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! 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Autumnal invaders

When I first saw them I didn't take a lot of notice. Just one or two scattered here and there around the county. Funny, I thought, and that was about it.

But then more started to appear. Gradually they were spreading, popping up like some form of disease, a seasonal rash, may be. Some were big, some small. They appeared alone, in lines, even clusters and piles.

I began to get a little concerned when early one Sunday morning I saw one lying in the middle of Highland Street, split open, like some huge deformed egg from which a grotesque being had hatched and skittered off into the shadows, leaving a trail of seeds.

I pointed it out to my companion. I didn't elucidate my full blown theory about little orange men for fear that my Canadian buddy would think me crazy. I simply exclaimed: “Whoa! Look at that, there, Jees,” in a high pitched uncontrolled shriek but he brushed it off, stating, “kids, eh. Who’d have ‘em.”

Kids... I shivered. Surely they come from the same place as the ones in the UK!

And then, a few days later, I stumbled upon the epicentre of the outbreak; the Area 51 of Haliburton’s alien invasion; the place where no one in their right mind should be going anywhere near. But there was no high fence, no federal agents cordoning the area off.

I was in Buckhorn, that pleasant little village on the way to Peterborough; the place the aliens had undoubtedly aimed to conquer first. And, amidst the rolling fields on this beautiful fall day there was a long line of smiling families waiting their turn to pay money to enter, to ride on a tractor to go see where this bizarre phenomenon was spreading from.

Now, I'm sure you’ve all seen those films where the hero (not that I'm casting myself as some death defying, world saving chap by any means) is at first dead set on staying as far away from the action as possible but somehow he just can't help but wander right into the heart of the lions den. Well, that was how it was with me.

I stopped the car a way off down the road (there was a large queue), and, taking Little Z as back-up/a disguise/human shield I followed the crowd of smiling folk.

They gladly paid their dues and loaded themselves onto tractor trailers. They grinned and chattered as we were pulled slowly away from civilization and out into the uninhabited countryside. Past fields of strawberries, tomatoes, raspberries and corn we went.

The corn definitely worried me. I've seen corn in too many horror films.

And then, there it was, the source of my angst. A vast field filled with thousands of them. Big ones and small; smooth, ribbed and knobbly. There were white ones, green and grey but mostly they were the same as the ones spreading throughout Haliburton. Orange!

The tractor stopped and the kids piled off it, running out into this field of doom. I screamed at them to stop but was drowned out by another tractor as it approached with another trailer load of smiling faces. I began to realise it was too late and slumped down on the steps of the trailer. I clutched weakly at Little Z as he struggled to get free and I wept as he broke from my grasp, ran into the field and threw his arms around the largest orange orb that he could find.

The wife looked at me like I was an alien and skipped over to our little boy. I'd lost them, it seemed.

Suddenly a large hand pressed my shoulder. I looked up into the big brown eyes of the Mexican tractor driver. He understood, I could see.

“What? Why?” I bleated.

“I know,” he said. “Crazy, crazy people. They worship them! They pay money to come in; they pay money to take them home, and then, they build shrines. They stack them in the street, line their driveways, set them on the porch with candles in!

“In Mexico we just eat pumpkins.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The wisdom of wood

Oh for the gentle wisdom of a Haliburtonian, a Mindenite or Kinmounter (Kin...mounter! that can't be right): the contemplative knowledge of a Wilberforcian, Gooderhamist or Gelert..., hmm, bloke from Gelert. Alas, to date I possess none of this zen-like intelligence but am blessed only with a Londoner's lack of patience and need for instant gratification. Let me tell you a little story to try to explain.

When, a while back, I moved from England to your fair county, it was midwinter. The temperature was lower than a turtle’s belly and the snow deeper than the voice of that fellow on the Ram pickup ads.

I ordered a face cord of logs to warm my rented home and they were delivered the very next afternoon. I neglected to stack them until the following morning (other things, like chipping the icicles off of Little Z's extremities to worry about) only to find that they had frozen into a single hard mountain that I could break apart only with repeated swings of a large axe: the axe I had thought I would not need to purchase because the logs were already chopped and split.

