Summertime, such as it is

Every now and then, someone offers me a helpful nudge that I haven’t posted anything in a while, and perhaps it’s time I do. I got one of those nudges this morning, and looking back it’s been much longer than I’d planned since I last premeditated here. Then it was spring, such as it was, with much of the western world under lock-down orders, and the rest of us behaving as if we were. The daily briefings from health officials were the top news of the day, and the term covidiot made its way into our lexicon.

A lot has changed in the nearly three months since I wrote my last post, suggesting to no none in particular that we should take the opportunity of the economic world being turned on its head to introduce a Universal Basic Income. Since then, the murder of George Floyd became the last straw for the millions around the world who’ve had enough of racism and police brutality. Public health orders notwithstanding, people turned out by the thousands in cities around the world to protest for change. In the United States, in Canada, and in the United Kingdom statues celebrating a history of racial oppression (and sometimes others, presumably in error) were pulled down or covered in graffiti supporting Black Lives Matter and decrying the ongoing attempted genocide of Indigenous peoples.

Economies began to reopen, in most places gradually, but in others with reckless abandon. People flocked to restaurants and bars, beaches and parks, seemingly forgetting that the novel coronavirus is still active among us. In many parts of the United States, cases, hospitalizations and deaths have spiked, overwhelming intensive care units, and unfortunately morgues. A debate has raged there and elsewhere about wearing masks, with many people foolishly succumbing to pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. Never mind that doctors and nurses wear masks – along with a lot more protective equipment – for 12 or more hours a day in hospitals, people have begun to claim that masks themselves are a greater health threat than the virus, some claiming mask wearing impairs oxygen intake, or that it can lead to carbon-dioxide poisoning, or even cancer. They doubt experts, and believe quacks. Worse, they often heed the advice of shadowy, anonymous conspiracy theorists over that of public health professionals.

Even without that sort of crackpot thinking, many people seem to believe that because we got bored with it – or perhaps because our media did, and so moved it deeper into their websites – the virus was no longer a threat. Many stores stopped limiting the number of people who could be inside at one time. They cut their $2/hour top-up for working in emergency conditions. Their staff, in many cases, were no longer required to wear masks or gloves. And so many of us have followed suit, let our guards down, ignored social distancing and let our bubbles of contacts expand.

Perhaps this was inevitable. As T.S. Eliot observed, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality,” and is really happiest when “distracted from distraction by distraction.”

The good news is that we seem to be making progress towards vaccines, although it is still early days. Even once a vaccine is approved, it will take some time to scale up production and distribution, so we should really be sticking to what preventative measures we have for the time being – the same ones we seem to be ignoring.

So, where do we go from here? The first wave of infections seems not to have crested and declined in the U.S., as it has elsewhere. Here, in Canada, we’re seeing another rise in cases after the flattening of our curve earlier in the spring. It seems likely we’ll be hit again, probably around the time schools are reopening in September, shortly before the annual epidemic of influenza.

We’ll have to hope that future waves are smaller than the first.

For what it’s worth…

There’s been a lot of talk lately about ‘reopening’ or ‘restarting’ the economy. A lot of this talk comes from politicians and media pundits. Most are for it, with varying degrees of caution, and very few against it. Almost no one questions who will benefit most from reopening or restarting.

Usually, the argument is framed in terms of being able to get haircuts or sit in restaurants or watch sports. Everyday people kind of stuff. Occasionally there is some acknowledgment that some everyday people – hair stylists, cashiers, childcare workers – might face more risk than others as a result. Many already do. But we can’t be afraid, we’re told. We are warriors. (That last part from a coward who lied his way out of going to war multiple times.)

Even before the current pandemic closed so much down, the economy we are currently told we should be willing to – literally – sacrifice lives for was not working for the majority of people. This is, in part, what has allowed populist movements to take hold in the U.S., Europe and parts of Latin America and Asia. Why would the poor vote for someone like Trump, who clearly does not have their interests in mind? Because the alternative didn’t care about them, either.

The economic system we are all so keen to restart – as soon as it is safe to do so, however we define that – really only ever worked for a very few. The gap between those who have much and those who have little has only increased since 1980. The number of those between those two polls has only diminished – and the majority of them retreated to the latter camp. As corporate profits increased, their payrolls shrank. As the stock markets surged, the real economy of everyday people became ever more tenuous.

