UnPoison Me

  • by Albert Berkshire

There were wine bottles. Hundreds, maybe thousands of wine bottles. Some stood erect, others lay on their side spinning this way and that depending on how they were bumped. Few were broken. Smiles stretched across cheery faces. Conversations flowed and hundreds, maybe thousands of people were focused on one thing – being young.

It was a cool Thursday night when my wife and I strolled along the banks of the Seine. We were walking back to our apartment in the 6th arrondissement, although at that moment, in the opposite direction. The long way seemed fitting. We occasionally looked over our shoulders to see if the Eiffel Tower was alight and sparkling. But that wasn’t really the highlight of the night. At least, not in this short stretch over the cobblestone walk.

I’m certain it’s a cultural thing, but it has been a long time since I’ve heard a large group of teenagers and young adults…talking. And while, based on my comprehension of the lovely, but completely understudied-by-me, French language, they could have been talking about something they saw on Facebook, or You Tube, or Twitter – they weren’t looking at it. They were looking at each other. Talking to each other. Looking into each other’s eyes. (some, for the latter, more intently than others).

There were soccer balls (footballs, to be more Euro-correct) begin kicked around. Badminton and chess were being played. There was paper and charcoal. There was music. There was laughter. There was youth.

Youth…like we had. Youth – before the techno social crutches of today’s North American (but not limited to) society. The same society that has adopted a seemingly obligatory, more-than-necessary check of email, messenger, messages, text, snapchat, BBM (yeah, still out there – Go Canada!), twitter, even Ello (I’m so hip) and the long list of other social media platforms competing for your conversational neuro-allotment.

Youth, it seems, is vibrant and engaging in Paris.

If you cared to read about the French Revolution, you’d understand that as a truly socialist nation – for the people – France has long valued its…well, social values. People read. They are educated in a heavily subsided system that, by my observation, ensures every citizen who wants to be educated – is educated. Perhaps, like my take on Canada’s health care system, it’s an education system in France developed by the people of France, for the people of France, that seems to work for the people of France. And there seem to be many upsides.

People are engaged. And it’s wonderful to see. Sadly, I’d hazard a guess that I’ve not seen it like this in North America – for the most part – since the 1990s. Glued, we are (Yoda moment), to our electronic devices. Unable, we seem (you know I’m going for the Star Wars trifecta, don’t you), to be able to share without a button. Miss, we do (achieved it, I have), the nuances of conversation.

And we need it back in our lives.

We need to discuss what’s happening in our lives. How we feel about the issues of the day should not be pre-empted by Grumpy Cat’s latest meme. A summer vacation’s description should not need to be validated by a like button. We lose the essence of a moment shared when we summarize it in 140 characters so that it conforms to the new attention span. We need to stop abandoning conversations at the sound of a notification.

We need to stare at art longer than fifteen seconds. We need to think about what the artist’s truly saw when the image was captured in his mind. We need to appreciate the subtle irony of Renoir’s portraits of Manet’s niece. And that she later wrote about it in long form.

We need to write each other with words, not emoticons. We need to discuss the deeper meaning of lyrics, not quote them by way of copy-and-paste. We need to not only know the correct use of, but the actual definition of, your, you’re, and yore (yes, there’s a third one – from a long, long time ago).

We need it to matter. Like it obviously matters to the French. We need a different button. Not a like, love, share, post, or tweet button.

We need a reset button. Or perhaps, un bouton de remise.

We need Poison to come back to remind another generation of a time we don’t remember, and a war some can’t forget…and to give us something to believe in.


Albert Berkshire is a storyteller. He places the highest importance on conversation, yet completely embraces a little time alone – even if it is shared. An oxymoron he loves. His preference is to write in long form, more recently with a 90’s rock soundtrack, which he is doing with some semi-psychotic new fictional characters. His first novel of fiction, We Made A Pact, is published by Friesen Press. You should read it. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

The Change Of Life

  • by Albert Berkshire

I’m going to tell it the way I remember it.

We were bobbing around on the lake. Two kayakers, surrounded by hundreds of others in kayaks, canoes, rowboats and stand-up paddleboards. There was an eerie calm on the water surrounded by a festival of events. It was early and everyone looked slightly unsure of what it was they were doing. I was no different.

Hundreds of people were about to swim across the lake. It was the longest open-water swim in Canada, and a friend who was participating asked me to be her safety paddler. I was the person who followed her from start to finish ensuring she had someone to help her should she be unable to continue. That day, I had the easy job. But that’s not the story. Not today.

Paddlers are, like any other subset of outdoor enthusiasts, part of little communities. We intersect and intermingle at random times, acknowledging each other and our sport – or pastime-become-passion – and almost always strike up a conversation as one paddles past the other. Much like any other subset of human culture, we tend to be drawn to each other by our equipment. In the same way two car lovers might swoon over each other’s classics or super cars, or fashionistas might delight in each other’s shoes, paddlers tend to check out each other’s boats. It is the common ground.

“I like your boat”, she said from about stroke away. “It’s exactly what my husband and I want to buy.”

I looked up to see a woman who, I guess, looks like every other woman in a paddling vest, sun hat, and kayak, looking at me.

“Is it a …”

“…Soltice”. I finished her sentence. “By Current Designs”.

“I love it.” She complimented.

The conversation continued with niceties for a few more moments until I told her that I was thinking about selling my kayaks (my wife doesn’t love kayaking as much as I do, so another sport was proposed), and that’s when things turned awkwardly…fortuitous.

In the process of telling this woman how to get in touch with me – pen and paper not being a ready instrument of communication whilst on the water – something sparked a memory for her and she looked at me saying, “I know you. You changed my life.”

Were it not for the hundreds of people surrounding us on the lake, I could tell you the silence fell on the conversation like a blanket thrown on a horse’s back. But the silence was all internal. I’d never heard anything like that in my life – short and relatively inexperienced as it may seem to some.

Jokingly I suggested that it’s not every day a guy gets to hear a woman confess her life has changed because of him. But she was quick, thankfully, to explain herself.

“You bought one of my paintings.”

I stared blankly. I’ve bought a few paintings. And this wasn’t really registering. I was half-listening for the start of the race and trying to find my swimmer in a sea of identical swim caps.

“The Poppy! I met you the night you bought it. We were introduced but you were rushing out the door.”

The Poppy is a beautiful painting that jumped out at me at an open house for a local business owned by acquaintances. It was on display and when one of the business owners was touring me through the new space, I immediately asked if it was for sale – knowing they were not a gallery. It was, and on the impulse, “I’ll take it” rolled off my tongue before I even knew the price. I have no regrets of the purchase, and it is hanging on the wall just behind me in the living room of my home. I love it.

