December 24th 2001
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!
Generally by the beginning of Christmas that particular song has begun to grate a bit.
However, for once the words to that Christmas song seem most prophetic. It's been playing on all the stations and seems to be the favourite comment on everyone's lips when they meet.
We have just set yet another record by having the highest recorded temperatures in December. For at least the last fifty years apparently, and maybe since they started to keep records for that matter. So mild has the weather been that for the first few weeks of December it felt more like a Highveld winter than the typical Canadian weather we have come to expect. Highs in the middle teens and the nighttime temperature going down to just above zero. Clear, crisp nights and sunny days! But….. No snow!
So given the Canadian delight in starting every conversation with a general moan about the weather we have of course been subjected to long diatribes as to why there is no snow and when we can expect it and how unfair it would be not to have a White Christmas. This tends to make a change from the normal moaning bitterly about the snow, with particular emphasis on shoveling and the snowplow operators, but at least it is different.
Then last weekend all that changed and we had a nice two inches dump. Suddenly everything was covered in a lovely icing sugar texture.
And then a funny thing happened.
It began to feel like Christmas at last. It was almost as if everyone was waiting for that snowfall to get into the spirit. Of course this included having a quick moan about the fact that we were only supposed to have had a centimeter, but what the heck, they even appeared happy about having snow to moan about again! The sudden shift into the holiday spirit was palpable. You could almost hear the sigh of relief as everyone realised that winter was at last upon us and we could get into the spirit of the season. Children of course added immensely to this feeling by “going bananas” and having all sorts of fun out in the storm. Snowball fights, making igloos and sledding down whatever available hill, incline and bump offered itself as a suitable slide.
To be honest the ages of the children tended to vary a little. For instance I can proudly report that this snowfall provided just the right texture for the perfect snowball. “Packing” snow I believe they call it. Normally the snow we get around here is powdery and doesn't pack nicely at all but this variety definitely had a little bit of mush to it, which allowed us to make decent balls. Even better was that until they actually hit someone, or thing, they kept their shape. Only on impact did they explode into powder again. Great fun!
Despite most of the snow having melted already there are still the remnants of an igloo gracing the front yard. People are back to talking about whether it will be a white Christmas but for a moment there that snowfall added hope and started the spirit a bit..
And so we move into the last weekend before Christmas. Unlike South Africa where many people are on holiday most people in North America work right up until Christmas Eve. This means a serious rush of last minute shopping taking place during this last week. Even the children go to school during this time and only have a break during the Christmas to New Year period. During which time there is fervent praying once again. This time for it not to snow. Children prefer it to snow during school.
Another interesting difference between South Africa and Canada is that during this period there are also many specials that crop up. I mean specials in the true sense of the word by the way. In many cases this is in the food departments but it certainly helps those people who have very little money at this time of the year. I was pleasantly surprised to notice that even Turkeys were marked down a bit this year. A two-litre bottle of generic cola went from 99c down to 59c at the local Food and Drug (buy your stash and some nosh for when you get the munchies!!).
When you think about it that is some discount. Now if only I could get the local LCBO to drop the price of wine I would be really happy.
I am looking forward to having the whole family in for Christmas lunch this year. Since we landed here at least one of us has had to work on Christmas Day, which has split up the unit a bit, but it looks as if this year we will have time to sit down and enjoy the repast together. This is, of course, conveniently overlooking the fact that I have two sons. At least one of whom will probably be staring starry eyed at some fair maiden, while the other will probably be smiling sweetly at various other dinners that he always gets asked too! Mind you both of them seem able to eat at home, eat elsewhere and then still come back and polish off the leftovers! No matter how big the turkey is it still seems to disappear at the same speed. Einstein would have had a few words to say on that I am sure.
In South Africa we did the normal Christmas thing and had a braai. There's something very relaxing about sitting in a pool, clutching a Windhoek and only getting out to turn over the “Stuk Steak” before it turns to charcoal. Carefully brushing off the krummel from the pap before you get back in. Or, more commonly, “fall” back in! All the while shouting at the kids that they had better eat their boerie rolls elsewhere. Anyone remember “Caddyshack”?
I can remember when I was a lightie that we did have a full Christmas dinner but, what with the heat and other factors, it soon made way to for a more appropriate style of dinner. Much more economical and less frustrating as well.
Up here in the Northern hemisphere though I look forward to having the traditional type of dinner. Turkey, ham, roast potato's, and all the trimmings like fresh cranberry sauce. And a good bottle of proper Beaujolais as well! Or Merlot. Or both! In the cold it just seems to be the right way to do it! If it has been snowing there is something stimulating about the whole tableau as well. I suppose it is something to do with all those Hollywood movies we watched as children where it was always snowing in December and people sat down for dinner at tables groaning under all that food, while a blizzard raged outside.
OK! I admit that we don't really have a lot of food for dinner. That's more a matter of cash flow than anything else because, if I were able to, I would definitely go “the whole hog”! Well once at least.
