I spent New Year’s Eve much the way I spend most evenings these days: teaching children (and occasionally adults) to pilot ponies. In addition to my freelance clients (most of whom, mercifully, can steer), I herd cats (by which I mean the beginner students, whose steering is hit or miss) at two different lesson barns. You know. It’s a living.
Being as it was New Year’s Eve, I had a fair number of no-shows, and I ended up heading home a little earlier than planned. I was scanning Sirius XM radio channels as I drove, and most of them seemed to be observing the year’s end by cranking up various flavours of party tunes — 70s on one channel, polka (aren’t all polkas party tunes? — asking for a friend) on another, Death Metal par-tay, Broadway party, all Phish All The Time dance tunes. Hey, there are something like 300 channels on the damn service…
And as certain holidays are structured explicitly to make you feel like a ratshit loser if you’re alone (see also: Valentine’s Day), I was mostly thinking as I channel-surfed, that I really miss dancing.
I think the last time I danced for any length of time was at a friend’s wedding in Bermuda, some seven or eight years ago. And by dancing, I’m talking a good DJ, a decent sized dancefloor, stiletto heels that flay six layers of epidermis right off your feet but you don’t care, and getting a really nice and probably sparkly outfit indecently sweaty. Having just enough alcohol in your system to lower your inhibitions a smidge, yet not impact your coordination, is important (as mentioned previously, I’m a cheap date, so one Screwdriver is generally sufficient). As is music that washes over you, thuds pleasantly through your nervous system and your bone marrow, is a fair bit too loud, and is so familiar that you can sing along until you are too out of breath to do so.
One of the likely reasons I haven’t danced in years is that the music seems to have moved on without me. I have limited enthusiasm for what’s currently offered in most clubs, which is mostly an unrelenting beat that goes on for hours at a time, minus lyrics or bridges or anything sans AutoTune. (I loathe AutoTune with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. I mean, if you need this thing because you can’t carry a tune, why the fuck are you even calling yourself a singer?) I’m outing myself on the creeping decrepitude thing by admitting that I’d rather dance to what is probably now considered ‘oldies’ (does that include the 90s, I wonder?). And short of weddings, DJs who’ll spin that sort of thing are the exception rather than the rule. If you encounter such a DJ, you probably also have to suffer the fucking Chicken Dance and the Hokey Fuckity Pokey. Quite a price to pay if you ask me.
I also have a long-standing phobia about being the oldest person in a club, something that has been a problem since sometime back in the previous century. In addition, it’s hard (though not impossible – see: lowering inhibitions, above) to engage fully with the music on a solo basis … much easier with an enthusiastic dance partner. And we all know how accessible those are if you’re of a hetero persuasion.
Like so many white dudes, my Ex pretty much refused to dance with me. Talk about sucking the joy right out of the room. Back in my 30s, when I lived in Bermuda for a year, I used to go clubbing at least two or three nights a week. There was a place called the Oasis, in downtown Hamilton, which had two rooms, one of which usually placed electronic music and the other of which played 80s and 90s rock (more to my taste even then). It would get cranked up about 10:30 or 11 at night, go till 2:30 a.m., and then after last call pretty much everyone on the island would spill out of there and head to the Ice Queen, which was open till stupid o’clock, for a cone. How wholesome is that? I remember rows of happily disheveled people of all sexes, with makeup half-melted off their faces, sitting on the curbs and slurping soft-serve while the tree frogs chorused from just beyond the parking lot. (Mind you there have been a couple of shootings there over the years. Not everyone emerged from Oasis as sober as I usually was.)
So. No dancing this New Years’ Eve, unless you count a few minutes of horribly undignified booty dancing in my truck, to Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Shining Star” (thanks, 70s Rewind channel’s “Cassette Era” dance party). I may still have some moves, but you should be grateful you didn’t see that.
I’d just like to say: Piss off, 2021, and don’t let the door hit you in the booty on your way out.
So much to tell you, gentle readers. So little time and energy available to do so. So, short version. Possibly to be expanded on at some future (relatively soon) date.
I know, right? Like, real employment. The kind with a T4 (that’s the standard tax form reporting your yearly income, non-Canuck visitors). Can’t remember the last time I had a T4.
After eight years (ish … if I’m honest, it was probably more) of marginal employment of various kinds, strangely and suddenly I’m in demand. A bit, anyway.
What I’m doing is teaching, at the college level. I’ve been given the title of professor (which no doubt my father the Ph.D. finds insulting, but just go with it, Dad, cuz tenure isn’t a thing anymore). It’s a two-year diploma program run under the auspices of the great and terrible machine that is the University of Guelph. Though it’s actually in tiny Clinton, which teeters on the edge of the Ontario map somewhere near the Lake Huron shore. We’re a subset of the subset of Ridgetown College (the old Ontario Agricultural College, down relatively close to my ancestral stomping grounds of Essex County), which is itself a subset of the University. Not at all confusing. Nuh-uh.
Anyway, it’s weird and wonderful to realize that I know when I’m going to get paid. And also to realize that, as a result of that, I can for the first time in years indulge myself in one or two tiny things that I’ve been putting off buying pretty much forever. Nothing big — just stuff like a pot of Clinique moisturizer for my increasingly crinkly face. A new external hard drive (two terrabytes and it’s smaller than my phone … whoa). A couple of CDs that have been on my Amazon wish list (it’s a live link, feel free to indulge me) since Stephen Harper was in office. A secondKiva loan, and a donation to a friend who did theToronto Walk to Conquer Cancer. Gawd it feels decadent. But given that it’s still gonna be six or seven decades (conservatively) before I dig myself out financially, I am not exactly getting unhinged. It’s just nice to have slightly less complex knots coiling in my digestive tract whenever I click on my bank balance.
So this post isn’t really about that. Instead, it’s about the other job opportunity that came up almost at the same time that I was interviewing for the U of Guelph gig.
