Thursday, December 22, 2011

Who turned the lights on?

It started out as a way of trying to distract little Z while in the car: another attempt to put off the moment when those dreaded words are uttered. Not “Are we there yet?” but, “want my silly songs on, want my silly songs on…”

Little Z’s ‘silly songs’ (his term, our groan and the actual name on the CD cover) are a collection of nonsensical nursery rhymes that he insists we play at high volume on every car journey, whether a quick trip to the village or a three hour jaunt to the city. And by play I mean repeat over and over, to the point where I can imagine them being used as an interrogation technique by the FBI.

But that’s getting a little off track. The distraction technique is a festive ruse and it’s working well. “Look out for the lights. Can you see any pretty lights?” chant the wife and I as Little Z battles against his car seat restraints, trying to spot sparkling outdoor Christmas decorations. And when he spots them all hell breaks loose: “LIGHTS! LIGHTS! LIGHTS!” is the shout (I have to admit to joining in at times) as we pass another brightly bejewelled home.

And what lights they are. You folk certainly know how to waste electricity (sorry, did I say that out loud?): you certainly know how to put on a Christmas light display. There are little cottages bedecked in twinkling crystalline stars; glimmering trees in front gardens; multicoloured garlands hanging from many a porch, and these are just the pleasantly restrained, “hey, shall we decorate the veranda” style of external home adornment.

Little Z is more a fan of the displays that include a giant figure of some sort: an eight foot tall Santa Claus, a giant snow man, or those families of twinkling deer that prance statically in the snow. One such magnificent festive garden arrangement is a masterpiece that includes a snowman, Santa and Mrs Santa, at the Minden end of County Road 21. On seeing it I blurted out: “Where do these folks buy this stuff?” Only to be confronted minutes later by the aforementioned eight foot tall inflatable Santa as I walked into Home Hardware.

My previous city life has left me unprepared for this size and extravagance of your outdoor Christmas decoration, at least on the domestic scale. Yes, London had its parade and the illumination of the Oxford Street lights was always an event. But major displays in private gardens are something I’m not used to.

Until very recently I would have staked camp firmly in favour of the tastefully minimal displays, the ones in which some grotesque cartoon festive figure doesn’t dwarf me as it bucks and sways in the chill wind (that’s just not what you want if you’re staking camp anywhere). I’m getting better with these all out assaults on Christmas cheer, though, and it’s thanks to Little Z’s vigilance.

You see, we were driving down County Road One the other evening, Little Z in light spotting mode, me not paying too much attention (just thankful to be listening to CBC Radio 2, rather than another rendition of Jump Jump Johnny Giraffe!) when the call went up, “LIGHTS! LIGHTS! Daddy, LIGHTS!” The car skidded to a halt, slowly, on the not-so-snowy verge. And there it was, a giant illuminated snow globe, revolving resplendently in the middle of someone’s front lawn. I was amazed, awed even.

But don’t take my word for it. Go see it, just south of the turn for Ingoldsby. Go see it and tell me you don’t joyously shout “LIGHTS! LIGHTS! LIGHTS!”

Friday, December 16, 2011

I dream of a full English

And so it was back to the pig: the lovely lovely pork. I can’t say that I forgot about Pigley, as I like to call him, while wrangling with bath tubs and leaky pipes because I ate pork chops, pork roasts, all things pig as often as possible during my plumbing nightmares. I ate pork to keep my strength up but I also ate it because my lovingly reared pig tastes so damn good.

But what came next was new to me. It was a journey of discovery; just as bringing my pig home in the rental car had been; just as butchering Pigley in the garage had been. It was making bacon and sausages: a long wished for dream come true, no less.

You see, life in Londinium was fun in many ways but at the back of my mind was a hankering, a yearning to grow and process my own food. And, the Holy Grail as far as I was concerned was being able to make breakfast from produce that I’d reared.

Now, I may have achieved that by planting oats in my pigeon poop filled window box and hoping for the best but that would have been copping out somewhat. I wanted a full English, as I’d call it: bacon, eggs, sausage, tomatoes, beans and a large fat slice of fried bread. Difficult to achieve in a two bed apartment, even for the most creative of enthusiastic urban foodie, I’m sure you’ll agree.

However, life has changed for me, as you kind readers know. In what seems like the blink of an eye I’ve gone from commuting in rush hour traffic to communing with nature; I’ve swapped pin striped suit for plaid shirt (I have quite a collection, I might add); and, I’ve forgone restaurant dining (on all but special occasions) in favour of hooking, harvesting and hand rearing my own food.