For our first Christmas in Canada we scrimped and saved and bought what, in hindsight, must have been the smallest turkey to ever get caught. Or maybe it just died of old age. Boy did it taste nice though! Having lived on rice and pasta for a while, to have a decent meal was a real treat. It is the sort of memory that lasts a long time. This year things are tight again but, no matter what, we will sit down and enjoy a good meal together. One day, when my children are millionaires, we will look back on those times and laugh. To all the new immigrants here as well; so will you! Look forward to it!
Now I wonder if I could braai a turkey in the snow? Given enough wine I bet I could!
December 17th 2001
One of the most annoying things about the Christmas Season is that there is a large lobby group that goes out of its way to deride any attempt to actually celebrate it.
For some reason the politically correct way to address people is “Happy Holidays” rather than the old “Merry Christmas”. I gather that actually greeting someone with an appellation that is linked to a Christian festival is bad and may cause great angst and unhappiness among those followers of other religions. So we have to use utterly bland sentences that sound as if we are expecting the person to jet off to some exotic destination. Seeing as most Canadians are not on holiday at this time of year and work right up to Christmas this seems exceedingly ridiculous.
I believe that most of the people involved with the original decision to go with this bland and really stupid greeting are most likely not religious anyway. In Canada, which is nominally a Christian country anyway, I find it ludicrous that the vast majority of people are supposed to forego the simple pleasure of practicing their faith. Unless they belong to a minority religion that is, in which case everyone is supposed to bend over backward to accommodate whatever is said, or done, in its name.
Interestingly, for the first time since I've been here, I noticed a backlash developing in the letters to the editor section of the local newspapers. People appear to be getting tired of being told what is good and bad for them and how they should talk and act.
Perhaps it has had something to do with the aftermath of the Trade Centre massacres, and the Canadian Governments appalling handling of the whole countries emotions, which has triggered this off. There was a definite annoyance at the directive that God wasn't to be talked about at the interdenominational gathering on Parliament Hill. There was even more annoyance at the rush to tell all Canadians not to be nasty to the Muslims, while ignoring the need to ask the Muslims not to do the same toward other religions. But the most annoyance has been the trend in certain news media outlets to use this season to preach tolerance toward, and only toward, the so-called visible minorities from Islamic countries.
So we note a lot of letters querying why they are not allowed to practice their own religion in what is basically a Judeo-Christian society, and why they should not use a greeting that actually means a lot to whoever it is directed at. After all the news media spends some time telling us all how to greet various religions and cultures without offending them. So why can't they allow the Christians the same degree of respect and courtesy?
Of course the minute someone calls for people to actually say Merry Christmas out come the professional lefty agitators and we are reminded why the world according to Marx should be implemented here. I always find it amusing that “rights” are trotted out somewhere in the missive. As is the “good old standbye” of the politically correct. The dreaded R words! Racism, reactionary, right-wing and all the rest. Although how they get racism into this little equation never ceases to astonish me! I must admit though that it appears to be a good Government standby in times of crisis and so they either take their lead from them or, more likely, have infiltrated and brainwashed the already brain dead sheep in Parliament.
I am, of course, ever the reactionary. So, despite being reasonably non-religious, I intend to do my bit to annoy and destroy, political correctness in this land.
What better way to start than being polite, kind and courteous and wishing everyone I meet “Merry Christmas”?
I am fully aware that I am an old “bah humbug” cynic when it comes to all the hoopla and marketing tripe that surrounds Christmas. Or more politically correctly put: “the festive season”!
Which is why friends and family find it amusing that for the last three years I have gone out caroling here in Canada. For them it is funny that I wander around the streets bellowing out Jingle Bells in full, un-tuned, scare-the-dead, throat rasping sound. It seems that the thought of my musical career as a street artist merits some serious debate as to the humorous side of the picture it conjures up.
It all started shortly after I arrived here in Toronto when I pitched up at a local Mensa meeting and was informed that it was traditional at that particular meeting to go around the neighbourhood terrorising dogs, cats and little children while singing Christmas Carols. Would I like to join? OK I thought to myself what we have here is a minus five degree night, with snow on the ground, no sign of alcohol, wooly mittens or anything resembling heating devices and this bunch wants me to sing?? Obviously they still hadn't assessed my ability to hold a tune nor, for that matter, whether I would be an asset or a hindrance. Not that that mattered really. It was the spirit and willingness more than the performance that was needed.
So I immediately said yes.
This of course makes sense in a convoluted way. Perhaps it is the weather in South Africa but I can't remember any carol singers making their rounds with joyous melodies. No. In fact I am wrong there because I can remember two or three occasions when a group of piccanins came around and sang the same song repeatedly. I think it was Jingle Bells actually. I also think the coffee cans rattling in the front row were the main focus of the exercise rather than peace and goodwill to all!
So the idea of trudging around in the snow, clutching song sheets and singing outside the American Gothic style house to the adoring audience standing wide eyed at the door while the snow gently falls has a certain appeal. No doubt fostered from watching too many Hollywood holiday specials as a youth.