Fast forward six months to the next July. On buying my own home in Haliburton I was overjoyed to find it heated exclusively by hydro. Can you imagine my smug happiness? The simplicity of turning the heat on and off at the flick of a switch; the ease of cranking the thermostat up a notch or two; my self satisfied grin at knowing I’d never have to trudge out into the yard at 8.30 on a frigid winter’s evening to fetch logs for the fire. 

I have since overwintered in my electricity-eating home. I have spent many a dark winter’s night listening to the hum of the hydro meter as it whirs round at a rate of knots so swift that it actually produces a small amount of residual heat by friction alone. Don’t worry though, this writer has pockets so deep he can tuck himself, wife and son right into them and cuddle together to keep warm: that, or burn dollar bills, which seems comparatively cheap when compared to hydro heating.

But this is not my point. Your wisdom is what I wish to discuss and I now start to see where it is garnered. I recently agreed to do a friend a favour and stack some logs for her. “Yeah, sure I’ll help,” I glibly said. The next day I drove round to her house, only to almost pass right on by as it was hidden behind a pile of logs so large I would need ropes, crampons and an oxygen tank to scale it!

But, a promise is a promise and so I set about stacking logs. The task was daunting at first but I soon got into the swing. Load the barrow, push it up the steep driveway (did I mention she lived on a hill), stack logs and repeat. I made good headway for the first half hour, powering through fuelled by macho bravado and a stubborn insistence that no tree was going to get the better of me. I started to flag after an hour but then a strange thing happened: my mind, my body, my whole being became ‘at one’ with my task and I settled into a steady work rhythm; an almost meditative state of load, push, stack, push, load...

Though my body toiled I found my mind free to wander. I wondered about the ills of the world and the short sightedness of our governments. I marvelled at the warm autumn day in which I worked. My thoughts flitted from fishing tactics to fundamentalist regimes, from what’s for lunch to why can’t we train beavers to chop and stack logs?

And then I grasped it; the meaning of wood-fired stoves. While yes, they do save you money on your hydro bills, you guys don’t have them for that reason alone. You burn wood because it allows you time to stack logs, to think, to reflect and to contemplate life, the world and everything in it.

After three hours of steady stacking my chore was done and promise fulfilled. And I felt great, renewed even. My mind felt refreshed and clear. I felt full of Canadian wisdom.

The next morning I ached like an arthritic pack pony but that’s another matter.   

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Highland Fling

The Highlander, eh; tis the name of my new newspaper (the flappy sheets of printed matter where folk less inclined towards the wonders of our digital world get to read my drivel!).

Where I come from Highlander means northern folk from the Scottish Highlands. I believe our fair Canadian county took its name from the hills and glens of Scotland, too, after pioneering settlers noted a resemblance to their homeland. You may know a different story of course and I’d be the last to refute it because all I have to back mine up is a Wikipedia entry!

But the Scottish Highlands look nothing like Haliburton County, resplendent as it is in its red, green and golden crown of maple and spruce. The Scottish Highlands are more crew cut than crowning glory, having been stripped of their tree cover a long time ago by inhabitants hungry for building materials and fuel. The rugged hills and valleys are now all rocky crags and tussock grass, dotted with purple blooms of heather and the odd fellow in a skirt, sorry kilt!

But then again, you folks, or rather your ancestors, stripped Haliburton County of its trees too a while back, didn’t you.

Don’t deny it: I’ve seen the historic photos of the landscape around the Donald chemical factory and elsewhere nearby. They look like some horror story where the lead role was a mad axe murderer holding a grudge against the local foliage.

Since then, I notice that your trees have been very well behaved. The spruce even grow in rows. That’s what I call keeping them in line (if you’ll pardon the pun). Then again, I can see how you did it. My recent foray into gardening – something alien to me until I landed here in Haliburton – has opened up a whole new world of highly aggressive gadgets that would scare most any plant into submission.