In retrospect, the paddler-come-artist was giving an accurate description of events. I was headed out the door because I had to be somewhere else and I never made the time to speak to her. My disinterest in a fellow creative was not intentional, just circumstantial.

“I had decided I was going to quit as an artist.” She continued. “I wasn’t selling any paintings and the night you bought The Poppy, and the way it was explained that you just saw it and said, ‘I want it” changed everything.”

At this point, I’m squirming around in my cockpit. Perhaps not the most sensible action when bobbing around on the water.

“I went home, raved to my husband about “this guy” who just saw one of my paintings and had to have it. At some point, he became tired of hearing about you, went to bed and I went into my studio and started painting. I was inspired.”

A quick aside, if you will allow me: Over the years of my career – my day job as a writer and producer – I’ve worked with a lot of people who shared in brainstorming and creative session in the pursuit of creativity – the author Tommie Lee is perhaps king of the creative heap in that category. But this, this was a passive, almost surrogate, participation on my part. I’m also certain my jaw is, at this point, still dangling to display one of my adulthood prides of not having a single filling in my teeth. Oh…it was agape. Seriously. Never had a cavity. My dentist hates me. Onward.

She preceded to explain that she now had her art hanging in winery galleries, was painting even bigger pieces contrary to the suggestions and advice of galley owners, and was completely sold out. She was inspired. I was … silenced. And there are not many people or incidents that leave me speechless.

The race started. I began looking for my swimmer friend and we parted company, each paddling after different people. But that night, and for the next few days, her story – her completely sublime telling of her impressions of the night I bought the painting – resonated with me.

And now I was inspired. I sat down and finished my editor-suggested changes and corrections to my novel. The procrastination and the doubt was washed away by the chance meeting with the artist, Korenna Corby.

Korenna, humble to the core, later agreed to create the cover art for my novel, We Made A Pact. The painting, I feel, explains everything. And while she claims she’s not an illustrator, she certainly was willing to step out of her free-form comfort zone to paint the piece for me.

Maybe that’s what creatives – artists, writers, producers, actors and storytellers – do. We help each other…even when we don’t know we’re doing it.

At least, that’s how I remember things.

No author truly goes it alone. And no author ever forgets those who contributed to the work. - ever grateful, A/
No author truly goes it alone. And no author ever forgets those who contributed to the work. – ever grateful, A/

Albert Berkshire is a storyteller. His first novel of fiction, We Made A Pact, is fortunate to have been influenced by the right people – at the right time. The cover art was painted by artist Korenna Corby (www.corbyart.net). After far too many creative delays, empty bottles of Pinot Noir, and temporary mental inabilities to let go of it, We Made A Pact is set for release by Friesen Press in April of 2015.  Albert will likely celebrate with a long paddle across the lake. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire and on Facebook @ facebook.com/AlbertThomasBerkshire.

Drive. Just Drive.

-by Albert Berkshire

There are days that should never end. The days where all your crazy notions come to light. The days when you not only realize where you want to go, but accept where it is you should be. Those are the days you just want the car to keep moving.

Credit card. Phone. Passport. Clean underwear. Everything you need to make a run for it.

Just. Keep. Driving.

I’ve calculated that if I drank enough coffee, I could be in Belize in four days. Belize would be a welcome change. Warm ocean breezes, atolls, sand, rolling waves and snorkelling. No calls. No stress. No worries…mawn. 

Just time to write.

It wasn’t too long ago that a 15 hour drive in a day was anything of a challenge. In 1998, whilst moving to a new city for a new job, I succeeded in traveling from Toronto to Thunder Bay in 15 hours. The girl was much further away, but I was where I was supposed to be at the 15 hours mark and like any young pup dreaming of the corporate ladder climb, I pulled over, dropped my bags and settled in for the long, long, LONG Northern Ontario winter.

I think it’s still winter there.

My old joke, which falls on now annoyed ears in my house, “I lived in Thunder Bay for 18 months. It was the longest five years of my life!” is, to this day, the most accurate explanation of my time in that town. We didn’t work out, me and Thunder Bay. Too humid in summer, to cold in winter. It was like Toronto on a menstrual cycle. Bloody angry.

That brings me back to the drive to Belize. The need to escape is sometimes so overwhelming that the idea of just going for it becomes all you can think about. And recently, it’s been the ideas that a) there are easily accessed internet connections in Belize; b) I could easily ignore all forms of electronic communication; and c) the freedom to just write would be waiting for me there on the beach, have all conveniently emerged in my mind as a reality not too far off from the one I’ve been seeking for several years.

The freedom to just write when I have to write. Not when I want, or feel I can, but when I have to write.

The latter is easily explained.

Sometimes things get in your head, and if you don’t get them on paper, on a screen, or recorded onto a device, you’ll lose it forever. And there it little more frustrating to a writer than forgetting what you wanted to write about. Because it was brilliant!  The not so brilliant part of it is calling your other writer friends and asking, “You know that idea I had last night at dinner, when we were drunk. Do you remember what I was going to write about?”

First let’s acknowledge that our writer friends are not going to help us. No one likes competition that much. And secondly…well, see point number one. That’s pretty much it. You’re on your own, freinemy.

So what do you do?

You drive. Because those times spent in a car give you so much to think about. So much to remember. So much to hold on to until the next time. And in a 63 hour drive, you can dream up a lot of material. Belize…it’s so much more than a tropical destination teasing me with a story and the freedom to write it. It’s where my mind drives when I just want to keep driving.

It’s simply amazing…right up until I see my exit.


Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer, voice actor…storyteller. He is regrettably guilty of never taking time to write when he has to write. A good drive might just solve that dilemma. He just hopes to avoid exits next time. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

The Characters in the Characters

– by Albert Berkshire


Yes. It would seem it is story time.

“Good mornin’ to ya.”

It was a raspy voice on the other end of the phone. An uncomfortable, almost sinister  giggle followed the greeting.

I had been warned about this one. It was one of those benign comments that seemed to float in the air as a conversational afterthought as the Iceman walked out the control room door about three hours earlier.

“She’ll call you at 3:26am.”

“Who?” I asked expecting there was some additional protocol I had to follow.

“Madeline the crazy cat lady. She calls every night.”

It was September of 1991. I was fresh out of Journalism school and no where near my intended (r rather, hoped-for) employment as a television reporter for the CBC. I was, instead, and now much to my hindsight delight, a radio DJ at CFCB. It was a tiny radio station that played a disturbing equal rotation of pop, oldies, country, and on Sundays, traditional folk music. And yet, it was hugely successful. I’ll never understand that part of the equation. At the time, I could never imagined that the best stories in life would come not from the news, rather the people the news rarely ever found. The lonely, the single, the assumably psychotic, the drunk, the stoned, the learned, the uneducated, the criminal, the incredibly young and up too late, and the very old and up too early were all there – on the other then of the phone. And they had someone new to call and share with me their complaints, their ideas, their loves and hates, their moments of brilliance and their heartbreaks. They had stories to tell. Completely unknown to me then, I was sitting in centre of the amphitheatre of anecdotes. Awkward affected alliteration and all.