But back to my full English breakfast. My lovely wife makes bread from wheat we helped harvest and the meat, the pork to make sausages and bacon, was until recently sitting in our freezer.

And so it came time to make our bangers. I’m going to let you into a secret here, on a series of covert missions that the FBI would be proud of (make of that what you will) we sneakily stole the knowledge of local sausage-maker extraordinaire Norm Weber. Please don’t tell him but what we did was pop into his store and chat light heartedly about all manner of things, slowly, slowly bringing the topic around to sausage making. Norm would wax lyrical about this trickiest of arts as we listened. The wife and I would nod conspiratively to each other as we left, our heads buzzing with new found sausage mixes or stuffing techniques.

Strangely, as Norm patted me on the back and sent me on my way for the umpteenth time he smiled broadly. I couldn’t work out what was making him so happy, as I was the one gleaning a lifetime’s experience. I pondered it as I opened the trunk of the car and unloaded the five packs of salami, a dozen pepperettes, smoked cheese, fish and pork, two steaks and a vintage fishing lure; my regular order.

With Norm’s wisdom ringing in our ears (and a refrigerator filled to the brim with his smoked goods) we unleashed the hog stuffer on our pork for the first time last week. The horrific scene of sausage meat squirting from the automated stuffer in an uncontrollable jet did not materialise, thankfully. My steady stuffing technique and my wife’s deft handling of the sausage skins proved a winning combination. Out came the minced meat, filling the long skin and making pert pink pork sausages. They were a triumph for us and a sight to behold for anyone who admires a well stuffed banger. For other folk they probably looked like, well, sausages.

Ohhh but the taste, I’m salivating as I write this: my dream of a home produced full English is a dream less distant. What was, ironically, totally unobtainable for me in England is coming to fruition in Canada. I have the bread. I have the sausages (we made bacon, too) and tomatoes I’ve grown. Beans will be planted in the garden next year. Eggs: I’m gonna wait until spring to start making my own eggs. I imagine Canadian winters and chickens don’t mix, not unless you like them frozen, with their feathers still on!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Not, in hot water (part two)

Previously in The Outsider: our intrepid immigrant had fallen foul of a leak in his bathroom, and, after exhausting all other options, been forced to rip out the bath (a moulded fibreglass bath of Canadian manufacture with no removable front panel, I should add), along with one corner of the house to find the source of the problem.
After a day’s hard labour, and much to his relief, the bath was extricated.
“Best check on that leak now,” said the father-in-law.

And so it was to the leak. But this was no ordinary leak. Yes, it went drip, drip, drip but no, it wasn’t emanating from the waste pipe under the bath and neither was it coming from the water pipes connecting to the taps, at least not from where I could see.
The leak was in the void between the two floors. I grimaced. Maybe I should have tackled the problem from below and taken the washroom ceiling out, as advised. Maybe I should have cut a hole in the stairway wall; taken a side-on approach, again as prompted. Damn it. Instead, I had ransacked the bathroom. Taken power tools to the tub no less, and there was simply no going back now.
Casting off the gathering fug of gloom, I reached for the jig saw once again and began to slice a large chunk out of the floor.
GrrrrrrrRRRRAAARRR! The blade hit something hard.
Now, those of you of a wicked disposition will be wishing a deluge upon me at this moment. You predict me cutting right through the water pipe, getting partially drowned and then listening helplessly as the ceiling below (the one I didn’t take down) collapses. That’s the comedic route to go with this column, I guess. But I’m much more pompous than that. No, the thing that I hit was a large ceiling joist: a joist that would have made it impossible to go in through the side, as had been suggested. “HA!”
I reassessed my option, and, cutting a smaller hole, gained somewhat awkward entry into the floor void. My first glance at the leak; drip, drip, drip, it went.
“HA HA!” I cackled. “We’d never have been able to get at it from below, look at all those other pipes blocking the way!” My way had been the right way all along. I beamed with pride.
“We still need to mend the leak, though,” said the father-in-law, “and it’s in a bugger of a spot.”
Bump. I crashed back to earth from the small cloud of self righteousness I’d been riding.
Six hours, four skinned knuckles, three trips to the hardware store and two achy backs later and the leak was fixed. We hadn’t installed the new bath (that’s a whole other story). We still had no water in the house. Little Z would not be bathing tonight but we had fixed the leak.
Jumping forward in time a week or so and the parents-in-law have departed. I hope their stint without washing didn’t offend fellow passengers on the flight back to the UK.
We now have a new bath but it also has a moulded front, so, if the pipe bursts again I’ll be ranting about idiotic Canadian bath design again, while ripping apart the bathroom again. Or will I?
You see, currently our bathroom is in a state of flux, so to speak. Said bath is installed and working well (Little Z is back to his old colour: only after some serious scrubbing, I might add) but the redecoration process has stalled. The walls are a jumble of badly fitting drywall, timber studs and bulges of insulation from where we extricated the original bath module, accented by strips of different coloured paint from behind the timber beading that was ripped down in the process.
I like this state of semi-redecoration. I call it a ‘deconstructivist ambiance’ and see the charm of this leftfield outpost of interior design. My wife, on the other hand, doesn’t concur. She rants incessantly that it’s “a blinkin’ mess that needs sorting out, sharpish!”
But two rants in one column (even a two-part column) is one too many, so I’ll leave that story for another time.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Not, in hot water