The chain saw; yup, pretty horrific if you’re a tree. Ride-on lawn mowers the size of family cars; something that not many an English garden warrants – we could prune most suburban lawns with a pair of nail scissors in a couple of hours. And then there are weed whackers, what a name! You Canadians certainly tell it how it is. Back in Blighty we have a much more benign version called a strimmer. It runs on electricity rather than roaring into life courtesy of its own engine and is waved around with little more effort than it takes to swing a handbag. The plants don’t take much notice of it and many of the weeds remain standing defiantly tall even after a couple of passes with it. But a weed whacker, there’s a tool.

Strapped in to said dealer or weed destruction, steel toe-caps on, protective eye-wear lashed to my face, I recently vibrated across the garden towards a clump of weeds. Plants, critters and my son Little Z cowered as I strode by. I had spotted a spruce sapling who had decided to rally against the years of wisdom inherited from his forefathers and grow out of line. Vzzzzzz, VZZZZZZZZZZZZ. He got whacked, mob style, out in the open in view of all the other spruce. I felt like I had sent them a message. Stepping back, I growled in a menacing voice: “Mess with me again and I bring out the brush saw.”

But I digress. We were talking about the Highlander, Highlands and all things High Brow. See that, I linked the Highlander with intellectual stuff in the space of eight words! And, apart from this column maybe, your new newspaper will be full of the brightest and best in Haliburton County. We’ll give you the high brow, middle road and low down on what’s what and what’s not, all the way from Dysart to Eyre and McClintock and a whole lot of places in between: not all of them with Scottish names and most of them donning a fine head of trees, some well trained, others an unruly but beautiful mob of red and gold.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Wanna hear a secret?

I stood staring in wonderment. The mist drifted across what could only be described as a twenty acre mirror. Not a ripple. The sun, just up and rising slowly from behind the verdant maples to the east, shot arrows of brightness out over the placid surface of my lake.

Yes, my lake. My lake because the only reflection I could see upon it was my own. My lake because I had been granted what amounted to exclusive access to fish upon it. My lake because standing on that shore at six in the morning there was not a human sound to be heard: it could have been my entire world for those precious moments.   

And my lake because I had been sworn to secrecy!

Oh yes, I’ve got a secret fishing hole, aren’t you all jealous now! No? Hmm, I suppose not. There are after all about a billion lakes, ponds and rivers to fish in Haliburton County and I’m sure you local fisher-folk almost all have a favourite water, a go-to bay, a secret spot that is never boasted about, never mentioned, not even when you’re recounting tales of epic piscatorial conquests whilst, how shall we put it? You are buoyed up by a nip or two of the hard stuff. 

To me though, a boy from the city, a fly fisherman used to jostling for a spot around a muddy puddle with a rabble of rubber clad urbanites, the picturesque idyll that I stood before on that morning was nothing short of a miracle.

Picture this: (I’m gonna go all statistics-mad on you now but stick with me) my previous home, London has the highest population density in Great Britain. Around 4700 people live in every square kilometre. Compare that to Minden Hills, which has a population of about 5500 squeezed tightly into 847 square kilometres. You can see where I’m going can’t you. Every time I swung my fly rod I’d catch someone in the eye with a size 14 barbless hackled nymph!

I’m not saying that I couldn’t fish in London, or that I didn’t enjoy it but one thing’s for sure, there were no secret fishing holes. I fished local reservoirs and lakes with the fly and I dipped a bobber and worm into local canals and dykes. I even waded up the remoter urban stretches of the River Wandle, a supposed favourite angling haunt of Admiral Lord Nelson, no less. But even his ghost had got tired of the constant interruptions and upped and left.

I did find one or two quiet spots: little havens of tranquility where vehicle noise and pedestrian traffic were mercifully forgotten for a few moments. I treasured them. I noted their exact whereabouts. Then I returned, only to find someone else fishing in them.

And so you see, my lake, which is not my lake at all but a small piece of heaven loaned to me by a very gracious owner, is something akin to paradise on earth.

As I stood there in the first light of morning a loon beckoned me into my boat. I took a moment longer to linger then slipped out onto the water, almost ashamed that my ripples ruined the plate glass perfection of the lake surface.

