June 29th 2001
I suppose before I start with some of the more wacky aspects of life around here I should explain one of the anomalies of living in Southern Ontario. For those of you who expect Canada to be cold and wet most of the year, summer in this area will come as a surprise. It can on many occasions resemble the type of weather you expect down on the Natal coast. Hot, humid and generally muggy. Without the continuous wind to cool down the sweat. While Port Elizabeth was known as “The windy city” Durban had the most sustained winds on a yearly basis which at least helped a bit.
Since early this week we have had temperatures up in the 30's with the humiture taking it up to 35deg on Thursday. For a Durbanite it was almost déjà vu. Including the band of smog hovering over much of the GTA. Of course in true Canadian fashion we have been bombarded with “Smog Warnings” on the radio and TV continuously. Every spokesman imaginable has been trotted out to provide dire warnings with regard to mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the midday sun.
This is a pity because one of the better by laws in Toronto is the one that states women have achieved equal rights by being allowed to go topless. Which in the midday sun is the only way to let the vitamin D access your skin. I wholeheartedly support this attempt at sexual equality. As I am sure do most of the men who crowd the parks during lunchtime, vainly hoping to glimpse some brave feminist claiming her place in the sun. Purely in the interest of research I too have bravely trod many a street, park and beach in a vain attempt to assess the impact this has on life. Altruistic motives I assure you. Or artistic depending on whether I ever manage to convince any beautiful woman to let me paint her in the nude (you can insert whichever punch-line you wish to at this point!)
Anyway in my travels I have also noticed a different problem. Canada tends to follow it's southern neighbour in many things. One of which is the tendency to over-indulgence. When doing this with food and drink this leads to some interesting body shapes.
During winter when everyone goes around dressed like Nanook it is hard to distinguish which gender the blob is. In summer as clothes and inhibitions get shed the other frightening aspect is the dress sense that begins to emerge. Capri's,,or those spandex thingies, seem to be the order of the day for women who are, to be kind, slightly larger than average. When it gets to larger than average all of a sudden out come the shorts. This applies to male and female by the way. In some cases I get the distinct feeling that the shorts are mementoes from the old “hot pants” days which are dusted down in spring and put back on with more hope than sense.
When behind one of these apparitions it brings to mind a quote I once heard about “watching two small boy's wrestling under a blanket”! Which is exactly what it looks like as soon as the Bicycle Brigade takes to the streets. Hordes of hitherto stored bikes are sprayed down and put into the service of cardiovascular training. Sidewalks and cycle lanes become the personal property of these maniacs and woe betide anyone foolish enough to try to think otherwise. Sometimes of course they even forget the simple law of physics which states a one ton car traveling at sixty kilometres per hour is less likely to come off worst when meeting a one hundred kilogram cycle and contents. This leads to some interesting exchanges. Well the verbal ones anyway as the physical ones generally follow that law, with the cyclist in no condition to carry on the argument.
The Canadians having implanted guilt as the seventh sense it wasn't long before cyclists decided that the way to get recognition was to claim that cycling is healthy and therefore everyone who drives a car or uses another form of transport is a foul anti-social creature intent on spoiling your health. This of course led to the ludicrous situation the other Sunday where two of the major arterial highways were closed down so that a “ride for life/heart/health/disadvantaged animals or some other such cause-of-the-day” managed to snarl up the traffic in and around Toronto for hours. Someone in the Mayors office forgot that the other two main highways were undergoing repairs and that there are actually quite a few other organisations and businesses that also conduct affairs on a Sunday. So a billion cars had to use the side roads while a couple of thousand cyclists peddled up and down the freeways. This of course was an acid test for Toronto's 2008 Olympic bid, which, to my mind, it failed miserably. In the inevitable whining later, of course the traditional shame factor was trotted out by the organisors. How dare anyone question their motives? It was “for a good cause” and anyone who didn't like it was “heartless”. Which given that the ride was for the heart foundation should, one hopes, have produced enough to cut down on next year's opposition.
