Sometimes when I mention one of the volunteer activities I am involved in people seem a bit surprised that it exists.
Maybe it is more surprise that I am involved but some degree of surprise seems to be apparent every time I mention that I work for the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary.
When I first arrived in Canada I was impressed by the volunteer activity that I noticed taking place and determined that once I was established I too would give something back.
Having been in the Merchant Navy as well as an emergency boats crew Captain with the NSRI in Cape Town it was logical that I would jump at the chance when I discovered that Oakville had a thriving branch of the Coast Guard that was very active out on Lake Ontario.
I have been a member now for three years.
We patrol the waters of Lake Ontario off Oakville and in an area bounded by the St. Lawrence cement factory all the way over to the Shell Pier off Burlington.
And as far out as the US helicopters let us get away with. Which is generally five miles or so.
Which I might add used to be quite good fun on a dark night with no lights on! Until a complaint was made and we were quietly informed that our teasing was over.
During this time we have been tasked with numerous rescues and other more mundane activities such as tracking miscreants or, as happened this weekend, shoreline searches for bodies of people who have drowned or gone missing.
My own crew have a pretty impressive record in this regard. That may of course be that we appear to be the one crew that is around in foul weather and we are mad enough to get away with actions that others may more prudently see as insane!
In addition we are one of the very few crews that enter the SAR games as independents and have twice now come second to the official team entry. Which I might add has created some anxious moments for the “official” team! We do have some pretty good experience in the crew though. Two of us having advanced Marine First Aid and one being a paramedic in real life. Not to mention that we have considerable experience in the navigation and sea rescue field. (Humble cough!)
The major point about this volunteer work though is that I count myself lucky that I am able to do it. After all how often do you get to go out on Lake Ontario and get fresh air, sunshine, a splendid view and a stress reliever all for free? Not to mention all the ancillary courses that I have taken.
So every week, from early spring to late fall, I put on the uniform, drive down to the end of Navy street and get ready for another afternoon, or evening, of fun.
In fact I think I may have found the essence of volunteering. Having fun and enjoying yourself while helping others. Which is a lot better than some of the other volunteer positions I hold.
Bearing in mind that I am back in the warmth after another successful mission I think it is probably the place where I should wish you all the best over the Christmas holiday and a Happy New Year.
October/ November 2004
Sometimes I think that my life is ruled by cycles according to music.
Mind you I should perhaps qualify that by stating that it is ruled by music that I am listening to as a result of reading something.
Ah! At last!
That Mensa quality pops through. Reading something. Then acting on it.
I was in Chapters recently and chanced upon a book in the remaindered section with the rather intriguing title of “Who's afraid of Classical Music?”
Followed by “a highly arbitrary, thoroughly opinionated guide to listening to and enjoying symphony, opera and chamber music!”
Now who can resist a book with such a title?
Especially at the bargain bin price of $10. For a hardback as well. I guess Heathers attempts to force the proletariat to “get culture” have backfired somewhat. And that includes ruining a damn good bookstore with expensive bloody potions, pot-pourri and dumb trinkets!
It is a fascinating read actually. One which provided me with memories of many of the pieces I have listened to in the past. So much that while I type this article I have on Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 6. No doubt to shortly be followed by some other piece that the author talks about.
The Planets by Holst? Eroica by Beethoven? Anything by Mozart?
Oddly enough at the same time I am looking for, and downloading, some old Motown hits online. A particularly good way to find masses of old songs that the Music Robber Barons couldn't be bothered to re-issue.
This train of thought was sparked off by an article in Mojo Magazine. One of the two music magazines I get every month. Both of which cater to the older wrinkly rocker market.
I have spent many hours tracking down songs that I dimly remember from my youth and then discovering a host of new singers and songs to add to my collection. Oddly enough one of whom I discovered now lives in Canada.
Long John Baldry, for those of you who may remember the sixties and the song titled “Don't lay no boogie woogie on the King of Rock and Roll”. Although nowadays everyone just refers to it as “Boogie Woogie” and it is played on a regular basis on Q107. He does a song called “Midnight Dew” which is one of my favourites and which, after many years, is at last part of the collection.
Odd then that after all these years I live in the same country as so many of the artists I admire. Neil Young being another. One of the few I will go out of my way to see on stage. Given the chance. But ask me about the records and CD's I have and you may understand that he is someone I admire musically.
I have however discovered a new way to search for music thanks to those magazines. Rather than look for the artists, look for the song title instead. I have some excellent covers and really esoteric versions of popular songs that knock the stuffing out of the original. I will admit that I have also had to listen to some dreadful stuff as well but every so often you get a gem, which makes it all worth while. Try Peter Sellers doing “She Loves You”. OK not strictly a song but I did come across it a while ago and it is hilarious.
