays. I'm reminded of all the times I crept out of my bedroom as he snored his drunken snore on the couch, crawling on hands and knees behind the planter to turn on the porch light. It shone in my bedroom window and made my room feel safe. Those few meters made my heart race, sweating and praying that he wouldn't wake up. Praying too that he wouldn't get up and turn it off after I made it back to bed so I'd have to do it all over again: Sisyphus in flannel pajamas. I don't want to be reminded of any of this.

And yet...and yet I don't really want Emlyn's eyes to change. Somehow I think he would be proud of his granddaughter. Maybe it's just the blinders of new-parenthood that makes me feel this way but I can't imagine my father not loving her. I see him picking her up and tossing her in the way that makes her laugh her little baby laugh and he's smitten just like I am. He looks in her eyes and sees the best of himself looking back.

I want her eyes to stay that particular shade of blue-gray; I want my love for her to spill over into my memories of him. It's the least I can do. Because without my father she wouldn't exist, and for that I can forgive him everything.

Monday, January 07, 2008


It’s the stories we tell ourselves, as much as anything, that define who we are. My story involves a lot of pain and very few happy endings. I’ve just realized that I’m going to lie to my daughter. Lie and lie and lie again, for the whole of my life. She will not grow up inside my story. Her’s will be one in which all things are possible and defeat will not ever be permanent.

My father’s story involved the curative powers of alcohol, and in a way it was a cure. It killed him. I edited the alcohol out of my tale but he bequeathed me the pain that made him drink. I would give Emlyn anything and everything that I have, but she inherits none of that. This is my new story and I will repeat it in the night before sleep, in the light of each new morning, beside fires in the wilderness and sitting at the kitchen table. That which I say three times might not be true, but that which I say now and always, will be.

Friday, January 04, 2008

A Fear-Full Man

Claire and Em are back at the house, hopefully napping soundly. I feel a pull from them that's hard to explain. How is it that you can spend half a lifetime trying to separate yourself from the world, to make yourself safe? Then you find yourself sitting in a food-court, separated from those you love by less than a kilometer, less than an hour, and you're all but weeping because they aren't near enough.

How does this happen, this unasked-for connection to the world? Did I carelessly leave the key where it could be found, or has time and age undercut all my carefully plumbed and trued defenses? And if so, what else is out there waiting to tiptoe in through that heart shaped hole?

It's getting full in here, I'll have to make some room.