Posts By: Brendan McAleer

By on February 18, 2014

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You have to hand it to Lego: years after the patents on their plastic interlocking bricks expired, the company has become expert in parting kids of all ages from their cash. The Lego Movie, a concept that would have boggled the mind of any child of the ’80s, is a certified blockbuster. The Lego Harry Potter and Lego Star Wars video games – that’s a game of a toy of a movie, if you’re counting – are best-sellers across multiple platforms.

Now there’s this, an assemblage of beige-overalled 1980s misfits rendered in blocky, multi-part format, ready to do battle with spectres while making off-the-cuff quips. Talk about shut up and take my money: the Lego Ghostbusters set is relatively affordable, at just under fifty bucks, and is everything you were hoping for. By June, thousands of them should be parked proudly on the desks of all kinds of dudes who are far too old for this sort of thing. I’ve already cleared a space on mine.

The centrepiece of the set, aside from minifig versions of Venkman, Stantz, Zeddemore, and Spengler, is the gloriously recreated Ectomobile – Ecto 1. Thirty years ago this year, the white and red original burst on-screen, sirens blaring.

As a fit for the role, the Cadillac might have been an even better casting choice than Bill Murray as Venkman. When there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, you know who you’re gonna call. (Read More…)

By on February 5, 2014
Photo Courtesy JamesBlackRestorations.com

Photo Courtesy JamesBlackRestorations.com

It is late March in 1924, and a dim sun is setting over the city of Cork in the southeast of Ireland. Spring is coming, and in the patchwork of fields that surrounds this busy coastal town, green shoots are already poking up through rich, damp earth.

To the east, through the double-stomach of twinned harbours, the British destroyer Scythe lies tethered at anchor, a dull-grey line of glowering steel. Here, the smaller village of Queenstown is a treaty port, one of three deepwater harbours that remain under English rule as party of the bitterly contested Anglo-Irish Treaty. Signed three years ago, it divided Ireland in more ways than one, creating an Irish Free state at the expense of a partitioned Ulster and a subsequent bloody civil war.

Down at the pierhead, troops are landing from Spike Island, a former penal colony and current fortification that houses the British presence. The launch bringing the soldiers across has only just tied up to the jetty, when the thrum of a racing six-cylinder engine can be heard approaching.

Skittering through the narrow cobblestone streets at breakneck pace, a primrose-yellow Rolls-Royce open-topped tourer slews round a corner and races out onto the beach opposite the pier. Its four occupants are grim-faced and composed; the gaping air-cooled maw of a mounted .303 calibre Lewis gun swings towards the clustered troops.

It opens fire. (Read More…)

By on November 24, 2013

1927 Ariel 557cc
This simple story is true, as told to me by the redoubtable Malcolm Parry.

The road through the Dinas Maddwy pass leads high up the Welsh mountainside, snaking its way through the bracken nestled between craggy peaks. Look on a map, and you’d see it languidly slither up the hillside, the surrounding terrain marked with consonant-packed place-names of a sort unpronounceable without at least a pint of phlegm in the throat.

Here, in the still and lonesome bleakness, a clattery flatulence, a cacophonous blattering – the sound of a small displacement engine as busy as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. Up and around the blind bend comes an unlikely-looking and overladen yoke. It’s an Ariel motorcycle – 1927 model, 557cc side-draft single-cylinder – bolted to a homemade wooden sidecar, a kayak lashed to the sidecar, the whole contraption stuffed with duffel bags, tarps and what appears to be some sort of collie, helmed by a large man with a boy riding pillion.

The whole shooting match must add a quarter-ton to the Ariel’s normal carrying capacity, and the bike is nearly incandescent with the effort; were it a horse, flecks of foam would streak its flanks and eyes roll madly with exertion. At last, it can bear no more, and stutters to a halt halfway up the mountainside. (Read More…)

By on November 8, 2013

Every couple of years, somebody releases a study claiming to show that the average palate can’t differentiate between a good red wine and a cheap red wine, a good red wine and a good white wine, or a good red wine and a tumbler-full of Thunderbird mixed with antifreeze and raw gasoline. Survey says: it’s […]

By on November 4, 2013

Six days a week, Monday through Saturday, I get up at 4:45 am – five o’clock and I’m plonked in front of the keyboard, staring at the blinking cursor of my computer screen, fuelled by caffeine and ready to start shovelling words into its gaping maw. Six days a week, but on the seventh day […]

By on July 23, 2013

My friend Rob Z. is the quintessential nice guy: even-tempered, affable, a firm handshake and a decent sense of humour. We meet up on a sunny Saturday morning in East Vancouver and he rolls open his garage door. Well. Clearly I’m going to have to murder him.

