May 29th 2001
Whoever coined the phrase “watching grass grow!” in relation to sitting around doing nothing was obviously not living in Canada.
In a matter of days everything has gone from brown to green. While sitting working at the computer the other day I swear that the leaves on the Maple tree outside, grew from buds to bloom in 24 hours. At the moment all the bushes and trees have blossom. One of units in the nearby complex has plum trees, which have burst out in a very fetching display of pink. It makes you understand why it was that the Samurai spent many hours writing haiku that had the flowering of cherry blossom as the main theme. I suppose you need to relax from all that sword swinging and head chopping once in a while and smell the roses….blossom…..whatever.
So the temperature is now in double digits sometimes even going up as high as 25 degrees. The sun really only sets around 20h00 and so it is still light quite late which means that in the evening going for a walk is a pleasant experience.
For those of you who don't know it this part of Ontario is flat. Very flat! While most of the tourist information on Canada shows these vast vista's of mountains and rivers and forests Southern Ontario reminds me ever so much of the Free State. Of course you would need to replace the mielies with houses but the concept is the same.
Hamilton, which is down the road from us, has gone so far as to proudly proclaim the slight hill behind them as a mountain. Most Hamiltonians will tell you of their “Mountain” with the same pride that Capetonians do. With less cause I must admit. It took me a while to realise that the small escarpment, behind an office block that looked down on it, was in fact the most esteemed mountain. Even I could climb that one.
Anyway as I was trying to say, this is right time of the year to toddle off for a walk around the block or even better along the specially prepared walk by the local river. One of the really good points about the local authorities in Canada is that there are many of these trails crisscrossing the local areas. Well prepared, and maintained, they wind along paths by rivers, through woods and go for miles.
In most cases the local rivers are in deep gorges and unless you know about them come as a big surprise as you stumble out of the brush and suddenly have a fifty foot drop down to the bottom. It's like all the donga's in the Highveld. Except there is water in the river, grass on the banks, and trees as well. All right then, it is nothing like a donga.
Our local river is known as Morrison Creek. For a river that seems to only start about three or four kilometers north of us, in the farmland, it certainly has a lot of water flowing through here. I wonder whether the gorge itself was a result of the glacier activity that created much of the flat effect here in Southern Ontario and the river has merely followed a natural course.
The gorge just here is about fifty feet high or should that be deep? What is interesting is that on the banks of the river there are trees that grow which stick out of the gorge another good fifty or so feet. That's how you can generally tell that there is a river nearby by the way. Any line of trees dissecting land generally means that there is a river hiding away underneath. Even developers realise the advertising power in claiming that their housing “backs on to a river” and is “in the country”! Otherwise they would probably fill them in and build over them.
When I go for my walk I very often wind up at the bottom of the gorge thanks to a well thought out path that crosses over at what looks like an old trail. It even has a wooden bridge in place. Which is better than the fallen tree I had to use for a while when a flash flood actually washed the bridge away downstream. Now that they have replaced it, it means that I can play “Poohsticks” again. Nothing like wasting time. Actually it is very peaceful what with the sound of the water, and the wind in the trees.
I've walked along the banks for a good few kilometers either way. This is off the path itself and as such you tend to see much more of the local wildlife. Foxes, Raccoons and squirrels being the most prevalent. Plenty of birds of course but I haven't got my Canadian equivalent of Roberts yet so about the only ones I recognize are the Blue Jays and some woodpeckers.
On the path itself you run into all sorts of people walking, jogging or cycling. The nice part of this is that everyone smiles and greets you. Even the dogs wag their tails and try to get a pat. No slobbering, slathering baying for blood here. It took me a while to realise that as I went past the houses, that the attack dog growl that you get in South Africa was missing. What a pleasure. I suppose the best way to put it is that when dogs bark here they sound happy. It is a “throw me another stick” type of bark.
So after a hard day at work, and a two-hour commute back, having a walk in and around the neighbourhood provides a form or relaxation that I enjoy. Judging by all the people of all ages doing the same, I am not alone.
May 22nd 2001
Hmmm. When they talk about four seasons in Canada they mean four distinct seasons.
