August 27th 2001
I took a drive down Hamilton way today. Instead of hanging a left toward Niagara I carried on through the outskirts and then up and over the “mountain”. My intention being to get to the Hamilton Airport and, more precisely, the Canadian Warplanes Heritage Museum.
My Father was a pilot and ever since he popped me into the co-pilots seat at about four and let me waggle the stick while flying, I have had a liking for airplanes. Which is why I joined the Navy but that's another story entirely.
In South African I attended as many air shows as possible, including the ones that are rarely publicized but take place on weekends at Wonderboom in Pretoria. That was where I saw the Feisler Storch, Spitfire, Vampires and other assorted planes going through their paces. It is also where you could get a quick flip in the JU52 for R50 a trip at the time. In the back hangers they have a Mustang they are reconditioning, as well as the Angolan Mig 21 that was flown to South Africa in a widely publicized defection.
So when I heard that there are two Avro Lancaster's left in the world that fly, and one of them was at Hamilton, I couldn't resist the urge to take a trip to see for myself. There used to be a static Lancaster down at Ontario Place, on Lakeshore Drive, but it was in a terrible condition. It was however the first time I had been up close to one of these machines and to actually get to see a flying version was compelling.
Let me however point out that if it wasn't for the signboards pointing the way to the museum, following the directions given on the website can be most puzzling. At one stage I appeared to be on a highway that was going both East and South at the same time! At least that is what the markers said anyway.
The other piece of information I must impart is that the planes are housed in a hanger. Which means that when, as today, the temperature is in the 30's, it can get fairly warm inside. Which is probably why the major trade at the tearoom was in cool drinks and ice cream cones.
At $10 for the entrance fee the whole museum is totally worth the price. Just after the entrance is a static display of uniforms, medals and other bits of paraphernalia that document the Canadian Air force from the early 1900's up to the present time. Very much like the S.A. War Museum, using dummies dressed in the various uniforms and glass windows set in the wall behind which are the medals of different hero's donated by themselves or their families. Are all museums around the world designed on the same set standards I wonder?
There are also a few of the interactive push-the-button-light-up-the-display-if-your-thumbs-are-crossed exhibits as well. These worked a whole lot better than any other museum I have been in. Well actually they worked, which is a lot more than most do.
So having dutifully admired the uniforms, pushed a button or two, and been tempted to touch the “Do Not Touch” exhibits, I made my way into the main hanger and the treasure trove of aircraft that for the most I hadn't been able to see up close and personal.
Standing at the entrance is the Lancaster. A magnificent machine that just cries out to be examined. And yet despite all the superlatives I could use, the one that readily comes to mind is;
I suppose that those of us used to seeing, and flying in, Jumbo's, the size of the so-called “big” bombers is a surprise when you get up close. Inside the hanger were a few jet fighters from the seventies and eighties. Single seat planes that were almost as long, and in some cases longer, than this bomber that carried seven people up. I compared the “Freedom Fighter” there with the Lanc' and it was a tad smaller in length. This is considered to be one of the smallest jet fighters flying lately. My respect for the people inside on those long trips increased tremendously. But for awe inspiring, gooseflesh-inducing respect, you really have to listen to the engines as it starts up and takes off. For those of you who were lucky enough to hear the Spitfire flying in South Africa, think of that deep-throated growl from the Merlin engine. Then times it by four. To see this Lancaster flying is truly an experience all on it's own. Now all I have to do is save up $1000 and I can even get to go on a flip over Niagara in her. Provided that at least three others are willing to cough up the same to join me. Maybe I should just save up the full $4000 it costs and go myself. Ah wishful thinking. But, attainable at least.
At the back of the hanger are two restoration projects. A Lysander and a Bristol Bolingbroke. Bits and pieces of the project scattered over benches everywhere. I will be back every so often to monitor the progress of these. I would like to see the finished items.
The rest of the static display includes a Hurricane, Spitfire, Firefly and quite few of the latter day jet fighters used by the Canadian Air Force. Oddly enough the only First World War plane there was a Sopwith Pup. Considering that the top ace was a Canadian it is odd that there aren't a few more. Even replicas would be a good start.
There are a lot of trainers and other types on display. The ubiquitous Dakota of course. Is there any Air Force that has not used at least one Goony Bird? For me however it was the Avro Anson that had my attention. How they managed to pack six people into it I don't know.
Of course with Pearl Harbour currently on circuit most of the attention was directed toward the B25 Mitchell. This is another flying example and in really good shape as well.
One of the two examples of aircraft in colours other than Canadian. The other being a Hawker Hunter donated by the Swiss air force and still in Swiss colours.
