Sunday, 27 June 2010

About to become a real man

I'VE always felt like a potential path in life was blocked off to me when, at the age of 12, I failed to get into both the wood work and metal work classes in secondary school.

Instead I got into Technical Drawing and Music, and although my music and architecture careers are going just terrific, I've never been able to shake the feeling that a portion of my manhood was snatched away from me at that young age.

And while my hands have gone from girly keyboard dancers to lawnmower-pushing shovel-paws in the last year, they are still incapable of creating anything that you can hold your hands. Hopefully that's all about to change though.

My period of unemployment is about to end this week with my first foray into the world of construction. My new boss has said he will teach me everything there is to know about building houses.

He was left in no doubt that there would much to teach after my saying that I would need to Google all of the tools he told me to buy as I was not familiar with any of them.

After consulting trusty old Google, I got myself a set of tools and a pouch with which to hold them all. The tool belt in particular has gotten me very excited as I can't avoid the feeling of wearing Batman's utility belt when its on. The Batman feel is replaced by a decidedly less cool Bob the Builder image once I don the yellow hard hat though.

My friends who have already worked in construction assure me that the next few weeks of my life will be spent with a shovel and nothing else in my hand but their pessimism can't dull my enthusiasm.

I'm about to become a real man that makes houses out of bricks and wood and whatever other products it is they use to build stuff.

Friday, 18 June 2010

The Hoge Recommends; Big River Man

I know the idea of a regular feature on this - the blog that can go six months without a posting - may seem a little odd but I'm going to try and keep up a sporadic selection of 'The Hoge Recommends' items, be they movies, books, products or whatever. This week I'm going to start with the documentary Big River Man.

WHEN you think of individuals who have broken world records as a result of pushing their bodies to physical extremes that nobody else has previously managed, who comes to mind?

As the fastest man on the planet, Usain Bolt would probably be one of the first on many people's lists. Michael Phelps also comes to mind as Bolt's equivalent in the water.

But how about a 53-year-old Slovenian who weighs over 200 pounds, drinks two bottles of wine along with liberal helpings of whiskey and beer every day, and is clearly out of his mind? Well as unlikely a member of that record-breaking group as Martin Strel may be, he has arguably done much more to earn his membership than Messrs Bolt and Phelps.

Strel is the central character of Big River Man, the most engrossing and entertaining film (not just documentary) that I have seen so far this year. The slobbish-looking former professional gambler is a celebrity in his native country for breaking his own records many times over by swimming the length of such gargantuan rivers as the Danube, the Mississippi and the Yangtze.

Big River Man joins Strel as he begins preparations for his biggest undertaking yet; to swim the mighty Amazon. At almost 4,000 miles, the river is over 1,000 miles longer than Strel's previous record-breaking conquest of the Yangtze in China.

Narrated entirely by Martin's son, Borut, the documentary first provides a brief summary of Strel's previous feats as well as offering a glimpse of the privileges his popularity has afforded him in his native country, such as driving drunk and parking his car wherever he chooses without fear of punishment. But while popular and famous he is, Strel is not portrayed as wealthy. On a visit to a function at the home of the American ambassador - one of Strel's greatest admirers - he instructs his son to bring home a basket of bread rolls in order to save money on groceries.

Once the father and son team, along with their crew, actually hit the Amazon is where this film really comes into its own however.

Conflict arises between the Martin and Borut when the former refuses to take doctor's advice and cut out his drinking while making his record-breaking attempt. Despite warnings about his heart growing weaker he continues to drink, not only in the evenings when out of the water, but also during the day. At one point he requests a bottle of Jameson whiskey from his accompanying raft from which he takes a liberal swig and then carries on swimming.

The merciless sun also becomes a major hurdle as within days of beginning the swim Strel's scalp and face are almost irreparably burnt. To combat this he wears a cloth over his face for the remainder of his time in the water, with holes in it for his mouth and eyes, adding to the bizarre nature of this procession down the Amazon.

Throughout the movie Strel remains aloof and one can never be certain if it is haughtiness, eccentricity or possibly simplicity that lends to this distance. What could be mistaken for the antics of an eccentric early on, however, clearly become those of a man fast losing his grip on reality as the trip progresses.

He begins to hallucinate and hear voices and on more than one occasion abandons his support team, prompting panicked and dangerous overnight searches on the Amazon. In an effort to drive out the demons in his head - subsequently discovered to be larvae from the river that had made their way into his brain - Martin connects connects jump leads from a battery to his head.

His decline is infectious also, with the lone American crew member Matthew Mohlke - a supermarket employee and amateur navigator - developing an adoration of the swimmer that verges on the hilarious at times. At one point Mohlke stays awake for three days straight, ranting about how the crew is accompanying "the last superhero in the world" and writing poetry comparing Strel to Christ.

At times, the documentary can suffer from overlong shots of characters looking pensive to the accompaniment of guitar distortion. Some elements, while fitting in with story overall, also seem staged such as the dreamy sequences designed to highlight Martin's insanity.