Actually most Canadians will tell you that there are only two seasons. Winter and road repair! Winter I buy. Road repair seems to be an ongoing problem though. Even in the middle of a snowstorm I've been slowed to a crawl on the 401 while parts of the road are cordoned off so that the potholes can be repaired. In the grand scheme of things I notice that there is an order to road repair worldwide. One person works and the other half dozen or so have coffee, talk or sit in the nearest truck. Maybe the method to this madness is that the longer it takes to repair the more likely they are to have employment.
Anyway the state of Ontario's roads is neither here nor there. It is a necessary evil unfortunately. As the sun is shining I'm too full of vitamin D to let that worry me.
Last week it was still brown and cold. Almost the same shaki colour (a mixture of khaki and …well you work it out!) that we are so used to in South Africa. The Highveld anyway. The grass was dead and every tree around looked as if a typhoon had recently passed through. Very good for the local cats who can see the returning birds easily now.
This week everywhere you look green has become the dominant colour. From the grass to all the new buds sprouting on the trees and bushes. The temperature has shot up to 25 degrees and short sleeves are the order of the day. Especially on the perspiring gardeners who, having hauled out the mower, are now cursing in time to the steps taken to move from one side of the lawn to the other.
Mind you the one interesting factor in all this is that we had been promised spring much earlier this year. Six weeks earlier in fact.
Wiarton Willie, the famed Canadian groundhog, apparently predicted it. I can never remember whether in Canada he must see his shadow for another six weeks of winter or whether it is the other way around. The press reported that Willie had come out, done whichever it was, and that as a result spring would be early this year. Right! Except that Willie is an “appie” and obviously has still to undertake all the courses necessary to ensure that he gets this damn predicting thing right. Far from an early spring we had snow right up to and into April. Oh! There was the odd tantalising glimpse of sun here and there and even some decent temperatures a few times but I, and I think even others, would be hard pressed to claim that the following six weeks were anything other than a continuation of winter.
Next year I'm off to Wiarton to have a word with that bloody stupid groundhog. He has a fifty percent chance and can't even get that right.
Willie (Mark 2) was thrust into the spotlight last year when after much pomp and ceremony attending the great day and what the predictions meant, it was discovered that Willie (Mark1) had taken a dim view of proceedings and moved on to the Great Burrow in the Sky.
The original Willie was an Albino Groundhog and was apparently 22 years old. No wonder he shuffled off this mortal coil. Imagine being woken out of your hibernation by noisy humans for 22 years in a row?
Groundhog Day is on the 2nd February every year. Apparently it stems from a Scottish rhyme that goes something like this:
“If Candlemas Day is bright and clear there will be two winters in the year”
No! I haven't a clue either but they have been doing this in Wiarton since 1956 apparently.
Last year when some dutiful soul decided to check on Willie1 on the 30th January it was discovered that all that remained was some rather decomposed fur and bones. Given that Wiarton has a field day on this date with a fete, parades and many different tournaments you begin to see a problem here. About 20,000 tourists visit Wiarton for the Groundhog festival each year. Yes. You're right! There's that little “loss of money” story involved.
What to do? Well never at a loss for the opportunity to cash in on the tourist dollar it was decided to have a public burial instead. Willie1 was dutifully paraded around in a pine casket, pennies over his eyes and a carrot clutched in his paws.
Willie1 wasn't Willie1! Seems that the original Willie was so badly decomposed that the powers that be decided to use another “stuffed” Groundhog instead. All hell then broke loose. Apparently the stitches on the imposters belly should have, maybe did, give this sham away. Given the amount of TV programs where autopsies are undertaken I think most of the people who got close enough probably thought that was what happened.
The most telling comment of the whole affair came from a member of Willie 1's “publicity team” (Yes even Groundhog's have them! But where was the legal team I ask??). When asked why it was necessary to fake the funeral he remarked that, “People needed closure.” Even in the backwoods of Ontario psychobabble has managed to permeate the PR machine!