“Guess what kind of movie I’m watchin’? The raspy, creepy tone on the other end continued.

And then the laugh. Again.

“Hi Madeline.” I offered, ignoring the question.

Another sinister giggle of delight.

“How did you know it was me?”

“It’s 3:26.”

She giggled. Then she requested her song.

She requested Simon and Garfunkle’s A Bridge Over Troubled Waters. Instantly, we were not friends. I mean, it was well written, and it was a fairly good hit, but it was painful in every way. And what overnight DJ wanted to play a sleeper song when he was going to be pulling his first sober all-nighter? It was the start of a long, bizarre chain of events that no amount of drugs or alcohol or head banging on a wall can erase from my memory. And it was a weird one. Really weird.

My first fan was a nut job. And really, there could have been a potato in the control room chair and she would have been a fan had Spud been willing to play her a melody.

I worked for almost 15 months in that little town before I had occasion to meet Madeline.  I was doing what we called an “on location”. I was in a shopping mall with headphones, microphone and miscellaneous pieces of equipment in tow when the person who was about to relieve me at my post showed up a few minutes early. After nearly four hours of standing in one spot, drinking far too much tea, making small talk (still my least favourite of all conversation derivatives) with strangers who knew me by default of having a radio in their home or car or office, I was busting for a bathroom break. I sprinted down the hall.

On my return trip, I did the customary lap past the arcade – a place I spent many hours as a kid – and waved to Radar. Radar was the security guard who constantly muttered “Move along, move along” to every kid who found sanctuary, entertainment and friends in the mall over the course of many years. Today, though, Radar would finally be unable to rush me along. Being employed and in the mall with purpose had a decidedly wonderful benefit. As I strolled back, I heard the giggle.

The rasp was in the mall…and I wasn’t ready to make visual friends.

I stopped at the grocery store and watched.

This little medicine ball of a woman – as broad as she was tall (and that wasn’t very broad, either) – was chatting up my broadcast replacement. She waved her hands around as she talked, and as distracting or animated as that usually is, it was her head that captured my attention. Her head was tiny. Not unusually small or disfigured, but proportionately smaller than the rest of her body. Like it was 75% of its intended volume. Partially deflated, like a five day old balloon. Her raspy giggle echoed in response to whatever the other DJ said to her until she wandered away toward the food court.

More than 20 years later, I can still hear her voice. I can still see her partially deflated head sitting on top of her round torso. A child’s snowman.

4:01am. Same first night. I just butchered my news cast. The phone flasher is flashing…as I imagine one would expect. Phones didn’t ring in control rooms. They flashed. A simple and understandable logic. At this moment, I’m sure someone is calling to tell me how much I suck as a DJ. My goodness I was terrible. When I answer the studio request line, the voice on the other end of the line begins.

“Hello. It’s Charlie from Sheshatshui (shesh-sha-she).”

  • Sheshatshui is an Innu Nation in Labrador – a northern mainland part of the Canadian province Newfoundland & Labrador. Geographically, it is on the western edge of Lake Melville on the northeastern coast of North America. Sadly, like many other First People’s communities in North America, it has been stricken with incidents of substance abuse over the years. Most notably, the consumption of alcohol has had a drastically negative impact on its band members and the greater community. I share this with you because as much as this troubles me (my maternal lineage is partly of the Mi’kmaq peoples), I was a younger, less travelled, less informed, and much less socially sensitive person the night Charlie first called. I also see humour in places most people feel it is politically incorrect to acknowledge said humour. But that’s the beauty of being a writer. I’m the one with pen. And I don’t care what people think of my writing. I just write what I want and people vote with their eyes. And drunk Charlie was funny. His story was funny.

“Hi Charlie.” What can I do for you.”

“Ahhh. Me and my girl Brenda were just having a few pops, eh.”

There was a noticeable slur in his delivery.

“A few?”

“Ah ha (insert strange drunken laugh) yeah we’re kinda drunk.”

About this point in the conversation, Charlie asked for a song and went on his way. He was harmless. Moreover, he was less frequent a caller than Madeline. He normally called early every Sunday morning, after having a few beverages at some form of party that began Saturday night. All he ever wanted was to request a song…

…and fried chicken.

Charlie called me one night after about a month long absence. When I asked him where he had been, he launched into the craziest story I had heard up to that point in my life. And trust me…I never thought the magical five white Omnis passing me on Highway 95 north would ever be topped. But that was a drug-fueled haze that I was never 100% certain happened – as fantastical as it was.

“Charlie,” I started. “Where have you been.”

“Oh…we kinda got in some trouble?”

He giggled.

“What happened?” I asked. It was about 2am and I was in need of some social activity. Even a drunk person was more interesting that anything I had to entertain me at work.

“We all got a little drunk and decided we wanted some Mary Brown’s.” (Mary Brown’s is an eastern Canadian fried chicken chain restaurant.) 

“Really.” I said. This story was getting better by the second.

“So we all put our money together and chartered a plane to fly in some chicken.”

This moment still brings tears to my eyes.

“We ran out of money and the welfare office got really mad at us.”

In hindsight, Charlie and the Chicken Charter never came to mind. Damn, those Innu-Loompas would have been adorable.

When I listened to Charlie and Madeline, and their fantastical stories – believable or otherwise – I saw a characters – not people. And as horrible as that may seem to say about another human, it’s what I see. This may be more prevalent in passive friendships, as opposed to those in my life with whom I have a closer, more personal relationship. Although, many of my closest friends display some of the most interesting characteristics and personality traits. I’ve already warned them that the season for creative license never closes. Anything they say, do, or present is fair game and may end up in something I write. Most people squirm a little when I share that news. One person left the room.

As a writer who prefers fiction, these people, these experiences, these bizarre and unexpected characters I meet, and mentally dissect, represent a treasure trove of humour, comedy, and heartwarming memories of how strange my life can get – or anyone’s life for that matter – if you look just below the surface.

They are the little personalities we get to know who live inside the people we know. And as my mother used to say to me, “My God, Albert. The people you know.”

I realize now, she never meant the number, but rather the quality.

The characters in the characters.


Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer, voice actor…storyteller. He meets perfectly normal people all the time, and finds a way to turn them into delightfully amusingly, and sometimes psychotic characters. Or he just shares breakfast with them and goes on his merry way. His love of storytelling, and his passion for the written word, has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.




