I must admit to being rather surprised when people inform me that they do not remember their dreams. There are many friends of mine I've chatted with, a palaver or two over coffee in the morning before the drudgery of the day, whom when reviewing the musings of the unconscious mind, they suddenly announce with curious indifference that they don't ever remember what they dream about. Some of them will come back with vague feelings initiated by their dreams - happiness, unease, sadness, but they also lack that crystal clear recollection that can so easily prove to be the popular water cooler distraction in a work day.
As you might begin to glean from this missive, I remember my dreams quite well. I often have vivid recollections, be they uncomfortable, sensational or absolutely ridiculous. Whether the ability to remember is linked to both my lucid waking imagination or my unconscious one is irrelevant. Irrespective of either, the imagery stays - etched into my thinking and more often than not, a topic that can inspire giggles when it chooses.
Oddly, I will first admit to having reoccurring dreams. Not nightmares, mind, but certainly tell-tale markers that maybe there's stress in life; that I'm unhappy about something; or that I'm realizing the implications of having a teenager. The first is about being late. Truth be told, I have a bit of a phobia about being late, drummed into me by successive Chief Petty Officers in the Royal Canadian Navy (I do the same now that I've reached that dizzying rank) and the reoccurring dream I sometimes have is about running grossly and irremediably late. Usually it is to work, and if my wife is the cause (as she most often is) I'll upbraid her worse than a recruit or a delinquent sailor. It's an odd dream - one of those if something, even the most obscure can go wrong to make me late, it will. A series of catastrophic events that cascade into a maelstrom of tardiness, I often wake up angry and annoyed (and somewhat relieved) and find myself a bit put off for the rest of the day.
The second is an odd little dream about showing up to a university class only to find out that I have to write a final exam (clearly a hold over from my university days) The kicker is, for some reason, I never showed up for the class at all during the year and the completion of my degree is dependent upon it. This often changes into a befuddling cram session that last a few minutes of dream time followed by haphazard guesses to the answers on my test. Did I pass? I never find out in my dreams, but like the dream of lateness, I wake up perturbed and wondering why on Earth I would have taken a class in math as I pursued my degree in Military History.
Not all dreams follow this path though, for I find my wandering imagination can come up with the truly bizarre. Take for example my dream of sitting beside her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II enjoying a Justin Bieber concert during her Diamond Jubilee (I assure you, she had a smile, but I did not. The idea of sitting through a concert with the 'Biebs' is no joy. I'd rather step on Lego) My wife had a long chuckle about that one. My friend was most amused when I told him the dream of Jimmy Carter dressed as a Hussar who, while trying to mount his steed from a balance beam and fighting a bad hip, hopped about for a moment before falling off and dying of a head injury (sorry Mr. President. If you read this, it's not personal) The state funeral that followed was spectacular, but the imagery of the aged president with his Hussar pelisse and sabretache still raises a chuckle. There are the dreams about my hopelessly annoying cat, Hector, who will sneak outside at a moment's notice to lead me on a merry chase; the oddly prescient dreams of sailing on a minesweeper when it appears a sea posting is in the offing; and the curious imaginings that I both still smoke and still have hair (both left me many years ago).
In the end, I thoroughly enjoy my dreamscape, as perplexing as it may be at times, and I truly pity those that are bereft of the joy of seeing Jimmy Carter in a fur busby cap or tight-fitting dolmen jacket hopping on a balance beam.
In my evenings, often spent unwinding in front of the TV with a netbook on my lap, I indulge myself in the type of vacuous activities that allow me to relax and allow the strains of the day to melt away. Often this entails a cynical perusal of the Weather Network to see how badly the forecast of the following day might be, a few posts on a favoured forum, a few articles on my favourite sport (yes, I am a NASCAR fan) and of course, Facebook. It's there that I see the games that my friends seem to spend an unusual amount of time playing (perhaps they too are in front of the TV with a netbook) look at their wall posts of clichéd yet cute posters, see the news stories that they read, and of course, the pictures that they post. It was one friend in particular that caught my attention, because she posted a photo of a famous house I had seen once.
The Nasookin house is the pilot house and forward section of two decks from the largest sternwheeler to ply the BC interior, the S.S. Nasookin. When she was eventually retired in 1947, the pilot house and Ladies Observation Lounge were floated on a barge to its present location, where it became a rock shop. Unused for many years, it was finally purchased in 1981 and converted into a home.
This of course set me to surfing for one of my favourite subjects - BC lake steamers. Within minutes I was sighing over the grainy black and white images of the S.S. Sicamous and the S.S. Okanagan and the steam tug Castlegar and even some of the old packing plants and wharves from Penticton to Kelowna. It was then, that another image came up, one that I spend a few minutes each year looking at - the M.V. Pentowna.
The M.V. Pentowna, a small sixty-one ton passenger ferry, was pre-fabricated in Prince Rupert
and shipped by rail in 1926. For years she operated between Penticton and Okanagan Landing carrying passengers and freight, and then in 1937 she was put to work pushing barges and carrying freight only. Retired in 1973, she became a familiar landmark in Peachland where she was used a breakwater in the local marina. It was here where my fondest memories of her arise, for seeing her was an habitual occurrence whenever the family headed north up the lake, and guessing whether she would be upright or on her side was always an animated discussion as we approached Peachland.
For the Pentowna had a propensity to sink, or at least, that's what I seem to remember most about her. Perhaps it was the misery of idleness after decades of activity that galled her into unhappiness, or maybe it was terrible neglect after years of service. Whatever it was, she was a misery to behold as she lay on her side. Even a child could see that.
