Archive for August, 2013


David Sedaris is a brilliant chronicler of the innermost thoughts we all have but never verbalise – the imagined slights, the petty annoyances, the vengeful reactions – that flash through the mind and are gone in a nanosecond.

That he is able to capture them with such clarity is remarkable, but it’s his idiosyncratic perspective that brings humour to the most unexpected places. There aren’t many books that make me laugh out loud, but this is one of them.


057The shooting of a Seattle bus driver by a man with a history of drug offences and mental health issues came as a shock – but probably not a surprise – to anyone who uses public transport in the city.

Since arriving from London a couple of weeks ago it’s clear that there are many people wandering the streets who really shouldn’t be, given that they need specialist, institutional care.

Wait at a stop around Third and Pine or Pike and you’ll see the full array – people who are off their medication, those who are self-medicating, those who are delusional, or destitute, or desperate, or all three.

They need help because they’re incapable of supporting themselves. And shelters and hostels aren’t the answer when they’re simply returned to the streets during the day.

Even in the short time I’ve been using public transport here I’ve witnessed several incidents – more than I saw in several years in London.

Just the other day a glaze-eyed woman, with only the faintest idea of where she was, directed a foul-mouthed tirade at the driver of a route 70 bus as she left the vehicle.

Far more serious was the episode with the scary, psychotic, man mouthing obscenities and making threats against someone only he could see.

The unwashed and unkempt who reek of urine and soiled clothes are merely offensive, but some of the encounters I’ve witnessed have been aggressive and frightening.

Naively, perhaps,  I’ve seen nothing to explain how a man with a long track record of criminal behaviour came to be in possession of a gun; it seems weapons are so routinely available it’s not something that needs explanation.

And the damage his attack has caused goes far beyond the injuries to the bus driver who was shot, though I’m delighted he has been released from hospital and is on the mend.

The shooting represents a huge setback to attempts to bolster public transport and to get people to leave their cars at home. It’s also damaging to Seattle’s wider reputation as a good place to visit and a good place to live.

There’s a balance to be struck between an individual’s freedom, a community’s duty of pastoral care and the rights of all people to move freely and safely as they go about their business. In this instance the system has clearly failed and a deep rethink is required.

Less violent crime downtown? Not by numbers from police

IMG_5277It’s 12-metres tall, it’s by Barcelona-based designer Jaume Piensa and its called “Wonderland”. It stands outside the new Bow building in Calgary, Canada, and I think it’s rather good.


An epic story of love, lust, greed, terror and survival woven around the Spanish civil war and its aftermath.

Grandes’ plot explores the consequences for families on either side of the disastrous coup that saw the republic disintegrate in an orgy of killing and re-emerge as a Fascist regime.

This is no dry history lesson, nor is it chicklit. The characters are carefully drawn and complex. Grandes captures brilliantly their fleeting thoughts, the dilemmas they face, and the consequences of their actions.

Perhaps best of all, she shows how the fears that haunted the Franco generation pervade the lives of their sons and daughters.

IMG_5318The artifacts and iconography of the Pacific Northwest are among my favorite folk art representations and the Burke Museum on the University of Washington campus in Seattle has a rich seam of treasures.

Totem poles hold a particular spell for me with their stylised representations of whales, ravens, eagles, salmon, wolves, bears and other animals of the region.

Each is identified with a particular quality or talent – the salmon with persistence, the otter with curiousity for instance – and they are incorporated into collective myths and legends that make up family or tribal identities.

For people who don’t keep written records these pillars of history connect the past to the present and help keep alive the stories and memories of their ancestors.

The Financial Lives of Poets

Posted: August 10, 2013 in Book review
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A black comedy with a Chandleresque air in which we witness the life of small-town business journalist Matt Prior unravel into an ever-worsening downward spiral of awfulness.

Like a casino slots junkie, Matt makes increasingly desperate attempts to get things back on track against odds that are always unfavorable.

Facing foreclosure on the  family home, maxed out credit card debt, imminent marriage break-up and his father’s worsening dementia, it’s a bleak outlook leavened by cracking one-liners and sharp social commentary.

Author Jess Walters stretches out the absurdity and works in plenty of humor but underneath it all there’s a grim reality, a parable for the times, about what’s really valuable and what’s just stuff.