Those minor criticisms are subjective and dependent on personal taste though and they are certainly not reason enough to opt against seeing this amazing documentary. Fans of Werner Herzog should be particularly attracted to Big River Man which is unavoidably reminiscent of the German director's 'Aguirre, the Wrath of God'.

Beautifully shot, with no shortage of amazing scenery and unique characters, it is impossible not to feel tense while watching Big River Man, wondering throughout if Martin will overcome the conditions and his own physical and mental limits to achieve the unachievable.

And while that tension abates after the documentary reaches its conclusion, the memory of this amazing story will stay a lot longer. The Hoge Recommends; Big River Man.

Friday, 11 June 2010

The Squirrel

I'M being bullied by a squirrel

Every morning as I sit at my laptop checking out the news from home, the little fecker just pops up on to his perch at exactly my eye level, chewing on a nut, judging me.

"No work today Hoge?"

"Buzz off squirrel, I'm legally prevented from working. You know that."

"O that's right. Your girlfriend is able to work though isn't she?"

"What are you getting at?"

"Nothing at all, I'm just conversing. You know us squirrels, we're chatty sorts. So What's it like being a kept man?"

"Listen you little shit, I've told you before that this is a temporary arrangement until I get my new work visa."

"You mean if you get your new work visa."


"So what's on the schedule today? Think you might become real ambitious and get out of those pajama pants?"

"There's no need for that sort of wise-crackery, I'm keeping myself occupied with my reading and I've been doing some writing. Plus the pants are comfy."

"Sure, sure. How much are you getting paid for your reading and writing these days out of curiosity?"

"We've got a cat in here you know, she could climb up that tree and chow down on you at a second's notice."

"I've seen the cat Hoge. It's questionable if she'd be able to get up this tree and even then I would say she'd need a weeks notice in writing."

"Look just leave me alone, it's early in the morning, I'm in no mood for this."

"Early in the morning? It's 10am, not so long ago you were half way through your work day at this point. How the mighty have fallen."

"You should have seen me in college. This is actually only a minor relapse."

"Well I'm sick and tired of looking at your depressing, lazy ass. Some of us have jobs to go to, those electrical wires aren't going to chew themselves."

"Do you really have to go Squirrel? I'm bored."

"I can see that Hoge, but I'm afraid so. See you tomorrow morning."

"See you Squirrel."

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The visa situation

OKAY, where was I? Oh that's right, I was going to explain my rapid descent from being an up and coming, shit-hot reporter (in my eyes at least) to potential illegal immigrant.

Like many people my age in Ireland at the moment, I decided to sample the weather, wares and ultimately one of the women of a foreign land this time last year. Canada seemed like as good a place as any to try so I got myself a one year working visa.

Although that did involve dealing with the dishonest, incompetent and evil folks at USIT, it was a relatively easy task to get the visa. Getting a second one however, is an entirely different kettle of fish.

You see, Canada is fine with letting you in to enjoy the hockey, the skiing and the poutine for one year. But after that you really have to show your worth or Canada will dump you like the drag-arse boyfriend you truly are.

In short, you have to prove to the Canadian government that you are not robbing another Canadian of a job if you want the country to grant you an extension of your visa. This requires being qualified and quite capable in your field of employment, or at the very least having an employer who is both keen on you and well-versed in the ways of bovine excrement.

Landscaping, as it turns out, is one of the hardest professions in which to get yourself sponsored by an employer for a visa extension. Not surprising really, it would be hard to convince even the most gullible of immigration officers that my lawn-mowing prowess is without equal throughout Canada.

And seen as I had no luck in getting work elsewhere, I thought I was destined to be forced to leave the country, leaving a nice lifestyle and a devastated girlfriend behind. That was until I heard from a fellow Irish immigrant in a pub late on night that apparently the goalposts had moved somewhat in the year that I had spent here.

"You shheee, de goidelines have schanged Howgy," my inebriated Dublin-born informant told me.

He went on to point out that while most recipients of my visa can never again be granted that kind of visa again, there are exceptions. Up until this year, those exceptions were applicants from the UK and Australia, but close examination of the Foreign Worker Guidelines showed that indeed Ireland had been added to the list. The jackeen was right.

So three days before my first one year visa lapsed, I submitted an application for a second one. I was told by a worker in an immigration office that while my application is being processed I have "implied status" meaning I can stay in Canada but can't work. She didn't seem certain though so I won't be going on any more shopping trips to the States until I'm certain that I would be allowed back in when the time came to return to Vancouver.

At this stage, I don't have a clue what to expect. It does state clearly on my visa that I cannot be granted a second one but that was before the change in regulations. Then again, I'm wondering if the new law only applies to applicants who were granted their first visa after this change was made.

Life is a little purgatorial at the moment since I am jobless, on limited funds and have an uncertain status but at almost half way through the 60-day processing time on my application I'm staying positive.

If, however, another big gap in correspondence occurs in about a month's time it may not necessarily be because of another bout of apathy on my part. I may have just gone underground following my rejection by Canada. The descent continues.