I paddled quietly for a while, just looking. An osprey dipped towards the surface and then changed its mind; a beaver bobbed sedately past; a motorboat sputtered into life and four guys clutching beer bottles careered into view! Only kidding.

I made my first cast into paradise and a small bass flashed at my dry fly. I made a second and got another fish, bigger this time. And so the next two hours passed in similar fashion. Two hours of perfect peace and fabulous fishing.

Yes, this lake is my secret lake. I won’t be telling all my fishing buddies of its charms. I won’t be boasting about it when drunk. I’ll even take a different route each time I go, just in case I’m followed. And, if that sounds kind of selfish to you, I say: Go find your own uninhabited utopia, there’s sure to be one out there in our wonderful wilderness.     

Friday, September 9, 2011

Murder never tasted so good

Warning! This column contains scenes of graphic violence and death. Those of a nervous disposition should read no further.

“It was when we dropped the bodies in boiling water. The smell of them scolding made me feel faint.”

“I couldn’t get the stench of death off of my hands for two days. It made me retch whenever I tried to eat.”

“Their eyes just looking at you, even when their heads had been cut clean off. Whoa!”

Testimony from serial killers? Sort of. Chicken murderers to be precise.

The twelve weeks were up and for my small flock of white rock chickens it was time to meet their maker. Together with friends who had birds of their own, we had a chicken plucking party. Sounds harmless doesn’t it but plucking means killing and killing means neck breaking and head chopping but that’s not the worst. Then comes the dressing and I don’t mean choosing the right outfit for the event. They call it dressing to make it sound nice; when what it really means is cutting a hole in the chicken’s ass and ripping its innards out with your bare hands.

Thankfully, yes I say thankfully, yours truly was on killing duty. I’d wander around to the coop, talk gently to the assembled chickens waiting for my moment. The moment when one of the unsuspecting birds ventured close enough for me to scoop it up and carry it to its doom.

The flock soon became wary; their numbers slowly diminishing, their brethren being taken but never returning. Me? I became desensitised to the whole coax it, catch it, carry it, kill it routine. I actually started to enjoy it and that’s a little worrying. But I put my enjoyment down to the chickens and the dignity with which they went to their deaths.

I’d pick up an unsuspecting bird and pop it under my arm for the short walk to the chopping block. A few strokes of its back and the chicken would be clucking pleasantly. At the block, said chicken was swung upside down to be held by its feet. This was usually taken in the bird’s stride – a few chucks and a quizzical look upwards at me.

It was only when my fingers fastened around the chicken’s throat that it began to think something amiss and by that time it was way too late. A sharp jerk, some flapping and then a swift swing of the axe and the chicken was dispatched. Job done, for my part at any rate.

Then came the dirty part. Plucking: my companions went industrial on our chickens’ asses, quite literally. A dip in a vat of boiling water was followed by being tossed into what looks something like a spin dryer with dozens of rubber clad fingers fixed around the drum. The headless bird would whizz around, tumbling this way and that, as the fingers knocked off the feathers. Not a pretty sight but wholly idyllic compared to the job that fell to the third member of our murderous crew.

Yep, you guessed it, the hand up ass moment. Cutting a neat hole in the chicken’s backside – just big enough to insert a hand – was followed by a swift and brutal shove, grope, grip and yank. Out came all the bits you don’t see when you buy a pre-packed bird from the grocery store.

“Save the livers,” chimed the wife. “We gotta find ‘em first, what they hell do they look like?” barked back my companion, staring horrified at the insides of the first bird, which were now lying very definitely outside.

And so the day went on: coax, catch, carry, kill. Dunk, pluck, cut, grope, grip, yank. And repeat. And repeat and repeat and repeat… By the end of the massacre I had slaughtered around 30 chickens (I lost count at some point after 20 and at around the same time that bouts of hysterical laughter began to grip me!) and my compatriots had plucked, gutted, portioned and bagged them with an efficiency that would have you thinking we’d been murdering helpless hens for years.

The upshot of this is that I now have a stack of chickens in the freezer and my friends back in England think I’ve turned into some kind of rural raving lunatic with a penchant for decapitating farmyard animals.

