Friday, November 26, 2010

It's a matter of taste

On a recent sojourn in Toronto I was taking stock of my fellow homo sapiens, and the locale being Queen Street East they were beautiful young people; the style conscious, self conscious, even one or two unconscious, all trying so so hard to be seen to be en vogue. It got me thinking about fashion.

Being English, I presume everything that I wear to be the height of fashion, just as everything I once surveyed was part of my empire! But what of other nationalities? The French; they have that Chanel little black dress thing going on. The Italians, glamour: raven haired women wearing over-sized sunglasses and fur coats, the men, too. Shirts unbuttoned to the navel and string bikinis (best not worn in tandem) mark out the Brazilians. Even the Americans have a style: that being any item of clothing with XXXX stamped across the label, and I don’t mean the Australian beer branding! But Canadian fashion, hmmm?

To go with the stereotype, because like it or not every stereotype is grounded in truth and also because I think I’ve typecast every nationality mentioned above already, Canadian fashion is lumberjack. Yes, you heard me, lumberjack. Plaid shirts, blue jeans and sturdy boots, all topped off by a full and bushy beard. It works well for the chaps. Ladies, I’d forego the flourish of facial hair, unless you are looking to sneak into a hunt camp unannounced.

Now, lumberjack chic is not a bad thing – apart from the ladies with beards that is – and the general penchant around these parts for rugged work wear is a sensible choice, especially as most folk chop logs, blow snow, hike trails and hunt game. Imagine trying to forge a path through a particularly prickly piece of bush wearing Jimmy Choos and a Diane von Furstenberg dress. Difficult, as any man who has tried to walk in high heels will testify.
And, anyway lumberjack chic is no oxymoron. Visit Covent Garden in the centre of London and you’ll see the Carhartt shop selling the same jeans and overalls that Home Hardware knocks out to local carpenters to fashion-afflicted city kids - albeit at much inflated prices. The same goes for Dickies and Tough Duck. If Mr Bernstein’s shop were on Bond or Oxford Street he could mark up those work pants and quilted shirts threefold.

But setting aside the stereotype, the norm so to speak, there are fashionable folks aplenty in Haliburton Highlands. The thing is, they don’t slavishly follow trends or look to the latest issue of some prophesorial magazine for guidance. That neckerchief knotted about a fellow’s throat marks him out as a bit of a cat; a jauntily sported hat, a natty waistcoat or unusually trimmed moustache all indicate a chap who bucks the trend but knows his style.

And then there are the ladies, oh the glorious ladies. Far from fashion follies, the elegance with which many of our female artists dress would knock spots off the style conscious city women. That is, if only said urban ladies would wear more polka dot.

You see, the style a la mode out here in the wilds of cottage country is individuality itself. Most, including myself, tend to dress more after-a-fashion than in fashion, amiably reinforcing the stereotype. Believe it or not, I’ll readily don a heavy boot, hardy legwear and check shirt when venturing out into the community. The suave silk hanky sporting chap you see at the head of this column is me in disguise, so that disgruntled lumberjacks don’t recognise me in the supermarket!

But enough of me: the local folk who dress with real panache are a sight to behold. They stride through our little communities with a quiet confidence, an understated radiance that cocks a snoot at convention and the mass marketed clothing conformity that passes for style in the dreary city. This is haute couture Haliburton. Minden taking on Milan!
And so I say to you all, we have an international film festival in Haliburton, why stop there; let’s get in on the fashion scene, too. London, Paris, New York, West Guildford: if only.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Calling the shots

As the sun rises over a saw-tooth silhouette of pines on the horizon the only sound is the crunch of frosty ground underfoot. The bowed and broken autumn grasses are dusted in sparkling white, and the air, though still, is charged with anticipation as the hunter treads carefully, rifle broken over the crook of his arm.

But this hunter is not clad in high visibility jacket and orange cap. No, he favours tweed. A waistcoat and matching breeches teamed with claret knee-length socks and contrasting yellow garters. His weapon of choice is not a Browning nor Winchester but a rifle by James Purdey & Sons of London.

Yes, this is the rarefied world of hunting, English style; a sport at which only the very rich, very rural and very rural rich partake. Whether shooting pheasant, grouse or deer, these individuals have either paid handsomely for the privilege, or are lucky enough (and by that I mean born into the upper class) to own land on which they can engage in the slaughter of wee beasties. Ne’er the hoi polloi be allowed to pop the merest partridge!  

For the English proletariat the word hunting is one more commonly attributed to searching for a new house or retail bargain. And believe me both of these activities are potentially as dangerous as venturing into the countryside with a loaded weapon.