OK, this is going to sound like a rant but I figure I’ve been nice enough to you Canadians for long enough. I’ve been pleasant about your countryside and your food (although I’ve steered clear of your penchant for poutine). I’ve yarned favourably about your sport, cars and weather. I’ve penned platitudes about you people for so long that I’m fit to burst: like a high pressure water pipe with a tiny crack in it, I’m going drip, drip, drip, just ready to blow.

And that’s how my current bad mood began, with a dripping pipe. Drip, drip, drip it went from somewhere behind my bath, seeping into the ceiling of my downstairs washroom. It was undetectable at first but, just like my temper, it began to seep out.

Eventually, a bubble formed behind the thick layer of dark burgundy paint that the previous owner had thought fit to slather all over the washroom walls. I investigated. I popped said bubble and the water gushed out, revealing sodden drywall and a leak from above.

OK, I thought, let’s fix this thing. I jogged up to the bathroom to find the source of the problem, gauged the situation, and, after a couple more trips up and down, guesstimated that the leak was coming from behind the bath.

OK, I thought once again, let’s fix this thing; my mood still bright and breezy. And then it hit me. There was no way of getting behind the bath. The beige acrylic all-in-one bath and shower module installed in my home (by the previous owner) was, I’m sure, a marvel akin to technologies such as the Space Shuttle on its invention in the late 1960s. Formed by layer upon layer of fibreglass into a granite hard shell, I can just picture the awe it inspired to a generation of Jetson wannabees. To me, on the other hand, it presented a problem. How to get to my leak?

Now, in the land of my birth every bath tub has a removable front panel. And I mean every bath tub, it’s the law. Whether a stand alone model or some fancy affair with whirlpool attachments and a multiple headed shower for that all over clean sandblasted type feeling, they all have a panel. Alright, may be it isn’t the law but it’s the norm. And, it should be the law, worldwide, because it allows you to peak behind the tub without having to rip the bathroom apart! But oh no, not in Canada. Here, you like your tubs moulded in one piece: forget that they might leak from time to time!

I approached the knowledgeable folk at our local hardware store and got the helpful advice: “You’ll have to take the washroom ceiling out.” FOR A LEAK! “Or, you could cut a hole through the side wall, from the stairway.” Again, FOR A LEAK!


I opted to do neither and instead I took the bath out. Oh did I take the bath out!

We (the father-in-law and I) ripped all of the timber edging strips from around the bath; pulled down the bulkhead and diagonal timber paneling (previous owner!!!) from above; disconnected the taps, shower attachment and associated gubbins and heaved. Would the bath move? Like hell it would!

“They must have built the house around this freekin’ thing,” I sneered. And then it dawned on me that they had. Too tall to fit through the door, too wide to fit through the timber studs of the wall: they had put the bath in place and then built around it.


Of the lowest order.

I hit it with a hammer. The reverberations temporarily deafened us but the bath stood firm. We drilled holes and attacked it with a hack saw: the effect, like cutting bedrock with a butter knife. We eventually went back to the hardware store and purchased power tools. Only then did the bath yield.

Slowly, we sawed the bath into chunks small enough to be carried from the room; all the while coughing and spitting fibreglass dust. The extraction, like some mammoth root canal operation, took an entire day but by the end of it my anger at the idiotic design of this Canadian tub had subsided; turning instead into elation at a job finally complete.

“Best check on that leak now,” said the father-in-law.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Life’s a talent show

Without wishing to blow my own trumpet, I am a man of many talents; albeit most of which were honed when I was a child, and as such, involve sticks, string, elastic bands and bogeys, or boogers, as you Canadian folk like to call them.

My other ‘arf, ‘er in doors, as she’d variously be known if we still lived in the east end of London, is somewhat different. She has a varied and valuable skill set, which it seems, is shaped perfectly to serve Little Z and me most handsomely in everyday life: and we appreciate this greatly I’d like to add, before anyone accuses me of chauvinism.

