To paraphrase E.E. Cummings, the posts that are to come are for you and for me, and are not for most people.  Most people have very limited interests. Yours and mine are many, are diverse, are sometimes incongruent, are often out of the ordinary, off the beaten track, or as my former boss once put it: “You’re quirky. But in a good way.”

On any given day I may choose to write about politics, poetry, motorcycles, travel, restaurants, bars, books, sculpture, ideas about time, the mind, the body, whatever. I may choose to write about nothing at all. Or just not write.

And on any given day you may choose to read what I write, to like it, share it, comment on it – or just skip it. Who knows? maybe you don’t like poetry, or politics, Beethoven. Whatever. What you choose is your business, just as what I choose is mine.

Why a blog? Why “premeditations”? Look what good questions you ask! I knew you were the right reader for me.

A blog, because it helps me to focus, to maintain the habit of writing, and because writing without readers is little more than masturbating with a dictionary. (I like words, but not in that way.) It also helps me to maintain the habit of thinking out loud. Anyone can think anything in the cozy confines of their skull. But when we think out loud we invite others to join us – to agree, to disagree, to question us, and to answer us. That is what I’m doing here.

“Premeditations,” because I like the ambiguity inherent in the word. These posts will be premeditated, planned to some degree in advance. Not just off-the-cuff riffs like you might find on social media. They will also be in some way “pre-meditation,” in the sense of being prior to really deep thinking about whatever topic they purport to address. (In other words, don’t allow your expectations to get unreasonably high on me. It won’t be good for either of us.)

So, welcome. Pull up a chair. Stay as long as you like.

What it is

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

– T.S. Eliot

It is often easier to say what a thing isn’t than it is to say what it is. Case in point, my upcoming trip.

When people hear that you’re going to be travelling around Ireland and Scotland – or at least, when they hear I will be – they tend to assume: whisky tour. Now, while it is entirely probable that some whisky will be consumed, that is not the point of the journey. Indeed, if my plan were to try to hit as many distilleries as possible in the relatively short time available, I would a) not be making this trip on a motorbike, and b) would have planned more time in Scotland, and less everywhere else I’ll be. And that is even granting that the place I’ll be in most is Scotland.

If I were planning a whisky tour, I would be including many places I likely won’t get to: Islay, first and foremost, since several of my favourite malts come from there, as well as Jura, the Orkneys, and several other points on the map of Scotland. Now, I will be stopping in Oban, where it is a very good bet I’ll tour the distillery, and hope to visit The Glenmorangie, The Glenrothes, and possibly one or two others, as well. But they are roadside attractions, not destinations as such.

The trip is also not primarily about motorcycling, although I will be doing a lot of it. About 5,000 km of it, give or take. I like travelling by motorcycle. I prefer it to flying, driving, taking trains, or just about any other way you can think of to get places. But it simply my preferred mode of transportation, and not the journey itself.

So what is this trip, exactly? I’ve been asking myself that, since I can see it puzzles people when I say, “yeah, there will be whisky, but it’s not why I’m going,” or, “yeah, it’ll be cool to ride a Triumph around the Highlands, but the riding’s only a part of it.” And if I say both these things to someone, they tend to change the subject. (Which, admittedly, they may have wanted to do anyway. Oh, you’re going to Britain? Cool, I guess. Where do you want to have lunch?)

Now, unlike many Canadians, I am not really that wound up about where my ancestors are from. I’m interested enough in family history, but I don’t feel any visceral (or imagined) connection to my so-called heritage. I don’t think of myself as Irish, although a good number of my mother’s family came from places like Cork and Londonderry, if you go back far enough. Others came from Wales (god knows where) and Scotland (Edinburgh, I’m told). On my father’s side, the family mythology has them from Scotland, although our family name hails from Northumberland. Still, with relatively porous borders, anything is possibly. His mother’s maiden name was Berry, so I expect that family were English (although, I’d love to believe I was cousins with Chuck). But I also don’t think of myself as Welsh, Scots or English.

I’ll be riding through places that, quite likely, my forebears decided it was best to leave. That’s kind of interesting, I think, but I’m more interested in meeting people who have stayed, especially in small villages and towns. It’ll be interesting to talk to people I’ve yet to meet, and who I may never see again after I leave.