The posting was for a gubbermint job — federal, thankfully, rather than provincial. (Given that Ontario has inexplicably elected a noxious, tantruming Trump wannabe as Premier, ain’t nobody feeling terribly secure in provincial positions these days.) A small equine research farm affiliated with theCanadian Pari-Mutuel Agencywas looking for a ‘farm operations manager’. Could I look after 12 retired Standardbreds who occasionally have to give a blood or a urine sample, and could I do it for $30-$35 an hour? Why, yes, I believe I could manage that, especially given my fabulous experience as a Test Inspector (I Stare At Dicks). The job didn’t even require competence in French (unusual for any government position). I mean, sign me the fuck up, right?
Now, I rarely expect to actually get called in for interviews anymore. Suffice to say I have learned to keep my expectations subterranean. But of course no sooner had I accepted the Guelph position, than I got contacted about the farm manager position, too.
Except that the invitation to interview read rather more like a summons to a parole hearing. I mean, I expect federal communications to be a smidge on the officious side, but fuck me. I thought at first I must be misinterpreting it, but I sent a copy to a couple of friends and they both thought the tone was a bit NQR too. So, not just me then.
Here it is, verbatim:
Selection process number: AGR18J-016947-000353
Position title: Farm Operations Manager Group, sub-group and level: GL-MAN-10
Dear Karen Briggs:
I am pleased to inform you that your application has been assessed and that you are invited to an interview on:
Date: July xx, 2018 Interview time: TBA upon confirmation
Location: Jerseyville, Ontario Language of Assessment: English
*It is your responsibility to confirm your availability. You must reply to this email by July xx, 2018 to confirm participation. All travel expenses will be your responsibility.
The interview is designed to assess the following merit criteria:
Ability to supervise
Concern for safety
Planning and organizing
Written communication/Attention to detail
Knowledge of administrative procedures and human resources practices related to the operation of a horse farm.
Knowledge of the general operation and maintenance of farm equipment
Knowledge of the mandate of the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency’s Equine Drug Control Program.
Please bring the following information:
1. Names and telephone numbers of 3 references, indicating what type of reference, i.e. Previous Supervisors, Co-workers, Clients or others) as reference checks will be part of the assessment process. 2. The original of the Personnel Screening, Consent and Authorization Form completed (Level required: Reliability Status) (form attached). 3. Proof of Education and Certification. 4. Proof of Canadian citizenship. 5. Your valid Driver’s Licence.
6. Others (First Aid Certification, if applicable).
Failure to attend without advance notification and sufficient justification will constitute withdrawal from this appointment process. Acceptable reasons include:
– Medical reasons with doctor’s certificate; – Death in the immediate family; – Confirmation of pre-approved travel plans; – Religious reasons.
Should you require accommodation during the assessment, you are strongly encouraged to contact Joyce Adam atJxxx.firstname.lastname@example.org (preferred) or by phone at 613-xxx-xxxx as soon as possible.
Should any situations arise on July xx affecting your ability to attend the interview, please inform Cxxxxx.Cxxxxx@canada.caor phone 905-xxx-xxxx.
Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency / Government of Canada Agence canadienne du pari mutuel / Gouvernement du Canada
I was a bit put off, frankly. Where were the warm fuzzies? But I figured maybe that was just the sort of passive-aggressive language that multiple layers of bureaucracy generate, so I decided not to take it personally. It was probably spit out by an automatic interview-invite-generator bot. Not having had a death in the family, I went to the interview, basically for shits and giggles since I hadn’t officially started my job with the U of Guelph yet, and because I figured I shouldn’t cut off my nose to spite my face.
The actual interview was also a little strange, though not as off-putting as the language of my engraved invitation. There were two real women who asked me questions, and mercifully refrained from trotting out those cliché HR phrases (“Where do you see yourself in five years? What do you consider your greatest flaw? Tell us about a situation where your boss royally fucked you over and how you handled that?”), for which I was grateful. I got the nickel tour of the farm — which incidentally is very clandestine, tucked away in a suburb the other side of Hamilton with no signs or indications of any kind that it is a government facility — and then I went back into the city and took myself to seeCome From Away(since I was dressed for an interview and all). Go see it. It’s good.
They’d told me they weren’t going to make any decisions till mid-October, which I figured was par for the course for the Feds. No worries. I had a curriculum to pull out of my ass together and really didn’t give it much more thought. Until I got the following in my inbox today:
Corporate Management Branch Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada / Government of Canada E-mail Address / Tel: 204-259-5564 / TTY: 613-773-2600
Opérations de dotation
Direction générale de la gestion intégrée Agriculture et Agroalimentaire Canada / Gouvernement du Canada Adresse de courriel / Tél. : 204-259-5564 / ATS : 613-773-2600
Well, I could have gotten insulted. My squeeze certainly was — incensed, actually — when I read it out loud to him. But honestly, I’m pretty committed to my new teaching responsibilities (read: I am treading water as fast and creatively as I can), so Ag Canada and the CPMA are not breaking my wee fragile heart here. I suspect, actually, that someone fired this form letter off without remembering to further personalize it beyond my name at the top, and that they didn’t actually intend to malign basically every job skill I’ve got.
But I did figure it merited some sort of response. And since I enjoy a nice bit of fuckery, when aimed towards those who deserve it, this is what I sent:
Thank you for your correspondence. That is QUITE a list of personal failings, and I appreciate you bringing them to my attention. I’m particularly embarrassed by my inadequate written communication skills: six published books and some 5000 published magazine and newspaper articles are, really, too humiliating a total to mention on a curriculum vitae, and obviously indicate that the demands of the position would have had me floundering. Please accept my gratitude for the narrow escape.
All is not lost, however. I recently accepted a position as a college professor with the University of Guelph’s diploma program in Equine Care and Management, where I’m confident my multiple deficiencies in communication and leadership will go largely unnoticed.
All the best to your successful candidate.
I can pretty much guarantee you I will never be considered for another government job.
Not gonna lie. We had it easy here in Ontario last winter: no significant amount of snowfall until after Christmas, and temperatures that dropped below -15 C only for a couple of days, really. We didn’t even have what I dread the most, which is freezing rain (one of the few weather scenarios from which I rescue my True Canadian-bred beasties from the nasty, foul outdoors). And we had quite a few scattered thaws throughout the season to beat back the accumulated snow to a (mostly) manageable level.
