Thursday, April 21, 2011

The fifth season

As I stroll nonchalantly into this new season, the sun is shining, the birds voice my happiness in shrill song and small scurrying creatures appear to chatter hello from every nook and cranny in my garden.

Tis spring: winter is finally gone and this land and its inhabitants are thawing out, gradually. I feel the urge to relax, to slide gracefully into the good weather, taking my time to soak up the first warmth of the sun or spend a moment or ten savouring the first buds, the nest builders, the very buzz of life.

The trouble is I can’t.

All around me, amidst this glorious outpouring of nature, are you folk, rushing around, bustling from one job to another. As I drive around the county I see gardeners busy raking lawns, digging flower beds, burning debris in a haste almost verging on panic.

Homes suddenly have large piles of tree trunks or logs dumped on their front lawns. Log splitters are the garden ornament of choice for the month of April, it seems.

Split, chop, stack… and repeat.

Handymen hammer, plane and paint. Contractors scurry up and down ladders putting the finishing touches to homes started before the snow came. Everyone seems so intent on getting stuff done that they take no time to appreciate the beauty of spring. But why?

And then it dawns on me. Contrary to my previous life in Blighty, where there are four seasons - winter, spring, summer and autumn (I feel silly for listing them, but you never know…) - here in Canada you have five, not counting fall!

I’m still trying to work out where fall goes: between summer and autumn? Autumn and winter?

Yep, you have five seasons. Summer, autumn, winter, spring and bug.


I panic. I can almost hear the droning hummm, the whining bzzzzzz. The approaching apocalypse, as a vast plague of tiny insects, which has already spotted my pink English skin, sniffed my sweet foreign blood, lock on, stingers set to maximum itch, just waiting for their season to start.

The revelation sends me reeling. I rush out into the garden. Perhaps the opposite reaction you’d expect of a man petrified of the oncoming insect feast that he’ll become but I’ve got to put the screen room up, and fast.

I have a coop to build for the chickens we have yet to buy.

I have to erect the swing set so that little Z will be able to peer at it from behind closed patio doors, as millions of mosquitoes throw themselves at the glass in an attempt to feed on his tender young skin.

I have a veggie garden to dig, so that we can feed the best organic crops to the local wildlife.

I have a hoop house to complete – an adhoc heated growing room that creates the perfect environment for even more biting insects to thrive, I’m sure!

Oh jeez! Sliding nonchalantly into spring has turned into slipping and falling on my ass while all around me folks prepare for Canada’s equivalent of Colonel Kurtz’s, ‘the Horror, the Horror.’

And so, my spring has transformed, from joyous delight at the rebirth of this beautiful land, to a blind panic at being prepared to fend off a million tiny marauders, all intent on inflicting an itching hell upon me.

I’m off to stock up on bug repellent, bug zappers, bug nets, bug suits, bug magnets! Bug swatters, bug sprays… Boy, I love the smell of Deet in the morning!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lost in translation, eh!

Oscar Wilde once said: “The Americans are identical to the British in all respects except, of course, language.”

I know what he means! You guys certainly fox me with your lingo at times.

As far as I knew before I moved to Canada, hoods and trunks were items of clothing, the former donned in order to not get wet, the latter in anticipation of completely immersing ones self in water. Here, I find they apply to either end of my car.

But then again, let’s flip that same scenario. If I asked a Canadian to show me his bonnet and boot he may well doff his cap and wave a hefty piece of footwear at me: when all I wanted to do was check out his hood and trunk.

Our common language is not so common after all. Every aspect of my new life in Canada is interesting to me but none more so than the local vocabulary peculiarities, eh.

I hope I put the ‘eh’ in the right place there. It seems you folk say ‘eh’ like friends of mine in London use, ‘knar wot ah meen’. It’s sort of an affirmation that their opinion, their point of view, their useless interjection, has been registered by their peers. ‘Eh’ on the other hand is what an ill-mannered English yob will blurt out after miss-hearing part of a fellow’s conversation: ‘Eh, waja say?’

I myself would behest the speaker repeat his remark by asking, ‘Pardon? My good man, please re-enlighten me with your undoubted wisdom, for I fell asleep during your discourse!’

On inviting Canadian visitors into our home recently, my lovely wife looked over to me (I was studiously sorting dry flies from wet ones in anticipation of the upcoming fishing season) and accused me of faffing about. Now, I knew what she meant, and, while disagreeing entirely with her assessment of the situation, I strolled over to greet our guests only to see them looking quizzically at her.

The ensuing explanation of ‘faffing’, and its eventual translation as ‘doing something but not achieving much’ (it’s in the dictionary, I kid you not) enabled me to sort a fair few more flies before being called again.