After this little problem was over a distress call was sent out to find Willie 2. Once again an Albino groundhog was sought. Interestingly a man in Ottawa managed to catch not one but two albino groundhogs which he dutifully sent off to Wiarton for training. So actually there are two “appies” floating around. In the interest of factual information they are actually called Wee Willie and Wee Willie 2. No doubt they used the wrong fellow this year! The Appies Appie so to speak.
Despite the scientists saying that groundhogs are only right 37% of the time Willie 1 claimed a 90% success rate. OK! The townspeople, carefully eying the 20,000 tourists insisted that this was his success rate. They also stated that this was so because Willie was born on the 45th Parallel. Which is midway between the Equator and the North Pole. Personally I think that only gives him a 50% chance but let's not argue shall we.
Given all the rest of the Groundhogs who do the same weather forecasting bit you would think that at least one of them could get it right. Most of you will know of Punxsutawney Phil thanks to a Bill Murray movie. He's the second most famous Groundhog. (Wiarton Willie's PR team again!). There are quite a few others as well though. Brandon Bob in Manitoba, Balzac Billy in Alberta, Shubecanadie Sam in Nova Scotia, as well as another one called Gary in Kleinburg right here in Ontario as well. A few more in the States and lastly, tragically, Phoenix Phil who was buried alive beneath a K-Mart. Obviously not as profitable as the Wiarton guy. Nor as well looked after during his hibernation days!
Groundhogs are actually Woodchucks and part of the Marmot species so I will leave you with this thought as I go back out into the glorious spring sunshine.
A Woodchuck would chuck 318 Kilograms of Wood.
But not in winter!
May 18th 2001
While reading the paper on the train the other day I came across an article that really made me worried.
Entitled “The perils of political correctness” it was written by a woman who is fairly well known and I suppose even famous in Canada. She is a Senator and was writing her memoirs when she discovered that the company she was using as a publisher uses the services of what is euphemistically known as “Cold Reader”
Cold Reader checks out manuscripts for political correctness once the copy has gone through the editor, the line editor, the Proofreader, the formatters and lastly the lawyers. All of them obviously having already had a good look and comment on it. It is bad enough that lawyers have to be involved in what is a personal recollection of the life of a person who is trying to leave some notes for posterity. Given the litigatious nature of local society I suppose it is a necessity to use their services though.
What had both the author, and my own, blood up was the need to use some nameless, faceless arbiter of what they think constitutes possible offence. Reading what was changed and chopped before the book went to print is a ludicrous acknowledgement of just how far this political correctness rubbish has permeated society. Without, I may add, many people even realising that it is taking place.
According to the author, whoever was acting as Cold Reader on her manuscript was obviously a young urban WASP feminist. On reading the comments and utterly absurd reasons for deleting some of the author's comments it becomes fairly obvious that this is indeed the case. Unfortunately when it comes to political correctness here in Canada there appears to be an industry built up among just such a broad category. For some reason it is mainly the females who have embraced this category with vigour. Maybe “nanny state” is an appropriate name.
Before I carry on with this let me first start off by pointing out that the author is actually of mixed Chinese and Irish heritage and was born in Shanghai before emigrating to Canada where it is obvious that she has been an exceptional citizen. In addition she makes comments on our Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson who is also of Chinese heritage. This will help you to understand why some of the heavy-handed blue pencil was so ridiculous. The author can probably be labeled as left wing and a feminist in her own right as well. Which makes her outrage all the more interesting.
Having said that the major parts of the book that were seen as being politically incorrect revolved around the use of words that described the Chinese. These were obviously words that the author had been taunted with or that she was aware of as being used to describe the Chinese. The major word that created all the stir being “Chink”. Leaving aside the offensiveness for the time being, surely when a Chinese person is writing a personal account of the type of harassment she experienced when young, and uses the term used, this is comment? Apparently not. Scores of impressionable people reading her book may either be offended or, even worse, revert to using the term. Those of us who can read being terribly open to suggestion I suppose.
As the author asks: Was I supposed to write, “Go home you dirty little Canadian Chinese”?
