The early snow in Toronto finally let up long enough to let us go catch a matinée of the newly-released movie, Midway. As history buffs, both my honey and I were looking forward to seeing it and its release around Remembrance Day made it particularly relevant. Running slightly more than two hours, we felt we got our money’s worth, despite the usurious prices for popcorn and pop. The movie is a recreation of the American defense of Midway Island in the south Pacific against Japanese forces in June 1942. There are many recognizable names from our knowledge of history and previous movies about the events surrounding the war in the Pacific.
The special effects were mind-blowing. They just keep getting better and better. The plot was fairly accurate from a historical standpoint but there were a couple of issues that rubbed me the wrong way. First of all, why do the Americans always have to make their heroes into non-conformist cowboy caricatures? The lead role of Dick Best was played by a gum-chewing British actor Ed Skrein faking a New Jersey accent. I thought he was a bit over the top in trying to recreate a kind of Steve McQueen persona from The Great Escape—who in fact was a real-life person and, in reality, a Canadian, not American. How would it hurt the plot if their heroes weren’t always gum-chewing rule breakers?
Woody Harrelson was excellent as General Chester Nimistz and Dennis Quaid played Admiral Bull Halsey with gravelly-voiced aplomb. I found the writing to be trite and uninspired, full of cliché phrases and boring dialogue. It was OK but could and I think should have been better. Considering what they spent on special effects, perhaps they should have invested in better writers. The plot needed a bit more historical context to flesh out the events of the battles for the benefit of those who are true history buffs and the choppy editing made it a bit hard to follow at times. I did find the movie’s treatment of the Japanese to be fair. There are good guys and bad guys on both sides and as they say, the winner gets to write the history books. Not all Japanese were in favour of going to war with the United States. This movie is definitely worth seeing on the big screen, so forgo your livingroom’s big screen and see it at the theatre. Enjoy yourself and let me know what you think after you’ve seen Midway, the movie.
Steve Easterbrook, C.E.O. of McDonald’s Corp. recently resigned his position because he had a consensual affair with a fellow employee of the firm. Yikes!! I have to say I feel sorry for him because I met both my first and second husbands through work, so I’m speaking from a position of experience. And many of my friends also met their spouses and partners through work. In fact, I’m inclined to think that with today’s busy lifestyles and the long hours demanded by career-building, I don’t know a better way to meet someone. When you’ve sat in meetings together, attended business functions and witnessed the behaviours of your fellow employees at the office Christmas party, you learn a lot about a person. We spend so many hours each week with our coworkers that it’s natural they become like family, with some relationships growing closer than others. We see our coworkers at their worst while under stress, at their magnanimous best when being rewarded for superior performance and we soon learn who’s kind, who’s ethical, who is lazy and who is honest. The hours we spend with our coworkers under stressful conditions offers the most comprehensive insights into their character.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t condone bullying or pressure by office predators in order to gain leverage. Heavens, no. We’ve all walked this earth long enough to know that scum bags exist but that’s not what we’re talking about here. This is about genuine consensual romantic relationships developing between coworkers, apart from #metoo. Having worked most of my career in the construction industry which is heavily weighted with male employees, the pickings were pretty good. There were many young engineers, tradespeople, technicians and other staff who mingled often with office staff. In the early years, most supervisory and management positions were male-dominated but as women entered more non-traditional fields, their numbers increased. We often joked about the ensuing relationships that inevitably developed and we were tempted sometimes to sit down and make a list of the marriages that sprang from work-related relationships in our company alone. There were dozens and perhaps even into the hundreds that resulted in people getting together at work, my own marriage being one of them.
I don’t know the specifics of Steve Easterbrook’s relationship. Perhaps he was married. Perhaps his partner was a subordinate. There are so many variables that may have been unsavory but it’s not our place to moralize. Love happens. Apparently, McDonald’s has a company policy that forbids consensual relationships with fellow employees. Their rationale is that they’re a company with strong family values and their executives and employees at all levels have to respect that dictum. Politicians are often subjected to the same moral scrutiny but as evidenced by today’s American President, it really doesn’t hold much water these days. The moral right makes the rules and they’re allowed to break them.