Norma Mary Hartery Berkshire

– by Albert Berkshire

Norma stood staring at the gravestone. It was tilted to the left. It sank slowly over the near thirty years it was in place. She never commented on its position or need of attention. It seemed almost irrelevant.

“I want my full name on my headstone,” she said rather blankly.

“Well, I don’t think we need to talk about that, but I agree. Mary is a beautiful name.”

I didn’t want to talk about headstone inscriptions. But I thought I should at least acknowledge the request.

“No. I don’t care if it says Mary, I want my maiden name on there.”

“I think we have plenty of time to discuss that.”

This was not my kind of conversation.

“No, Albert. I know. I know how I feel and my time is soon. Anyway, that’s enough about that. Let’s go.”

This was her usual way of ending any discussion with me that she felt had run its course, or when I had when I made some valid point about the invalidity of religion.

In all the years my father was laid to rest in that cemetery, she never once made reference to being buried beside him. The only hint that she would be was the blank space beside his name on the headstone, and the knowledge that that was what always happened to a husband and wife – they got buried together.

Lunch was Norma’s next suggestion. She was always hungry. She was, at best 90 pounds. She could eat five meals a day and never gain an ounce. Bit by bit, meal by meal, whatever was wrong with her system was depriving her of the necessary nutrients to stay healthy and strong. She never lacked an appetite. She just lacked the ability to make any use of what she ate. And so, we went for a drive and found a little restaurant on the edge of the water. An American might call it a diner. My father-in-law would call it a cafe. I like to think of it as your typical outport Newfoundland greasy spoon. It mattered not. They had a turkey sandwich on the menu and Norma was thrilled. She was an easy woman to please.

What are you going to eat?” She asked. “What do you eat?”

I’m a vegetarian. This was foreign territory for most members of my family. Norma assumed I lived on salad. If only it were that easy.

“I’ll find something. I always do.” In retrospect, I think I had apple pie. Close enough.

After lunch, we drove to a small community named Norris Point. Norma pointed up to a knoll, a mound of a hill. Too small to be a mountain, too big to be hill. It was a rocky lump that overlooked the harbour. Typical Newfoundland topography.

“Your father proposed to me up there.”

In all the years I knew this woman, in all the years we talked about life and travel, religion and politics, the news of the day, the philosophies of humanity, the trials and tribulations of the world, she never once made a single mention of where she and dad were engaged. I knew they were married. I knew where and when and who was there. I knew about when they dated – and her usual quips about how every girl in the office wanted to go out with him except her, and he had to ask her out. And of course the usual, “I wasn’t even remotely interested in him. I was engaged” routine retort to any mention of them as young adults.

And then this. Today. It was a surprise, more to hear the actual information, than it was to know they were engaged before marriage. It was like the missing link we never knew was missing. Oddly, none of my siblings ever heard the story either. Perhaps she just wanted someone to know. More importantly, this confirmed what I always knew…that I was her favourite. I jest. Unless you are my sibling, then I am serious. I was the favourite kid. Ahem.

After we left to drive home, we mostly had a normal conversation about life, news and politics…and eventually it turned to what we would do for dinner. She, like me, loved to go out to eat. Being served was high on her list. It was something earned from a life of work. She certainly never had the slightest entitlement growing up. Any dinner out for Norma was because she earned it. And she loved a good meal in a nice hotel restaurant.

Things didn’t go great for Norma after that weekend. She suffered a stroke a few weeks later and never fully gained the strength she needed to go home from the hospital. I flew back to Newfoundland on a whim a couple days before Christmas to spend it with her. Christmas in a hospital was about as equally depressing as seeing my mother in a hospital bed, semi-dependent on others…mostly strangers. Over the few days we spent, we had our usual talks, she had turkey dinner for Christmas night, and she slept a lot. Her stories almost stopped, and she was content to drift in and out of the conversations. I sat and wrote next to her bed. She occasionally asked me what I was writing, to which I could only reply – a novel. She said she looked forward to reading it.

“I hope it’s not trashy. And I don’t like a lot of swearing. It’s not necessary, you know. It ruins a perfectly good story” she said with a renewed strength of opinion. She was never short on opinion when it came to her literary critiques.

“No mom. No trash. I don’t think my characters ever swear.”

A few hours later I woke her up to tell her I was headed to the airport. She asked me where a few people were…some current, some past, some that I hadn’t thought of for years. It was the first time I really knew she wasn’t getting better.

About two weeks later, my brother called me and asked, in our typical family non-pressuring way, to come home if I wanted to come home. That generally translated into “I think you should come home.”

I arrived about 3am on the morning of January 13th. We spent the night in the hospital room with mom, and eventually, when the family shift change came, we got some sleep, some food and came back into the hospital a few hours later. By now, all six of her kids were doing shifts around her bed until someone suggested we let mom sleep while we all go have dinner.

The story, as I understood it from my sisters, was that at some point, about 5pm-ish on the 13th, Norma took off her oxygen mask, looked at my two sisters and said, in her typical conversation ending tone – a tone we all knew very well;

“That’s it. I’ve had enough. I’m done here. I’m ready to go.”

As we all gathered around her that evening, she went around the room, naming each of her kids and getting most of her children-in-law correct  – something that still makes us laugh. I, of course, just do it a little more publicly. When she got to me, she said, “We’ve had a lot of good times, haven’t we Albert.”

We had, indeed. My life was never short on adventure. I owe all of that to her.

I never got to tell her that I finished my novel. It didn’t seem important. There were more important things I felt she needed to know. I may even have tried to bribe her with a turkey sandwich if she’s stay a while longer, so we could talk a little more about the less important things. But I knew she was ready to go. She was tired of fighting. Tired of waiting to see my father. That, in itself, was the better story.

Norma Mary Hartery Berkshire died in the early morning of 14 January 2013. I was holding her hand when she passed.

I like to think she got the final word in our years long debate over the validity of religion, the existence of a god – one in which she firmly and loyally believed – and the importance of attending mass every Sunday. That final word, however little planning she may have put to it, was delivered in the most resounding way. She managed to get all of her kids in the same pew, in the same church, on the same day…at least one last time.

I’m certain I felt the Universe smile on us that day.

Norma lived a fine life. She was a lady to the end. Dignified in every way.

Today, 16 October 2013, Norma would have turned 82. There would most certainly have been cake. She loved any excuse to have dessert.

Norma loved dessert, almost as much as she loved her family.
Norma loved dessert, almost as much as she loved her family.


Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer, voice actor…storyteller. He misses the conversations. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

Your Service Needs Service

(a rant of near epic proportions)

– by Albert Berkshire

I’ve been fuming for about a month now.

I intended to write this article back a couple of months ago when Toyota set my tolerance for stupidity on fire. Then a local BMW dealership left me dumbfounded in my silence. The next day I called a company looking for someone (actually, to my embarrassment, I’m a major shareholder in the aforementioned company) and was stonewalled at reception. And a couple of weeks later Westjet tipped me over the edge.