When describing a dress that Clarkson wore to open parliament as making her look like a “washerwoman” she was told she couldn't use the term as it was insulting because “ it suggests that all Canadian Chinese worked in Chinese laundries”! Considering that in Canada at least most Chinese don't, and haven't, worked in laundries this shows a remarkable degree of bias and racism that makes me wonder where Cold Reader was indoctrinated. Not to mention, as I have earlier, that the author and the Governor-General are both Chinese which one presumes mean that they don't either. And even if they did just what is wrong with that? Are there certain jobs that are below people's dignity and which suddenly confer on them some sort of racial taboo?
Of course I am aware that for some time there has been a steady effort to change titles so that they reflect a more important sounding position and as always there still is the need to delete any reference to “man” in any of these unless we are seen to be pandering to gender bias. Cold Reader decided that the authors Father couldn't have been a Fireman on a ship and so she studiously renamed him as a “firefighter”. Much more gender neutral that! Except for those of us who have at least been to sea. Fireman was the term used to describe those people who shoveled coal into the furnaces on steam ships many years ago and if one is to change the term then at least use “Stoker”. Believe me when I say that if there was a fire at sea everyone became a firefighter. Including any stewards (female variety).
That is one of the reasons Cold Reader was so obviously young and a feminist. Aside from changing “tin-tub bath” to “ tin bath-tub” and overlooking what was, by the author's own admission, a sexist description of Macho Men.
The article was rather long and contained many descriptions of the type of insanity that is starting to permeate society lately. Most of them backed up the author's contention that some earnest young feminist was hell bent on making us bend to her little version of life, as we should understand it. Suffice it to say that the only conclusion that I, and the author, could come to was that this sanitation of thought is getting way out of hand. Who is to say that the reasoning employed to make changes is not biased as well? Judging by the way Cold Reader went about mutilating this script she is just as racist, sexist and biased as the people she is trying to “educate”
Employing people for the express purpose of cutting out text that “may” offend, even if it is a verbatim comment or expression, is not only stupid but also very Orwellian.
1984 is all around us and we don't even know it.
Cold Reader indeed! In Russia and even South Africa they called them what they were. Censors!
And we all know how effective they were ultimately.
May 8th 2001
There is nothing like having relatives visit from “the old country”! If for nothing else than catching up on the news of friends and family, and of course assessing the situation as it currently really is. This either reinforces your decision to have taken the big leap or else makes you homesick for a while.
Of course the really nice aspect of it all is that there are always the presents. Has anyone ever arrived here, or gone home, without most of the luggage comprising a whole host of local delicacies and trinkets that we think will be most appreciated?
Over the Easter weekend my Brother-in-law decided that a conference in the States was a perfect opportunity to head north and bring food packages to the destitute family snowbound, and obviously starving, in foreign climes.
Okay I must admit that this seemed to comprise mostly South African clothing, wine and snacks. Apparently my Son decided that this was a perfect opportunity to make an impassioned plea for, of all things, Rascals and Beacon Easter eggs. His reasoning being that some young lady of his acquaintance, also a South African, had expressed a desire for the Rascals, and that he really missed the typical marshmallow Easter eggs that South Africans are so used too, but which seem singularly lacking here. Personally I applaud his ingenuity in realising how a little packet or two of Rascals can earn him brownie points with the female fan club. And so much cheaper than later on when it changes to food, booze and jewelry. I also admit that until I had one, or two, of the Beacon eggs I had forgotten the simple little taste that we used to take for granted. Mind you from my side, despite being able to get a good South African wine or two here, being able to indulge in some good Cape Cabernet went down well.
For those of you worried about foot and mouth I must admit to having asked that none be bought over. Not only can we get a reasonable stick of biltong here from the local butcher but I think the Canadian authorities might have frowned upon elicit meat smuggling a bit, what with all the scares lately.
Included amongst all the Zulu beadwork necklaces, animal broaches and T-shirts sent by my Mother and Sister was a Sharks rugby shirt, which, while I believe it was apparently intended for my use, has suddenly wound up on my older sons list of “cool clothing to wear”. Everywhere I note! Huh!