But karma, as they say, is a bitch. And she is slapping us repeatedly, upside the head. So I beg your indulgence, gentle readers: forgive me the following rant. By the first week of January — barely a quarter of the way through this year’s edition of the seventh circle of hell — I was fucking exhausted. And vitamin D-deprived, which, you know, doesn’t exactly make you a sunbeam for Jesus.
We had three significant snowfalls in November. That’s just not fair. Anything after December 1st is fair game, but November?? No-one in Ontario is cognitively prepared for that, and it leads to a lot of bad driving and really bad decisions, among other things. Coming home from Toronto one evening mid-November, I drove straight into a wall o’ snow, the likes of which I have not encountered in years. It was a total white-out on a stretch of highway that runs 17 km between exits — so basically, there’s no escape. My tires were sketchy, my windshield wipers were crusted over and barely managing, the visibility was essentially zero, and if I hadn’t had four-wheel drive and the tail-lights of a Purolator truck to follow, my odds of staying on the actual road would not have been worth calculating. (May all the deities favour you and bring you salted caramel brownies, Purolator person.) By the time I did reach my exit, I was vibrating. Had to pull over at the first gas station and quietly hyperventilate for about 15 minutes. The gas station attendant, ensconced as he was in his little oasis of calm, looked at me like I had lost the plot. Which I totally had.
So then that little episode of joy was immediately followed by about three years of absolutely-fucking-inhuman temperatures in December. I mean, I’m Canadian. I get that it gets cold in winter, and I have the gear to deal with it, but (honestly) two and a half weeks of temperatures unrelentingly below -22 Celsius, without respite … it’s a lot. Water hydrants which have never frozen before, did. The barn doors froze shut. My truck refused to start even though it had had the block heater plugged in all night. My slow-feeder nets for the round bales froze in interesting sculptural free-form shapes, but couldn’t be removed from the ground. The air hurt my face. And I couldn’t do much about mucking the stalls because pretty much everything had welded itself to the floors. The horses toughed it out (remarkably well, considering they are Thoroughbreds), but zero riding happened during the Christmas break — it was too freaking cold to even contemplate it.
And then there was the Night of the Freezing Rain, which, see above. That meant bedding down stalls, running hoses all over hell’s half-acre in order to fill water buckets (because all the convenient ones are uncooperatively seized by ice) and angsting over whether I had enough small bales of hay to see them through the night and following day, being as those bales are in short supply this year. I did get everyone (headcount is currently seven, btw) cosily inside for the night, and the freezing rain turned out to me mostly the non-freezing kind, and thus not full-scale Ice Storm (though trust me, we’ve had those too), but naturally everything seized up again — gate fastenings, every single fucking leadshank snap and halter snap on the property, my windshield wipers, my truck’s door locks, the automatic windows, the lock on my front door — when the temps dropped again 24 hours later. Plus, my horses don’t deal especially well with incarceration, and were absolutely psycho to turn out again when I decided it was safe to do so. These are the days when you think wistfully about how super-awfully nice it would be to have a little help around here…
But hey, it’s February now, so there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Wiarton Williethis
Wiarton mayor Janice Jackson with Wiarton Willie, earlier. Photo credit: Hannah Yoon, Canadian Press. (Because I always acknowledge the work of my fellow journos.)
morning predicted six more weeks of winter, but really, that’s a given for Ontario. When have we not had six more weeks of winter after February 2nd? Six weeks would be a bloody miracle around here. I’d sacrifice a goat with a stapler if I thought it would guarantee us signs of spring by mid-March.Some people find February the most depressing month, but for me it at least means this wretchedness is more than half over. It’s a short month, as well, so there’s that. Plus I usually get a little cash infusion in February, from thePublic Lending Rights Commission, which gives authors a little something-something if their books are found (on a random sampling) in Canadian libraries. It’s nice to be Canadian. Even if you fucking hate the weather.
So there’s this big indoor horse show in Toronto every November (for the past 95 years, anyway). I haven’t been covering it for the past 95 years, obviously, but every year from somewhere around 1989 or 1990, I’ve been there with my media accreditation, providing coverage of the Royal Winter Fair for one (or more) magazine or newspaper or website or another.
That’s a long time to feel like a second class citizen, but every year, this giant, hulking dinosaur that is the culmination of the horse show season manages to find a way to do that to the media faithful which, frankly, bust their asses to drive ticket sales to this monolith.
I think I’ve mentioned before that we swamp-dwelling freelancers don’t expect an avalanche of perks when we attend an event. We’re sure as hell not in it for the swag, and our expectations are exceedingly modest. I can’t speak for everyone, but in recent years I’ve been attending events like this with the knowledge that I’m more than likely going to lose money on the whole deal, what with assignments having become as common as unicorns farting rainbows, and pay rates plummeting to the level of “exposure” or “we’ll pay you if your article gets shared more than 10000 times”.
We expect — in the case of the Royal Winter Fair, anyway — that we will drive insane distances, several nights in a row, in Toronto rush-hour traffic (second only to Los Angeles on the list of hellish rush-hour scenarios in North America, we’re ever so proud to say), fight tooth and nail for a parking spot, brutalize our feet hiking across kilometres of concrete, get our shins bashed by entitled breeders with double-wide strollers the size of a ’53 Buick Skylark, endure endless line-ups for overpriced food, be harassed by security every time we try to access or leave our designated media seating to line up for the washrooms, and file our stories well past midnight in a room yonks away from the show ring which doesn’t really have any work stations set up to accommodate us (and that’s if some bright spark hasn’t locked the frigging place up while we were getting our quotes in the after-class press conference).
But we at least hope to come away with something worth writing about, and a modicum of respect and appreciation for what we do.