When house hunting, the individual soon realises that they are the prey, rather than pursuer, as multiple estate agents (realtors) attempt to sweet-talk or brow beat them into parting with stupendously large amounts of cash for a home smaller than the average bunkie over here. And, if you’ve ever been gazumped you’ll know the wound is jagged edged and slow to heal.

Bargain hunting, meanwhile, is downright lethal if you happen to be caught in a stampede such as was witnessed on London’s Oxford Street, recently. In a story entitled, Battle of Primark, the Independent Newspaper reported: “Public order broke down on London’s main shopping street yesterday as hundreds of bargain hunters scrambled into the new Primark store mistakenly thinking there was a half-price sale.

“Managers were forced to bring forward the official opening of the shop because of the crush developing on the pavement outside. As doors opened, shoppers tumbled over each other to be first to the bargains and fights broke out as they jostled for space. Primark’s management later confirmed that a security guard and shop manager had been injured in the melee.”

Fights! Between members of the fairer sex, no less! A jaunt into central London with my beloved for an afternoon of carefree retail therapy would never be the same again. I still shudder at the thought of being trampled underfoot by a herd of marauding bargain hunters!

But back to the real hunt. Canadians, by their very nature, are less concerned about the nuances of the class system and more interested in getting outdoors and having fun. And hunting it seems is a big part of that.

The romantic ideal of stalking a proud stag over field and glen in the first light of a frosty morn’ has been crushed somewhat by the roar of ATVs and my misty eyed musings of a titanic battle of wit and guile between man and beast tarnished by the knowledge that the trick is to feed the deer for weeks beforehand.

However, where the aforementioned English gentry are renowned for going on organised slaughters; taking down 100 birds and then having some poor serf discard of them in a hole in the ground without even smacking their lips at the thought of pheasant a la bohemienne or Highland grouse cakes, the Canadian philosophy is by and large one of kill it eat it, and, what you can’t eat share with your friends – twas with just such generosity that I was introduced to the wonders of moose, recently (I thank you Janine and Josh).

There are those against hunting both here and in England. And, in my native land I’d happily join with protesters to halt the excessive and wholly wasteful slaughter undertaken by the British aristocracy all in the name of fun. Here, however, in this young land, far less riddled with the pomposity of empire, if a fellow wishes to bag a white tail for the freezer I say good luck old chap.

And if there is any to spare, get in touch!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fright Nights

Halloween eh, what fun. I got completely swept up in it all, especially the putting to work of young children - if you ask me the outlawing of juvenile chimney sweeps in England in 1840 was a damn shame. But in the sweep’s absence we now employ child labour in a quest to amass large amounts of sweets, or as you folks say, candy that we know only too well almost all of will be confiscated from little Johnny et al after the event. Genius.

I duly decked out my darling boy in a mummy costume, and, bucket in hand, he ‘trick or treated’ his way up and down Highland Street. Or, to be honest, he ‘treated’, as at only 16 months old he can’t quite get his molar (singular) around the whole phrase just yet.

And, the little fella did good. There is now a large jar of confectionary hidden high up in a cupboard where only his mother and I can reach it. Well, we can’t have him eating those sugar coated treats can we; else his one molar will fall out before he’s even got a good chew from it!

Now, all of this ghoulish frivolity is new to me. Halloween wasn’t really celebrated in England back when I was a boy. It is getting much bigger now though, as is the NBA - the Timberwolves played the Lakers in a season opener in London this year – and suing McDonalds because we’ve eaten too many burgers and now weigh 350 lbs! 

But I digress. Never having donned a bed sheet with holes for eyes and gone out on a pre-teen ‘terror’ spree I was keen to find out all about Halloween. So, pressing your kids into candy gathering aside, what’s it all about?

I’m reliably informed by the local folk that Halloween has its roots in Celtic folklore and the festival of Samhain, which celebrated the bridge between lighter and darker halves of the year. At this time the border between our world and the Otherworld is supposedly thin and spirits good and bad can pass through.

Sounds like someone’s cribbing from an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to me.

Then, there are those who say Halloween is derived from the Catholic All Souls Day. A time to pray for the departed who haven’t quite made it to heaven: the ones stuck in limbo because they kicked a dog, or had less than righteous thoughts about the neighbour’s 18 year old daughter after she knocked at their door dressed in a little red devil costume and purred trick or treat, mister!

Whether its roots are religious or pagan Halloween seems like a load of old hokum to me, dreamed up by some American marketing man in order to sell vast quantities of ghoul masks and candy.

