Op-Ed: Vancouver Island – paint your palette blue, not grey

Op-Ed: Vancouver Island - paint your palette blue, not grey
Susan Musgrave
The colourful car of Saanich Peninsula author and poet, Susan Musgrave.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we emerged from this pandemic a little less, well, beige.

We are a somewhat bland, grey, understated people here on Vancouver Island, at least visually. Down deep, many of us are probably as colourful and eccentric and interesting as most of the rest of the world, except, perhaps, the people of Africa, India, South America and the Caribbean who dress colourfully and loudly, as though they had something to celebrate.

They, of course, have warm weather as their excuse. When the sun shines almost every day, you probably feel like putting on pinks and reds and blues and yellows and vivid greens and wearing a perma-smile.

Here, our favourite colour in a chilly February is black. Natch.

Someone once quipped that people will only stop wearing black when someone invents a darker colour.

Our second favourite colour appears to be grey. Wearing lots of colour is brave, bold, daring. It’s flamboyant. But most of us don’t do flamboyant. We do dull.

I was thinking about this the other day while binging on the Amazon series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It’s a delightful American comedy, based in the late 1950s and early 1960s, where Mrs. Maisel discovers she has a knack for stand-up comedy and has wonderful adventures around Manhattan, all the time dressed to the nines in glorious outfits that are colourful and stylish. A stand-up standout. She looks and sounds and lives amazing.

Then there’s Daniel Levy and Catherine O’Hara in Schitt’s Creek, both dressing beautifully over the top. OK, I’m not sure anyone would wear Levy’s outrageous sweaters in the real world, except at Christmas, but they’re tremendous counterpoints to the blandness that pervades elsewhere.

I see colourful clothes in stores, particularly in early spring when there are red dresses and yellow skirts and bright blue shirts and loud ties for sale. But you rarely see them in the street. And in this pandemic, when many of us are under virtual house arrest, the prevailing wisdom, sartorially, is why bother. The T-shirt and jeans are just fine.

It’s not just the clothes we wear either. Look at our cars. Most are black or white or silver or muted red. If our cars make a statement about us, well in terms of colour we’re a lot less interesting than Crayola (with colours such as Burnt Orange and Maximum Yellow) or M&M’s, which are happy to feature bright red and yellow candies in their packets – but not purple. Purple has come and gone, but now it’s gone in favour of blue and brown.

Purple cars. Now that’s a concept. A statement. More colourful than an M&M.

Maybe not.

In the new humorous novel Reasons To Be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe, there’s a great passage about the boringness of western cars, where Mr. Abraham “invested in a vehicle-spraying device and sought out vibrant car paints from India and Africa where life was brighter and people simply didn’t want black or grey cars.”

I remember with absolute fondness the car of author and poet Susan Musgrave that adorned the Saanich peninsula. Her car was covered with stuck-on ornaments, and every time you saw it you couldn’t help but smile. Her car was pure poetry, whimsical and unique. The rest of us are just happy to disappear into the crowd of bland. Then again, I’m not sure I’d take it into the car wash.

And our houses? We won’t do colourful houses. We tend towards the banal. Literally beige. Sure, we plant colourful flowers outside, but not too showy, please. Not too Butchart. Just a nice herbaceous border and a few strategically situated daffodils will do just fine.

In St. John’s, Newfoundland, the houses are painted red and yellow and green and blue and, yes, even purple. They are glorious. But every time I go there I wonder why the rest of the world doesn’t do more colourful housing.

The thing is, we all love colour. We don’t watch black and white TV anymore. But we don’t want to stand out too much. I get that. But if we all started living life with more colour, we’d all begin living more vivid lives.

Yes, I hear you complain, if men start wearing yellow pants and women red polka-dot skirts, we’ll look at worst like clowns, at best like throwbacks to the early 1950s, when the world craved some colour after the Second World War and went wonderfully overboard.

A splash of colour will do. An orange mask. A red front door. A white car with a blue racing stripe.

Colour lifts the spirits. And we could do with more of it. We need to be a lot more daring, embrace the incredible array of colours available to us. Me included. I live in a white house, drive a silver car (which means grey) and all my sweaters are dark and somewhat sombre, except for a light blue one that I wear while cleaning out the garage when nobody can see me.

But when we emerge from the chrysalis of our global shutdown, let’s try to be brighter, happier, more at one with the natural world, which isn’t shy about showing off its blues and reds and yellows and pinks and greens.

The perfect palette isn’t all black and grey.

Ian Haysom is a journalist and author who writes and consults with CHEK-TV

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