That’s when I wanted to call this article “Stop Lying To Your Customers”.

I’m not naming names, but I’m sure a google search or two will answer your questions, and if you’re in these industries, THIS should be your wake up call from your arrogant complacency slumber.

In my day job, I write and produce advertising creative for radio companies, advertising agencies and some select clients with whom I have chosen to work (we must be a fit, or I’m not interested) – mostly in North America. I write a lot of promises about service, knowledge, respect, and commitment. I do this on behalf of paying clients. I’m very strict about claims and very focused on helping my clients do better – not just in sales, but in expectation, service, and reputation. I think about these things a lot, and being what we call an educated consumer, I look at it from the other side of the purchase experience. I think like the customer – not the seller – because the customer only looks at it from their perspective. It’s completely understandable.

A few years ago I purchased a Toyota pick up. I haul around mountain bikes, touring kayaks, camping and backpacking gear, and in the winter, lots of ski gear. That’s my after hours life. It doesn’t see a lot of driving, but I’m big on maintaining it to factory recommendations. I like my stuff to last.

When I called to book a service for 66,000km, the local Toyota dealer representative took the appointment and confirmed I was requesting an oil change. In my experience an oil change takes and hour or less. I planned to work in the waiting lounge.

On the day of the appointment, I called to tell the service representative I was running ten minutes late because of traffic. (I work from home, and rarely commute in morning traffic) When I arrived, I told her I would wait and she informed me she needed it for 3.5 hours to do a long list of work on my vehicle. This was new information for which I was not prepared – nor was I previously informed.

Strike one. Poor communication on the part of the dealership.

Then she told me she booked me for the shuttle service. I thought this was okay until she looked at me and said; “Oh, but we don’t go across the bridge.” (I live on “across the lake” as it is known here).

“Excuse me?” was my response.

“Too much traffic.” she replied.

Of course they’ll sell a car to me, but they won’t provide a courtesy ride. It was 10 – 12 minutes away. They would gladly drive me to another neighbourhood on “this side of the lake” that was 30 minutes and 23 (I counted) traffic lights away. But not “across the lake”.

I asked for my keys. Then I was told they had a courtesy car available.

Strike two. Where was this offer earlier?

I took the keys and got in the very basic, 5 year old car.

No gas. <sigh>

I got out, went back into Toyota and explained the vehicle was out of gas. Then the lady said, “Oh. We just ask customers to replace the gas they use before they return it.”

“But I haven’t used any gas – because there is none.”

“Yes. Just put in what you think you’ll use.”

“So you want me to go to a gas station and put gas in your customer service vehicle?”


“I’ll take my keys, please.”

She handed them to me and I took my truck to Great Canadian Oil Change where they showed me the Toyota recommended service items for my mileage (kilometer-age). Less than a third of the items Toyota wanted to do were on the list.

So now they’ve delayed me and lied to me.

Strike three. I’ll never go back to that Toyota dealership.

Back up a few minutes. As I was leaving Toyota (before my GCOC oil change) I decided I would go back and see a manager. The short version is the only person available was the assistant sales manager. I explained my experience, my professional background, told him where they were at fault and how they could improve their customer service. I gave him my business card so that the General Manager could call me to discuss.

I never heard from them. That’s how much my business means to them.

On to BMW. My wife wanted to buy a new SUV. It turns out it is my job to execute these wishes. (Sexist? It works like reverse psychology, actually.)

Ignored. I stood on the dealership lot for 10 minutes, then sat in my vehicle for another 10 minutes making notes, and not one sales person came out to ask if I needed help. I was the only vehicle in the customer parking area. I was right in front of the main windows and could see sales people at their desks texting or tweeting or ordering donuts.

Strike one, two and three all in one visit. Actually, it happened twice at the same BMW dealership.

Here’s the thing. I don’t dress up to go shopping, but just because I am wearing jeans (usually Etiqueta Negra of SoHo) doesn’t mean I a) can’t afford the things for which I shop, and more importantly b) should receive anything less than exceptional service.

I bought the BMW in another city and have it serviced at Motor Werke. They get service right 100% of the time. Yes. They are that good that I’ll mention their name.

I mentioned trying to get through to a person on the phone. This one makes me shake my head. The short version is I called during the person’s lunch break. The person who took my call sounded like I was inconveniencing him by calling his place of work. He’s a sales guy. An incoming phone call always – ALWAYS – means there could be new business on the other end.

“He’s gone to lunch.”

That was it. I stayed silent for a moment. I learned in journalism school that pausing to let the other person fill the awkward silence was a good way to let them provide a solution, or more information. Nothing. I swear even the standard crickets sound effects left the room.

I wasn’t offered voicemail, the option to leave a message, or even asked if he could help me. Insane. I’m afraid to know my share value.

And then there is WestJet. It was, at one time, a discount airline. These days, they are the same price as Air Canada (the other national servicing carrier in this country) on almost every route. I now see them as nothing more than providing discounted service.

Against my better judgement, I agreed to take a flight change on the promise of a flight credit, full hotel and meal reimbursement. They, in returned promised someone would meet me at the gate to confirm everything and direct me to my towncar to take me to my hotel. That was the deal.

No one was there. And when, after speaking with two other WestJet agents in the airport, I finally found someone to help me, no one knew anything about the agreement. Fortunately I had a printed copy of the confirmation.

By the way – The Delta Chelsea hotel in Toronto is about to no longer be a Delta hotel. Why? Because at best it is 2.5 stars. What a shit hole WestJet booked me into. Their complaint letter is coming soon. And apart from burning off the flight credit with them (which I’ve tried to slough off onto my wife) I will never fly their airline again. I really don’t like being lied to by anyone in the service industry. Or any industry, for that matter.

So ho has gotten it right lately? In my experience? Kelowna Infiniti. Open Road Lexus. Auto West BMW. Motor Werke. Air Canada (don’t be shocked). Westin Hotels. The Bike Barn. Hanks’s in Toronto (always).

Here’s the rub. There’s a great line in Netflix’s Americanization of House of Cards. The character Chloe Barns, after being called the C-word by her employer, starts to tweet the experience to her Twitter followers. She looks at him and says, “Don’t forget, when you’re speaking to me, you’re speaking to a thousand people.”

Word gets around, and when I conveyed my experiences to a few friends, they all had similar stories – and some where a lot worse than mine. And if you are a business owner, take heed. Our money, no matter how much we have to spend, is our money. We may want to purchase something nice for ourselves, or for those we love, but we don’t want to make that purchase with a promise of service.

We want actual service. Great service.


Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer, voice actor…storyteller. He’s been away finishing his first novel of fiction, and trying to live life with minimal service interruptions. So far, the customer service landscape has tipped him over the edge. Clearly defining his expections – and those of consumers – has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire

The Passion of the Misguided Angel

– by Albert Berkshire

I had no intention of writing this today, or any time in the near future. Perhaps, not even at all. But as anyone who writes for a living knows, when it hits, it hits. Tidal waves, I call them.

I was listening to my Riding Mix in the studio this morning. It’s a mix I created to which, on those rides when I’m alone, and it isn’t bear season on the lower-elevation trails, I like to listen. It has good energy. I need that when I’m on my mountain bike.

I listen to music most days when I am working, writing, creating. I love the emotion that comes from music. Some music lights a fire under me, invigorating me, making me work hard and fast. Other tracks slow me down, bring tears to my eyes – may more these past weeks than in the past. Even now, Thunderball by Domino is making my brain move at an alarming pace. My fingers can’t keep up with my thoughts…and then the song slows. It gives me a moment to reach for my peppermint tea that has sat neglected on the table for the last five minute.

This morning, I was listening to a Phontaine track from the mix when I found myself on the iTunes store looking for more Phontaine. I thought there might be something new to download. I never managed to complete the query as I when I typed in “P”, a previous search for Polyphonic Spree came up. A viable alternative, I thought to myself – and the cat on the desk. As it is with most things for me, one thing lead to another, one click took me to something even more unexpected, and suddenly I was watching an NPR Little Desk Christmas performance by The Polyphonic Spree. Tim DeLaughter, the lead singer – and possibly cult leader of ’The Spree, makes me smile. He is the emotion of his music. And sadly, his songs, like those of Kishi Bashi don’t really go on forever. So when his NPR performance ended, I started to scroll through the NPR Podcast listing to find another.

And that’s when Margo showed up.

When I was in my twenties, I had a torrid love affair with the music of Margo Timmins. She was, in 1990, one of People Magazine’s 50 most beautiful women in the world. But she was more than that. She was (then, and still is now) an amazing voice. Now, I know there are two other members of The Cowboy Junkies, but they aren’t, and then weren’t, Margo. They play exceptionally well, but Margo, like Tim DeLaughter, is the emotion in her music.

The thing is, I don’t really like country music. There was a Garth Brooks cover of a Bob Dylan song back in the 90’s that I liked. Gord Downey from The Tragically Hip put out an album as Gord Downey & The Country of Miracles that was more folk than it was country, but beyond that, the only purebred country song that makes me smile the long and lingering smile is Seasick Steve’s cover of Hank Williams‘ I’m So Lonely I Could Cry. It’s that good.

But Margo…Margo was extraordinary. Turns out…she still is.

The song that struck me was the one I always loved – and never knew why. I listened to the words today. Possibly five or six times. I needed to do that today. Misguided Angel finally resonated with me for a real reason. The song relates, in a way I can’t, or perhaps, won’t properly describe, to a character that has been living in my head for a long time. It’s taken me years to get her out onto paper, and in the truest irony of my life, she doesn’t even have a name. (Nor, I think, will she.) For the most part, I never knew her story was going to be told. It was in me, as is any writer’s story, but it was never properly provoked into making an appearance.

Or maybe, I never asked her.

I can remember the day I started writing. I mean, really writing things that mattered to me – as a writer. You see, not everything I write matters to me. It is my job, and I do it. But sometimes I write things, perhaps like this, today, that mean something to me. Anyway, I remember starting to write from the heart. And when I say “from the heart”, I don’t necessarily mean romance or pain in the psyche kind of writing (although that is almost complete, I warn you). I mean writing with passion. The passion that permits my brain to surge ahead of my typing skills and renders my somewhat-obsessive-compulsive self to disregard my myriad of typos until a later moment when I will right their grammatical trespasses. But I never thought about when I started writing as a date, an occurrence, or a catalyst until my friend Shelley asked me when I wrote my best stuff.

The answer? When I was unhappy. When I was a misguided angel, of sorts.

And now, almost three years since Shelley and I had that brief conversation, I realize that it doesn’t have to be my heartbreak or unhappiness or loss or even turmoil that is adopted as the driving force for a story. It can be someone else’s.

Today, it was Margo’s.

The look on her face when she sang Misguided Angel was one of pain. I could feel every word she sang. I could understand the angst of her character. I could relate, in ways, perhaps most people would care not to understand, to the internal struggle of her misguided angel. It was powerful.

When I was younger, in my 20’s, actually, I had a friend who had the refreshing and youthful beauty of Leslie Caron, the stage presence of Sarah McLaughlin, and the deep passion of Margo Timmins. It was a trio of characteristics that set her apart from our other friends. It made her stand out. She was a conflicted soul. And back then, I used some of her pain to write. Yet, back then, and even until now as I just wrote those words, I never realized I did that.

Other people’s pain is an amazing inspiration.

There’s a line in Misguided Angel that Margo sings with such matter-of-fact explanation of her character’s less-than-ideal lover’s passion, to which I can’t help but relate as a writer. “…it’s in the way he walks, it’s in the way he talks. His smile, his anger and his kisses.”

Passion, it seems, brings out the best and the worst in us. But more than that, it leads us down the path we really know we should travel.

I followed it. And I wrote a novel.

Thanks Margo, real or otherwise.

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer, voice actor…storyteller. He hears music as a gift, appreciates the meaning of words, and relishes in how singing a verse can redefine the meaning for every listener. His love of storytelling, and his passion for the written word has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

Running (from) The List

– by Albert Berkshire

I am running through the woods. I have left the comforts of conformity and normalcy and   safety and reason well behind me. Despite the pressure to accept them as society would like me, I am happy to have left them in my rear view. I never liked them that much. Still, I didn’t sign up for this race. I just happened to find myself in it. Like everyone else, I am racing against myself. Though I fear many of them fail to understand that, nor see the logic in its reality. There is no reward that I believe awaits me. No grand prize. No bragging rights that interest me. I seek only more of what I have already found.

The pace is quickening, as is my heart rate. My mind is racing at the same rate as my heart. Random things rush into my head. Memories of things good and things bad are filling my head. They scare me as much as they make me more determined to continue forward. Past glories, moments endured or delighted in, revelry – though I find the word carousal to be more to my liking. They all matter, whether I want them to or not. They resonate in rhythm with my feet. Take the good and the bad in stride, I think to myself.

I’ve gained elevation. Why any of us choose to flee in an uphill direction can only be explained by Hollywood screenwriters and the clinically insane. I can’t determine who would offer the more believable explanation. The air is starting to feel cooler. It is little relief in this race. As I gain elevation, the air, inevitably, thins. I start to slow. I am beginning to tire. I convince myself I have to press on. Giving in, giving up is not an option that I am willing to choose. Push harder. Find more. Do not get caught.