Unfortunately, of all the horse shows I have covered over the past few decades — and there have been a few — I can recall none which treats the media with such utter contempt as does the Royal. Overall, the show has gotten progressively meaner, cheaper, and less and less welcoming to the public over the past 20-odd years, enough so that most of us who’ve been around that long can wax nostalgic about the good old days, when there used to be comfy couches and (gasp) coffee and snacks in the media centre, when there were tables in the media seating at the show so we could write without having to hunch over laptops on our laps, when there was a media coordinator assigned to assist us in lining up interviews, not obstruct us and treat us as if we were constantly trying to rip off the show.
Of course, those were also the days when there used to be a hella good party going on at the end of most of the show evenings, sometimes with a live band, or at least a pretty good DJ — and since this was the pre-internet age, we generally didn’t have to file on the same night, so we had the luxury of staying for a drink and a dance. I have partied with some pretty Big Name Riders at the Royal. A friend of mine once hit Nick Skelton in the eye with a champagne cork. And I even (ahem) did the Walk of Shame across the lobby of the Harbour Castle Westin early one morning, feeling like a total cliche, after an encounter with a yummy French showjumper. There, the secret’s out. (It was many, many years ago, folks …)
Once upon a time, the Royal used to kick off with a media breakfast, wherein we penniless scribes would gather for omelets and mimosas and a little preview of what to expect from the fair that year. It was all very pleasant and civilized. These days we can’t even get a cup of coffee … not that I drink the stuff, but sheesh. (Full disclosure: I think there might have been a few bottles of water in the media centre, hidden under a table, at one point — be still, my heart. Not that I was offered any.)
One of my perpetual pet peeves over the years has been the total lack of regard for the media’s struggles with parking. There’s an underground parking garage at the Exhibition grounds, which for the duration of the fair has a large designated VIP area which is typically three-quarters empty. Yet the Powers That Be on the RWF board can’t find it in their parsimonious hearts to offer up half a dozen lousy parking spaces for the media?? I have brought this up on a number of occasions, and have been told every time that it was out of the question. Instead we fork out $17 (last I was there — it’s probably more now) each night for the privilege of going round and round the outer reaches of the garage, sucking in carbon monoxide and searching in vain for a safe place to leave the truck. More than once I have ended up missing the class I was supposed to cover.
Last year, my fed-up-ness all came to a head. The previous media coordinator for the horse show, a lovely woman who is a friend of mine and did all she could to accommodate my needs, within the constraints (shackles?) applied by the fair board, was let go under somewhat mysterious circumstances, possibly to do with an excess of honesty … and replaced with a woman who has her own public relations agency and clearly was more interested in advancing her own agenda than the show’s. We’ve known each other for a couple of decades, at least, and she’s well aware that I freelance for many different outlets. Yet she re-structured the media accreditation procedures so that, in essence, you had to re-apply for it every evening of the show, with no guarantee that it would be granted, nor that anyone would actually be available to hand it to you when you arrived. (I spent well over an hour and a half chasing people around the trade fair outside the horse show coliseum on the first night I attended last year, in order to finally secure my pass 40 minutes after the class I was there to cover had concluded. Fanfuckingtastic.) In addition to just being a giant pain in the ass, this has the effect of making it very difficult to promise an editor you’re going to be able to deliver anything.
In addition to that, she sent me an email, three days after the show began, to inform me that she had ‘checked’ and that I actually didn’t work for the Chronicle of the Horse, the magazine for which I was writing last year, and that as a result my accreditation had been summarily revoked.
I stared at this email for a while, I admit, before I fired off an indignant reply that said, “Um, you do understand what a FREELANCER does?” Of course I don’t work for the fucking Chronicle. I never have. Frankly, I was absolutely furious: my entire raison d’etre last year was to find stories the Chronicle thought were worth publishing, and instead of facilitating that, they were playing insulting head games with an established journalist who had been helping get bums in seats for literally decades. Are. You. Fucking. Kidding me??
Eventually they backed down — and at the close of the press conference for the big World Cup class that night, one of the Royal’s minions slunk up to me and asked, semi-apologetically, “We all okay?” Well, that’s a big honking NO, honey. We are not.
And here’s the rub: I didn’t actually find anything last year, in the end, that the Chronicle wanted to publish … because the Royal has become massively irrelevant. Where once they wanted reports on at least all the major showjumping classes (two Grands Prix, the now-defunct Nations’ Cup and Puissance classes, the Canadian showjumping championship, and various and sundry Table As and Table Cs), the dressage night (once a World Cup qualifier, now nothing more than an invitational demo night for local riders), and the indoor eventing, the interest on the part of American editors has shriveled down to a request for a short (600 words, max) report on just the Wednesday night Grand Prix (which McLain Ward tends to win with frightening frequency) in 2015, and nothing whatsoever on the final night Big Ben Grand Prix or anything else. In 2016, I was told that the ‘timing wasn’t right’ (the Chronicle is a weekly) but that they would like me to attend and see what sort of feature stories might come out of the fair. Okay, it was enough of an excuse for me to show up on a couple of nights.
But the thing is: there really wasn’t much with which to titillate my editor. I sent her three ideas, and was told: meh, meh, and ‘interesting but we just did something similar to that’. And that has been more or less the response of all of the other editors, whether Canadian, American, or European, with whom I’ve been in contact over the past couple of years: the Royal is irrelevant.
And no wonder, given the choices the fair board continues to make. For instance, here’s one of the big features of the fair this year: Goat Yoga.
Last year, it was bunny jumping. As in, little courses of verticals and oxers that children (mostly unsuccessfully) tried to persuade their pet rabbits to hop over. Christ on a cracker.
If there’s something good happening at the Royal, you can pretty much guarantee that the fair board will squash it in favour of something monumentally stupid. It’s a pattern I’ve observed for over 20 years. The ‘fair’ portion of the show — you know, the agricultural part, the “once a year, country comes to the city” part, where you give prizes for sheafs of wheat, homemade preserves, butter tarts, and the fanciest Red Island Rock
This is a turkey sculpted from butter. Pretty much says it all about the Royal.
hen? Now relegated to a forlorn, far-off corner somewhere near Scarborough, and consisting basically of two misshapen giant pumpkins and an extra-long corn stalk. The butter sculptures done every year by students from the Ontario College of Art and Design? Tucked away in a temperature-controlled trailer somewhere beyond the cattle barn where few fear to tread. They don’t display prize-winning sides of beef or lamb anymore, either — city peeps be squeamish about that sort of thing. But hey, you can get six fake pashmina scarves for $45 in the trade fair, not to mention an idiotic wooden walking stick with a Psalm burnt into it, (ideal for whacking your fellow pedestrians in the shins) from some insipid, ever-present gang of proselytizing pseudo-Christians.