My wife cooks like an angel; she is charming and witty, although Little Z has yet to truly grasp these talents (he usually grasps her hair); she is not afraid of spiders, a trait that I greatly admire and am very relieved that she possesses; she is well versed in the realms of nutrition and health (she has a university degree, no less); she is a wonderful mother and the ideal life partner; I could go on but if I do she’ll undoubtedly become very big headed, in her own beautiful way, of course.

But I tell you this not in simple homage to my wife but to highlight all of our uncelebrated talents; though often they lie dormant until some event kick starts them, coughing and spluttering back into life. And so it was that a trip to the city did just that for me. A trip to Burlington, no less: that shiniest of suburb, where an old English friend has chosen to reside.

With our children playing happily and wives nattering busily (chauvinism alert!) us men were sent out to buy supplies, i.e. two bottles of red wine and a nice roasting joint for the evening meal. On the way to the grocery store, my host said: “there’s this great little shop nearby with all kinds of cool stuff in it, want to go see?” I couldn’t refuse.

An hour or so later we returned home with two bottles of red wine, a nice roasting joint for the evening meal, an electric chop saw, a pillar drill and the Hog Stuffer (the nickname for my new sausage maker, for those of you who didn’t catch last week’s missive).

Initial wifely amazement soon turned to annoyance, and then, thankfully, to the usual weary resignation following one of my ‘inspired’ purchases. However, the wine revived spirits and the weekend passed off without further reference to the chop saw, or my assailant’s new pillar drill.

Now, I can hear you asking: “a chop saw, is he mad? What could a writer want with a chop saw?” Well, dear reader, remember I mentioned those dormant talents. In a past life I was a carpenter, and as such, I am relatively handy with tools: I just never had the space to keep any, much less wield them effectively, during the fifteen years that I lived in a two-bed apartment in London. To have owned a chop saw would have meant forsaking the collection of fine wines and spirits that was tucked in the space under the stairs and that was never going to happen!

And so it was, back in Haliburton, in a house so big that I can glug spirits and wield power tools to my hearts content (you’ll notice I have one less finger than I used to), that my chop saw and I set out on our first mission: a toy box for Little Z. This project turned out relatively successful I am pleased to report. But, as I turned from admiring my work (glass in hand, blood still dripping from what used to be an index finger) I caught my lovely wife’s eye and in it a gleam that could only mean trouble.

In a stream of consciousness so long that I think I napped for a while during it, she listed the plethora of things that I could now make, jobs I could do, “seeing as how you have an electric saw and have remembered how to swing a hammer!”

Ah, those hidden talents… My back began to ache at just the thought of it. As she turned and left the workshop I sunk down against the wall, unplugged the chop saw and reached for the bottle.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Hairy chins, hogs and hiding out

I shaved off my beard and bought myself a crazeee-powerful piece of machinery that I like to call the Hog Stuffer. The wife laughed when she saw it: or was her mirth directed at my rediscovered chin? She claimed I’d got a bad dose of mid-life crisis but I knew it might be a case of life or death.

You see, it all started a couple of weeks back, following the printing of my missive on pig butchery and the unconventional transportation of dead porkers in a rental car. First, the episode was talked up on the radio, joked about, even but, beneath this seemingly innocent humour I sensed something more sinister. People began to stare warily at me in the street (this was before the beard shearing, remember) and I started to get emails from folks I didn’t know. Then, my lovely wife was accosted in the grocery store. “Which car did you rent from Curry Motors?” demanded the stranger. “I gotta pick one up this afternoon,” a car we presumed, rather than a pig, “and I’ll be damned if I get one that stinks to high heaven.” We still weren’t sure which.

That incident was the final straw. Things were getting too hot for me in Haliburton village, and so, kissing wife and Little Z goodbye, I packed up the pig meat, took the Hog Stuffer and high-tailed it out into the bush, hoping my newly unearthed, whiter-than-white chin wouldn’t spook the wildlife.

Now, until last week I wouldn’t have had a clue where to skedaddle to but following my meandering road trip I around the County’s roads (also recently reported upon in The Highlander: woe betide you if you missed it!) I had a new found knowledge of the region’s highways and byways. I roared off down Porky’s Road. I took a left on Bacon and then a right into Cheddar (always did think the two went well together in a sandwich) but quickly found myself disorientated on Lost Trail. Then, a sign appeared, Another Chance Lane it said, and so it was. It led to Camp Gayventure Court. Surely, no one would look for a swarthy pig chopper (masquerading as a clean shaven guy packin’ plenty of pork) in there.