Perhaps you should try using music to shape your lives as well.
Oh and lastly….Israel Kamakawiwo's “Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a wonderful world”! In case you were wondering what was on at the moment.
Do Mensans suffer from higher levels of all sorts of psychological effects?
Good or bad for that matter?
I wondered about this over the last few weeks when for a variety of reasons I noticed that I was swinging may too much toward the depressed phase of my normal manic existence.
Oddly enough, and despite my children's belief, I am not normally an individual who sees life as depressing and in fact I am generally seen as an insane optimist most of the time.
A cynical optimist indeed, but an optimist nevertheless.
So moving from one end of the pendulum to the other I noticed that in keeping with my normal ability to go over the top on every aspect I am involved in I wasn't merely “down” but making a good attempt at simulating Hemingway.
At which stage the interesting part of being a Mensan kicks in.
Out come the books and the research journals and much in depth reading is undertaken! To understand the whole aspect and every nuance of whatever it is that we are looking into. Sometimes to the extent that I think we tend to look for problems rather than solutions.
Well……judging by some of the conversations about mild ailments that I have heard at the odd meeting that is!
Anyway my understanding is that Hemingway decided that as a result of going blind there was little else that life could offer him. At which stage he pulled the original Kurt Cobain. Just as effectively.
Luckily Canada has rather stringent laws regarding firearm possession. Waiting years for the license is probably not conducive to attempting a Hemingway then. And besides it would probably be used by the Liberals to prove how effective their stupid registry was anyway.
Perhaps the most interesting event that took place though was an e-mail that arrived out of the blue. Seems I had once written something to this lady when she was new to Canada and going through a divorce and, unbeknown to me, on the verge of suicide. I sent her some advice and, according to her email to me, that turned her around. So I decided to read what I had sent (Yes. I am a typical egotistical writer. I believe someday everyone will be scrambling to give their version of what my pearly words of wisdom really meant! So I keep almost all of my correspondence and general scribblings.)
I must admit that I impressed myself. I didn't realise how powerful my words had been.
Until I needed them myself that is.
At which stage I examined a few options. Not involving chemical stimulants I might add. The pharmaceutical industry has managed to keep too many Canadians in blissful servitude for too long I note.
I merely used that incredibly powerful attribute we all have. The brain.
I am now moving back up into the manic phase. Is this good? Is this bad? Who knows? All I know is that there is another fifty years for me to enjoy bouncing off the walls.
A little more if you take into consideration the return of Halley's Comet and my stated aim to give it another chance to redeem its rather feeble display last time around.
Then I might go back to all the research I did on Hemingway and reread all the information!
I bet the Canadian Government is still making an ass of itself over the gun registry!
July /August 2004
This will be my first Federal Election in my newly adopted country. A very interesting time indeed.
Like all new citizens I am taking an active interest and involvement in the whole process.
Which appears to be far removed from the majority of this countries older (as in longer time spent in the country rather than aged!) inhabitants who seem either too jaded or too cynical to think for themselves when it comes to all the lies, largesse and corruption that have suddenly sprung from the various parties involved in seeking their place at the trough.
I must admit that I am astounded at the vituperation and blatant lies that emanate from the propaganda machines of the parties here. Somehow I expected a country such as Canada to behave with a lot more restraint and decorum. To watch, and read, blatant untruths in the media is disconcerting. And distasteful. I am getting a real hatred for the attack advertising that is practiced lately.
Sadly it appears that the reason that African countries have such rotten elections would appear to be as a result of the examples set by Western Nations. Trouble is that they allow guns which no doubt is why the hatred spills over. Thank God this is Canada!
Even sadder though is the attitude of so many of the youth who seem totally apathetic at the whole process. It is their future and they couldn't be bothered to have a say. Sad. Although as some bright spark noted:
“If they were driven to the station and given free Big Macs you may at least get some attendance”
Every time I am discussing the election with some of the local youth and they go all glassy eyed and tell me they aren't interested, I want to shake them by the shoulders and try to get it through their complacent skulls that elsewhere in the world people die trying to have the ability to do what they aren't bothered to.
But saddest of all are the people who shrug their shoulders at the lies, corruption and abuse of their goodwill and money, and claim that they will still vote in the corrupt mob currently inhibiting Ottawa.
As I understand it, it appears that a bunch of arrogant liars and thieves are preferable to people with religious beliefs (whether they actually have them or not!).
Weird! Especially considering that it is the voter's money that is being misused!
Don't they care?
Elsewhere in the world there would have been a coup or a revolution. I wonder what it will take to stir the Canadian anger?
