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.