January 8th 2001
The Inuit have over 20 words to describe snow. Surprisingly not one of them is a swear word. I believe consistency and colour form the basis of these words. If you spent all your waking life trudging through thigh high snow I guess that it would begin to play an important part of your life.
All you really need to know though is that basically there are two types of snow.
One you can make snowballs with. The other you can't. Obviously.
The reason I bring this up is because the snow is upon us again. I am not quite sure why but ever since I landed in Canada all sorts of records have been broken with regard to the weather. In January 1999 the worst snowstorm in recorded history landed on Toronto. Mass panic ensued including the Mayor calling in the army to help dig the city out. Much to the amusement of most of the rest of Canada. As the mayor is one of the shorter humans around I guess that when the depth reached armpit level he figured that using the “peacekeepers” to make a path to his mansion was in order. About the only people who turned up to work were silly immigrants like myself who figured that, because it snowed in Canada, this was normal. I sat in my car in the store parking lot for two hours, and a break in the weather, before someone arrived and pointed out to me that this was actually abnormal. Even for other parts of Canada and especially for Toronto.
This week we have done it again. With more snow falling in two days than is normal for the whole month. Oakville and the Halton Peel region being particularly hard hit. Last Thursday the storm arrived. Of course I had to go out, and driving along Lakeshore Drive was quite an experience. Not because of the blinding snow but more as a result of the other drivers. It always takes two snowfalls before the local drivers decide that slowing down and driving carefully is better for their long-term survival rate. At nine at night watching all the 4x4's sliding around is not designed to make you feel comfortable.
This left the area covered in about 40 cm of snow. Out come the snow shovels. The digging starts. At this stage most people are still in a reasonable mood. On Sunday both the TV and radio stations start broadcasting storm warnings. On Monday everyone starts making excuses for meetings and going home early. Except certain silly immigrants who obviously haven't learnt any lessons yet.
Monday night another 40cm or so comes along. Just enough to ensure that all that careful shoveling was for nothing. And adding a lot more to the areas that haven't been shoveled. At this stage about 55cm or more of snow outside. The light powdery stuff that you can't make snowballs out of. Which has the uncanny knack of being able to get into and under all the layers of clothing you have on. Despite all that and having to go out and make new pathways to let your car out, about the only time I came close to committing mayhem was when the snow plough came past and carefully cleaned the road by putting all the snow in the space I had just shoveled. At which stage the neighborhood children learnt a few more interesting and esoteric swearwords.
The reason most of the children being still around and not terrorising teachers, was that they had what is known as a “Snow Day”. The idea behind this being that it will be too hard and cold for little Johnny to get to school. Of course that doesn't stop them from getting to the mall to hang out. It also doesn't stop them going outside to play in the snow either. I think that in reality some high up in the School Board decides that they want a day off for a change and takes it this way. I think that it is sad that these youngsters will be deprived of the ability to tell their offspring how hard they had it when they were children. Unfortunately I can't say the same thing either. My daily 10km walk through the veld, uphill both ways, was at least in 50deg heat. If any teacher thinks that any of these children will really suffer then they obviously haven't seen the kids in our complex. They were still building snow forts and having fights at nine pm. Or, in my sons case, building what turned out to be a “Snowdragondogduckbeetle” that rapidly disappeared up to it's snout in the new snowfall. Looking out the window to see what looked like a lizard swimming through a flood, and losing, was funny. For me at least.
Despite a rather funny letter that makes it's rounds in the South African community every year at this time I still like the snow. Before it turns brown from all the pollution there is a certain peaceful and pristine quality about the countryside. In the evening if you take a walk out in the snow while it is falling you discover how very quite it is during a snowfall. You also find out how light it gets too. I suppose that is from the low cloud reflecting the lights from the houses. It's peaceful and invigorating and good for the soul. I hope the day never comes when I begin to actively hate this time.
Tomorrow we expect a high of -4deg. Remember that when you Southern types sit in the pool clutching your Castle moaning about the heat.
January 15th 2001
OK. So I am officially registered as being insane. I have the piece of paper to prove it. Signed and witnessed. By reputable organizations such as World Vision I may add.
I must admit that in fact the piece of paper merely points out that I have been admitted to a select club and now have the honour of being an Official Polar Bear only. Although my families main use for it is to prove my lack of mental ability.
Even if it was in a good cause.
Every year for the last eight or so it has been a tradition for a few odd, and I will emphasise odd here, people to brave the freezing cold and take a dip in the icy waters of Lake Ontario. This takes place down at Centurion Park in Oakville and this year attracted about 250 foolhardy souls down, and in to, the water. This despite having had the worst December snowfalls for over seventy years in and around Toronto! Having already twice watched this event this was the first time that I can remember snow all the way up to the waters edge. In fact I can't remember any snow at all last time. This is obviously why I decided on the spur of the moment to partake this year. I pretend that my emotions were stirred by this being on behalf of World Vision as well.