Now, I need to be clear: I’m neither an economist, nor a historian, nor a political scientist. I have, however, read the works of economists, historians and political scientists, and not just those with whom I’m likely to agree. I live in this world that we’ve created, and I pay attention to what I see happening around me, and I think about what I observe. I consume facts, and modify my opinions accordingly. These are my opinions.

There are facts here, too. The current pandemic will eventually end, and economic activity of some kind does need to begin again at some point. Those are facts. But, in my opinion, it is time now not to simply ‘reopen’ or ‘restart’ our economies, however tentatively or rashly, but to reimagine them in a way that will benefit more people and harm fewer, and lead to greater freedom and equality for everyone.


Meditation at Lost Creek

There are spots along the creekside path — if you can tune out
the highways’ hum, and overlook the pipe from the storm drain
spilling its effluent into the stream, and the plastic bag
caught in a tangle of tree branch reaching down into the water,
between the graffitied bridge supports and the signposts warning
against littering — where you can almost imagine what this place
would have seemed like a hundred, or more, years ago. The anglers
on the banks with their lines trailing in the current, the moss
hanging down from sagging trunks, the way that rock jutting up
from the creek bed snags the surface of the water and roils it
briefly before letting it pass. Walking here gives the mind space
to open, to branch out, drift in the current, allows time
for the mind to breathe in between the buds on the young branches,
a place for memory to grow in the shade beneath the trees.
Step. Step. Each one slightly different in measure, in tempo,
in pitch. The off-key deleted, like the drain pipe and the traffic
noise, the screeching of rails from above, leaving only
the whispered echo of the twenty-three Japanese rail workers
who died here, a little over a hundred years ago, according
to the plaque embedded in a stone along the creekside path.



© Mark Milner, Burnaby, 2020

Cosmology — fragments

say the world is filled
mainly with emptiness

between trees

between stars and planets
atoms and particles

tiny fragments
of presence
surrounded by absence

sounds break up silence
into song, measured and measurable
ordered on mathematical principles
numbered and arranged
in defiance of zero
of nothing
of space

vain desire that there be
something rather than nothing

lonely beauty of a dying star
on the remote edge
of a galaxy
a billion light years away
spinning and whirling
on the edge of annihilation
dancing and singing
its brief being
into the void

is it just a habit of mind
this conflict between something and nothing?
Manichaean tendency to believe
that everything requires an opposite?
polarizing instinct to divide
rather than blend?

we are atoms thrown defiantly together
we are particles cast out from stars
we are energy
time and motion

and when our time is done
cast off again
thrown together again
reused and recycled

old notes for new songs
new arrangements of old harmonies

in the end there is silence

that music had a dying fall
but does nothing follow?

the musicians put away their instruments
the audience departs, the hall is empty

say there will be other songs, other performances
other musicians and audiences

say each performance will be something new
or a remembrance of something that never was
and never will be again

maybe it’s a failure of imagination
that I don’t believe

in angels or gods, or
feel a connection to something beyond

that I don’t fill emptiness with purpose
suppose that planets have plans for me
or that they rest on spheres moved by celestial harmonies

that the inert remembers
the briefly living, that there is justice
more satisfying than dissolution

although I sometimes hope for a thread of memory
stitched into a corner of the fabric of time

I do not know how things begin
or end, or even if

or say
beginning and end are one and the same
seen from different angles

a lone whale sings her grief
to an almost empty ocean

in the middle of Ireland
stones still hold the shape
of an old church
carved and carefully stacked
into walls defying entropy
which has already claimed the roof
ruined the choir
where now even birds are not singing

other stones remember
lives no one recalls
history does not remark

only a fugitive cow grazes in the long grass
honeybees stir the pestles of wildflowers in the shade of a stone wall

and I have stopped to capture a moment in a photograph

how much longer will these stones cling to each other?
to the idea of order that placed them here?
how long can names and dates resist the wind and rain?

one year and eight hours away
I sat on the bench near my father’s stone
having cleared away the encroaching grass
and dirt that filled in the letters
of his name

and I spoke to him as if he were alive
spoke in a way I never did
while he was alive

I spoke as if he could hear me
as if it were a prayer

the wind stirred the leaves in the trees
and brought the rainclouds closer

somewhere a bird sang
a melody I couldn’t follow
and a hare stopped briefly
to consider my presence
then carried on with his day


© Mark Milner, Burnaby, BC, July 2019

Backing and forthing

It’s been a long time since I wrote anything on this blog. Being busy isn’t really much of an excuse. It’s not like there haven’t been hours wasted each day that I could have spent doing something productive. If this is, in fact, productive. For the most part, I think of it was talking to myself on (virtual) paper – a way of sorting through the flotsam of my mind, and trying to make some sense of it all. It’s been a strange few months.