When relationships develop between females and a male with a higher position in the corporate hierarchy, there could be serious fallout if the relationship falls apart. It’s difficult to work with someone you’ve broken up with and women are often dealt the losing hand in these circumstances. Her male superior may want her out-of-sight, out-of-mind and find it easier to terminate her. That’s the price women have unfortunately paid for failed workplace relationships since the beginning of time. When there’s an imbalance of power, the power exerts itself. I’m no longer in the workforce but I hope that has eased up with the #metoo movement and allowed women to continue working in the same environment if they wish to do so.
My husband and I worked together for nearly 30 years before we became “an item” and we have now been together for nearly 20 years. He was certainly above me in the management structure but I did not directly report to him. We’ve had many discussions recently about how our relationship would or could have been handled under current circumstances. Fortunately, the firm we worked for did not have a “No Fraternization” policy and as a result, many happy marriages resulted from employees working together. In fact, some of the offspring of those marriages are now second-generation employees. That is a good thing for everyone. Just ask Bill and Melinda Gates or Barrack and Michelle Obama. Michelle was Barrack Obama’s boss at the law firm where they both worked and I’d say that turned out to be a rather productive relationship.
I think the American military has similar policies to McDonald’s and as a result, a very senior military advisor was recently forced to retire early when it was disclosed he’d had an affair with another officer. The military may have specific reasons for their policy, but I don’t think any corporation has the right to dictate to its workers that they cannot become romantically involved. It has no business in the bedrooms of its employees, but I do think discretion on the part of coworkers is essential. As long they are doing their job and their relationship is not negatively impacting their performance, then the employer should have no say in the matter. If I’d worked for companies with such out-dated policies I’d probably be an old maid today instead of enjoying my life with someone I love and share a similar value system with. I feel for ya’ Steve Easterbrook. I hope your next employer is more open-minded. What do you think?
This aging baby boomer has a confession. I just can’t drink like I used to. Some of us can’t. Has it happened to you? Liquor never was my personal cup of tea. I dislike the taste of rye whiskey; I hate gin; scotch burns too much going down, and because you can’t taste it, I think vodka is just a waste of money, unless you’re drinking it solely for the buzz. But it’s the buzz that I’ve come to be concerned about. In fact, for me, the buzz now feels more like the burrr! Where I once became all swoony and romantic after a couple of glasses of Pinot Grigio, I can barely get through a single glass now without getting an instant mild hangover. Not to mention, there’s a distinct possibility that I could fall asleep right in front of your eyes.
Each of us has our own personal history of drinking. For me, it started in the sixties with the boomer’s ubiquitous bubbly of choice, Mateus, a sweet rosé. Those empty wide-bellied bottles lent themselves beautifully to what we young boomers considered to be sophisticated candle holders in our not-so-sophisticated singles’ digs. Friends could always be counted on to bring a bottle to a party; it was cheap and everyone liked it because it was one step up from drinking pop. Our nights in the pub were always accompanied by a table full of draft beer, again because it was cheap and we calculated we were getting more bang for our buck. I certainly swilled my share of whatever was on tap even though I never was a huge fan of beer, except on a really hot day.
Over the years, my tastes have progressed, although I can’t actually say they’ve improved. In my attempts to be one of the cool urbanites, I went through a DuBonnet phase, a Blue Nun phase and a particularly nasty Black Tower phase back in the 70s, the details of which I won’t go into. Then, about 20 years ago, I discovered Pinot Grigio and we had a love match. The colder the better. In fact, I prefer it with ice because as a friend pointed out, as the ice melts, it lasts longer. I did learn the hard way, though, never to drink at a business lunch. If I did, the afternoon was a complete loss. I’d feel discombobulated and in serious need of a nap. Because I worked in the construction industry, boozy lunches weren’t uncommon (things were different in the 70s and 80s. Remember Mad Men?) and the men I lunched with didn’t seem to be encumbered with my problem of after-effects.