Obstacles appear in front of me. Life is throwing hurdles in my direction. I’ve been in this situation once before and made the mistake of giving in to the challenge. I won’t make that mistake again. I know from experience you just have to go over them as quickly as humanly possible. Life isn’t going to give you more time. Circling back and around is too time consuming, and time is not a friendly travel partner. I press on…over.

Breath hits the back of my neck. It can’t be mine, despite the pace at which I now race. I hope it is just mine swirling around my neck, but it isn’t. I look over my shoulder for the first time. She is close. Gaining on me. I can’t let her catch me. It would be the end of me. And so I push harder.

As I break above the tree line, the terrain levels off. I have hit my stride. My second wind has found me. I can see the place I want to be. Figures await in the distance. It is still far off, so I lean toward the finish. I can hear heavy breathing behind me, but it is no longer against my neck.

Regret is exhausted. And I got to the top of the hill ahead of her…again.

Ski off bigger cliffs. Paddle in Thailand. Offer my feet to Garra Rufa fish. Sleep beside the Colorado River. Hike in Arches National Park. Photograph The Three Wise Men for my mother. Ride Missoula, Moab and Fruita. Crew for friends at the Leadville 100. Go back to the Asulkan Trail. Spend a week on the Oregon coast. Stand on the beach where one of my fictional characters loved to stand. Race, and finish, an enduro mountain bike race. Ride the Staten Island Ferry. Stroll through Greenwich Village. Walk across the Brooklyn bridge. Share dinners with friends. Drink at a Speak Easy. Eat breakfast alone, often. Travel for the sake of being present. Show up unexpectedly at parties because I could be there. Party with friends at the CN Tower. Go to the Vanier Cup, the 100th Grey Cup, and the Hockey Hall of Fame. Thank a soldier. Get caught up with Joe. Say a proper goodbye to Harold. Make a new friend. Share Rumi. Come to appreciate everything I have, everywhere. Apologize. Make peace. Give. Say no to the things that are wrong and yes to the things that are right. Make a promise I will keep. Stare at the lights on the trees. Stroll for no reason other than to linger…longer. Have honest conversations. Come to understand. Find out for certain.

It was a good year for the Bucket List.

In your face, Regret.

Personal Note: This will be my last article for a little while. Everyone needs a break from what they do, and who they are. And I have one more thing to cross off my list before time catches up with me. Unlike Regret, Time is relentless. I made a promise that I would do something important. It’s best that I go do it. I’ll be back before you can count to eleven.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. – Rumi, 13th Century.

Long into the field of life do we propitiously find the illusive path upon which we were destined to travel.

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. With regularity, he finds himself in the strangest situations, for the strangest reasons, doing the strangest things. But it always makes for a great story…even if he’s the only one who understands its meaning. Making other people’s stories interesting has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

Mixed Messages & The Art of Confusion

– by Albert Berkshire

Sing with me. ‘Tis the season for mass confusion. Fa la la la la lah, la la la lahhhhhh.

December is the most frustrating time of the year for any of us in the advertising and marketing industry. Since the modern celebrations of Christmas – the Christian holiday – (insert record scratch for effect)

I write “Christmas” and not “the holiday season”. No one calls Ramadan “the holiday season”. No one calls Kwanza “the holiday season”. No one says Happy Holiday Season during Hanukkah. So let the Christians have their Christmas and let’s all get over some court injunction a la oversensitive agnostic (like me) and get on with December 25th. It’s Christmas. Get over it. <Albert’s mom cheers from afar>

Roit. Since the beginning of the modern day Christmas celebrations that began back in the 1800’s – not when three dudes in robes supposedly showed up with gifts. Actually, let’s explore that brilliant branding idea for a moment. Three guys showed up with baby gifts. Are you kidding me? NO guy shows up with a baby gift. My gay friend Andrew might. He’s thoughtful. (not that Andrew, or that one, the other one. Yeah, with the good hair.) But if we believe that Christmas gift giving came about because of The Three Wisemen, we’re all doomed. What’s next? 12/21/12? (Note to self: post this tonight)

So since we’ve been engaging in the practice of modern gift giving, someone somewhere has been trying to sell us something. Generally it’s people like me. Sorry to inform you of this, but I’ve been manipulating message that bypass your Broca and go right to your wallet.

Do not reach for your tinfoil helmet. It won’t work.

The biggest challenge I, we in the industry, face is the mixed message. None of us like mixed messages. We don’t want them from friends, employers, lovers, the toll booth lady (long story, I was nervous), the descendants of Colonel Sanders, or our favourite brand. For me, I don’t want to give you a mixed message from an established brand. Especially if I’ve busted my hump to create and maintain that brand.

It would be like me suddenly write love letters and poetry in this Blog.

In effective advertising, of which I am a student and keen participant, we spend months, even years, establishing a brand. Ripping the foundation out for a one off is akin to – well, I’m not one to judge, but I think you know where I was going with that. Think Tiger and a waitress. In fact, please – think about that for a moment longer. THAT’S a perfect example of a mixed message that destroys a brand.

Look. If she has a beautiful mind…or he’s the guy who listens to you, you may want to test the message. But Tiger tossed away a brand on a little pie from the pie lady.

Tiger Woods spent more than a decade building himself as a brand. He was a symbol of success. A trusted name that represented the finest watches (Tags are really that good, by the way), all things Nike, and Buick. Okay, maybe Buick wasn’t such a good example. Sometimes you just have to take the cash. We all do it. But the moment he tagged the waitress (excuse the play on words, sexist and inappropriate innuendo, and outright shift in my general polite nature – I’m nursing a case of Christmas angst) he sent out a message that his brand loyalists couldn’t compute.

This is where the Daleks in Dr. Who frantically repeat “Does not compute. Does not compute. Does not compute” until they spin three times to the right and then explode.

It was a mixed message. And it was bloody annoying. Aside from every woman on the face of the planet feeling sorry for his wife. (I’ve seen the scowl on her face. He needed that serving a la mode.) Still, it was the ruin of a good brand and now no married man is allowed to buy Nike balls.

Tiger is no longer cute and innocent and lovable. He’s a bad boy.

End of brand loyalty.

Sidebar quickie (bring ice cream): I have NO idea how I got onto the Tiger Woods thing, and how I’ve been able to overextend the metaphor to this length, but I am starting to regret it and desperately want to stop. But I can’t. Pass the sprinkles.

When advertisers realize that Christmas is, again this year, on December 25th, they get stars in their eyes. Actually, dollar signs. Then, in a moment of make or break desperation, they often break with an entire year of branding to make ridiculous offers in a style that is a complete departure from their overall branding message.