Oh, and apple dumplings and potato rosti, which I do legitimately miss.
On the whole, the show is a shadow of its former self. So much so that the ‘mink and manure’ set doesn’t much bother with the formal wear that used to be de rigueur for the evening classes. (I think I was one of the only members of the media left who made some effort to observe the ‘black tie’ requirement for the press in the evenings — mostly because it’s a novelty for me to be able to break out the girl clothes and the sparkly heels. My feet always regretted it acutely, but I do like swishing around in taffeta every now and again. The few journos from the Toronto dailies who still show up tend to settle for scruffy cords and pilled sweaters.)
Royal people. One of the little joys was always watching for the fashion gaffes … of which there were many.
Most telling, however, is the fact that this year, the Royal Winter Fair was scheduled at the same time as the National Horse Show in the US (once held in New York, but moved a few years ago to Lexington, Kentucky). Back in the day, there was an end-of-season indoor circuit, starting with the International show in Washington, DC, then the National, and culminating with the Royal — and all three had Nations’ Cup classes, which made it attractive for European showjumping teams to fly over and do the three shows. In 2017, the Royal is such an anachronism that even the American riders (never mind Europeans) don’t care about it enough to schedule around it. That has to have a serious impact on entries, and not only in the jumper divisions.
The end result is that none of my former markets have any interest in coverage of the
Something about these lumpy pumpkins is so profoundly disturbing that children are disrobing. I don’t profess to understand it.
Royal Winter Fair anymore. And that makes my attendance there not worth my while, given that (contrary to the belief of the fair’s Powers That Be, which continue to insist I am ripping them off by my mere presence) I stopped having fun at the fair about 15 years ago. Apart from bargain turn-out halters from the trade fair (which I can now get just as easily on-line, without coughing up $50 in gas, $17 in parking and $27.50 for admission, if I were to pay admission without a press pass), there’s little incentive … and to be treated as dismissively and insultingly as I was last year was the icing on the sagging cake.
So no thanks to the Royal. It can circle the drain without me.
Another delightful rant on the subject of writing for free, especially for the Huffington Post, courtesy of Chuck Wendig’s “terribleminds” blog. Recommended, especially for some of the insults.
Excerpt: “The lie is this: writing is not work, it is not fundamental, it is a freedom in which you would partake anyway, and here some chucklefuck would say, haw haw haw, you blog at your blog and nobody pays you, you post updates on Twitter and nobody pays you, you speak words into the mighty air and you do it for free, free, free. And Huffington Post floats overhead in their bloated dirigible and they yell down at you, WE BROADCAST TO MILLIONS and DON’T YOU WANT TO REACH MILLIONS WITH YOUR MEAGER VOICE and THIS IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU.
“…HuffPo would have you believe that not paying means that somehow, the integrity of the information remains intact. What it misunderstands is that, if HuffPo isn’t paying, then who is? Someone is always paying. Or, at the very least, someone is always selling something.”
Funerals (and most other religious rituals) baffle the shit out of me.
I attended one last Saturday morning, for a friend of a friend — a woman whom I had met a number of times, but couldn’t say I knew well. She had had the misfortune of being diagnosed with liver cancer. Three months, start to finish. It was quite tragic.
I believe in showing support to the living in such circumstances, so I tend to show up to the services if I can … but honestly, what anyone gets out of these rituals is beyond me.
A few thousand years of civilization, and we don’t seem to have moved an inch beyond slaughtering a goat on an altar.
Now, I confess (before I go any further) that I’ve pretty much always had a jaded view of religion, so if you’re deeply offended by the opinions of anyone who doesn’t buy into your exact version of sky fairy, then you might want to leave this page forthwith and go play Candy Crush now. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I’m unlikely to change your mind.
It’s the last taboo, isn’t it? Never say anything critical about religious beliefs, lest you offend. So no matter how idiotic those beliefs are, no matter how much they fly in the face of logic and science and basic common sense and decency, we should never utter a word in defiance of it, because the believers have delicate sensibilities and don’t want their bubbles burst. Well, fuck that. Sorry. It’s way past time we started to challenge this nonsense. It’s been choking the planet for millenia.
This particular service was of the Catholic persuasion, which is a whole special kind of bizarre. I guess if you’re brought up in that culture, it could potentially … well, not make sense, exactly, but be comfortingly familiar, if you don’t examine it too closely. (Luckily, most organized religions teach not examining it too closely as part of the catechism. Faith means not asking any fucking questions, Emily, dammit.) But to an outsider … well, fuck me, it’s strange.
I’m a certified heathen (given the above paragraphs, that likely isn’t news), so what little exposure I’ve had to Catholic worship practices has been at weddings and funerals, which is perhaps not completely representative. But my instincts suggest that the everyday Sunday services are in large part the same deal, because it’s the sameness of it that people seem to like.
I arrived just as the service was getting started, and ended up sitting in the choir loft as the pews downstairs were pretty much full. So it was me and a half-dozen wizened little octogenarians, who began to sing in wobbly voices as I tiptoed up the stairs. I’m actually a trained soprano, and frankly, they could have used my help, but the hymns were lame and I didn’t know them anyway, so I let their lead vocalist struggle along as best she could. I’m sure gawd gives brownie points for effort.