When they mentioned providing clean water to villages in Africa I must admit that provided some motivation. Jumping into Lake Ontario, which is widely regarded as badly polluted and unfit for human consumption, to provide money to help pump fresh water to villages in Africa is rather an irony. Mainly because the quality of this polluted first world water would spark the odd revolution in Africa if a truck load or two were to be offered to the inhabitants. Funny how standards differ sometimes.
The Courage Brothers World Vision Polar Bear Dip 2001, to give it its full and correct title, was apparently started some time ago as a medical experiment aimed at providing a cure for a particular seasonal ailment. In other words will jumping into freezing water cure the New Years Eve hangover effectively. I am told that it does but that is probably only because no self-respecting body likes to choose between two forms of self-torture and will always plump for the worst form. As you may have deduced from the title the original babelaas nutters were two brothers named Courage and so every year the tradition continues. I suspect that in some cases it also acts as a reason to drink the night before but haven't got proof.
So having had this mad rush of blood to the head allow me to explain from a participants point of view what it is like to shed clothes and jump into O degree water.
I must admit to still not quite knowing why I decided to partake and it really had nothing to do with any vast imbibing from the night before. This despite the fact that I was celebrating the New Year, Century and Millennium. My entry in to all three events was marked by a fairly low-key celebration. So I was sober and clear headed when I arrived at the check in point.
Let's rephrase the clear-headed part perhaps.
Having been on to the website I had already printed and filled in the entry waiver. It seems to me that even in Canada you need to protect yourself against any possible litigation that may arise. That the person involved is stupid enough to do something on their own accord hasn't stopped many juries from awarding monumental sums of money over here. It is rather sad that the main part of entering an event for charity should be asking you not to sue!
After paying and getting my goodies bag - got the t-shirt etc! - I then discovered that I really should have had a second to stand nearby and look after me. In other words should I have a heart attack and not reappear they would advise the authorities and go look for my will! So I had to stroll around trying to find someone to stand and watch me run into the water. I think I managed to convince someone to undertake this task. I'm not sure because I didn't really see them after I asked them. The main reason to bring a second though has more to do with having them hold a towel and flagon of Brandy than any need to make sure you don't drown. In fact to heck with a towel. A blanket is a far better cover up.
At this stage I discovered that my spur of the moment decision had left me with quite a few areas of concern. For starters I was wearing a set of flip-flops. Walking around in a few centimeters of snow in flip-flops is not good for the extremities. Your toes tend to go numb rather quickly. Unfortunately I only had my running shoes, which were supposed to be for backup, and so I had to make a choice as to which I would wear while going in to the lake. Wearing footwear is mandatory. After I discovered that my whole foot was going numb I decided that discretion was the better form of valour and put on the running shoes. At the same time I changed into my shorts and a t-shirt and went to stand by the entrance. Because of snow it was decided this year to only allow five people in at a time rather than the mad glorious rush as in previous years. This meant that those of us not dressed up in animal suits, or some other form of noticeable costume, had to stand around getting progressively lower body temperatures. This select group included a young lass wearing nothing but a black bikini. Mind you all the hot breathe from cameramen and others hanging around her probably gave her her own sauna.
Interestingly while watching TV later that night it turned out that she was a South African. As I was waving a large South African flag around I was a bit disappointed that we didn't find out earlier and manage to form an international group. I suppose that Canadian Détente was more important. Judging by the Canadian press coverage at any rate!
A few minutes after the hallowed hour I at last managed to join the chosen few. Through the press tunnel and into the water. First of all the bottom was quite sandy, which annoyed me because I could have worn my flip-flops. Secondly it was cold. Very cold. Very very cold! So cold that when I dived under the water and came back up my flag had frozen solid. So cold that there wasn't a chance I would have been recognized as a male should I have decided to remove my clothes.
Secondly…. don't dive under the water! You loose all your heat through your armpits, crotch and head. So immersing all three is not a good idea. It tends to lead to hypothermia a lot quicker that way.
Lastly running out far enough to be able to dive in means that you have to run all the way back again. Old hands know this and frolic around for a few seconds near the shore. In and out. Newbies like me don't and so we take longer to get out and even longer to get back. Not too wise if you are not used to this.
Having done my bit for posterity I then attempted to get out to discover that I really should have had a second. Not only would they have shouldered aside all the other seconds for me but they would have had all necessary rejuvenation potions and clothing nearby as well. I had to battle through the crowds and find my own way to a towel that took on miniscule proportions when it came to the task at hand. I then discovered that I couldn't feel any of my extremities. Trying to change from wet clothes into dry when you can't get the arms and legs to act in co-ordination is quite a task. Trying to get this accomplished so that you can also get across to the Tim Horton's stand for some hot coffee before the 3000 or so spectators have drunk it all up becomes very important.
In the end I managed to get my act together and set off with my flip-flops moulded to my wet socks but at least providing some grip on the snow. I think. I couldn't feel my toes again.
In the end the worst part of the day was walking back into the house and having my whole family, who had sat inside in total warmth all day, being very disbelieving about my feat. Frozen toes and frozen clothes notwithstanding.
Would I do it again? You know I am not really sure. I've started off my New Year, New Century and New Millennium this way. Maybe that's enough.