Even this, though, isn’t really a full explanation, if such a thing exists. My initial plan was to ride around the European continent for a few weeks with a friend of mine who is on a much longer adventure, take in a concert in Poland, and then come home. Somewhere along the way, my plan changed.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do this by myself. I’ve always travelled with someone else before. I’ve never made any kind of extended journey completely on my own. That’s exciting to me, if slightly frightening, too. At first, I thought of doing just part of the trip on my own, but the more I looked into it, the more I wanted my adventure to be just mine. Not something tacked on to someone else’s journey.

Eventually, I decided to travel in Ireland and the UK for two main reasons: first, there’s a good chance of encountering English, no matter how strange it may sound at first to my ear, wherever I go; and second, after this year, the journey may not be so easy to complete. The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland may harden. And that hardening may not simply be a matter of checkpoints.

Of course, the real purpose of this journey is something I won’t really be able to put into words for several months yet. The road hasn’t even begun yet, so how can I say where it will lead?

The plan so far…

Flights booked. Bike booked. Accommodations booked for 90 per cent of the trip. Routes (roughly) mapped out.

I’ll be starting my trip in Ireland, skirting the perimeter of the island for the most part, and spending most of my time in the south. After picking the bike up near Belfast, I’ll spend a couple of nights in Dublin, giving myself some time to get used to everything being on the wrong side of the road. I’ll ride to my first accommodations, just outside of Tralee, before swinging up along the coast to Galway, where I’ll spend another couple of nights. Then I’ll be off up the coast again before ireland route

swinging east through Sligo to Belfast.

From Belfast I’ll catch a ferry over to Scotland, and ride to Dumbarton, where I’ll spend the night before heading to Oban. This will likely be the first of several stops involving a distillery tour, although I’m not planning to hit every distillery that I encounter, and haven’t included stops where many of my favoHighland route pt 1urite distillers are located (e.g., Islay). From Oban, I’ll make my way to Skye, and then up the west coast of the Highlands. I’ll decide when I reach it whether or not to ride the Bealach na Ba, or the alternate, slightly less dodgy route to Shieldaig on my way to Ullapool. From there, I’ll skirt along the coast first northward then eastward to John o’ Groats, the most northerly part of Scottish mainland.

I’ll spend the night in Wick, then head down the east coast of the Highlands to Craigellachie, conveniently located near four (at least) distilleries. From there, it’s down to Stirling on my way to Edinburgh, where I’ll meet up with a friend and former colleague.

From Edinburgh, I’ll head south along the coast into England, through Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Scarborough, and stopping in York. I am told some of the best motorcycling roads in England are to be found in Yorkshire, so I’m looking forward to those. From there, Highland route pt 2I’ll angle southwest towards Bath, where I’ll stop for the night before heading to Wales.

In Wales, I’ll ride through Cardiff to Swansea, on the south coast, former home of Dylan Thomas, where I’ll stop for the night. The next day I’ll ride up the coast to Snowdonia National Park, and spend the night in Colwyn Bay, on the north coast of Wales.

From Wales, I’ll head through the lake district back to Scotland, stopping in Moffat. I’m told it’s a beautiful town, by a good friend of mine who just happens to be named Moffat. I’m sure there’s no bias in her appraisal of the town. The next morning I’ll ride back to the ferry, and return the bike to the dealership in Belfast. A shEngland & Wales routeort bus ride will have me back in Dublin for another two nights before I board the flight for home.

If anyone has any advice – things that must be seen, things to avoid, to watch out for, and so forth, please leave comments. Over the next couple of months, as I get closer to June, I’ll talk more about the bike I’ll be riding, what I plan to pack, that kind of thing. If you’re really curious about any aspect of the planning, let me know.

If you made similar trips and want to point me to your blog, your YouTube video, or whatever, feel free to leave that in comments, too.


Calculated risk aversion

While waiting for Air Canada to publish their 2018 rates for shipping motorbikes around the globe (well, to Europe, anyway), I decided to do some additional checking about just how much it would cost to rent a nice new bike, rather than shipping mine. It turns out, as I expected, it costs more. But – there’s always a but – not so much more as I had thought.

This is mainly due to what’s included in the price of the rental (pretty much everything I could want), and what I’d have to pay for in addition to shipping costs to send my bike over with me (things like import fees and insurance, as well as servicing my bike, and most likely putting new tires on it).

For a mere £2,355, I can have a nice, new Triumph Tiger 800, with cases, helmet, jacket, jeans, gloves and boots, pre-programmed GPS, comprehensive insurance, roadside assistance and unlimited mileage. That’s about $1,000 more than shipping my sixteen-year-old bike, including the dangerous goods insurance required for the shipping. But that $1,000 would have a hard time covering new tires, servicing and insurance. And I still wouldn’t have roadside assistance, or as they call it in the UK, ‘breakdown cover’.