As you may have read in my previous blog entry about sternwheelers, I have a love affair with the lake boats of my youth. The grand sternwheeler, Sicamous, the old steam tug, Narramatta, which I so often recalled seeing anchored near Okanagan Landing, and of course, the Pentowna. These are familiar benchmarks in my youth, and in fact, one of my earliest recollections (or perhaps it was simply a dream) was to see either the Pentowna or the CN tug #6 or the MV Okanagan at night in an Okanagan snowstorm. Like the Sicamous and the Narramatta, the Pentowna fueled my desire to go to sea and was one of the the cornerstones of my dreams to sail on a lake steamer.
So each year, in tribute to the inspiration this little lake ferry gave me, I'd spend a few minutes trying to learn her fate. The first time I read about her, was to discover she had been pulled out of the water to be refurbished. I had known this since on one of my trips back to the Okanagan as an adult on leave from the Royal Canadian Navy, I had been shocked to see her missing from her usual place of neglected somnolence. The thought of her being rebuilt excited me, for as a sailor and a lover of all things old, the idea she may go back to sail the lake again brought me no end of excitement. But my searches always ended fruitlessly - a frustrating endeavor to find her fate after so many years disappearing from history. And then, a few nights back,my deep seated fears were finally realized.
She had been scrapped in 2005.
The man who had bought her with all the goodwill and imagination needed to rebuild and put her back into service in the Okanagan's vibrant tourist industry had ran out of money, and all of the myopic think-of- the-present people that could have saved her had turned their back on her. For nearly ten years the Pentowna sat mostly unloved and completely forgotten, rotting away on a golf course until in exasperation, the owner had her cut up for scrap. The pity of it was that few cared about her fate. A vessel, intrinsically linked to our Okanagan history, a ship that when built, did not stand out as lovely or graceful - like a wallflower at a dance she was commonplace when young, but at seventy-nine and venerable she should have been an object of celebration and respect. In short, we let her go, and we are so much poorer for it.
I was rather surprised at how much it hurt to know she was gone. Yet another tenuous link to my idyllic childhood had disappeared - like the old Incola Hotel and Summerland's House on the Hill. The memories are all that I have - no tactile enjoyment like I get when I stand on the Sicamous. All I have are those memories of her as we passed through Peachland and the giggling bets on whether she'd be afloat or not.
Yes, it was a heartbreak from home this week.
Rest in Peace, Pentowna.
he first time I read about Viscount Hugh Gough, a relatively minor military hero in the British Army of Queen Victoria, I was rather struck by the image of his white battle coat.
This was a man who, during the First Sikh War in 1845, would wear a conspicuous white coat in battle so as to draw fire towards himself and away from his troops. As inexplicable and perhaps deranged as that may seem to us (I would expect now he'd land time in an asylum with such antics instead of a title), he was lauded at the time by his troops that viewed such foolhardy stunts as courageous. Now we are more cynical, looking upon a figure such as Gough as a man not right in the head (or maybe just a little touched if we wanted to be a bit kinder), suffering from PTSD, or perhaps following a vainglory hardly seen these days.
Maybe 'touched' is a bit more accurate, for he was also a man very fond of the bayonet, ready to rely on it, and no end of pluck from the lads of Belfast, London, and Glasgow, far more than the concentrated firepower of the musket. As equally difficult as it is to imagine Gough in his white battle coat pacing before the muskets and cannon of the Sikhs, willing them to fire upon him to save his poor troops, it is equally absurd to imagine him ordering those same poor troops forward, in slow-moving lines of two, into the hellish maelstrom of those Sikh canon and muskets. Then again, the soldiers did it, much to their credit.
All this rambling to say, I've pondered as a writer, if I have done an adequate job of capturing the emotions of combat and its likeliness of maiming and death with my characters in Europa Rising as well as with Alexander 'Sikunder' Armstrong in The Scarlet Bastards and Fremantle Freya. The problem I have is that in my twenty-five years in the RCN, I've never seen combat - the RCN last hearing shots fired in anger in Korea though some .50 cal rounds in Libya may change that in the record books. This poses the conundrum of writing about combat without actually seeing it, which is not unusual for a writer since we prose about many things we have no experience in save for a vague wiki knowledge. That being said, though shots may not have rang about my ears, danger was often present - both real and imagined.
As a young Ordinary Seaman, I certainly had my fears when I first encountered the ham-fisted attentions of the Soviet Navy. Missile locks, frigates dogging our wake, submarines and daily bombing runs by Badger bombers was more than enough to wrench my attention from the preoccupations of seasickness and homesickness. Did I think I was going to die? Not really. Was it exciting as hell? Absolutely. But I'd be a liar if there wasn't the occasional nagging thought that some Soviet rookie like myself might accidentally pull a trigger or push a button. In the years that followed, I found myself in the occasional dangerous spot - due more to weather and Search and Rescue than anything else.
So then here I sit, pounding keys and describing the rush of emotions as Sikunder charges in with a line of Ossayulns from Gliesium against the dreaded Black Hand or fighting off a wave of Sindhi pirates on a paddlewheeler on the Seleucus Lacus, or Commander Charles Kwetche maneuvers the ancient NASS Cabot in combat. Did I capture that rush of fear, helplessness, and perhaps excitement, or did I come up short with a narrative that a veteran would chuckle at? Hard to say. Then I think of Gough and his white battle coat and the British Tommie that would willingly walk towards a canon with an extended bayonet. Maybe it just isn't fear that dominates the emotions - I think courage, pride, a need to belong and a need to protect your friends drives one far, far more than the fear of dying. I would think it must be, otherwise every sailor and soldier would simply flee.
Here's to you Viscount Gough!