Scanned around the church below me. (Choir lofts are reasonably good for unrestrained gawking. I’ve sung at a number of my friends’ weddings over the years, and I vastly prefer being up in the choir loft to being downstairs in a strapless lilac taffeta bridesmaid’s gown, its ill-fittingness on display to all and sundry. You can misbehave a little up there, or at least smirk at the more idiotic parts of the ceremony.) I’d been told this little local church had lovely stained glass, but from what I could see they were pretty unimaginative. Ordered from a catalogue. Is there a Catholic Catalogue? You know, where you can order a basic chalice in simulated gold plate, and get a better price if you order three or more? Choose incense replacement cones in six deity-approved scents? Is there a Lee Valley sort of catalogue where the chalice has clever hidden features in it (maybe a nail file and a USB hub for those 15-verse hymns)? And where do the priests and clerics and such order their imitation-gold-thread trim for their robes, and the little sashes that proclaim them holier than thou? Inquiring minds want to know. Oh, look, Sister Eugene Immaculata, the spring House of God catalogue is here. What’s new in resurrection accessories then?
So yeah, okay, it didn’t take long for my mind to start to wander.
About halfway in on this service, the guy in the gold rick-rack trim invited practicing Catholics, and anyone who just enjoyed the hell out of a dry rice cracker, to come up to the altar and eat the body of Christ, starting with the choir, who apparently get to be first in line for their service. I guess I must have been obviously clueless as to the rituals of the Catholic church, because as the choir filed past in front of my pew, one tiny blue-haired lady patted me on the hand, leaned in, and whispered conspiratorially, “Communion time!”. Like she was going downstairs for a chocolate chip cookie or something. I’m guessing it’s the highlight of every funeral for her?
As I watched people line up for their not-a-chocolate-chip-cookie-at-all, I tried to wrap my head around the rituals I’d been observing, and just how little sense they make. The whole service was just a series of repetitive motions that have long since lost their meaning. Well, if they ever had any in the first place. You wipe out the chalice with the ritual cloth, pour in a quantity of whatever liquid passes for wine these days, place the Blessed Square of Cardboard over top (presumably, to dissuade the consecrated flies in the church?), and when you come to that point in the ceremony, you remove the cardboard, hold the cup aloft (so gawd can see it better), and someone rings a little bell three times.
So, say, if the bell only rang twice, would the sky fairy be offended? If you have a brain fart and forget part of the ritual, do you have to start all over again? (There does seem to be infinite potential for do-overs in the Catholic faith.) Is gawd going to turn his virtual back on you if you do it wrong? Stand up when you should be kneeling, sit when you should be standing? Not knowing the secret handshake? And what, exactly, determined that this particular set of actions is what will most appeal to hisself and keep you from getting whacked with a lightning bolt?
Imagine the sheer cacophony of recited prayers and tinkling bells and munching wafers coming from a hundred thousand funerals, happening simultaneously on a Saturday morning on every corner of the planet, all emanating up to heaven to the ears of a waiting deity who (apparently) wants things done Just So. Which souls does he select for the big golden key to eternity out of that noise? And does having a Philistine in the chapel thinking these heretical thoughts, just shoot the whole process of crossing all those T’s and dotting those I’s, in the proverbial divine foot? Nope, sorry, unbeliever in your midst, applying logic and demonstrating a shocking lack of acceptance of stuff that makes no sense. Push the buzzer, open the hatch, you lose.
Seriously, we have evolved not at all. It’s every inch as barbaric and primitive and bizarre as throwing babies down a well 2500 years ago. Or mummifying your cats to go on the journey to the afterlife with you. Appease the gods or you don’t get the imaginary gifts we’ve promised each other that he/she/it/they bestow.
In my teens, I had aspirations of acting in musicals. Tried out for a number of community productions, but while I could certainly belt out a show tune, and I think I was a passable actor, I failed to be the triple-threat because I just couldn’t seem to learn the dance steps in a few minutes like the other hopefuls at the auditions. Worship? I suspect if I were to try, I would pretty much always be doing it wrong.
And the worst of this service was, there was almost nothing in it about the actual deceased. As I mentioned, this was not a woman I knew particularly well. I would have liked to have heard some stories about her, from those who were closer to her. (Maybe that happened at the reception, which I couldn’t attend.) I would have liked to have known more about her — because now that she’s dead, the memories of who she was and what she did with her life, are the only things keeping her from evaporating completely. We all like to think we have some small impact on the earth in the cosmic blip of time we’re here, but apart from passed-down stories and perhaps a headstone that lasts, at most, 100 years in Canadian weather, let’s face it: we are inconsequential and our names will not resonate for more than a generation or two.
We funeral-goers got the ritual song and dance (and really, you have to wonder about the level of job satisfaction for the priest), but there was no substance at all. Nothing whatsoever about this woman’s words or deeds or accomplishments. Just platitudes about her being our “sister” and being welcomed into the gates of heaven because some 60 years ago, someone had dripped water on her then-tiny forehead. A prerequisite. Her passport was valid, evidently. But if I’d been her husband, sitting there in the front row, I would have found the whole deal intensely unsatisfying.
As much as it befuddles me that any all-powerful being would need a bunch of barely-sentient critters on its planet to constantly grovel and praise it/him/her/ohfuckwhatever … or what, exactly, the enduring appeal is of being told you are filthy and sinful and not worthy and that you need to remove yourself from all pleasure and fun and live your life according to a litany of arcane (and cherry-picked) rules corrupted down through the ages … this stuff clearly does provide some comfort for some people. Admittedly, the ones coming to the front of the church for communion looked to be newly returned from their snowbird condos in Sarasota, as indicated by their tans and their cruise-wear, so perhaps they’ll soon be extinct and we will finally reach a planetary age where we can begin to leave this nonsense behind. (Can you imagine living in the Middle Ages and having every single fricking thought and action dictated to you by the Church? I’d have gone postal and taken out a cooperage or a pigsty or something.)
Because the sheer cognitive disconnect you need to employ just to buy into any of it? To never, ever have a moment where your brain says, “Um, now wait a minute, that doesn’t really sound quite right to me …”?
Must be utterly exhausting. And it really can’t be anything but destructive to go through life that fundamentally (sorry) deluded as to reality. Witness the current US Republican race. Ugh.
Suppose I really can’t finish this off without the obligatory Life of Brian sequence, can I.