It might sound strange coming from someone who rides a motorcycle, but I’m fairly risk averse. At least, when the calculations associated with that risk make me so. I don’t expect I would break down on my bike, but I could. It’s old, things fail. I know this all too well. And when things fail on an aging BMW, the cost can be depressing.

Now, I also don’t expect to break down riding a nice (relatively) new Triumph Tiger, but if I do, it’s nice to know that someone else will be picking up the cost.

This also takes a lot of the complication out of my trip preparations. I don’t have to fill out a lot of paperwork, clear a motorcycle through customs, arrange to be at the airport the day before the bike flies (which would be the day before I do). I just get myself to the airport, fly to Dublin, catch a bus to the rental shop and start the fun. At the end I just do that in reverse.

Renting the bike also removes a lot of uncertainty and risk associated with cost. My budget can be more defined, and this makes planning a lot easier. And easy is good.

Of course, if I were going to be riding for longer than I am, bringing my bike would be a no-brainer. Just as a shorter trip would have removed that option from consideration. As it is, this looks like the Goldilocks solution to my question.


The calendar flipped and I hit a zero on my personal odometer. But it’s just a number. If I use Roman numerals, it looks smaller than the number that preceded it, at least in terms of characters used: L.

To mark the year, my wife suggested I do a long road trip in Europe, and I agreed that would be a great idea. (Yes, she is the best. Back off, she’s taken!)

After several weeks of planning, I’ve got the rough outlines of the trip in shape. I’ll fly my bike into and out of Dublin. I’ll ride down through Co. Cork, and up the west coast of Ireland – the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ – then across to Belfast. From there I’ll catch a ferry to Scotland, ride the ‘North Coast 500’ route around the northern Highlands, then down through England to Wales, where I’ll catch another ferry back to Ireland for the flight home. All told, it will be just under four weeks.

As noted, it’s a rough outline. For the most part I haven’t decided where I’ll stop or stay. My plan is to stick mostly to smaller places, outside of the larger cities (with a few exceptions), and to keep my riding time down to four or five hours a day (rather than the eight to twelve that have been my habit on past road trips), so that I can spend more time in places. It will all be new to me, as I won’t be stopping anyplace I’ve been before. It’ll be an adventure.

I plan to write about it all here. I’ll include photos, and (if I decide to acquire a GoPro, or something like it) maybe some videos, too.

If you have tips, recommendations, warnings, feel free to leave them in the comments.



Tabula Rasa

Arvo Pärt at 36,000 ft.
The voices of the strings weave
Through the air, rise and fall, play
Against each other.

Outside, the clouds
Mingle and separate, fall away
Beneath us, behind us.

Just as time
And music fade
Into silence.

To live without expectation,
The future as a blank slate,
To engage with what comes
As it comes
In its own time.

Trying to imagine that.
Knowing that we expect the future
To resemble the past.

The batter looking for a fastball
Doesn’t recognize the change up, and swings through it, surprised.

The point where the patterns intersect,
The point where the patterns disperse,
Here the mind is free to play.

Fullness and emptiness have the same rules.

Your plans cannot escape these rules, or contain them.
This is the first rule.

It doesn’t matter that you don’t acknowledge the rules.
This is the second rule.

I never expect the face in the mirror.
Recognize it, of course. Know it’s mine.
But it surprises me every time
Like a note played off key
Or an off-speed pitch.

The difference between knowledge and expectation:
We all know we will die. And yet death arrives unexpected.

The number of times I watched my father’s head
Move through shades of red and purple
As he coughed at the dinner table, then lit a cigarette.

And yet it was years later, and something else entirely.
I watched him slip quietly into Silentium, all the machines switched off.
I was utterly unprepared.

Benefits of competition

Recently, one of my poems was long-listed for the CBC Poetry Prize. (For those of you not from Canada, CBC is like BBC, only Canadian, and with fewer good shows. Or like PBS, but with ads instead of pleas for donations.) It was one of 33 poems selected from more than 2,400 submissions, which I think is a pretty cool accomplishment. I didn’t get shortlisted, but looking at the competition, I didn’t feel slighted. There were some fine poets in that group.

Not least among them – in fact, the opposite of least – was Alessandra Naccarato, the eventual winner, as announced today. I commend her and her poem to your attention.