HAHA! You think I’m that dumb. I took no such route, or did I? I’m not gonna give that away when the rental guys may already be after me. And, before any super sleuths try to track me via my electronic fingerprint, I’ll have them know that I was careful to send this latest missive from deep in the bush via an untraceable email. No one will be able to home in on my whereabouts by triangulating the position of my cell phone via transmission towers like they do in cop shows on TV. Why, because there is only one damn tower and the reception from Rogers is sooooo poor I can hardly ever get a signal anyway.

So, here I am, hidden in the bush (I’m tempted to tell you that I’m on Toenail Trail but it’d be a lie. I just wanted to mention it, as possibly the worst and as such best named trail in the County). I’m incommunicado but I’m eating well: I have an entire pig’s-worth of evidence that I’m chopping up and devouring before anyone else catches up with me.
And that’s where the Hog Stuffer comes in. My new sausage-making machine is making short work of the pork and only the telltale smell of frying bangers could give the game away.

What? You thought I’d gone out and bought myself a Harley Davidson! Jees: I may be approaching midlife but I’m not that old or desperate yet!     

Monday, November 7, 2011

Makin’ Bacon

You’ve heard the joke about how many elephants you can get in a mini, yes? Well if not, don’t worry it’s not very funny anyway. Here’s another one for you, though. How many pigs can you squeeze in a rental car? And, before you ask, yes they were full size pigs and no, it wasn’t an SUV or pick-up, far from it!
The answer is two, just about, so long as you saw one of them in half.
That wasn’t very funny either, was it. Then again, the fellows at the abattoir just about laughed their blood soaked aprons off when I turned up to collect my freshly killed pigs in the aforementioned, rather compact rental car.
“In there! HAHAHA… Really? HAHAHA…” guffawed a burly chap holding half of a 200lb pig.
“You need a bigger car. Or a smaller pig!” quipped his sidekick (who was also laden with a hefty load of unbutchered pork).
But, with some gentle persuasion and the help of a saw to chop the second porker into quarters, we managed to load my beloved but now very dead pigs into the car.
Little Z wasn’t overjoyed. Sitting in his seat in the rear of the vehicle, he was now confronted by two trotters, two ears, a snout and the ominous but rather vacant expression that I imagine most pigs adopt on being cut in half. “Daddy, think its smiling?” he asked tentatively, his brow furrowing and lip quivering slightly as he spoke. “Yes,” I boomed with an overconfident smile. “He’s really looking forward to us eating him!” I’m sure Z saw straight through that.
And so it was that the wife, child and I, plus our two not very talkative companions wended our way home for what was to be a mammoth evening of hog molestation.
But perhaps I should back up a little to explain. When living in the city I yearned to have the space to grow my own food; everything from chives to chickens, mustard greens to Muscovy ducks and parsley to, you guessed it, pigs. And so, on coming to Haliburton, I leapt wholeheartedly into that quest. I’ve grown vegetables; reared and dispatched chickens; and now, thanks to the help of some lovely friends in Gelert, raised big, fat, hairy, healthy pigs.
That said, they were for eating and so off to the abattoir they went. But, I’m no fool if not an enthusiastic one and the chance to butcher them myself was not something to be passed up. And so, here I was driving home from Lindsay, with my two year old sharing the back seat with 350lbs of unsliced bacon.
Back at the ranch, I extricated the pigs from the rear of the car and hosed down the interior to remove the blood and gore (it’s OK, it’s just a rental. Or should that be ‘sorry Curry’s!’) and heaved the large and evermore daunting carcasses into the garage, where my adhoc meat processing station had been set up.
“They’re quite big, aren’t they,” said the wife, drastically understating the situation. “Pigs still smiling, Daddy,” said Little Z, looking on from a distance. But, you gotta do what you gotta do, and with a wink at Z, I set to the task of chopping up our hogs into rather more bite-sized portions.  
Five hours later, with the little chap long tucked up in bed, the wife wielded the knife and sliced the last chop. It was gone midnight as I tied the knot on the butcher’s paper wrapped slab of flesh and the two of us fell into bed blood stained, exhausted but rather proud of our first foray into butchery.
I’ve taken these things from the experience, too. In addition to having a freezer packed to the gunnels with lovely, if slightly raggedy cuts, of home grown pork, I now have the utmost respect for the likes of Norm (of Smoke House fame), Mr Coneybeare and all you hunters who butcher your own meat.
And, I guess I have some explaining to do to Curry Motors!