By on July 16, 2013

Between the A+ report card from Consumer Reports and a last-crossover-standing result for the IIHS small overlap test, even Tommy Callahan could sell somebody a Subaru Forester. “Here comes the meat wagon WEEE-OOO WEEE-OOO and the medic gets out and says, ‘Oh my God’. New guy’s around the corner puking his guts out – all […]

By on July 1, 2013

Manic GT - courtesy Flickr
Happy Canada Day. We here in America Jr. will be spending the day in polite celebration, perhaps a few pages of a Margaret Atwood novel, perhaps a little Tom Cochrane, perhaps two or three fireworks set off in celebration of our continuing success in exiling all our worst citizens to the Los Angeles music industry; perhaps just a little self-reflection on life in a land where most of the population settles at the bottom, leaving huge expanses of airy nothingness above – less a country than a enormous family-sized bag of potato chips.

We build cars here in Canada. We make Hondas and Chevys and Fords and Dodges, and some of them we drive, and some of them you drive, but they’re not really Canadian cars, per se. The ideal of the Canadian car remains the Bricklin SV-1, Canada’s DeLorean. Neat car, that thing, with motorized gullwing doors and an integrated roll-cage. I seem to remember as a kid I had a Transformer that looked just like it. Well actually, considering the SV-1′s issues with acrylics, perhaps it was a Go-Bot.

Anyway, as today is a day for a celebration of all things maple-syrup flavoured, I’d like to take minute or two of your time and talk about a much less well-known Canadian-built car that is extremely interesting and very slightly crappy. It all starts with a man with the quite silly name of Jacques About, and before you ask, no, that is not pronounced “aboot”. (Read More…)

By on June 25, 2013

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Central to the tone of Jack Baruth’s lovely father-and-son 911 vignette is the concept of the Forever Car. It’s a nice thought – the machine acting as fossilizing amber, perfectly capturing a fleeting memory such that it lasts an eternity.

This idea is, to me, an entirely rational way to explain the presence of a theoretical soul in something that is composed of nothing more than steel, glass, rubber and leather. Cars don’t have souls, they develop them through experience – the transference of an emotion felt behind the wheel. It doesn’t have to be a 911 either, even the humblest old Volvo shoebox absorbs a personality as it slots into the background in slide after slide of family vacation pictures.

And then, you find yourself browsing craigslist and seeing a well-preserved you-name-it and thinking, “I could make that mine. I could share that with my children, and they would understand, and when I am dead and gone, they would explain it to their kids, and they would know.”

It’s a nice thought, the Forever Car. It perfectly encapsulates the human need for lasting possessions, of the art scrawled on the cave wall that says, “I was here.” One’s all-too-brief lifetime becomes a link in a chain that’ll stretch out over the years; less an ownership cycle than the work of a custodian/curator.

Well hurry up then. The last Forever Cars have already been built. (Read More…)

By on June 25, 2013

Heresy can be fun. Certainly it is so for an Irishman, what with Behan’s, “wonderful lack of respect for everything and everyone.” And so, it has to be said, I’ve developed a certain fondness for Porsche’s big fat trucks and sedans precisely because they get up the nose of the purists – folks who think […]

By on June 20, 2013

Audi first tossed us the keys to its S6 with the SuperBowl mega-ad “Prom”. Premise: dateless kid gets handed Dad’s super-sedan for the evening, kisses the prom queen, gets punched by the prom king, snorts around town with a big grin on his face. The message was clear: buy this car, put a little excitement […]

By on May 24, 2013

When the call came in, I had shit on my hands. I’m speaking literally here, standing atop Quarry Rock in North Vancouver, tomato-faced and lathered with sweat after a hurried hike. My sleeping infant daughter had somehow just managed to relieve herself on the outside of her diaper – real assassination-of-JFK stuff, a second pooper […]

By on October 25, 2012

Upon graduation from Belfast Teacher’s Training College in the late ’60s, my father found himself summoned into the headmaster’s office. A heavy oaken drawer was opened and an object placed upon the green baize of the blotting pad: “Ye’ll be needin’ this.” “This” was the strap, thick leather symbol of martial law in the classroom. […]

By on September 18, 2012

She is twenty-seven or perhaps thirty-one, long-limbed and lithe with clean blond hair pulled straight back – though not in a severe way – from a fine-boned, small-nosed face. That which is not honed by either Pilates or Bikram is flattered by the lycra of her Lululemon yoga capris, the fabric caressing as it flexes. As she bends over to soothe an adorable tow-headed toddler in a six-hundred-dollar ergonomic jogging stroller, I have just one thing on my mind.

Damn.

That is a really nice stroller. (Read More…)

By on September 4, 2012

Neil Armstrong died on August 25th of this year and the nation mourned, doubly so. First for the man, and second for what he stood for: hero, explorer, icon of a time when all that was best in America rose up on a pillar of smoke and flame to dance among the heavens. The astronauts, […]

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  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
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