Parked alongside is a Catalina Flying Boat, or the Canso, as it is called in Canada. Apparently this is also a working example. Having seen a civilian Catalina flying around in South Africa, doing mining exploration, it was interesting to get close enough to look at the real thing.
One of the facts I gleaned talking to an attendant was that many of the Jets are also in flying condition but there is a law that forbids civilians from flying military aircraft in this country. What a pity. So I told him about watching Vampires, Hunters and a few other jets back in S.A. and for a change I saw someone else have a look of envy.
Of the twenty-five odd aircraft on display there I had not seen at least fifteen before so it was a worthwhile experience merely from that aspect. Most of them allow you to get up close enough to peer in. Even the Lancaster has places to look in when it is put on a static display. If that isn't good enough then over in the one corner are a heap of “simulators” that you can pop your money in and “fly”.
On your way out is a very pleasant shop with mementos, most of which are reasonably priced I might add. I couldn't resist an RCAF cap and next time I intend to be flush enough to get one of the flight jackets they have there.
Sadly there was one aspect to my visit that I didn't enjoy.
In South Africa I mostly went to the Air Shows and museums with my best friend Gert. His father was in the Luftwaffe, which is why I suppose he too had a love of flying, and why we became friends. Over the more than thirty years we were friends we missed very few opportunities to bore each other with facts as we discussed the merits, or otherwise, of aircraft as they took to the skies.
I missed having him with me here. It would have been just like old days. I am sure he would have been just as taken as I was. It will never be though.
He was murdered in South Africa.
So I will just have to go for us both.
August 20th 2001
For some reason lately I seem to have found some deep-seated need to be transported back in time thousands of years.
Last week it was Medieval Times. This week the Ontario Renaissance Festival. The 6th Annual Ontario Renaissance Festival to be precise.
Just up the road from us, on 8th line in Milton, set away from the road in a mixture of wood and open land, is a reproduction of an ancient English village. Every year over the summer season this is open on the weekends. Thousands of people visit over the three-month period and, if we are any indication of the time spent there, thoroughly enjoy themselves.
The ambiance is very good with all the bit players getting into their parts very well. Mind you some of the attempts at English accents are funnier than they intend to be but generally the fools, jesters and other assorted village idiots play the part to the hilt. Except for the quick repartee that the British are so famous for. One of the players in the Theatre of the Ground was taking time out from the heat to lie in the shade of the trees. As I passed, and true to form, he called out “is that you Jesus?” To which I replied, “Yes my Son. Arise and walk, you are saved” This unfortunately seemed to throw him completely. For your information the “Theatre of the Ground” is seemingly an attempt at ancient mud wrestling. Pity that the players are male though. I think they would find more people willing to be spattered with mud in the front row if wenches were used.
As I said earlier this is a reproduction of a small village. As such there are roads and houses, theatres, taverns and open air spaces where archery, jousting and general mayhem take place. I must admit that I am letting my imagination run a bit wild here but it does have the makings of a good pretence at least. Except for the cash terminals at every store that is.
Given the incredible heat I was really sorry for many of the players who were wearing clothes more fitting to the English weather. At midday, after the parade through the village the assembled masses move on to the jousting arena to watch the games. I really felt sorry for the cooking pots on the horses. It must have been hell out in the sun. Except for the Valkyrie on the fringes of the action, who had a chain-mail bikini top on! And a winged helmet, for full affect. Unfortunately she seemed to be there for show and we never got to see the tresses flying behind a lance in combat. Funny though how the crowd on the side she was trotting around seemed to be composed more of males.
In fact it was so hot that the lady in the dunk tank was actually letting people stand close enough to ensure that when they threw the balls she actually stood a good chance of a wetting. Part of her patter involved insulting passers by in an effort to get them riled enough to want to part with their money to topple her off her perch. She looked very thoughtful when, after a very good insult in our direction, we quietly pointed out that it was better for us to stand there and ignore her because we were in the shade while she was in the blazing sun. Someone else then put here out of her misery.
Throughout the day there are acts and shows put on at different parts of the village. I must state that the best show, as far as I was concerned, was put on by “The Daring Devilinis”. Fire eating, swallowing razor blades and lying on beds of nails all being part of the very funny act that they have. Mind you we had a very responsive audience and they seemed to feed off the interaction. This led to some very funny moments as the repartee swung back and forth. Even the damn cell phone that popped up was ripe for a good comment or two.