Similar questioning looks have resulted from the use of words such as cot (read crib), nappy (diaper) and dummy (soother) when the ladies with babies meet at our house. Stringing them together: “Little Z’s got his dummy in the cot but his nappy needs changing or else he’ll get mardy,” my fair wife completely befuddled an entire room of mums. The generic baby items were explained easily enough, but ‘mardy’?

How to explain mardy, hmm? I guess if you put on a diaper, do what babies do in it, and then see how you feel. Crabby, fed-up, grouchy? Now start to vocalise your frustrations by whining loudly about being left sitting in a pile of your own crap. That’s mardy!

And while pontificating on the nether regions, let’s not forget ‘cottaging’. To Haliburtonians this is an innocent pastime that involves folks from the city invading our space in order to enjoy the outdoors. However, to gay men in the UK ‘cottaging’ is a whole different way of quite literally getting together alfresco (and invading each others’ spaces, so to speak)!

But a word of warning gay men of Britain who visit Canada. While, in England the phrase ‘popping outside to smoke a fag’ means having a crafty cigarette, do not, I repeat do not, leave the bar with a pistol-packing redneck here in Canada if he invites you out, then looks back and utters those words to his buddies!

Come to think of it, how did Oscar Wilde die?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Room to manoeuvre (hide)

I’m finally getting it all organised, ship-shape, comfortable so to speak. Yep, just six months and a whole winter since we moved into our new home, I’ve got my tackle room just the way I like it.

Now some may scoff but this ‘man space’ is very important to me and, I’d like to bet, almost every other male on the planet. I imagine ladies feel the same way about how the throw cushions are stacked on the bed! They have to be right or they may as well not be there at all.

Is that sexist?

It probably is but then again how many women do you know who own their own tackle room, shed or workshop?

No, you’re not allowed to count all of the female craft folk round these parts; nor the artists; nor the… Hmm, I seem to be backing myself into a corner here.

You know what I need? A bolt-hole, hiding place or panic room to retreat to: just so long as my fly tying gear, a few outdoor magazines and some of Norm’s beef jerky is stashed there.

Back in Blighty a chap’s lair of choice is his shed. Suitably distant from the main home (at the bottom of the garden, no matter how short or long said garden is), the shed is usually a diminutive affair, often only a little larger than the average Haliburtonian’s ice fishing hut. However, within it feels like Dr Who’s Tardis. Or to be more precise it has as much stuff in as the Tardis; all that is lacking is the rest of the space!

Lawn chairs, bicycles, tools, pieces of timber that have been saved just in case they come in handy. The BBQ (for English BBQ read: a small, blackened, grease and mouse infested grill, filled with spent charcoal and spiders), a moth eaten tent, partially inflated football and a workbench piled high with half finished projects. And yet, amidst all of this ‘Very Important’ junk, there space enough to fit a comfy chair, armrests stacked with magazines, plus a box of matches and pipe set neatly in its stand. Oh, and a small crate of India Pale Ale.

An Englishman’s shed is his castle. It simply lacks the turrets, moat, drawbridge, keep, towers, knights, courtiers… It does have a bolt on the inside of the door though, rendering it sanctuary when all about is a battle ground. Lads, you know what I’m talking about!

In Canada though… Well, a mere shed is not enough is it. As mentioned, you guys go fishing in sheds, so the bolt-hole you retreat to when the ice is out has to be somewhat more substantial.

I overheard a conversation in a realtor’s office a while back between a female realtor and lady client: it went something like:

Client: “It’s really lovely but does it have a good sized workshop?”

Realtor: “I’m afraid not. There’s a wonderful landscaped garden, an 80 square foot deck and it’s set on the shores of Heaven Lake.”

Client: “Hmm, sorry but if there’s no workshop my husband won’t look at it…”

Realtor: “But there’s…”

Client: “And if he’s under my feet all day I would probably kill him within six months! What else have you got?”

Workshops, that’s what you call them. Industrial size buildings that are home to all manner of boys toys – skidoo, circular saw, beer cooler, trail bike, chain saw, ice fishing tackle (although those tiny little rods don’t take up a lot of room!), gun locker, kayak and the list goes on.

Bigger space, bigger toys but I guarantee you there’s a corner amidst all of this ‘treasure’ with a comfy chair, stack of magazines and a half finished crate of Molson in it.

Every workshop is different in size, shape and content. The one thing that almost all have in common though is that they are very rarely used as shops to work in. Hence I call mine the tackle room.

There can be no misunderstanding that I’ll be doing any work in there!