So once Christmas-at-Easter was over we needed to do the good local hosts bit and drag him all around Toronto and some of Southern Ontario. There is nothing like jet lag after the 26 hours he spent getting here to dull the senses into agreeing to being dragged here and there before the full impact of what is happening hits home. As I had a job interview later the rest of the family dragged him off, by bus, to Square One. Don't ask. The last I saw was this poor creature being whisked off with what I thought was a despairing last look in my direction, but I have learnt not to question. I later learnt that he was dragged around and shown several of the more important shops there. Spencers, Exploris and the Disney Store to assess presents for the cousins back home.
Then he was forced to indulge in local “delicacies” which seem to have been designed to create diabetic shock more than anything else. At least that is what I put the glazed look later, down to. Cinnabons being horrendously full of sugar. I'm informed that Cinnabons aren't anything like the Chelsea Buns we were used to. Trying to balance this out with Poutine probably added to the carbo-loading he was undertaking.
Over the weekend, and as result of it being one of the few holidays when shops are closed, most of the sight seeing was of the drive around and look at the sights variety. When you get down to it there are many interesting places in and around Toronto. As well as the tourist traps of course. Obviously the day I chose to go up the CN tower it was raining and overcast which quite defeats the object of going up the worlds tallest free standing object and looking out over the surrounding scenery. Even the glass floor would have been a bit of a disappointment. After all you need to see the ground to get the full testicle tightening affect of looking down.
My son, who works for Rogers Video, managed to get some tickets to a Blue Jays baseball game. So off we went to watch the Jay's play Kansas City Royals. This is at the Skydome, which I think was the first stadium to have a retractable roof. I suddenly realised that back in 1996, when I came across to study the healthcare here, I was taken to the only other baseball game I have seen live and it too was between KC and the Jays. They lost then. This time they won. Just! Anyway he seemed to enjoy the atmosphere and the ability to try out a few of the local beers. Mind you at the prices charged it doesn't surprise me that attendance at games has been low. I'm a firm believer in charging prices that make people want to go to games regularly rather than only on special occasions.
On the Saturday we decided to go down the wine route in the Niagara region taking in the falls, Niagara-on-the-lake and as many of the local wine farms as possible. The only drawback to this being that I was the designated driver.
Niagara has a lot of wine farms and is very similar to the Cape route. Most of them have a small place to taste and then buy produce. Consensus amongst those actually doing the taste test was that the reds were a little young, while the whites were very good. Oh and then there was the discovery of the ice wine. But more of all this in a later article.
At the end of the one wine road and the start of the Niagara peninsula drive is the town of Niagara-on-the-lake. Nowhere near to the falls by the way but a very charming town that has tried to keep the original buildings intact. Unfortunately I hear that McDonalds has at last managed to get permission to put in a store on the main street. Despite claiming that they will not change the look of the town I wonder how long before this becomes yet another paean to corporate greed. In the meantime this town is most famous for the Shaw festival each year. George Bernard's statue looking out over the throngs waiting for a ride in the horse drawn cabs that do a roaring trade.
A short trip along the river and you arrive at the falls. Of course every one else had the same idea and the traffic and parking was horrific. Far too much of one and too little of the other. We drove past and then went up to the bluff, which overlooks the falls where most tourists don't go. Mainly because they don't know I suppose. For those of you who have been to Vic Falls the Niagara Falls are a bit of a let down. I still think that they are spectacular but I must admit that that are a lot smaller than you think. Mind you the Canadians got the bigger falls! There are actually two separate falls and of course in a blindingly obvious naming ceremony they are named the Canadian and American falls.
If you know where to look you can even see one of the barrels that went over the falls. For some reason it is kept far away from the tourist area. Mind you there is no place to bungee jump there either. Too many lawyers on both sides of the border I guess.
On Monday it was time for a braai. Some wors, ribs and much wine and who cares if it still only in single digit figures for the temperature. I think the neighbours in the complex have got used to this weird African who only uses charcoal to cook but it was a pleasure to be the first to make them all drool over the aroma wafting around
So after a weekend of food, travel and the odd drink here and there we bundled him back onto the plane. Of course the luggage was now overflowing with our own presents and goodies for the folk back home. Two years of buying small things builds up after a while and I only hope that he doesn't have open those bags. Ah well I am sure that this happens all the time amongst all of you.