The gates open at 10h00 and until 18h00 there is some form of entertainment throughout the village. Most of the acting and merriment taking place at the three “Theatres” aptly named the “Globe”, the “Lyric” and the “Fortune”. Then there is an outdoor stage called would you believe it, the “Gatehouse Stage”. This appeared to be the most active of the lot. Actually aside from the difference in façade all the theatres were stages as well. This of course allows the audience to sit, or stand, in a semicircle outside. The trick here being to get yourself close enough to see the action without being close enough to be part of it. It seems that virtually every show needed a “volunteer” to help out. As we all know from the old “I need two volunteers….you and you” days, whoever winds up being dragged up into the limelight normally winds up with the sharp end of the stick! Especially if you get up for the very aptly named “Zoltan the Adequate”!
I counted twenty three acts or shows in all, most of which have a minimum of two acts a day, and some as many as four, which keeps the day fairly full and means that you can see them all if you stick around. Interestingly only five of the shows had a “PG” rating attached. This seemed to be mostly because of what is euphemistically termed the “Ribald” nature. I was reminded of the good old South African censors who took a dim view of any clever wordplay of a sexual nature and yet allowed little Johnny to see as much violence and mayhem as they liked. Including buying swords if they were under 18 but had their parent's approval. At least two of the stores were doing a roaring trade in swords, axes, helmets and other items designed to maim successfully.
There are about 70 stalls selling different items. From palm reading to henna tattoos, mugs, glass items and clothing that vaguely resembled what the well, and not so well, dressed peasant wore. Including weaponry.
After all that walking around you get hungry and thirsty and of course the populace is well catered for here. Seven different food stands selling a variety of repast. Unfortunately for them we discovered sometime ago that the stalls selling Turkey legs were extremely good value for money. For $3.50 you get a turkey leg that more resembles an Ostrich in size. To put it into perspective let me just say that three of us had one leg between us and two of us were teenage boys! Well worth the price and very tasty.
Then there are the Taverns. Three of them selling a variety of ales, wine, cider and of course the obligatory meade.
Both the ales and the meade are made by the Trafalgar Brewing Company in Oakville. I'm presuming they are specially named for the occasion rather than specially brewed for the fair. At least they have exotic names. Red Knight Ale, Celtic Ale and Excalibur Light Lager. Although why the Light has the name of a famous sword is beyond me.
The meade this year saw a new Cherry variety added to the standard Raspberry meade from last year. Been there tried that. I'll stay with the beer thanks.
At least the beer was a good excuse for my 2001 replica beer mug that goes alongside my 2000 mug. Every year there are a variety of mugs, cups and goblets on sale. Different colours. Same shape. Same price. Now that's something that is astonishing anyway.
Which is probably why the archery went so well too. At least my sons are now aware that I can shoot a bow and arrow. Which given their stated aim of buying swords may prove helpful. After all a sword is a close quarter weapon while the bow tends to be helpful in keeping sword wielding maniacs at a distance.
Just ask the French Knights at Crecy. And Poitiers.
After a few hours of wandering around and loaded down with trinkets and the obligatory mementos we wandered off home.
As the young wench asigned to our side of the jousting tournament pointed out: When you wish to cheer on your knight, or just express your delight at a good piece of action, you should do it in the spirit of the times.
So “Huzzah” for the Ontario Renaissance Festival, sixth annual etc. A good days outing was had by all.
August 13th 2001
I was knighted on the weekend. Called up by the King, had the rights and obligations read out to the assembled masses, and me of course, and then with a light touch of the sword on each shoulder I was officially a Knight of the Realm with all the duties and responsibilities that this entails.
Of course the initial pomp and splendour was offset slightly with my son shouting out “off with his head”.
As he is the “heir” and not the “spare” I would have thought that a bit of circumspection would be more in order. In fact I may promote the “spare” to “heir” if he is not very careful. Given that all three children have expressed a desire to own swords of their own perhaps I should be more worried about regicide taking place here.
So what the heck am I on about then?
Medieval Times of course.
Toronto's answer to Greensleeves. With controlled violence.
Sitting in the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition grounds (a sort of Rand Easter Show with class) is a large building that houses the Toronto franchise of a North American chain of theme restaurants called Medieval Times. Let's be kind here. This is not really a restaurant. More of a total theatrical eating experience. For the price of a meal you get tin cans on horses belting each other with pieces of wood and steel in what could nominally be called a plot and all taking place around an arena that is fairly large.
The show has been running here for nine years now very successfully. I believe that the scene in the Jim Carrey movie “Cable Guy” was shot at the Toronto show as well. Which should give those of you who have seen the movie an idea of what it entails on a nightly basis. Except that the audience is not invited to participate in the action other than as interested and vocal spectators. Part of the action involving the need to cheer on your chosen Knight as he rides out to do battle, on your behalf, with the evil forces.