Now as mentioned, back in Blighty, Halloween is not yet as big an event as it is here. We can’t waste our time on petty fright-nights and dressing up is silly costumes, you see. No, we have more serious things to commemorate, namely Guy Fawkes Night.

On November 5th 1605 (yep, some proper olde worlde history comin’ up) the aforementioned Mr Fawkes and a few of his Catholic chums tried to blow up Protestant King James I. The gunpowder plot was foiled though, the King saved and everyone celebrated: well, everyone except Fawkes and his mates; they were taken from the Tower of London and executed on January 31st, 1606.

By execution, I mean Fawkes and Co had their genitals cut off and burnt before their eyes before having their bowels and hearts removed. Then they were decapitated and the dismembered parts of their bodies dispersed to the corners of the kingdom as fair warning to other would-be traitors.

And we celebrate this? We jolly well do. There’s nothing like a good decapitation, after genital removal of course, to get us Brits in the party mood. We don’t do anything fancy, though; just build a large bonfire and sit an effigy of Fawkes (which our darling children have made) on top of it. Then, smiling families gather together, toffee apples and mulled wine in hand, to watch Mr. Fawkes burn, slowly; the flames first licking around his ankles before catching light to his clothes and roasting him alive. HOOHAAHAAHAAHAAAAAA!!!

And you think Halloween is scary!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Playing Politics

I joined Environment Haliburton a couple of months ago. I was asked to join the squash club, too; I haven’t yet. I’m thinking about applying to be a member of the Outdoor Association and I’ve been on a walk with Friends of the Rail Trail but that’s about it.

I’m struggling to think of any other association, guild or club that I’m affiliated to. I have no family living here, nor dead ones taking up space in a local graveyard. My nearest relative resides in Scarborough: that’s the small seaside town located on the east coast of the British Isles... I have no ancestry that traces back to before Maarten Steinkamp bought up Haliburton County.

So I guess that counts me out of the race for political office in the local elections for a few years (well, just the twenty or so that it takes to become a local!). But then again, I don’t think I have the drive and ambition to be a politician, and I count that amongst my most appealing traits.

To mis-quote American writer and political activist Gore Vidal, “any person who is prepared to run for office should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so.” This succinct remark is proven time after time on the world political stage, as power-hungry charlatans hoodwink the general public into thinking they will do good before shafting everyone and everything apart from themselves and their nearest and vilest friends.

Or is that giving George W Bush too much credit? In GDubbya’s defence, I believe he was hoodwinked into becoming president by so called friends in order that they could pull his strings and generally profiteer at the expense of the American and Iraqi people and a whole host of others.

Worse than that is ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Dubbed George W Bush’s puppet - how lame is that, the puppet of a puppet! - Tony gave great speeches about standing up to bullies and corruption and then kowtowed to GDubbya time and time again. But looking at it another way, little Tony slyly feathered his own nest while cosying up to the ‘boss of the world’, before handing over power to his right hand man and supposed friend, Gordon Brown, just as the world economy went, how do you put it, down the toilet!

And then there’s Canada’s perfectly manicured bouffant bonneted Prime Minister Stephen Harper: oh don’t get me started! Or rather, don’t ask my view on him or Canadian politics just yet because I’m still new here and getting to know a whole new set of shysters and their shenanigans.

But it can’t always be bad can it? At least a few of these politicians and their challengers must have started out on their road to office with an honourable goal in mind. They must have wanted to do good, to make change for the better at some point in their working lives. And we, as voters, the very profferers of power to this rarefied and yet all to often rank parade of miscreants, must believe in some of the things they say in their election speeches.

And there’s the rub. Both politician and voter start out with the best intentions. Each has great ambitions and a view to just how they can be achieved. Think of the US and its recent tumultuous election of President Obama. That’s BELIEF pouring out of the voters’ hearts in bucketfuls there.

For my part, I think the American public did the right thing. I have hope, not belief but hope, that the new ‘boss of the world’ will do at least some good.

And that is where we now stand in Haliburton County. The votes are in, the council seats are filled, some with the same old behinds, some with pert new derrières. We have hope that this new political term will see some good work done. We want our councillors to do well; we want them to succeed; we want to believe in them and their ambitions.

Then again, I’m just glad that it’s all over. That this group of politically-afflicted, sorry ambitious souls has stopped railroading every public event and weekly publication just to inform me how many millennia their family has been living - not just cottaging, heaven forbid - locally or to list how many clubs, associations or secret short trouser-wearing nipple exposing guilds they are members of! Or does that last club only exist in Blighty?