Mind you with all the major beaches closed due to high e-coli levels there is more chance to see the required bared bosoms in the parks and on the streets than there. Except perhaps at Hanlan's Beach, which is the legal nudist beach out on the islands. The only trouble there being that it is mainly men anyway, and as a raving heterosexual, I am more inclined to wish to see nude women than men. By the way ever since the Walkerton tragedy e-coli has become the feared flavour of the day. To put it into perspective, people in Africa would drink the water that Torontonians are afraid to dip their toes in. Still it is nice to know that they do at least test the water. At least I hope they do. In Walkerton quite a few people died because the person charged with testing the bacterial levels in the drinking water didn't. The court case is still dragging on. In typical beaurocratic fashion he was given a golden handshake and let go.
Which brings me to another weird case on the go at the moment. There is a woman in Ontario who is suing her husband for support. He divorced her a few years ago and now she feels that he should be paying her support. Fair and well you may say. But there is just one tiny little fact in this case that has put it into the supremely stupid arena. The reason he originally divorced her and hasn't been paying support is quite simple. She was in jail for attempting to murder him. Shot him in the face in fact. Now if someone can explain to me how this even managed to get to court I would be really happy.
Only in Canada!
Well, maybe the States as well. Apparently there is a case there where a gay man is suing his employer for failing to protect him from the taunts of fellow workers. Seems he fell down an open manhole cover. OK, and maybe I am an insensitive sod, but any gay guy who falls down an open manhole cover should expect a little bit of hilarity from his fellow workers. Sheees!
And with that I am off to the butcher for boerewors and then the LCBO for some wine and beer. Tomorrow I intend to sloth with a cold frostie and imagine that I live in a sane world.
June 20th 2001
We've had a right royal hoohah taking place here lately. Sometime last week the Liberal Government tried to railroad through Parliament a bill making Nelson Mandela an Honorary Citizen of Canada. This honour would only be the second time that a foreigner has been awarded such a title.
The first was Raoul Wallenberg, the Swede who was murdered in a Russian gulag after the Second World War, despite have been instrumental in rescuing many Jews from the Nazi's during the war at great risk to his own life. It was a tragedy that he was murdered by the very people that he should have been able to count on for rescue.
The problem with the latest attempt to hand over citizenship is that one MP voted against the motion thus effectively stopping the whole process. I bet that has a few South Africans salivating at the thought. Imagine one MP out of three hundred odd being able to block a motion. I must admit that it is only in these types of motions that a total majority is needed. However there was one dissenting voice in all the gratuitous sycophancy taking place. Bill Anders, a Conservative Alliance MP from Alberta, stood up and said basically that Mr.Mandela was a “Communist and a Terrorist” and he was not going to condone handing out Canadian citizenship to him.
All hell broke loose.
True to good Liberal policy no one attempted to point out the error of his ways or even debate the situation in a sane and rational manner. Name-calling and character assassination became the order of the day. He was called a cretin, a fool, a shame for Canada and some other rather more derogatory comments as well. Interestingly the fact that he stood up for his principles was also derided. Considering that the Liberals excel in lying, changing their mind and obfuscation this was not too much of a surprise. It appears that you can do this so long as you follow the rest of the sheep. Heaven help you if you actually appear to wish to stand by any principles.
Then it began to slowly dawn on myself and a few other people. The timing of this sudden need to hand out an award to Mr. Mandela was very fortuitous. Funnily enough it was the day after the Government had unanimously voted for themselves a 20% pay increase. Much to many of the electorate's annoyance I might add. Suddenly the whole affair becomes apparent. This award is really an attempt to quietly steer the Great Unwashed away from asking too many questions. The political propaganda machine having successfully brainwashed the locals as to the whole African question they would be too busy patting themselves on the back again to worry about the odd billion here and there that was being snorted up the collective snouts of the Ottawa Fat Cats.
Then along came Anders to p….rain on their parade! Mind you with the vitriolic outpouring of hate in his direction I think he has unwittingly managed to do exactly what the Liberals wanted to achieve in the beginning.
The local left-wing newspapers have been venting their spleens in a manner that Pravda would have appreciated. Trendy Lefties have flocked to the collectives' computer to compose and send bile-flecked letters-to-the-editor deriding Anders and praising Saint Nelson. In fact, judging by the comments, about the only thing that Mr. Mandela hasn't done was give better advice on exterminating the right wing to God. Who, as we all should know, now reports directly to him. The saddest outcome of the whole affair though, is the high standard of ignorance being displayed by both sides in the fracas.