To get the pricing out of the way let me state now that it is not cheap if you are a family of four or more. Ticket prices are $60 each. You can, as I did, manage to get special discounts in various places. Generally this will get you down to about $50.The concierge where I work had some going at $40 so you can imagine that this suddenly became an attractive option. What you get for your money is a full meal and the show.
The meal, which, true to supposed medieval practice, you eat with your hands, is composed of half a chicken, some ribs and half a baked potato, free cool drink and coffee and for dessert a sort of fruit tart. Like all fruit tarts everywhere in the world that are massed produced, everyone felt that it contained a different fruit. No doubt it wasn't even the fruit that we finally settled on. Which I believe was apricot. Or peach. Or a mixture. The main course is very filling and tasty. Especially the baked potato. I noticed that everything was “hoovered” up by the boy's with great gusto. No doubt ravenous from all the ribald jests that they felt necessary to throw in my direction during the knighting ceremony.
The show itself involves Knights of the empire having defeated an enemy, coming home to a feast and a joust to celebrate. After some horsemanship along the lines of the Lipizzaners there is the traditional games on horseback section that involves using javelins and lances to spear, catch and knock off various items strategically placed. By the way, aside from the Queen and serving wenches, the dressage part of the show is the only time females appear in the arena. Although I have my doubts about one of the Knights though!
During this initial part of the show there is also a falconer who puts a very nice hawk through its paces. Those who sit in the middle seats getting a nice view as it swoops low over your head before attacking the bait swung around by the trainer. At this stage comes the traditional disclaimer about “not trying this at home kiddies”. I don't know though. I still find it hard to believe that hordes of little Johnnies have trudged off home to tie a string around Tweety-Pies neck in the vain hope that by twirling it round their head they may entice the local bird of prey to attack.
I suppose I should mention that the seating arrangements are divided into six sections around the arena. Each section is coloured according to the colours of the six knights vying for honours. In each area you are supposed to cheer on your knight and, according to the King, support or boo the other knights, who may, or may not, be allied to your hero. As you are stuffing your face with chunks of food this can be a messy business. But noisy nevertheless.
Pyrotechnics and a wizard straight out of the Saturday morning matinee announce the bad news. The enemy had a son! He is Bad! He has Returned. He will seek vengeance!! The Knights must have a duel to death in order to claim the right to fight him in combat!!!
This of course really begs the question as to why five Knights must die in order to let one half alive champion fight the baddy but I guess we mustn't question the plot too heavily. I suppose chivalry doesn't allow five knights to knock seven types of whatever out of one baddy.
This constitutes the second half of the show. With the standard disclaimer. Which given that little Johnnie can buy a brand new $300 sword at the stands pre-show is probably warranted.
After the carefully choreographed mayhem one Knight remains victorious, ready to meet in battle the vengeance-seeking son. Having noisily cheered on our Knight those of us in the Black and White section were appeased to see him so honoured. Even if it looked suspiciously like a quick knee in the `nads was one of the more dubious ploys used in getting there.
With a great deal of pyrotechnic flashes enter “The Baddy”. Who for some reason would appear to have been watching too many bad Ninja movies. Or possibly the baddy was a woman with ideas culled from Charlie's Angels. Anyway after the quasi-TaiKwanDo exercises had been undertaken the B/W Knight emerged victorious to much fanfare (two youngsters on trumpets in the wings. I checked!). The King was saved. Aragon was saved. Our Knight was victorious. We were stuffed. The show was finished. Go home! But first stop at the shops outside once again which astonishingly have moved from lining the entrance on the way in to doing the same on the way out. Personally I believe that they make more money from all the mugs, t-shirts and photos of little Johnny with his cardboard crown than from the ticket. Actually they probably make the most from the price of beer. In A Souvenir Mug (plastic)!
So how was I knighted you ask?
Well for a modest price, of course, and provided you are celebrating a birthday, anniversary, or being able to pay the modest price, you may obtain this honour. And a glossy full colour picture. Which with the refillable plastic mug, Toronto Medieval Times T-shirt and a full belly is how you stagger out.
For good entertainment and a fun time I heartily recommend a visit. In fact I command it!
August 6th 2001
Somewhere in Oakville there is a lady who for some reason has not taken the GO train before. She may even be South African for all I know because it was only later that I noticed the slight accent that she had.
I want to thank her. For a while she restored my faith in the inherent good in humanity that is still around.