January 22nd 2001
I read somewhere that there are something like 60,000 lawyers in Ontario. The fact that there are only about 20,000 Doctors in the whole of Canada say's a lot about the countries priorities. Seems like the neighbours down south have more influence than Joe Canadian likes to admit. It also explains the rash of simply ridiculous and frivolous lawsuits that occur on a regular basis here.
In addition, the need for personal liability insurance is not only necessary but also obligatory. All insurance comes with the standard million-dollar liability clause, which everyone is urged to take out. In fact any concerned landlord will only accept you as a tenant if you have liability insurance. I found this odd at first but given some of the cases that popped up over the silly season am beginning to understand why.
The best of the lot involves an immigrant from the Caribbean. Seems the gentleman concerned bypassed the usual refugee route and actually applied for landed immigrant status. Went for the medical and duly arrived in Canada. He then went down to Hamilton and proceeded to infect over a thousand people with a particularly virulent form of TB. While there are many questions about the whole affair that need to have answers, one of the more interesting is how he managed to enter Canada with TB especially after a medical exam including X-rays. The doctor involved “unfortunately” made a mistake in his diagnosis. He has since been chastised. Too late for the thousand-odd people who have been in contact with the bearer. It also makes all the rest of us immigrant's objects of suspicion among Canadians.
The major outcome though is that many Canadians are now starting to ask how come this happened. Some of the infected people have instituted a lawsuit against the Government for their part in the whole fiasco. Jawell nofine. Where's the problem in that? Well the stupid part is that our infected carrier has instituted a claim as well! He is suing the Canadian Government for millions because “ they should have picked up that he had TB”. Apparently it is all their fault that he came here and infected people. As I said earlier there are a lot of unanswered questions in the whole story. This action takes the cake for the most annoying action designed to waste time and blame someone else. I suppose I am doubly annoyed because it tarnishes all immigrants.
The second case involves a couple of women who got lost during a snowstorm. They traveled off the track, got stuck and then decided to go and search for help. On foot and during the snowstorm. As a result they got frostbite and had to have fingers and toes amputated. I am not quite sure what they were wearing but it doesn't sound like much if they managed to get frostbite. Either that or they were wandering around for some time. On foot and during the snowstorm.
Now they are suing the local government for obscene amounts. The interesting part is that they are suing because the area wasn't signposted correctly. In other words there wasn't sufficient warning that when you are looking for a road you shouldn't go down a different country road, get stuck and then go and seek help. On foot and during a snowstorm. Once again responsibility for your own actions is dealt a severe blow.
Imagine, if you will, every area that would need to be posted to stop the great unwashed from hurting themselves. Personally I would just put up a sign that said “No stupid people beyond this point” and post it every mile or so. I thought that might have sorted out my particular problem with traffic until I realized that it is a waste of time. Being able to decipher information has never been a strong point among the section of humanity that really needs it.
The last case is really rather sad as it involves a degree of heroism on the part of the person who is bringing the case. Some time ago a young girl rescued her friend from being hit by a car and in the process was injured herself. Rather badly. Now, and as I said, many years later, she is suing the girl she rescued. The premise being that the other girl's actions are the result of her problems.
Well yes, but to be totally brutal, the choice she made was really hers and theoretically she should be suing herself if anyone is to blame. It is extremely sad and yet another example of the current “blame everyone else for anything” syndrome that I notice creeping into society lately. Spill hot coffee on yourself? Sue the coffee shop for mental distress occasioned by the trauma. Forget about your own clumsiness. It's the shops fault. Trapped your penis between the bowl and seat cover? Sue the coffee shop. After all it's their fault the “ahem” seat was faulty! This is actually a case taking place at the moment by the way. Not coincidentally the owner of the squashed penis is a Toronto lawyer. I just have to figure out whether the hoohah has to do with seeking redress or if it is a form of advertising relating to the said appendage.
Do I smell the vultures circling around these cases? You bet!
I think there's a department in every law firm that spends time sifting through the news, old and new, looking for cases such as these, so that bearers of good tidings can arrive on the doorstep of potential clients, armed with the forms required to proceed with litigation. On the premise that each frivolous case still brings in revenue to the firm, why not?
I also find it hard to believe that the people involved in these cases had a sudden epiphany as regards their rights and went looking for salvation from the local “Sue, Grabbit and Runne”.
Ultimately what it does do is create an industry devoted to writing warnings for all sorts of things that are designed to keep fools from being used as pawns in the litigation industry. How about the sign seen on a toilet somewhere in the States?
“Warning! Recycled water is not fit for human consumption”
Aside from the fact that anyone who would drink from a toilet is highly unlikely to understand “consumption” just who is likely to do this?? Are we one step away from being sued on behalf of Fido and Fluffy? The mind boggles. Why should we need to cover every available area that just may, sometime, possibly, maybe create a problem? I don't know. I don't even understand. I just pay my monthly premiums and look for the signs.
After having gone through the above to ensure that there was nothing libelous I now wish to make the following statement:
All comment contained within this article is attributed to virtually anyone else but the writer.
Unless of course…you liked it.