When my husband and I first got together (he’s the one who introduced me to Pino Grigio), we’d enjoy long dinners with lengthy conversations often lasting three or four hours, over multiple bottles of wine and good food. I’m sure you’ve noticed how multiple glasses of wine enhances conversation! I enjoyed the taste; I enjoyed the buzz and I could handle it without getting too sloppy or stupid. But, all good things must come to an end. I can’t pinpoint exactly when the transformation began, but I started to notice I felt terrible, even ill after a few glasses of my favourite PG. Sadly, my ration is now down to about one glass a week, on a Saturday night with a nice meal. But the effects begin before I’m even half-way through my glass.
My ability to always be able to handle my alcohol intake has definite upsides. I’ve never had to worry about whether I drink too much. My liver is probably as good as new and I never have to apologize the next day for bad behaviour—well, at least not as the result of drinking. I could never be an alcoholic although considering my taste and lack of resistance to President’s Choice (Made in France) chocolate almond bars and Kawartha Dairy’s Rocky Road ice-cream, I do sympathize with addiction issues. We all have our Achilles’ heel.
Getting drunk or getting high has never been something that appeals to me. I prefer to be mostly in control of my faculties at all times but I do love my cold white wine, particularly the first cold, crisp couple of sips. Umm good. But as time goes on, I’m being robbed of the pleasure of enjoying anything more than a 6-oz. glass of Santa Margherita and that restriction just pisses me off.
I’ve tried switching to red wine but that’s not where my tastes lie. I do enjoy a few silky sips of Tignanello, an amazing Brunello, but at around $100.00 a bottle, that’s never going to occupy a spot on our wine rack. No wonder it’s (supposedly) Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex’s favourite. At that price, you need to be a Duchess to afford it, so I’ll never find out if I’m able to handle more than a glass. I was first introduced to it when we toured the Antinori Winery in Tuscany, Italy a few years ago. Talk about spoiling you by upselling. As for wine alternatives, I’m reserving the gummy bear option for when my joints (!!) become too painful to manage. Hopefully, not until I’m in ‘the home’.
In the meantime, like sailors of old who were issued a tot of rum a day, I’m rationed one small glass of white wine a week. Ugh! Does anyone else have a problem with their wine consumption? Are we doomed to a life of abstinence?
British crime writer Kate Atkinson’s novel Started Early, Took My Dog is the fourth book I’ve now read by this author and I can officially add her to my list of favourite writers. Crime Fiction is a genre I never paid much attention to in the past but her writing style and quirky characters get me immediately absorbed into the plot. Started Early, Took My Dog once again stars Jackson Brody as the main character. He’s a bit past-his-prime, a former policeman who pays the rent with money earned as a somewhat down-at-the-heel private investigator based in Yorkshire, Northern England. The Yorkshire culture and locations are integral to Atkinson’s plots.
When Brody receives an email from Hope in New Zealand looking for her birth parents, he takes on the case, but without a lot of enthusiasm. Atkinson introduces a lot of characters but they’re all integral to the plot and all interesting in their own way. Tracy Waterhouse is a retired Yorkshire police officer who now works as head of security at a local mall. One day while walking her mall beat, she notices someone she recognizes as a known drug user and neglectful mother of her children dragging a helpless child through the mall while screaming obscenities. Tracy follows the women to the bus stop and in a moment of abandon, offers a large sum of cash to buy the child in order to keep her safe. The woman hands her over. The ex-cop is now an accidental mother and a criminal.
Around the same time, Jackson Brodie witnesses a small dog being abused by a large bully in the local park and in an act of salvation, he does much the same as Tracy Waterhouse and snatches the dog from the owner’s car. He’s now an accidental dog owner. Meanwhile, we learn that Tracy was involved in a peculiar murder/disappearing child case early in her career that she never forgot. Tilly, an elderly actress in the early stages of dementia has come to Tracy’s attention when she’s caught surreptitiously shop-lifting various incidentals in the mall. She can’t remember committing the crimes and can hardly remember where she is when she’s on stage performing a role.