A good friend of mine, who I’ve known for more than 30 years, has moved more than 7,000 km further away than he was previously – from Calgary to St. Petersburg, Russia. While I’m excited for him, and support his decision to leap into the unknown, what I feel mainly is loss.

In the past 25 years, since I moved back to the west coast, we’ve really only seen each other two or three times a year, at most, and rarely spoken on the phone more frequently than that. And yet, I’ve always felt a closeness, like kinship, to Scott. He was the best man at my wedding. He’s always been there when I needed him, and I’ve tried to do the same for him.

That he’s no longer an 80 minute flight, or 11 hour drive, away feels strange. To visit him now will not be as simple as booking holiday time and a flight. It will require planning. I’ll need to get a visa, for example, and won’t really be able to book anything until I have one. None of this is insurmountable, of course, and I can’t help feeling I’m being entirely selfish in focusing on this as a problem rather than an opportunity.

And yet, it still feels like loss. Scott was the first of my close friends to ride a motorcycle, and one of the last, too. Most others had given up already. My first long road trip on a bike was with Scott. We rode down the west coast and into the desert. We rode through eight western U.S. states and two provinces in twelve days. By the end of it, motorcycling had become part of my identity.

I’ve done two long trips since then, and numerous shorter rides. One trip, with another friend, who later gave up riding after a crash, expanded on that first adventure. Twelve states in 21 days. And then last year, I rode solo around Ireland and the UK for three weeks.

Since that last trip, though, I’ve barely ridden at all. A handful of short rides last summer and early fall. Nothing really since then. In part, it’s likely to do with not having many people nearby to go out riding with. But mainly, I just haven’t been motivated to do it. Riding in traffic has become a drag, and there just aren’t that many good routes nearby that I haven’t already done, in many cases multiple times. There’s certainly nothing on the level of the roads in Ireland and Scotland. And so, with all that, I’ve put my bike up for sale.

This, too, feels a little bit like loss, although it was entirely my own decision. Seeing my bike in the garage every day, and not really feeling the urge to ride it, was beginning to bother me. Keeping it insured and maintained, but not riding it, seemed like a waste. It’s a great bike. It deserves to be ridden.

I think, more than the annoyances of traffic and the declining number of fellow riders in my circle, my identity began changing last year. I started to think of myself more in terms of playing music than in terms of riding motorcycles.

I’m not very good (yet) at playing music, but I’ve improved quite a bit over the past year. I’ve now got a collection of five instruments – two bass guitars, an electric guitar, an acoustic, and a keyboard synthesizer. Where my YouTube stream used to be filled with motorcycle videos, it’s now full of music-related things.

Are my motorcycling days done forever? I don’t know. It’s entirely possible that I’ll want to do more long trips in the future. Or that a period away from it will reignite the passion I used to feel. We’ll see. For now, though, I’m indulging other interests.

And of course, Adele and I are preparing for our pilgrimage. Dates in calendar are often closer than they appear. We’re just over two months from flying off to Portugal, and then walking to Spain. If I weren’t me, I’d be jealous.

I expect a lot will happen between now and then. Locally, Bard on the Beach has begun it’s 2019 season. We’ve seen Taming of the Shrew (which was brilliant!) and have two more plays coming up this month, and one in August. We’ve also recently seen the Claypool Lennon Delirium – one of the best rock shows I’ve experienced – and have tickets coming up for The Raconteurs, ZZ Top and Iron Maiden (although Adele has already said I should find someone else for that one). Add to that the walking we need to keep doing, the songs I want to learn, the books to read… And… and… and….

Well, this has been a bit of a pointless ramble. My apologies if I’ve wasted your time. But it was your decision, as much as mine, to keep going. If you expected there to be a point to all this, whose fault was that? But I’ll tell you what: I’ll try to do better next time.


As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a religious person. I don’t believe in gods or spirits that are disconnected from bodies, or souls that survive after a person dies. I believe we are physical beings, with an all too finite span of existence, and that what many people call a soul is really just a part of mind or personality. Of course, I could easily be wrong about this, as is the case with any belief, but I haven’t seen any evidence or argument that has convinced me that I’m in error.

