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!