To them, I say: “The chicken tastes mighty fine and it’ll soon be time to do the same to the pigs, too!”


Sorry. I slipped back into killin’ mode there for a moment.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Outside forces at work

The impossibly dashing image of The Outsider that you see at the head of this column is a false likeness, a sly fake or slight of the eye, today at least. I’m not implying that the good looking fellow you see before you is not me, author of this missive, but I am saying that I definitely don’t look like that at the moment.
The reason: my darling son, Little Z and some strange nocturnal goings-on.

Some unexplained motive caused him to wake from deep sleep last night at around a quarter after midnight. First he snivelled, then he moaned and finally he yelled: “DADDYYYY! DADDYYYY!”

“I think he wants you,” said the wife. I couldn’t really argue, could I.

And so it began, the longest night of my life, or that’s how it feels on the morning after. Initially, Little Z was upset; a bad dream may be. Then he became belligerent; a reaction to my forcibly trying to put him back in his bed, possibly (I guess the veiled threats muttered under my breath didn’t help either). Finally, he woke up properly – the type of waking up that normally comes at breakfast time – looked me in the eye and politely said, “downstairs please, Daddy.” I did not concur.

And so, we spent the next three hours ‘playing’ (for playing read me bumbling around in a foggy haze of half slumber trying to get him to lie down while he joyfully threw all manner of toy, cuddly and otherwise, at me).

At around 3.30am Little Z figured that I didn’t really want to join in with his night time games and so called his Mom. Then, promptly fell asleep.

Now, those of you who don’t have kids yet have probably stopped reading already. However, if you haven’t I suggest you read on, there could be some good advice or at least weary warnings of what to expect in the future should you embark on the rollercoaster ride that is having a family.

For the folks who have already had kids and managed somehow to raise them and then get them to leave home, it’ll all be quite a laugh I’m sure. But, stifle your mirth for a moment please and think back to those golden poop-encrusted-diaper years, and, if there’s an answer to my next question please let me know it!
What strange force, what bizarre influence, was at work upon the toddlers of the county last night?

On talking to friends (the ones with little angels just like mine) I found that almost all of them had woken at just gone midnight and proceeded to happily deprive their hard working parents of sleep for up to three hours. Then, just a quickly as it started, they all went back to sleep.

What the hell!

It wasn’t a full moon and I could detect nothing in the water. There were no storms raging over Haliburton County and if there was an earth tremor it failed to rattle the crystal chandelier that hangs above my bed (only kidding).

I can only shudder at the possibility of the paranormal! Have you seen the movie ‘Children of the Corn’? I have; hence my insistence on locking all the sharp implements away first thing this morning and then mowing flat our acres of maize. I’ve also confiscated Little Z’s tricycle, even though he’s not riding around shouting REDRUM REDRUM just yet. And, after shaving the back of his head, I can safely say Z does not have a birthmark in the shape of three sixes in the nape of his neck!

But horror movies aside; this isn’t the first time that it has happened and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Explanations, theories, anecdotes that might shed some light upon ‘the notorious night of no sleep’ would be greatly received.

And, while explanations are in the air, so to speak: I apologise if this missive does not have not the usual ‘it’s not like that in London’ Outsider vibe. I see it as more of a bemused, ‘what outsider forces are ruining my beauty sleep’ plea from a decidedly dishevelled and definitely sleep deprived Wanting-to-lie-downer.

I’ll be back looking my gentlemanly best next week. Hopefully.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fighting talk

I blame Vancouver. Not the city per se but the adrenalin (read alcohol) fuelled idiots who trashed the place after their ice hockey team was roundly beaten by the Bruins in the Stanley Cup a while back.

What do I blame them for? The riots in London, England, of course.

They should have known that this outward display of aggression; this show of brute strength against such formidable foes as shop windows and stationary vehicles could only have ended badly. Not only did they trash the stores that they regularly shop in and the very cars that they drive (clever, eh), they also unleashed a beast: a snarling venomous devil that lives across the Atlantic in good old Blighty.