2017 CBC Poetry Prize Winner

The best part of being part of the competition – and the longlist – is that it has provided me with some additional motivation to write more. And so I will. And you’ll see that in the coming weeks and months.

My thanks to CBC Books for the experience.

The truth about Shakespeare

I read recently that the grandson of Evelyn Waugh has claimed to have proof that Shakespeare – or rather, the author of the works commonly attributed some guy by that name – was actually Edward de Vere, better known to historians as the 17th Earl of Oxford. This isn’t a new idea. It was famously propagated by J. Thomas Looney, a 19th century Oxford scholar, and is often referred to as The Looney Theory (or sometimes just The Loony Theory).

I haven’t read Waugh’s argument, but I can say with certainty that he’s wrong, whether or not he’s loony. And I can say this because I know who Shakespeare really was. He was, in fact, Queen Elizabeth (the first one, not the one who didn’t like Diana). Or rather, he was the person masquerading as Elizabeth. That person, as I’ll explain, was Christopher Columbus.

Now, some will say, “Hold on, that can’t be true. Columbus died in 1506. Elizabeth wasn’t born until 1533, and Shakespeare wasn’t born until 1564. Also, he kept writing after Elizabeth died in 1603.” They will say that, but they will be wrong. Or mostly wrong. Let me explain.

On Columbus’s second visit to the so-called “New World” (which was actually just as old as the Old World, just not as ruined), Columbus discovered what most of us know as “the fountain of youth.” As we all know, subsequent “explorers” (a nice word for “invaders”) searched high and low for said fountain (mostly low, although some may have been high from the mushrooms they mistakenly put in their salad). Most famous among them was Ponce de Leon, who went on a wild goose chase in Florida.

Columbus never told anyone about his discovery. Why would he? The Spanish hadn’t exactly treated him all that well, even throwing him in prison at one point. Eventually, he decided he needed a change of scenery, so he made his way to England, several barrels of water from the fountain of youth in tow.

The more of it he drank, the younger he became. His exploring days behind him, he began to work in theatre, mainly playing female roles. One of the side effects of the fountain water was that it suppressed the growth of facial hair, and in fact caused male-pattern baldness, from which he’d never suffered previously. With the right wigs, makeup and costumes he was able to portray young heroines, queens, goddesses – really any female role. He moved from theatre company to theatre company, most of them touring the English countryside.

In the fullness of time, as it were, and to make a long story short, he eventually became friends with a young woman whom fate seemed to have doomed to a life of intrigue. Her mother had, for a time, been married to Henry VIII, and she was in line to become Queen of England when her sickly younger brother died. She didn’t want this life. She wanted something simpler.

Christopher sympathized. He had once wanted that himself. But he was tired of the life of a touring actor, which had very few comforts, even by the standards of a world explorer. Together they hatched a plan. Since he was already used to portraying women, and had a great deal of experience dealing with royalty, he would assume her identity, and she would would become lady of a small country estate.

If you are not convinced, consider this: Elizabeth never married; she hated Spain; she encouraged exploration of the New World; she loved the theatre.

And it was this last point that brought him/her to conceive that a triple life would be more fulfilling than a double life. However, the life of a queen doesn’t really allow one to disappear for weeks on end to perform on the stage. And portraying a queen everyday was all the acting Christopher/Elizabeth could manage. Christopher had often thought he should be better known for his writing, and so he set about learning to write plays, studying surreptitiously with Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd.

He began to write sonnets, as well as plays; and his style of sonnet has since been dubbed ‘Elizabethan’. His early plays were terrible, and never saw the light of day – or footlights, either – but eventually his craft improved enough to be performed. Some of his early efforts have not survived, but most have. He befriended a local actor, who became the front man for his endeavours.

Interestingly, for a supposed Englishman, many of his plays are set in Italy, owing to Columbus’s Italian heritage. Romeo and Juliet, Othello, The Merchant of Venice, Cymbeline, to name a few.

Eventually Christopher tired of playing royalty. He’d already destroyed the Spanish Armada (a final F*** you to Spain), and he’d used up nearly all of his fountain water. So he once again faked his death – or rather Elizabeth’s death, while continuing to write as Shakespeare. He died for real shortly after writing The Tempest (which is why the plays written after that really don’t measure up). The man actually named Shakespeare “gave up writing” shortly afterward, retiring to Stratford, where he eventually died himself, and is still buried to this day.

So, there you have it. At least as convincing as the nonsense that Waugh and other Looneys have propagated, if I do say so myself.