To the supporters of Anders, Mandela should not be given this award because he was a communist and a terrorist and he has dragged South Africa down to the level of all the rest of Africa. Never mind that after 1994, and during his tenure as President, he actually possessed a degree of statesmanship that was on a par with many of the last century's best leaders. I understand why Anders doesn't wish to pass on this honour, but he could at least have been a bit more knowledgeable as to the facts surrounding Mr.Mandela's later leadership.
Ever since Apartheid was replaced with reverse Apartheid the local lefties in this country have been moping around with nothing better to do than pat themselves on the back about the “role” they played in its demise. This was like manna from heaven. Bring on the old days. Back to the trenches. Man the barricades. Wave the banners. Dredge up the old propaganda leaflets and flood the world with a discordant viewpoint.
Thank goodness I say, because it is only as a result of this outpouring of abuse that I have discovered just what an excellent job has been done over the years by whoever it was that was involved in the ANC whitewash. ( Hmmm… perhaps I had better rephrase that!). The facts that have currently been unleashed with regard to the whole question of South Africa, past and present, are totally removed from the truth. From either side I might add.
Watching the name-calling, lies and half-truths being bandied about by the local media and Canadians in general has been an eye opener. To how effective propaganda can be if repeated often enough without any rebuttal. And to the depths of feeling that run deep in the average Canadian when it comes to this whole “holier than thou” multicultural society. That more than anything else, was very interesting and is an area I intend to watch for a while. Very carefully.
I personally don't know what the fuss is all about. If the Liberals really want to make Mr. Mandela a citizen all they have to do is ask him to apply for refugee status. He'll be a Canadian citizen quicker than you can say “Nobel Prize” and with all those monthly support cheques as well. The lefties would be able to pat themselves on the back again and the rightwing could carry on moaning as usual.
As a quick addendum I must add that yesterday the house voted to give Mr.Mandela his citizenship. They waited until Anders was not present then sprung a quick vote and it was unanimously passed. No dissenting voices this time around. So the Ottawa Kindergarten got their way at last. Without having to sulk to long either.
No doubt this action will make them feel ever so terribly relieved about voting that pay raise. Ten gets you one that, come re-election, when they are called to account for their actions this will be trotted out as an example of the high standard of work that we, the Great Unwashed, should pay for.
June 12th 2001
While I am of the gender class masculine, I never really felt that I would follow some of my brothers and get involved in a relationship with an inanimate object. Which is why it came as a bit of a surprise to feel a twinge of guilt when I had to part with my “Immigrant special” recently.
After all this was the first car I bought when I landed and has been the mainstay of my transportation in and around Southern Ontario. As such, and working on what was a very restricted budget, it wasn't new or even in the moderately used car arena. I must however admit that for the price it was in excellent condition and about the only reason it cost so little was because of the mileage on the clock. Obviously owned by a little old lady who only drove it to the beach and back. The beach being in Florida, or Toronto-by-the-Sea, as it is affectionately known. So many Canadians do the “snowbird” route that it took me a long while to realise that when they were talking about “going to St Petersburg” they meant in Florida and not Russia. That realisation only dawning after an excellent cross-purposes dialogue with a customer who, I believe, was trying to impress me with his riches while I was trying to impress him with my knowledge of the art I had seen at the Hermitage.
This knowledge of the actual city of St Petersburg (Russian version) may of course have been helpful when it came to dealing with the second-hand car salesman where I purchased my car. I beg your pardon! In the spirit of good Canadian political correctness I do of course mean, “previously owned automobile sales assistant”!
Anyway the salesman was Russian, I think from Vyborg (another place I had visited) and had apparently tried to immigrate to South Africa at some stage so we had a good natter about a lot of things and subsequently the price of the car went from $6000 down to $3000 with various permutations as to which of his family would starve as a result, in between. I offered to let him sell the “free TV” instead of giving it me but in hindsight having a small black and white TV thrown in as well was useful later when it was the only furniture that I possessed. At least it allowed me to claim that I had furniture to any prospective slumlord and later on it doubled as a reading light. When my children joined me a few months later it allowed them to catch up on the local content fairly quickly which is useful when you need to discuss who did what and to whom during recess the next day.
The other interesting factor in buying a car is all the hidden charges that suddenly arise. There's obviously the sales tax aspect but there are “freight” charges, licensing fees, “air tax”, gas tax, admin fees and what is known as PDE, which I think, is a French term for “Politicians gouging chunk”. This means that when you are finished the $3000 is suddenly in the region of $4000 plus depending on which showroom you go to. For those of you coming over here that is a useful fact to keep in mind.