I have been accused of being (gasp) a Potty Mouth.
As in, “Please take me off your mailing list. We don’t do potty mouth here.”
This, in reference to my previous post, which used the expression “fucked up my back” early on and then never used another profanity for the rest of the rant. (Which is rare, actually.)
Oh, the shame of it. Oh, the humiliation. I shall never be able to show my face in polite society again. I shall have to rend my garments and go consider the error of my ways in some damp, inhospitable cave somewhere.
I am vulgar.
What are we, seven?
Seriously. Just the expression, “potty mouth”. It is to roll one’s eyes derisively.
(And besides, if this guy found himself on my blog list, he put himself there. I didn’t subscribe him without his knowledge. Asshat.)
The thing is, I like words. I like them pretty much indiscriminately. The English language has a few dozen words or expressions for just about every occasion (though, yes, it does fail miserably when it comes to pronouns for those of undefined, indeterminate or intermediate gender, especially in the plural). One can pick and choose how one wishes to express oneself. Does one wish to be forthright but subtle? Or does one want to take the ‘blunt instrument’ route? Does one prefer to obfuscate? Tippy-toe around an issue with a euphemism, more often than not verging on the ridiculous? (Because of course humans, especially white Anglo-Saxon ones who speak English, are very frightened of some concepts to do with sex and death, and prefer to skirt the issue in a little tarantella of denial.)
These are only a few of the delightful options.
I don’t like to limit my options, so I refuse to villainize one word more than another. Especially a massively, insanely useful word like “fuck’. Much cleverer essayists than I (among them the immortal George Carlin, who dubbed it a noble word which ought to be a proper name, as in, “I am Fuck! Fuck of the Mountain!”) have expounded on the vast flexibility of the word fuck — it’s a noun, it’s a verb, it’s an adverb, it’s an adjective, it’s an expletive, it’s a descriptive, it’s a deed. Fucking brilliant all ’round. Why would we deny ourselves the use of such a crisp, easily pronounceable word with a fascinating lineage (going back to the 15th century, having crept into English from Dutch or Low German, sayeth the linguists)?
Fiddle-faddle, say I. Horse hockey. Um … pshaw.
Of course, I do recognize that there is a time and a place for some words. I’ve been churning out articles for horse magazines for nigh on 20 years, and I can’t think of a single instance in which I felt compelled to make my point by resorting to ‘fuck’ or any of its vilified cousins. I use medically correct anatomical terms, where appropriate, and since it’s not my job to opine, but to report, when I’m in journalist mode, I have little need for exclamative prose, even should my editors be inclined to publish same, which I am well aware they are not.
Most of us know which words are considered verboten and which are not. Though really, the list is pretty arbitrary. And it varies quite a lot from place to place. Take the word “fanny”, for example. In North America, it’s an innocuous, adorable euphemism for the human ass (yes, I said ass, not ‘buttocks’) …. in fact, Fanny was a common woman’s name up until the early 20th century, when it gradually fell out of favour. But say the word “fanny” in South Africa, and you have been scandalous … there, and in some other places around the globe, it refers to the vagina and is considered a couple of levels more … cheeky.
Or watch the film, “Pirate Radio” (released in the UK and Europe as “The Boat That Rocked”). Kenneth Branagh plays a nasty-spirited government drone intent on controlling what sort of music goes out over the airwaves in Great Britain … and one of his minions is a man with the surname, Twat. Now “twat”, in North America, is one of those save-it-till-the-end-of-the-argument words. Pretty inflammatory, very not complimentary, a mean-spirited crude little word. In the UK, however, it’s a rather mild insult, on the same level (and of similar usage) as “prat”. Needless to say, there are dozens and dozens of twat jokes all through Pirate Radio, and to the North American ear they are a little harsher than we’re used to!
The point is, what is considered vulgar or shocking or rude or offensive (or worst of all, dirty) is not fixed. It’s as fluid as the language, which is something those with rigid rules about what is acceptable, and what is not, would do well to remember. Before he calls me something as laughable as “potty mouth”.
Now, I am not a parent, and I’m not entirely sure how I would have handled the issue of verboten words with my hypothetical child. My parents avoided them for the most part, but it sure as hell didn’t keep me from learning them, and using them, quite a bit more frequently than either of them do. (It’s a generational thing for the most part. My mother, an avowed atheist, still cringes when I say, “Christ!” more than she does when I say, “Shit!”. Go figure.)
I smell hypocrisy in most parents who threaten punitive action if certain words come out of their offsprings’ mouths … and I certainly don’t want any imaginary child of mine to be afraid of language or categorize one word as more or less worthy than another. I also hate the idea of catering to the internet trolls who appear to exist only to register how offended they are by everyone else. Yet I recognize that social convention finds it more shocking for certain phrases to come out of a child’s mouth, even if they are the appropriate ones for the situation.
Generally speaking, I’m agin censorship and in favour of free speech. And nowhere can I be freer with my speech than in this blog. This is the place where I get to roll out as many fucking fucks as I want, and you don’t get to tell me not to. This is my ranting place. This is where I write the way I speak. And let’s face it — would Carlin have been as funny if he had censored his language for a G-rated crowd? Would Bill Maher? Would Jon Stewart or Billy Connolly? It’s the extreme quality of so-called four-letter-words that heightens the hyperbole of comedy (or, I hope, in my case, snark). All four of these comedians have made it their business to skewer hypocrisy wherever they have found it, and that includes our use of language. Without that freedom of speech, we’re stuck in the Catskills, going “Take my wife, please.” Yawn.
That’s not to say that I don’t find certain turns of phrase kind of juvenile. Toilet humour, for example, just says to me that you’re stuck in some Freudian phase of life that you were probably supposed to have progressed from. But to each his own. I’m not going to shy away from the word ‘fart’ just because I think your fart jokes label you tragically stuck, sniggering, in the second grade. I just don’t buy into the idea that some words are Good and some are Bad.
