Sunday, October 24, 2010

How not to make enemies (17 October 2010)

Steady on old chaps: slow down with the bucket loads of bonhomie! Don’t you get it? I’m The Outsider, as per the headline on this article. If you all keep up this friendliness lark I’ll soon know everyone in the county and the Voice will cancel my column!
As an escapee from the British Isles, a land where we are so stand-offish, so reserved that anything more than a curt nod of the head or brisk tipping of the hat by way of salutation could be seen as frightfully familiar, this Haliburtonian way of striding right up to a fellow, slapping him on the back and bellowing ‘HOW ARE YA’ is altogether rather a shock to the system.
On emigrating to your fair land I wondered and worried about many things – work, the weather, bugs, bears, driving on the other side of the road… the list was long and winding – but perhaps the thing I pondered most was, could my family and I make friends with the locals? Would we find new chums to help lessen the sense of loneliness that might grip following our move 4000 miles and an ocean away from family and friends of old?
I needn’t have worried. As I wander down the main street of my adopted manor, I wave a cheery ‘hello there’ to the insurance broker, the outfitter guy, bank manager and every second passerby. They’ve all made my acquaintance and a mighty fine bunch they are too.
Everyone knows everyone else in Haliburton and it seems are pleased to know me, too. This warmth and geniality is a wonderful thing but at times it can make me quite giddy. Your friendliness and generosity of spirit is something I’ve longed for but it is a heady concoction that this fellow from London, England is not used too. In the capital city of my homeland anonymity is cherished as much if not more so than friendliness. Pedestrians’ eyes are fixed firmly on the ground four steps in front; passengers on buses skilfully ignore their neighbours; even when crammed into an underground train, pressed together like sardines in a can, these urbanites maintain a stony silence and icy cold shoulder that would crack even the Shield of granite on which your friendliest of communities is built.
The reason for this hooded hostility, this practiced ignorance, is a mystery to me. However, in lieu of an explanation - and also by way of an apology to any one of you who has visited London - I believe that with so many folks to choose from, people in London are flummoxed as to who to make friends with. They busy themselves with their self-important little lives, all the while wary of strangers, anyone who might, god forbid, strike up a friendly conversation!
Here, on the other hand, I’m welcomed as a new member of a community by everyone. I’m over-run with new friends. I’m indebted to many of you for the advice on the dos and don’ts of living in these beautiful highlands (yes, I understand about garbage and critters, but being English I sit up at night proffering cucumber sandwiches to passing racoons). I’m amazed at the immediate conviviality and continued courtesy of the realtor, cafĂ© waitresses and LCBO staff (although I do go avail myself of their services regularly). Even the fellow who pushes a shopping cart around town has a pleasant word to say.
Friendliness it seems is a disease that everyone in this county is afflicted with. I’m overwhelmed with it, dumbfounded by the amount being poured my way, and, at times bewildered as to how to respond. And, on that note I’d like to add that if we have already met, and yet, on second meeting – when you stroll over, slap me on the back and bellow ‘HOW ARE YA’ - I seem slightly bemused, it’s not that I’m being offish, reserved or unfriendly. It’s just that I’ve met so many great new folks in my short time here that I’ve forgotten your name and am frightfully embarrassed about that.
Or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been warned off making any more new friends by the Voice because it will ruin my reputation as The Outsider!

Wild Things (10 October 2010)

I moved to Canada, to Haliburton no less, to get away from the wildlife.
Home for the past 14 years has been London. Not the one in southern Ontario but London, England: metropolis of eight million people, nine thousand red buses, 13 football, sorry soccer, teams and one Queen, whom I assume you all know quite intimately after watching her in 3D on TV, recently.
‘But wildlife, in London?’ I hear you say. Like vast herds of caribou stampeding in slow motion, the hoards of tourists that descend upon the city, not just for a 12 week summer season but every single day of the year, are a menace oft unrecognised until it’s too late. Any unsuspecting Londoner caught within such a mob will be trapped, doomed to wander at no more than a shuffling step for hours, while all around him gaze skywards, cameras flashing, camcorders whirring. Any attempt to break free is met with blank stares and jostling back packs.
Conversely, the tourist also has to look out for danger too in the big city (perhaps this is why they congregate if mobs, so that like in the herds of caribou only the old and weak are picked off by predators).
Trafalgar Square, home of Nelson’s Column, is also the domain of the flying rat! This isn’t some cuddly winged rodent like the flying squirrels that used to frequent R.D. Lawrence’s cabin: flying rat is the moniker given to the flocks of mangy pigeons that swirl around Nelson’s head. Dirty and disease-ridden, these birds circle looking for a target, and by target I mean tourist who has been sold a bag of bird food by a Londoner driven to revenge for being trapped in a stampede once too often.
On spotting said tourist, who has happily begun to sprinkle seeds all around themself, the birds home in on their target and attack en masse. A blur of feathers, beaks and writhing backpack, the feeding frenzy is short but brutal. The tourist is left sometimes bloodied but always shaken and most definitely shat upon.
There is also a lone hunter that abides in almost all of London’s parks. The grey squirrel (again, nothing like the cute little red fellows that shared many an idyllic moment with Mr Lawrence) has systematically wiped out red squirrels from much of the UK. Only by joining forces with it has the Londoner survived.
The Grey has seemingly been tamed. Many a tourist will witness an old lady scattering nuts or bread for a cluster of these cheeky little critters. On seeing this, the alpha tourist in any mob will instinctively proffer a morsel of food to a nearby Grey. He’ll flick said morsel mere feet away and the squirrel will oblige by hopping over and eating it. Next, he’ll hold out another offering believing he is luring the charming little beast (note the use of the word beast) closer. This is a fatal mistake. The Grey advances and quick as a flash bites the tourist’s hand as hard as it can, not letting go without serious physical persuasion.
The injured tourist and his associated mob are affectively taken out of the system, off the London street: their trip to a British A&E department almost certainly meaning sitting in a waiting room for at least 24 hours, if not longer.
Now, I have personally witnessed both types of tourist attack, and been trapped for seemingly hours in a mob of slow-mo rampaging sightseers. But I come to Haliburton, home of bear and wolf, lair of wolverine, cougar and coyote, haunt of eagle and vulture, not to mention those herds of caribou; and, while my mum back in England worries, I haven’t caught so much as a glimpse of a single dangerous animal since my arrival.
So, you see, I bring my family to Canada, to Haliburton, to get away from the city and all of its dangers: from traffic, from violence, from smog and noise. I come to your beautiful county to be safe and get away from the wild life.
Although, thinking about it, I did take my little boy to feed the ducks in Head Lake Park and the darn things almost took his hand off. I shall be contacting the Voice’s hunting expert, a man of self professed bird calling prowess and possessor of a blunderbuss, to attend to these dangerous webbed footed waddlers!