And it is wrong. With caps. WRONG!

The hardest part is that this is Make Hay season for many retailers. It if doesn’t happen between October 31 and December 24, it’s not going to be a very happy layoff season come January.  And when desperation sets in, most retailers – being in a reactionary industry (waiting to see what their competitor’s are going to do) – will toss out the rule book and start throwing Hail Mary’s all over the place.

That makes their customers (the ball) perfectly suited for an interception. (Good Lord, now I’m onto a football metaphor. Someone help me.) A customer who may have been loyal to your brand suddenly realizes that all the time they were listening to you tell them about your USP – Unique Selling Proposition, that which makes you different form the rest and really the superior choice – you really weren’t much different form the other guy / product / service. It creates confusion. When all the retailers fall into that trap, it creates mass confusion. And what’s it come down to now?

Price. Now the odds are even. May the cheapest pie win.

End of brand loyalty.

My advice…as much as it kills you to do it, listen to the guy you hired to give you marketing advice. Because he’s been listening to you and your customers for along time. Remember, you’re not in business for three months of the year, and if you spend money on changing the message, you better be willing to accept that once you change a loyal customer’s perception of you, you’ll likely never change them back.

Not even with a nine iron to the window. Not even with a serving of humble pie.

Mmmmmm…warm apple pie. (hold the ice cream). A la mode isn’t really me. I’m all inclusive kind of listener.

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He grew up with brothers and sisters who – to this day – love to celebrate Christmas much more than him. Ironically, last Christmas his mother sent him a card that read, “Have a blessed and holy Xmas.” Way to keep Christ in Christmas, Mom. Merry Xmas to you, too. The advertising industry makes people cynical this time of year. Rum and eggnog helps. So does knowing you learned something from this. Hopefully you’ll let me know. Sharing ideas, and honest feedback has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

I’m Feeling…Pewter

– by Albert Berkshire

Colour me present.

Most of my life is about describing things. Commercial products someone wants you to purchase, events you may be convinced to attend, companies you might find interesting or useful, a way to help save the planet, a way to contribute to its demise…the list goes on and on, and somedays…on and on and on. I write a lot of material for commercial radio and television, internet content and, much to my delight that they still exist, print publications. I am in the business of expression. This fact alone, if you have ever spent any amount of time with me, may be alarming as I am more recently lost for the words needed to express myself.

But give me a brief and I’m off and running. Or…writing.

I can dream up anything. I can’t promise most people will understand it – because I live on Planet Albert – but with a couple of passes over the material, I’ll polish the language to make it fluid and colourful. And colourful is one of my goals in everything I do. It may not always be what the client wants, but colourful is always the starting goal in my work.

Sidebar: I know we have discussed this in the past, I should address it again. I live in Canada and use the Queen’s English. Hence, “colour” is correctly spelled with a “u” in my neighbourhood. Same with “neighbourhood”. But I think you may have caught that. Just didn’t want you to be confused, annoyed, or feel things are off colour here. Byegones. Onward.

Colours, as ruined forever by psychologists, now represent emotions and moods. This is great news for those of us in the advertising business who wish to pull on your heartstrings. Ever wonder why all the fast food restaurants in world use some or all of the combinations of red, yellow and white? Now you know. A quasi-shrink put us onto it. This makes me feel as though the innocence of colour is gone. We’ve invaded one of the last bastions of our childhood. The little girl with the colouring book doesn’t know why she’s colouring everything pink, or green, or blue, or black. It could be that’s the crayon she chose. But if she has a few bad days at school and the teacher suddenly points out she been colouring everything with red or black (most commonly used for alcohol ads, by the way), they might suggest she is angry or depressed.

When planning a kitchen renovation the decision was made to go with black cabinets and the designer stopped and said, “Wait a minute. Any time a person wants black that sets off alarm bells that there are some serious emotional issues or problems happening.” Truth is, it just goes with the New York Loft style of the house. We got a new designer.

So what does being colourful really mean? Maybe we are expressing something from inside. Maybe we just like to colour with red and black. Maybe the use of colour is a form of expressive communication to which most humans can relate. And we all want to be able to relate.

I once had a client tell me my language was very colourful. Normally, that statement is reserved – in North America, at least – for describing a person who can make a sailor blush. Like my friend Bryan, or the guy at the football game last Friday night. But it is true, in many ways. And I use colour to describe many things.

Warm colours, cold colours, inviting colours, stalwart colours…the palate is almost never ending. If you look at a colour swatch from Farrow & Ball you’ll find thousands of colours. Colour gives us so much inspiration. Almost as much as music. Almost.

But my client wasn’t telling me that I use improper language. I don’t do that. Certainly not in the presence of a client. I’m smarter than that. He was referring to my descriptive language, and the irony that I was using colours to explain the emotion of my message. And I don’t like to use “blue” or “red” or “yellow” or “grey”. Too vague. I like the off colours. I like the descriptive colours. The colours with personality. The colours that pop off the page as much as they pop off your tongue. I like the more passionate residents of the Crayola box. I like aquamarine or scarlet or laser lemon or pewter.

I like the idea of having a colour that defines you. Don’t be orange or pink or green. Be Mango Tango. Be Flamingo. Be Magic Mint.

I’m not okay with Maize. That’s as boring as Corn. Can you imagine that language in a commercial? Let’s try it out:

Annc: “Michael Hill Jewelers presents a stunning one carat of diamonds set in a remarkable corn setting…” 

Maybe we can stick with gold for gold.

Sometimes, there is little or no colour in my language. There are times when colour is absent from all creativity. That’s when there’s a nothingness to my work. A void in the cosmos of expression. And the closest I come to applying a colour is the cold black of cheap tire rubber making circles on the bitumen. It becomes a monochromatic existence revolving around creative frustration.

This is what being stuck feels like. It fills every valuable piece of real estate in your brain. (ironically, grey matter) It gives you the shakes. It makes you physically ill. It makes every song you hear all about your failure. It bores a hole through your heart, and then eats you alive.

That’s a monochromatic moment. I’m having one now.

I have the beginning. I have the end. I have loved everything in the middle. I just can’t make it across the bridge to connect the dots. Something prevents me from getting to where I know I am supposed to go.

My crayon is broken. (I’m not the purple crayon; in case you wondered.)

And that renders everything I’ve done null and void…worthless. It makes failure’s eyes glimmer in the dimly lit corners of a colourful life.

It kills a story.

It turns light into dark. The energy of white into the depression of black. Sparkling gold turns into mustard. It turns the understated beauty of pewter into a simple old grey.

It’s a shame, because I always had an attraction to the colour pewter.


Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He makes every effort to live life to the fullest, write with passion, and see the beauty in the colour of language. Telling colourful stories about adventure – and products – is his passion in life, and has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.