So I wound up with a 92 Buick Regal and the freedom to get from home to interviews in time. It had 180,000 on the clock, which nowadays is actually still a reasonable mileage. Most cars built today will last for a lot longer than that if they are regularly serviced and looked after. Of course this doesn't mean driving them in and around Toronto, which has some of the worst roads I have driven on. Most of these being the major arteries into, and around, the city. Given the volume of traffic, and the variation in temperatures, there are very few portions that are in good condition. I am also certain that the continuous road works being undertaken are designed to mess up whatever part of the road is still in a good condition. No matter where you go the roads condition, in and around, and after, the “caution- men pretending to work” signs have been put up, deteriorates significantly. I'm pretty sure that having to replace my shocks was as a direct result of this roller coaster ride on the 401 every day. Two years, and 50,000 km's later, my special was starting to show signs of aging. Small things were starting to go wrong which was costing me money on a regular basis. Money I didn't have. In addition taking a car to a mechanic here is like going to the doctor. Once you begin more and more starts to develop problems. In the end my crankshaft was making funny noises. I had just started a new job and of course, sods law taking over, it is on the other side of Toronto. Markham to be exact. Which means a 120 km trip daily and there was no way that the car would last. In addition I was informed that a new crank would be in the region of $5000! You don't even debate this information. $7000 to really fix it up or $1000 from it as a deposit on another newer model. It was time to move on.
So a few weekends ago we traveled around (slowly) to what felt like a thousand second hand car dealers. In the end I wound up with a 98 Ford Windstar. 90,000 on the clock and $15,000 for another five years of bondage to the bank. Well actually with all the interest I suppose it will be more like $20,000 but that is a choice I don't really have much control over. In addition to being a Van it has all the bells and whistles like airbags, air-conditioning (known here as “air” and which has to be taxed, Don't ask me why), ABS and lots of additional extras that the previous owner had added. It is, as they say, “loaded” which is a term you will often see used in the adverts. This has nothing to do with the driver's condition. It is Canada after all. Where drinking and driving is frowned upon. Unless you know you can sue someone else for letting you do it.
Going from a medium sized car, which was a squeeze to fit in all my children at the best of time, to a van that would be the envy of most taxi drivers in Gauteng has been very nice. It has a seating capacity for seven (30+ in Gauteng) which means that we can at last go sight seeing without everyone's legs going to sleep.
Thankfully I buy cars for two reasons. To get me from A to B and to get me there with a good sound system. I mention this because it is Purple. Which I know would not be everyone's choice. According to the salesman anyway who seemed surprised when I showed an interest. Personally I prefer to think of it as Roman Emperor Purple as befits my standing.
So if you are in, or around, the GTA and see a purple Windstar sporting a Natal sticker (of course!) feel free to honk and wave at me. Just not with the middle finger please.
June 6th 2001
As I related earlier I was the “designated driver” during our small excursion through the Niagara wine route. About the only good that came out of that as far as I am concerned, is that I was sober enough to collect the odd piece of information with which to bore all and sundry and, as misery loves company, see no reason why I should not impart this.
I don't think that Canada is well known as a wine producing country which, given it's French background, and climate, seems odd. After all, wasn't it the French who really began South Africa's own wine industry? It seems natural then that Canada would benefit from the experience of their early settlers and start a thriving industry aimed at warming the blood during the winter. And thinning it during summer. Healthy equality French style!
Despite having said that it is interesting to note that the Canadian wine industry is really fairly young and mainly centered on the two areas of Southern Ontario and British Columbia. Most of the growth of the wine industry was really only during the latter part of the last century. Yes that's right! Mainly in the last thirty odd years. Consider that in 1991 there were only 24 wineries while last year this had risen to fifty-five and you see the growth is only just beginning.
The Niagara region is the major wine producing area in Canada. It lies further South than most of France anyway and has warm humid summers with cold winters, which is ideal for growing vines. In addition there is very little frost during autumn when the grape is still ripening. It is claimed that the major problem in the area is actually controlling the “over-rigourous” growth of the vines due to the incredibly rich topsoil they have there. In fact the vintners in the Pelee island region claim that they have the best growth conditions in the world because of the temperature control that Lake Erie brings to the area. This region is further down toward Detroit and I must admit has some of the better wines I have tasted.