At Toronto Union Station I was sitting on the train waiting for departure when she turned around and asked me where she could get her ticket stamped. Turned out she had borrowed a ticket from a friend and was not aware that you had to have it cancelled at the machines in the concourse. As she had just got on, and there was about a minute left before we took off, I informed her how and then pointed out that in order to do that, not only would she miss this train but that it was another hour to the next. Not conducive to an early arrival at her destination. At which stage the “All aboard” was sounded and we left. Throughout the trip she was in a fairly bad state worrying about the ticket inspectors and what they may say and do to her. Between a few Mexican students and myself we calmed her down. At Oakville when we both got off I wished her well and walked off toward the car. I don't know what made me look back, but when I did, I noticed her move toward the concourse and then go in and get her ticket stamped. Everyday hundreds of people use the GO without paying and yet here was this one lady who felt so bad about it that, even after she had had the ride, she still felt it necessary to ensure that she did the right thing.
I don't know who you are but thank you for making me feel a little happier that night.
At least that was a lot better than a few nights before when I was standing at the local supermarket checkout listening to some youngster bragging about how he was ripping off the local YMCA. Hmmm.. I think that in politically correct Canada that has already been done away with. I don't know what the heck it is called here now but that was where he “worked” anyway.
I had moved up to the 1 to 8 items checkout queue and was standing behind this youngster who to all intents and purposes had three bags of crisps in his basket. Well it looked like that until he got to the till, whereupon about thirty items of make up was suddenly tipped out along with some shaving cream and razor blades. I guess that the till jockey was a friend but even still the mathematical genius in front of me needed to explain the huge quantity of make up now making a mockery of the “fast lane”.
At which stage this idiot proceeded to explain in detail how he was buying for the Y so that the kids who were at the next days meeting could use the make up to dress up as clowns or something. What made my blood boil though was the discussion between the two as to how easy it was to rip off the Y and buy stuff to use for themselves. Mathematical genius then went so far as to even admit that some of the stuff there was in fact for himself and that no one ever checked anyway so “why not”. At which stage they must have seen my face because there was this attempt to speed things up.
The whole issue bugged me. The complete lack of scruples was annoying. Especially to the extent that loudly telling everyone you are a thief seems to be okay. So this is why I was so taken with the honesty of the lady on the train.
In fact in general most Canadians are honest and attempt to “do the right thing”. To the extent that in many cases they are blatantly ripped off by the “guilt” purveyors. The parade of sad-eyed (but beautiful! Never show real starvation because it has a bad effect.) babies from third world countries that take up air space on Saturday TV being a case in point.
Everyday I notice that there are areas that work on the trust factor. The GO being one example where it is expected that you will have your ticket stamped when you board. The Underground has turnstiles where you have to have a token to get through but I have noticed that if you are using the underground and then carrying on your journey with a bus that there is no check at all. Every day I have to use the underground and a bus to get to and back from work. It costs me just under two dollars. At the Finch Station terminus I get off the underground and transfer to a bus. This is legal by the way. But what I do notice is that there is absolutely no check at all at the terminus to ensure that I have in fact paid my money in order to use the bus. Anyone could in fact merely walk through the terminus and get on the bus, or even the underground, and travel for free. I'm pretty sure that it does happen. However the fact that they trust you to be honest is the main motivating factor in actually being honest. Well for most of us I guess. There are inspectors on the GO, and I have seen them fine people as well, so I suppose there will always be people who attempt to subvert the system. It's just that it seems to me that there a lot less people in this country who are dishonest. Which is fine by me. Like a lot of other factors it makes me pleased with my choice.
While I am on about reasons to feel pleased to live in Canada there is one other very important statistic as well. I work in Markham, which is in the Vaughan region of Ontario. Last week there was some serious consternation because the region had had it's first murder of the year. Please note we are talking about a region, which has had ONE murder this year. People got very upset about it.
In Toronto there has been what was described as total anarchy over the last few weeks. SIX murders have taken place in one area. All of them involving people involved in dubious activities. This has pushed up the total amount in the whole Greater Toronto Area to almost fifty for the year. Almost all of them crime related As a South African you look at the hysteria that follows these statistics and want to cry. Front-page articles decry the violence, but perhaps the most important aspect of all this is that the Police actually catch most of the perpetrators. As a South African this alone is enough to make you cry.
So the lady on the train is an example of the general honesty that abounds in Canada. It is refreshing to see that there are so many people like her who do “do the right thing”. Hopefully someday I will see her again and be able to say “Thank You” She probably won't understand why, but it was a very important action for me that she undertook that night.