I could almost hear the murmurings as the Vancouver riot took place: the “Cor blimey guvnor, who the bleedin’ ‘ell do they think they are? We’re the best rioters (in the western world, of course. We can’t discount the folks in the Middle East, who take it to a whole new level and over throw governments!), we’ll show ‘em!”

And so they did. The unfriendly masses of middle England, so long kept quiet, dormant almost, by a fix of low interest rates, infinite credit and rabid consumerism, finally reared up to reveal their drool soaked, TV dinner encrusted, maniacal leering faces.

Now, media commentators in the UK will tell you that the riots were sparked by the police killing a Tottenham man. And, I don’t want to take away from the seriousness of this incident whether it was right or wrong. But, and it’s a big ‘but’, when you see the supposed protesters carrying off TVs, DVD players, toasters, even a safe from a local bookmakers, you have to think that some folks decided to have a riot not out of a sense of horrific injustice but simply for a riot’s sake, a laugh even.

And, the trouble with that is the disenfranchised face of English society (whether it be the unemployed, football hooligans, or just plain bad tempered idiots) is very good at making trouble. We have a track record of urban burning, sporting mayhem and plain old looting, you see. And, I won’t even mention the crusades or slavery!

Perhaps subconsciously that’s why I got the hell out of Dodge last year (for Dodge substitute North London, just a few blocks from where the stench of burning police cars hangs heavy in the air at the moment) and escaped to the sedate little community that is Haliburton.

But even here, I struggle to shake off old fears and hang ups. I still lock and bolt the doors at night. I’m wary of strangers and I post a sentry to guard the property when I’m away. Trouble is he’s only two and tends to get distracted by chipmunks and digging in the dirt. Still, a little discipline and we’ll knock him into shape… Or is that slavery? Damn it!

But, my message to you Haliburtonians is never get too comfortable. Always expect the unexpected. We may live in this rural idyll but we should never take our safety and sanity for granted. It only takes a few agitators to start trouble. Imagine if the turkeys decided that Thanksgiving was not a reason to run and hide but a call to arms! Just think what would happen if the mosquitoes actually coordinated their attacks (some would say they already do, I’m sure)? What if the local art community got sick and tired of painting landscapes for cottages and rose up to form a guerrilla force of wild eyed watercolourists hell-bent on disfiguring local beauty spots!!!   

This column might seem to make a mockery of the trouble in Vancouver. Yep, I’m afraid a group of drunken hockey fans deserves nothing less. It may make light of a serious incident in England but then again the majority of the folks who caused the riot seem far more interested in pyromania and shopping sprees courtesy of their brick-sized credit cards. I hope you’ll note that I do not cast aspersions on the uprisings in the Middle East because these folk are fighting for a bigger cause, democracy. Although they might want to check out where democracy got the folks of Tottenham! OK, OK I’ll stop there.

But then again, I need to come back to my initial statement about Vancouver. I realise that it may have been unfair: I blamed the alcohol!   

Be thankful for your quiet life in Haliburton, I am.      

Friday, August 19, 2011

Hot topic

The evening was still, the sky blue, turning slowly pink. The moon had already risen and was tracking slowly higher in the cloudless atmosphere. Cloudless that is, apart from the thin wisp of smoke that broke the tree line and rose up straight as a flag pole into the evening blue.

I smiled and wondered what the penalty was for lighting a fire during a summertime ban. I didn’t really care to tell you the truth, and that’s not because I’m some crazy law-breakin’ son of a gun; it’s just that the fire wasn’t mine.

Every evening the same thing. A near neighbour of mine lights his fire, takes up residence in an armchair conveniently set under a tree and wiles away the evening hours with a bottle of beer in hand and a long stick, with which he pokes at said fire.

I don’t get the attraction. Or rather I do get that this guy is relaxing in the best way he knows how and I respect him for that. But I don’t get the need to light up on a hot summer’s evening; then again, I’m not a proper Canadian, yet.

In the year and a half that I’ve lived here, I’ve been lucky enough to meet a whole range of folks, from intellectuals to hillbillies, environmental activists to artists and bear hunters but the one thing that almost all of them have got in common is that they like a good bonfire. In fact, it seems that you Canadian folk are addicted to fire.