Actually there are three distinct regions within the region if you will. These are known as “South West”, “Niagara-on-the-Lake” and “The Bench”. The last two actually follow on from each other and are what most day-trippers class as the wine route when partaking of the local sip or two.
South West, which is a good two hours drive from Toronto, lies close to the border crossing between Windsor and Detroit. There are only five farms open to the public there of which Pelee Island and Colio are probably the best known. Pelee Island is noted not only for the wines I might add but also because to reach the farm you need to take a ferry out to the island, which also has a wildlife reserve. It is good idea to make a whole day of the trip if you can. Of course this defeats the whole purpose of having a wine route tour so I suppose this should be a different trip.
The most easily reached routes are the other two. Only an hour drive from the centre of Toronto there are two distinct areas that follow the curve of the Lake Ontario shoreline. The first known as “The Bench” starts shortly after Hamilton and is conveniently situated on, or just off, the QEW highway. There are twenty odd wine farms open to the public here. If you go on this route I would suggest that you move away from the highway and travel up onto the escarpment. Most of the people don't do this and only pop into Kitling Ridge or Andre's or Magnotta which, in that order, are the outlets you can see from the road easily. Having been up at the top of the ridge I can recommend the farms and the view when it comes to a calm unhurried session. The drive is much more leisurely and will take you down to Henry Of Pelham and Hernder wine Estates as well. Henry's wine is worth the visit for a taste as well.
I find the two routes here to be fairly similar to the Stellenbosch and Paarl routes. Oh all right you Capetonians! Except for the mountains OK? I mean that there is really no defined difference between the two areas and both seem to lead into each other.
The last route is the Niagara-on-the-Lake area. This has twelve estates open to the public with what looked like another three or four making preparations to be ready later this summer. We traveled along Highway 55 and stopped off at Pilletteri, Joseph's and Hillebrand estates which are right on the road. Highway 55 being a side road and not necessarily the beginnings of a famous song title. Although, come to think of it, that doesn't stop the speed freaks much.
If you go through the town and on to the Niagara Parkway along the river you get Inniskillin Estate and lastly, in Niagara itself, Jackson Triggs, although I noticed that they seemed to be opening another outlet further back as well. I think Jackson Triggs is more a sort of co-op along the lines of KWV perhaps. They still make nice wines though.
So on a good days outing you can get to see about twenty farms. Assuming you do no tasting that is. Still it is a good excuse to toddle off for another round.
In most cases you are charged for any taste. This ranges from 50c to $4 if you wish to partake of the Ice Wine. Ah yes. Ice Wine. Only three countries apparently make Ice Wine. Germany, Austria and Canada. It happens when the grapes are frozen to the vine during winter. You get a much sweeter wine with a high alcohol content, which is hellishly expensive. The size of the bottle is regulated by the liquor board and so you can only buy 200ml and 375 ml bottles. The only other bottle I have seen was the Kitling Ridge Ice Wine and Brandy miniature bottle on sale there, which I presume was as a result of it being a mixture. It reminds me of Hanapoort to a degree. At $20, and up, per 200ml bottle it remains an expensive afterthought only. Of course everyone else in the party thought it was magnificent.
Most of the people in the outlets were friendly and genuinely took an interest in helping us, which I think is a particularly Canadian trait. About the only time we had indifference was at Andre's late in the afternoon where two teenage girls took the term “bored” to new levels of torpor. At Kittling Ridge the lady who served us took such a shine to her “Australians” that we even had a few “special” tastes of reserved drinks on the house. I think it may also have been my resolute steadiness in refusing even free drinks despite what was obviously my interest in Maple Whiskey. Canadians love people who suffer for a cause. We really didn't have the heart to gently rectify her geographic mistake because she seemed so pleased that she had sussed out our accents so quickly. And free drinks are free drinks OK?
Unlike South Africa it is not always cheaper to buy at the farm by the way. I am not sure whether this is regulated by the LCBO but I found the prices at the outlets to be either the same, or slightly higher, than at the stores. Of course you have to bring back a few anyway but don't expect to save money by doing this. It is merely a days outing to enjoy yourself. Except….but I think you know by now!
Next time someone else drives!