All of Atkinson’s disparate characters come together in a jolly tale of murder, mystery, roots and deception. There were still some loose ends when I finished the book and I look forward to finding the threads in another one of Atkinson’s books. I absolutely adored Started Early, Took My Dog and couldn’t put it down. The author tends to introduce too many characters which are a challenge to keep straight, but I persisted. There are car chases, shady business dealings, cute kids, ex-wives, and all kinds of other skullduggery that come together in a great romp. I love the way Atkinson writes, with humour, sensitivity to the characters’ individual character flaws, and a complex set of circumstances that come together at the end. Not a candidate for any literary awards but a good read. I’d give it 7 out of 10.
There was an item on the news this week that demonstrated the future of in-store grocery shopping. Sobey’s is test-driving new shopping carts that allow you to scan your items as soon as you pull them off the shelf. Each cart is equipped with a product scanner and sensors so you can scan your purchases immediately and drop them into your (recyclable) shopping bags sitting open in the cart. Easy peasy. No checkout clerk required. And special sensors in the cart alert you if you “forget” to scan something, preventing unscrupulous shoppers from circumventing the honour system.
Although I like the idea of getting in and out of the grocery store in as little time as possible, I have mixed feelings about this new innovation. It would be wonderful to avoid checkout lineups and the process of unloading your purchases from your cart onto a conveyor belt, then having to reload them again into your bags to go to the car. It would also prevent being subjected to clerks trying to sell me the deodorant special of the week, and the lure of gossipy magazines I tend to pick up while killing time in the lineup.
My biggest concern with self-checkouts, however, is the loss of service jobs that provide essential employment for so many semi-skilled and unskilled workers. It’s no small matter. Those service jobs are disappearing everywhere at a time when we need them. McDonald’s is using computerized graphic boards so customers can customize and place their own orders, once again by-passing the human clerk. To their credit, they have compensated for the employment issue by using staff/team members to deliver trays of food to the table in many outlets,a nice little bonus. Shoppers Drug Mart is now introducing self-checkout as well and I always opt for using a real live person to make my purchases—again because of the jobs issue. Self-serve bank machines and gas pumps were early examples of machines replacing people. Somehow we were easily tricked into doing the service providers’ work ourselves with no apparent benefit. We now have to wash our own windshields and even pay service fees to the banks for using our own money.
With so many commercial transactions now being conducted online, businesses are increasingly using their customers to do the work of what we used to call ‘Customer Service’. Even customer service has now come to mean an anonymous voice in a remote call-centre, an impersonal job staffed by people in third-world countries who speak English as a second language. Despite their scripted words, “I understand”, they rarely do.
Sobey’s executives have tried to assure customers that jobs will not be lost and they insist the people who were formerly checkout clerks will be working elsewhere in the store. I’m skeptical about this even though I would love to have personnel on the floor who could quickly and correctly direct me to where the maraschino cherries are located.
When boomers were growing up in the fifties and sixties, large supermarkets were just starting to take off. Many of our mothers still did their grocery shopping in small local stores—meat from a butcher shop, produce from the greengrocer or perhaps all the weekly groceries at a small local general store. Bread and milk were delivered to our door by nice uniformed men in trucks. If you’re a particularly mature boomer like me, you may even remember the iceman bringing blocks of ice a couple of times a week. He’d usually break off some small chunks onto the sidewalk for us kids to chew on and cool off on a hot day. And we didn’t die or even get sick from eating ice off the sidewalk. We loved it.
My father grew up in a rural community, even smaller than the one I grew up in. The local village was basically a few buildings at the intersection of two roads. A weekly trip to the general store was a big deal. Dad told me that his father would dress up in his suit and tie for the weekly trip “into town” and sit on the front porch of the store catching up on the news with the other local men while their wives did the weekly shopping. And there’s a lot to be said for having a store clerk who knows your Aunt Mildred had her gall bladder out and asks how she’s doing. Catching up on who just had a baby or whose combine broke down was an early version of Facebook but conducted in person.