If there’s a party there’s a fire be it in April, July, October or January.

I’ve been ice fishing and they built a fire, on the ice no less. I stood a long way away from it. They weren’t catching this limey with their crazy winter humour!

I’ve been to a wedding and they built a fire – from marriage vows to marsh mallows in the space of minutes.

I’ve been to countless barbeques and guess what, one flaming heat source was just not enough. “You gotta have something to poke your stick at,” said the host (and he wasn’t my near neighbour).

And so, when I bought my house one of the first things I did was build a fire pit in the garden. A fine ring of rocks it was too. We had a house warming, quite literally. A big fire in the new pit, lots of friends around, too many beers and a stick or two to poke while we set the world to right.

That was last year though and now the grass has grown up around those rocks. The fire pit looks forlorn as it slowly disappears into the lawn because we’ve not had a burn in it yet. The recent fire ban helped assuage my guilt at not keeping up a Canadian tradition. But, now that the ban has been lifted the fire pit haunts my waking moments and pervades my dreams.

“Come warm me. Come burn. Come stare into the dancing orange flames that lick at your poking stick…” Whoa! Sorry. You see it got me then. This damn fire pit is talking to me, it’s driving me crazy.

The trouble is my reserved English character just doesn’t cut it as ‘fire master’, ‘flame father’, ‘bilious burner’ you get the idea… And, the friend who introduced me to the Canadian tradition of fire starting has since moved to Vancouver.

Without him there is no impish charmer to control embers. And alas, I don’t have his crazy hair, outlandish sideburns, baseball cap and laceless boots – the uniform of any self respecting red-ne…sorry, flame fetishist – to indulge in his mad fire dances.

What do I do?

I guess if I am to truly integrate into Canadian life, I have to learn to burn more stuff. Either that, or resign myself to being forever English.

Perhaps I should trundle an armchair over to my near neighbour, sit down, clink a bottle and see if he can lend me a poking stick while he enlightens me during a nice fireside chat. Best do it while the fire ban’s not in force!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Life on a plate

Life on a plate
By Will Jones
Defining moments in life are few and far between for most of us but when they turn up they aren’t necessarily what you expect.

There are the obvious ones, of course: the birth of your first child, buying your first home, catching that monster fish (OK, some of these defining moments won’t resonate with everyone!), all drastically alter the way you look at the world. But, there are also the ones that sneak up on you. Those that are far less significant but which when they happen stop you in your tracks and make you take a good look at yourself. And, you guessed it; I had one of those moments just a day or so ago.

It was the end of an ordinary day and as my lovely wife, Little Z and I sat down for dinner the defining moment struck me. I didn’t even notice at first but as I finished speaking it hit me like a sideswipe from a grizzly.

This is how it went. As I looked down at my dinner plate, a modest meal of small mouth bass fillets, new potatoes, baby carrots and fava beans, a satisfied smile came over my face. I leaned back put my hands on the table either side of said plate and exclaimed: “Everything you see before you has been caught or grown by our family.” 

It’s hard to explain how I felt at that moment. Smug, hopefully not. Proud, possibly. Far superior to everyone who tucking into grocery store produce, most definitely. But then, I realised I had heard those words before.

I cringed because I knew at that moment that I was turning into my Dad.

Now, my childhood was a sunny one. No hardship, no toil; lots of love, play and happiness. A great home, big garden and friendly neighbourhood. My Dad earned a modest wage but he saved and spent it wisely. He also prided himself on growing all of our own vegetables and raising a few animals for the table.

But this pride manifested itself in what I as a young boy considered the most ghastly of ways. Leaning back in his chair and folding his arms, Dad would announce to the assembled audience at the Sunday dinner table (no matter whether it be just his immediate family, relations, friends or complete strangers): “Everything you see before you was grown in our garden.”

Nothing wrong with that, you might think, but, as a young boy I groaned each time he said it. I longed for shop bought instant mashed potato, plastic encased TV dinners, fizzy pop that was blue, desserts made from chemicals rather than freshly picked fruit.