It’s the users who are good or bad. You can use words with skill and fearlessness, or you can ride your high horse onto some rigid little pathway where only a handful of words (and by extension, ideas) are acceptable, and the rest of us are labelled crude, coarse, off-colour, in poor taste, and about two dozen other judgmental things that Carlin (again) once recited in his routine on the Seven Words.
In which case, go fuck yourself. (You knew that was coming; ferchrissakes don’t act all shocked now.)
PS — I know you’ve probably all seen versions of the video below, but I really couldn’t leave it out, now, could I.
“The Christian louboutin shoes are made of same material, as used in the original ones. We as the body of Christ on the earth expect to see the last enemy of death to be under all feet as the children of God arise and liberat. So be sure you dont purchase light weight models.. You can findChristian Louboutin here. Sandwich the shield between your hands and use a very light “scrubbing” motion. Plastic lenses reduce these rays, but not all eliminate them. We always go to the rest of the world first for inspiration because they’re a season ahead.”
A real page-turner. Can’t wait to see how the author explains that title.
If there’s anything more orgasmic than the Bad Sex in Fiction Awards, it’s probably illegal.
Even more than the Darwin Awards, I anticipate the BSIF every year. The annual contest by Britain’s Literary Review highlights “the crude, badly written, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel … and to discourage it”, in much the way that the Razzies reward the most excruciating of Hollywood cinematic effort.
Now, the BSIF isn’t meant to tackle outright porn or erotica, hence the explainable absence on this year’s short-list of the appallingly cringeworthy “Fifty Shades of Grey” series. It’s intended to humiliate authors of ‘mainstream’ novels, whose scribing skills fail to rise to the occasion at the bedroom door.
Writing good sex is (ahem) harder than it looks, given the abundance of cliches lying about like landmines in Zimbabwe, so I do have a certain amount of sympathy for those nominated every year. And a previous winner, Rowan Somerville, argues persuasively and with a minimum of sour grapes here (in the Independent) that the BSIF Awards are schoolyard bullying passed off as “a bit of fun”, and have their roots in British parochial prudery. He suggests that many of the passages plucked out of the prose and held up to public ridicule aren’t half as bad when read in the context of the larger novel.
I suspect he’s right, but when they are taken out of context, some of them are bloody hilarious. It’s even more fun to know that this year (the 20th anniversary edition), there’s a Canadian among the eight shortlisted authors. Nancy Huston, a Canadian-born writer living in Paris, is the author of Infrared, an English translation of a novel she originally wrote in French as Infrarouge. (The above Amazon link indicates that the nomination hasn’t hurt her any — the book seems to be flying off the shelves.)
The full shortlist: Tom Wolfe, nominated for Back to Blood, The Yips by Nicola Barker, The Adventuress by Nicholas Coleridge, Infrared by Nancy Huston, Rare Earth by Paul Mason, Noughties by Ben Masters, The Quiddity of Will Self by Sam Mills – a
I can’t imagine how a book with a cover like this could possibly contain bad sex …
particularly worthy nomination, since Mills’s fiction has been shortlisted on three occasions– and The Divine Comedy by Craig Raine. Wolfe, Coleridge and Raine are all repeat offenders.
The winner will be announced at a lavish ceremony in London on December 4 – and it is considered a badge of courage for the authors to attend to receive it, and say something self-deprecating, in person. In Somerville’s case, it was, “There is nothing more English than bad sex, so on behalf of a nation I thank you.”
And now, without further foreplay, this year’s extracts.
• The Quiddity of Will Self, by Sam Mills Down, down, on to the eschatological bed. Pages chafed me; my blood wept onto them. My cheek nestled against the scratch of paper. My cock was barely a ghost, but I did not suffer panic.
• Noughties, by Ben Masters We got up from the chair and she led me to her elfin grot, getting amongst the pillows and cool sheets. We trawled each other’s bodies for every inch of history. I dug after what I had always imagined and came up with even more. She stroked my outlines in perfect synchrony until I was febrile in her hands, willingly guided elsewhere.
• Back to Blood, by Tom Wolfe Now his big generative jockey was inside her pelvic saddle, riding, riding, riding, and she was eagerly swallowing it swallowing it swallowing it with the saddle’s own lips and maw — all this without a word.
• Rare Earth by Paul Mason She breathed hot into his neck and he plunged three rough fingers down the front of her jeans, making her squeak. She had never tried wu-wei in this situation before and Khünbish, hairy and slightly paunchy, she noticed now that he had his shirt off, was generating slightly more karmic energy than she had anticipated. He began thrusting wildly in the general direction of her chrysanthemum, but missing — his paunchy frame shuddering with the effort of remaining rigid and upside down.
• The Yips by Nicola Barker She smells of almonds, like a plump Bakewell pudding; and he is the spoon, the whipped cream, the helpless dollop of warm custard. She steams. He applauds, his tongue hanging out (like a bloodhound espying a raw chop in a cartoon).
You mean, I’ve won? Ohhh, Guillermo … hang on while I fake an orgasm.
• Infrared by Nancy Huston He runs his tongue and lips over my breasts, the back of my neck, my toes, my stomach, the countless treasures between my legs, oh the sheer ecstasy of lips and tongues on genitals, either simultaneously or in alternation, never will I tire of that silvery fluidity, my sex swimming in joy like a fish in water… This is when I take my picture, from deep inside the loving. The Canon is part of my body. I myself am the ultrasensitive film — capturing invisible reality, capturing heat.
• The Divine Comedy by Craig Raine And he came. Like a wubbering springboard. His ejaculate jumped the length of her arm. Eight diminishing gouts. The first too high for her to lick. Right on the shoulder.
• The Adventuress: The Irresistible Rise of Miss Cath Fox by Nicholas Coleridge In seconds the duke had lowered his trousers and boxers and positioned himself across a leather steamer trunk, emblazoned with the royal arms of Hohenzollern Castle. ‘Give me no quarter,’ he commanded. ‘Lay it on with all your might.’
(There’s a poll below — vote for your favourite!)
Should your need prove insatiable, you can find other snippets from this year’s selections on Twitter using the hashtag #LRBadSex2012.