And so it may seem strange that I will be making a pilgrimage this year. Not just a journey that has personal meaning, but an actual pilgrimage. Later this year my wife and I will walk one of the several official pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela – known at one time as a ‘way of St. James’, as people once believed (and some may still) that the remains of St. James were located in Santiago. Leaving aside the vast amount of historical fraud associated with so-called relics, pilgrimages of this sort have been popular in Europe since the Middle Ages, and many people of more religious bent still embark on such journeys – and the Camino, in particular – for religious or ‘spiritual’ reasons. For me, however, this will be a very long walk through places I have yet to visit, where I hope to meet many people, encounter new foods and wines, new music and art, expand slightly my meagre linguistic capabilities, and learn more about myself.

I have long been of the opinion that walking has benefits that other forms of mobility do not. The physical benefits are obvious and well known – and something I can use more of in my far too sedentary lifestyle. In addition to those, walking (if done right) helps to clear the mind and improve our ability to attend to the world around us, in a manner that other, faster forms of travel preclude. The faster you move, the less you take in, and the less time you have to think about and absorb the information around you. If you really want to know a place, you need to walk it.

Before we travel to the start of our journey, we’ll spend more time walking in our own, more familiar environment. We need to get used to walking more than 10 km – usually 15 to 20 – every day, if we expect to be able to walk the 240 km route we have planned in two weeks. So, over the course of the spring and summer, we’ll begin walking more, building up to the distances we need to able to cover. In doing so, not only will our physical health likely improve (did I mention I spend far too much time sitting?), but I expect we will come to know our home town, and ourselves, in new ways.

If anyone has done a similar journey, please let me know about it in the comments. And if you’ve blogged about it, send me link.


Many people find it hard to accept that anyone is really an atheist. When the going gets tough, they think, the tough get praying. There are no atheists in foxholes. I suppose that last part may be true. Most of the atheists I know would rather find an alternative to fighting, if at all possible, while many religions have made a fetish of dying for your beliefs. And, statistically, atheism is fairly unusual, so it’s likely that not many atheists find themselves in a foxhole, especially outside the context of a World War, like the two that consumed the first half of the 20th Century.

Still, people look at you funny if you say you don’t believe in a god. Not that I say it all that often, and not generally unprompted. Atheism isn’t something I advertise. I don’t feel any need to proselytize in the name of… well, of no one, of nothing. I don’t really want to convert anyone to doubt.

But believers often want to convert me to faith, or to convince me that I really do believe in something, and that that something is really juts another name for a god. And not just any god, but their God. After all, as Ricky Gervais likes to point out, there are thousands of gods, and most religious people only believe in one of them, and disbelieve in the rest; I just happen to disbelieve in one more than they do. Or don’t. Whatever.

Frequently the something they try to convince me I believe in is science. This seems funny to me, and shows they don’t really understand what science is. What science isn’t is a system of beliefs. What science is is a method of proving (or, more often, of disproving) hypotheses about the world. It is a useful method for developing our understanding of natural or physical phenomena, and has led to a great many technological advances (although technology, contrary to popular belief, is not the same thing as science).

There are, of course, things I believe for which I have insufficient or no proof at all, although I tend to view these beliefs as hypotheses. I don’t, however, believe these things religiously. If someone were to provide proof that I’m wrong about them, I don’t think I would have much trouble changing my mind. I’m not speaking, here, only about scientific proofs/disproofs. This could be (and often is) more a matter of philosophical persuasion. That was the case when I stopped believing in gods.

I was brought up in a religious family, as an Anglican (the Canadian version of Church of England, Episcopalian, etc). All my early life, I was trying to find ways to think about god that made sense to my young mind. When I was very young, for example, before I started school, I imagined that the bright light at the centre of a light bulb was god. Even then, I wanted some evidence that the being in the Sunday school stories was more than just an idea. Much later, it was the problem of evil that ended my faith for good. The question if god is all powerful, all knowing, all good, and the creator of everything, how is there evil in the world? didn’t seem to have a reasonable answer. It still doesn’t. I don’t buy the ‘free will’ argument, that god is just letting us choose. My will would be no less free if all the options I had to choose from were good. Also, it still doesn’t explain the origin of evil.

That problem, of course, is specific to Semitic or western religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and wouldn’t necessarily be a problem in a polytheistic world view, or one in which the creator god is not all good. Those have other issues, that western religions share, such as how gods interact with the physical world and its laws, such as conservation of matter and energy.