I would shrink low into my chair, cringing as the smile spread across his face when guests exclaimed their surprise and awe. I scowled at him from across the wonderful spread, willing him to realise what an embarrassing Dad he was being. And, I vowed never to put my kids through that kind of mental torture.

I failed. The defining moment had snuck up on me and slapped me across the face with a wet kipper, or small mouth bass, as it were.

And so, it is by opening up and baring my soul to you that I hope to stave off any further onset of Dadness. I am, as you know, a Dad now and I suppose a degree of Dadness is attached to that responsibility. I now love the idea of harvesting home grown food and I have also grown to appreciate and love my old Dad dearly, so turning into him wouldn’t be such a bad thing really.

But, my Dad, almost all Dads, are far too sensible, always too careful. They are the quashers of every boy’s crazy ideas – “no you can’t leap off the garage roof onto a trampoline and bounce over next door’s fence into their pond. I don’t care what you saw on the TV stunt show!” They are the deliverers of discipline, and, despite every protestation from young boys, they are never wrong.

And, I’m turning into one!

Hold on though, I quite like that last Dadness. May be I’ll take solace from my defining moment and assume the Dad mantle of always being right from now on.

And, you know what, everything we’ll be eating tonight has come from… DOH! 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Showers, sovereignty and the meaning of life

First it ran to a trickle, then a drip and after that nothing.

Midway through a shower after a hard day’s toil at the keyboard; all lathered up and ready for a cool rinse off and what happened, the water just stopped, that’s what. I scraped soap suds off my personage, in much the same way as a German bartender knocks the foam off the top of a glass of lager, all the while grumbling to myself that someone was going to get an earful about this.

And then it dawned on me. There was no one to give an earful to. No water company to call. No emergency hotline to be put on infinite hold by when calling to report a problem. There was no one else to lambast about my lack of water other than me and my now dry well.

Water, that life giving elixir, is something that far too many in this world take for granted. And I was one of them. Living in England, where all but a tiny minority of households are linked to the mains water supply, we all expect there to be water when we turn on the tap. Just like we expect there to be a pub on every corner, a traffic jam on every motorway and a few folks in every country of the world who don’t like us because we conquered and enslaved them at some point in the distant past.

The thing is, we may have colonised many places but us Brits never bothered to learn the local culture. And, it was as such that I came to Canada and showered long and luxuriantly, oblivious to the fact that my well could and would run dry if I used its precious content wastefully. Never again shall I take water, my water, for granted like I did when I lived in Londinium.

And this is the moral of my meandering words in this week’s column. Not water use, because you’re all well used to wells and their workings. No, I’m harping on about taking things for granted.

While I didn’t appreciate my water supply until forced to flick foam rather than rinse off, I am acutely aware of the wonders bestowed upon me in my new home here in Haliburton. Absolute blessings such as the mile after mile of verdant wilderness and the cobalt blue lake around every corner. Roads that are not choked with traffic and exhaust fumes and people within or without car, who smile and take the time of day to say hello. Even the pesky racoons, veg stealing white tails and chicken chomping foxes are something to rejoice about because so many people in this world get little or no chance to see and appreciate them: let alone get annoyed by their presence in our lives (or should that be our presence in their lives!). 

And so I gently remind you Haliburtonians, those things you see and experience everyday, those quirks and quibbles of life in the Highlands, take a moment to step back, reappraise and enjoy them because to many, including myself, they are a rare and unique pleasure.

But back to my water. The well filled up again, thankfully and I’m now much more conscious of the amount of water I use and the relative fragility of the supply. I even went so far as finding out a little more about the other idiosyncrasies of homes in rural Canada. There’s the family of chipmunks living in the floor space that every house comes equipped with. The grills in the floor that I think have something to do with the heating but which more importantly are employed by little Z as postage slots for toys, money and partially chewed meals. Hmm, may be he’s in league with the chipmunks.

And then there’s the septic tank; that subterranean cauldron filled with what I believe you laughingly refer to as ‘honey’.

I just hope its sweet in there because I’m not looking forward to jumping down inside and shovelling it out this fall. That’s what you do, right?