Human beings need personal, real-life interaction with other human beings. It’s a fundamental part of our makeup and conducive to good health. We hear a lot about the plague of loneliness among the elderly but I suspect it’s not just older people who feel starved of human connection. It’s tragic to see a table full of young people in a restaurant or coffee shop each focussed on their smartphones, communicating with others at a distance who are obviously more important in their lives than whoever they’re sitting with. We risk losing the art of meaningful conversation. It won’t be long before even wait staff in restaurants will be replaced by smart devices on each table that allow us to place our order. Then, we’ll even be deprived of the opportunity to say “Yes. Everything’s fine, thank you” to a real human being.
I’m torn on the self-checkout issue. Are they a good thing or a bad thing? On one hand, I like the idea of avoiding the lineup at the cashier’s counter. But that cashier probably needs the job and I enjoy exchanging a few words with him or her. I usually try to make their day a little less boring by telling them I like their hair or asking them if they have special plans for the weekend. We all need that human connection. As to whether self-checkouts are a good thing or a bad thing, one thing we know for sure, self-checkouts are an inevitable thing, whether we like it or not. I plan to avoid them as much as possible. What about you?
Footnote: Two weeks later I went into my Shoppers’ Drug Mart and the self-checkout machines had disappeared, replaced by a conventional checkout with a real-life human being. Victory for our side and one small step for humankind.
Historical fiction is a genre I particularly love and find hard to resist. Reading as many non-fiction and fiction books as I do, however, about the Second World War can at times become soul-sapping. I’ve just finished The Daughter’s Tale by Armando Lucas Correa, the story of a young Jewish woman’s last-minute escape from Berlin just before the start of World War II. Amanda Sternberg is left a widow with two young daughters, six-year-old Viera, and four-year-old Lina after the Gestapo takes her husband away in 1939.
In the aftermath of his death, she can no longer ignore the impending threat to their lives by the worsening political situation, so she sends her eldest daughter Viera off on the MS St. Louis to join Amanda’s brother who had escaped to Cuba years earlier. With Lina, she manages to escape to a small village in central France where, before he died, her husband had arranged for her to live with the Catholic wife and daughter of an old friend of his.
Upon arriving at the home of Claire Duval, also a widow, and her daughter Danielle, she is received with kindness but an understandable degree of concern. Although Amanda and Lina could easily pass for Aryan Germans, they are still German and must quickly change and adapt to their new Catholic home. They are forced to adopt a new language and culture in order to conceal their German Jewish background. Improving their French language skills is a priority and in order to blend in as much as possible, they start attending the local Catholic church. Lina is enrolled in the local school.
Despite now living in a remote French village that would appear to have no strategic value to the Nazis, they soon fall under the oppressive rule of the German occupiers and life becomes increasingly difficult. Claire has established a strong friendship with the local priest, Father Marcel, who goes above and beyond his calling to protect his flock. Young Lina becomes fast friends with Claire’s daughter Danielle, even though they are a few years apart in age. Danielle assumes an older sister role and takes Lina under her wing.
As the war progresses and the threats mount, Amanda realizes she must now take more drastic steps to protect her younger daughter. When it appears the Germans are going to lose the war, they take vindictive actions against the remaining French population, imprisoning and even murdering innocent French citizens. Amanda and Lina are taken to a local concentration camp where Amanda takes drastic action to save the life of her daughter.
The story revolves around letters Amanda has written to her older daughter, Viera, who was shipped off to Cuba in 1939. Her few letters were returned undelivered but she keeps writing anyway and saving them when they are returned, hoping to one day reunite with her older daughter. She hopes to reassure Viera that she loved her and that it was because of her love that she was sent off on the MS St. Louis to Cuba. This is the famous ship with 900 passengers, mostly escaping Jewish citizens, that was rejected by Cuba, The United States, and Canada before returning to France. Most of the returning passengers were ultimately sent to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps although some were accepted by Great Britain.