No don't answer. We already know.
Cancel Hockey Night in Canada and all hell will break loose. Otherwise life pretty much carries on eh?
Well I am able to vote.
I intend to exercise that privilege.
As someone who has been denied the right to vote before I intend to enjoy the whole experience as well.
A few Sundays ago a group of your fellow Toronto Mensan's and I, got together at Sylvia Teaves apartment to take part in Culture Quest.
One of the more nerve racking, and interesting, Mensa events that I have participated in since arriving in Canada. Which takes into consideration the AGM and the Hospitality Suite I might add!
Basically every year this event is set up by American Mensa and is designed to allow every Mensa Group in North America to field a team, or teams (but more about that later), which then compete against other teams to see which team is able to answer the most general knowledge questions in a set time.
A sort of timed Trivial Pursuit for the masochist if you will!
This was the second year that Toronto fielded a team thanks to the efforts of Tony Asrilen in promoting the whole concept.
This was also the second year that we fielded only one team and most probably could have fielded more if the interest shown had been forthcoming a little earlier. Suffice it say that we believe that next year will allow Toronto to put forth its full potential. Maybe even a SAGE team as well?
This years team consisted of Tony, myself, Sylvia Teaves, Selwyn Firth and Cy Strom with Jim Mourgelas sitting in as a “possible”. Which, as we all turned up, meant he had to sit there with us, champing at the bit, while we no doubt debated questions that he knew the answers too, but couldn't intervene!
At 16h00 out came the papers from American Mensa and we began. With a little bit of advice from last years team in the form of Tony we decided to parcel out the papers and work on a section alone rather than fall into the pitfall of “too many chiefs” which so often manifests itself in the typical Mensan game.
This may explain the increase in this years score.
That, or the “Canadian content” which was added to this year's set of questions. Which, I might add, was not necessarily an advantage for this particular team. Just what is the height of the CN Tower? Give or take a metre.
In fact after a while the team's name of “Toronto Tormentors” began to look as if it should be changed to “Tormented”.
The haunted look and mumblings of quite a few of us toward the end was reminiscent of the worst representations of Mad Professors at work. All we needed was a crucible and we could have re-enacted Macbeth.
Sans cackles though. Too much stress for merriment. Until afterward that is when we tried to work out what our score could be. Which, as is always the case, uncovers the fact that answers remain hidden until the bell has rung.
However we did get almost 64% of the questions correct. Which can show many things but probably should not be debated at the moment.
In the end a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon was had by all present. It was agreed that we need to do this again next year. It was also agreed that we need to field more teams. So part of this article is the intention to stir some enthusiasm in you to fell the need to join us next year.
Yes. I did say us. Because I am already looking forward to the next challenge and if I may I would like to send out another challenge early on.
What would be a good name for a Toronto team for next year?
It took a play about South Africa and some colleagues of mine at work to finally drive home the fact that I am still culturally miles apart from the average Canadian.
Two countries divided by a common language to borrow from some wise man.
The play was The Syringa Tree. A one-woman show that, here in Toronto, was undertaken by two different actresses. One Black. One White. Whether this was intentional is a moot point.
I went to the premiere along with what seemed like most of the “pseud hoi polloi” of Toronto.
Leaving aside many of the inaccuracies inherent in the play I thoroughly enjoyed a very stirring performance by Yanna McIntosh (the black actress) who at least made a valiant effort to reproduce the language that my compatriots and I speak. Which has been likened to gargling barbed wire apparently.
During the performance though I noticed that I was the only one laughing at certain moments. Notably when a particular joke was made or, in one case, when a song from my youth was sung.
The play itself was moving in that it at least made an effort to try to show both sides of a story. Sadly, while strolling around afterwards listening, the chattering classes seem to have missed that point entirely.
Meanwhile, and at work, I have a diverse lot of youngsters that I mingle with. We tend to get on very well despite the age differences and I like to think that there is some mutual respect.
Until this week that is when I was informed that one of the fellows felt I was “way out there” when it came to talking and being understood. He is an East Indian! And the others all agreed that when I talk I am terribly hard to follow. Especially when I talk fast.
So now I just wonder whether the camaraderie is merely a fascination at having around some object that babbles away on its own thereby making white noise.
Sort of a “Chat to me Elmo”. For misguided youth.
Which is when I had an epiphany.
Yes. Everyone always says to me that they love my accent, or find it fascinating, but do they actually understand what it is that I am saying or, like all good Canadians, are they merely being polite and nodding at me in case they hurt my feelings?
Is this why it has been so hard to get a decent career started? After all if the interviewer doesn't understand me then what chance do I have?