It may be that I am wrong. That there is a god, or many gods. Perhaps even the one worshiped by Christians, Jews, and Muslims. I doubt it, but that possibility exists. If I am proven wrong in my atheistic hypothesis, I will acknowledge it and change my mind. (Continuing to believe something that’s proven wrong is just idiotic.) But in the meantime, rest assured I will not try to convert any religious folk (including my family) to my point of view, and I hope I can expect the same treatment in return.

Leaving room

Some people don’t plan enough, and end up paying for it. Others plan too much, which can have its own costs. I tend to fall into the latter group.

Case in point, in preparing for my upcoming road trip, I had planned each day’s ride months in advance, booking hotels (and thus predetermining the route) for pretty much the whole thing. That felt pretty extreme, even for me, and the more I thought about it, the more my ‘planning’ began to feel like handcuffs.

So, I cancelled the majority of the hotels, keeping just a few bookings in place, mostly at the beginning and end of my journey. It may end up costing me a little more this way (although, that’s far from certain), and may lead to one or two dodgy moments when I feel like stopping but there aren’t any rooms available. But that’s part and parcel with an adventure. And that’s what I’m hoping to have.

I’ve been on road trips before where the place we’d planned to stop didn’t have any rooms – or only rooms at exorbitant rates – and we had to come up with a Plan B. It’s always worked out, and I have no reason to believe it won’t this time, too, even though this time it’s just ‘me’ in place of ‘we’.

The first time was on the first long motorcycle ride I did, a twelve day jaunt through seven U.S. states and two Canadian provinces with my friend Scott. We were both in our late 30s, and riding bikes not that much younger than ourselves. In the middle of our trip we had a string of three nights where accommodations were an issue.

The first night was in Phoenix, when the house we’d lined up – with air conditioning and a pool, two things we were sorely looking forward to in mid-August – turned out not to be available. After some scrambling, we ended up in a hotel that I’m betting frequently served guys fresh out of jail. It was conveniently located next to a strip mall containing a tattoo parlour and a liquor store. Sadly, not only was the A/C simultaneously loud and ineffective, the shower in my room didn’t work.

The next night, we rode for several hours to reach the small town of Kanab, UT, around supper time. After eating in a local diner, we decided that it was too early to quit for the day, and we pushed on to the town of Panguitch. When we arrived we encountered one ‘No Vacancy’ sign after another. Finally, we found one motel that had one room remaining – a room that could have slept eight or more – and we took it, as it was beginning to get dark. We asked the proprietor what was going on, and he said there was a high school rodeo in town. Who knew such things even existed?

The following day we set out in the hope of reaching Great Falls, MT. A trucker we met at a gas station in Idaho – who was hoping, back then in 2007, to vote for Hilary – said he thought we could make it. No such luck, though, as we rolled into Bute around 10 p.m., only to find that every hotel room in town was booked. Surely, in a city the size of Bute, this couldn’t be due to a high school rodeo! I asked at the Best Western, and no, it wasn’t that. They were having an “Irish Festival”, I was told. I tried vainly to convince them that Scott and I were the keynote drinkers, but they were having none of it. They suggested we try Helena, a mere 70 miles away. There was nothing else to do, so we set off again, into the night, which became foggy – not a good mixture for motorbikes. Every time I rounded a curve in the highway, I said ‘there are no deer here’, which happily turned out to be true.

About two-thirds of the way to Helena, we pulled into a gas station, mainly to let the adrenaline fade, and I asked the gas jockey if there were any places to stay nearby. Down the hill from the highway, he said, in Boulder, we could ‘try the O-Z’, and if that didn’t work out, there was a ‘resort’ another 20 miles from there. We rode down the hill, got a room at the O-Z, and a very late (but extremely entertaining) dinner at P.K.’s Pub. (It was nearly midnight when our pizza arrived. It had to be ordered in from the resort, as the pub’s kitchen had closed, and the kitchen staff were down at the end of the long bar playing dice with the bartender, Cricket, a former stripper who also worked part time at the women’s prison, she told us. She was particularly fond of Scott.)

I wouldn’t have any of these stories to tell if we’d booked all our hotels in advance and ridden from one to the next each day. And I want stories to tell at the end of my trip. It’s part of why we travel. To meet people, to do things unscheduled and unscripted, to deal with things as they come.

So while I will still plan, I will try not to over plan. I’ll leave room for improvisation, for discovery, and for adventure.

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 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.