Although I must admit that I might have been lucky in my clumsy attempts at making the odd pass at the local females who probably didn't understand what I was trying to say. In some cases this has either meant a lack of company, or no slap to the face so I will call that one a draw.
So what needs to be done to overcome this problem?
Well in Canada there is only one way to solve this. Learn to speak bad French. That way I will be able to create misunderstanding completely. Even better is that I would then be a great candidate for a Prime Ministers position.
I will just have to do something about my honest streak. Which I am beginning to think may just be another stumbling block in politics.
There comes a time in every corporate organisations life when the “Grey Suits” take over and stifle entrepreneurial spirit. Normally when the company is big, bloated and complacent. Even more so when the top managerial layers are staffed with people intent on furthering their own nests at the expense of all the people below them.
If Canada was an organization (and who says it isn't given the over bloated beaurocracy?) then we would be a prime example of a company hell bent on self-destruction.
I have just come back from a visit to my country of birth. Many others that I know have been back there lately as well. All of us, on comparing notes, have been in agreement that we are lucky to live here in Canada and that we are grateful to be able to be citizens. Of interest though was that we also agreed that Canadians have reached a state of complacency where their freedom is at risk of being curtailed and they don't seem to care.
I suppose when you come from countries where basic human rights are denied people you tend to be a little more aware of how the western world usurps the rights of its own citizens. And how silently and efficiently as well.
Most disturbing though is how many of its own citizens are complicit and complacent in its implementation.
From the over bloated beaurocracy to the single minded, tiny-but-vocal pressure groups that stridently trumpet their demands Canada has been hijacked very neatly.
I suppose what bought it home to me has been watching, and working and voting in, the elections. The apathy amongst the voters and the lack of knowledge displayed being frightening for a country that likes to pride itself on the “higher education” of its citizens.
Even more worrying though is the standard of debate displayed in the “Letters to the Editor” pages of the local propaganda broadsheets. If the slavish adherence to dogma, political correctness and illogical argument is indicative of the mind set of the populace we are further down the road to enslavement than I thought.
And don't think that some of the attitudes that we see in the street aren't commonplace in Mensa either. I was surprised the other night to watch a group of people get up and leave the room to start a game when it became apparent that their opponents in a discussion outnumbered them. This seems to be the standard tactic practice when losing. I have also watched some pretty illogical attacks on people who don't adhere to whatever the viewpoint is of the attacker.
Why am I saying this?
Because freedom is something that is precious and so easy to lose. To throw it away is plain stupid. As Mensans we are supposedly able to think intelligently about all issues and see both sides before making a rational decision based on the facts.
Perhaps it is time for us to start living up to that potential.
Keeping even a small flame of independent thought can help rekindle the revolution.
And Canada needs one to regain it's spirit.
If you live in a country all of your life you tend to take for granted the fact that your family and friends will always be there. Available if necessary. Close at hand when required.
Those of you who are immigrants will understand when I say that one of the most heart wrenching aspects of moving to another country is when you leave behind those friends and family. I would venture to say that that is probably the main reason why people reverse their decision and move back to their country of origin.
Those that stay will always dread the news that a family member is sick or dying and that they may have to make the journey back for whatever reason. Which is exactly the situation that occurred with me recently. My sister contacted me to tell me that my Mother was dying and I had better get myself back as fast as possible.
Which is not as easy as it sounds. You may remember that I am a new Canadian. I was stripped of my citizenship by the South African Government for becoming a Canadian, so I needed a passport. Fast!
I will state publicly that the passport office down in Hamilton were superb in helping me to do this. In fact I received my Canadian Passport in two days!! And that included the security checks on me!! I am still so impressed that I really want to tell everyone how efficient they were!
Which at least allowed me to get to my Mothers bedside in enough time to spend a day with her before she died. It is always a moot point as to whether it was well timed or She was hanging on until I arrived. Knowing my Mother, it was waiting to see me one more time!
A fighter all her life there was no way she was dying without both my sister and myself being there. A mother is never finished giving advice! And I always seem to be in need of some apparently.
So after five years I returned to the land of my birth as an alien. An outsider even.
I looked at the differences there and made copious notes for articles and comparison and shook my head often. So much has changed. Not all of it for the better either.
Still it is always sad to have to realise that you have moved on. Whether it is from your family or your country or even yourself. It is necessary every so often to examine a lot of factors that we allow to dominate our lives. And move on.
I think that the most interesting self-awakening that I had from this trip, and there were many, was the feeling I had on returning to Canada.
Not only was I happy to land at Pearson but I felt like I was coming home.
No! In fact I was coming home at last.
It says so in my passport and my heart.