It has also bears no resemblance to reality either by the way.
Generally the occupants of the house run a mile when they hear us coming down the street. Or ignore us completely even when we have rung the doorbell. And can see them inside! I think this has more to do with the original, and traditional, reason for carol singing. Which was to collect money. Either for the singers themselves, or for a charity that would pass on the proceeds to the needy.
As Canadians are bombarded from all sides with requests for donations to the needy at this time of the year I can understand that another group ringing your doorbell with a begging bowl is probably not likely to rouse you from the TV. Especially when it is twenty degrees warmer there rather than standing in the door listening to enthusiastic singers. And as for that big guy bellowing at the back….
I must point out here that we don't collect money. All we ask is that the person who does open their door merely lead us in another song of their choice. The object of the exercise is actually to provide a little bit of pleasure rather. So ultimately the people who skulk behind the curtains miss out on what could be a pleasant time.
Except for that big fellow bellowing at the back….
Last night, thanks to what has been an unseasonal weather pattern, it was quite warm still and so we lasted a little longer outside. Mind you there was still a need for a strong, and warm, apple cider when we got back to the party later. Where, as is usual, all the other people, who having been told we would be going out at eight-o-clock, had arrived at ten minutes past. This provides a convenient excuse. Although the other one is "well we would go ….except for the bellowing of the big guy in the back”.
Actually I thought I sang in tune for a change this year but that may just be as a result of the dop of Port I had before venturing forth. OK then two dops! Anyway I think I sounded better. And no houses put out their lights as we approached this year. We only target those houses that have made an effort to “get into the Spirit” as they say. This generally involves masses of fairy lights dripping from every available eve, windowsill, roof, tree and bush in sight. This year Canadian Tire had a special on Christmas Lights it seems.
Actually the quality of these outside lights is pretty good and it seems that every year the homeowners merely add to their collection. So the first year it was only white lights and it has progressed to different colours and then different styles and this year it appears to be a sort of curtain like affair with alternating colours instead. It does mean though that the outside decorations do get bigger and bigger and better and better each year. This year at last some bright spark seems to have cottoned on to the money potential there is in buying and stringing up the displays. And I do mean money. Anything from $750 to well over $3000 to outfit a house. Which, if you have the spare cash lying, around is reasonable I suppose. Still, part of the objective is that you get a bit of self-satisfaction in breaking a leg falling off the roof doing it yourself. Or so I am told.
So despite having a winter that is closer to that of the highveld on a good day. Despite the lack of snow. It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Hang on that's a song I believe. Oh well! Never mind. It does feel as if the Christmas season is upon us and so I think it is probably time for me to make two statements:
Political correctness se moer!
And on that note
Merry Christmas everyone out there.
December 3rd 2001
The one pastime that I have absolutely no shame in letting others know about is that of reading. I enjoy the ability to lose myself in the vistas of my imagination. As such I will devour books wherever I go. In addition I have no problem with reading all different types of books.
Which is why I thoroughly enjoyed the whole Harry Potter series. To the extent that once the movie was released it was only a matter of time before I was going to see it. And so it was that on Sunday I was whipped off by my children to stand in a queue within a million other children waiting to make our considered judgment on the movie and it's faithfulness to the original book. Oddly enough they even paid for me for a change and so I really did feel like I was the child being taken to see a favourite movie. As opposed to a friend of mine who had to “borrow” a child to go and see the movie on opening night because she felt uneasy about going alone!
Mind you I did draw the line at dressing up. Mainly because it was pointed out to me that about the only person I could imitate would be Hagrid! As it was there were enough Harry Potters, and the odd Hermione, to keep everyone happy as we froze outside in what rapidly became a very long and noisy queue indeed.
As an aside here I noticed that once again when the queue was really long that a bunch of immigrants found it necessary to jump the queue, which annoyed me. And yes they were immigrants, judging by the languages spoken. I am beginning to get a tad annoyed at this type of behaviour as it reflects badly on those of us who do attempt to be mannerly in this country.
This was only the second time that I have gone to the movies since landing in Canada and it was an interesting experience. I have gone to the AMC chain before which uses tellers to provide the tickets while the Famous Players chain has these ATM type machines where you go and pay after having pre-booked online. They only had one, rather flustered, youngster handling ticket sales. In addition the line for the tickets snaked its way through the lines of ATMs and so it was a terrible congestion right at the entrance. Thankfully we were early in the queue and so the transaction was less painful than for those behind us.
Once through the ticket area you come across the food court. Now I am not one who feels the need to eat during a movie and so I am still astounded at the array of food that is on offer here in Canada. Even more astonishing is that it is quite acceptable to eat while you are watching. I am not talking about popcorn and sweets as it used to be back in South Africa either.
No! Here you can purchase all sorts of edible delights to take in to the cinema with you. I am tempted to say that the variety on offer is typically Canadian as well, except that it is of course nothing of the sort. From trays of Nacho's to New York Fries with side trips to the ubiquitous Hoddock, fresh hot pretzels, Pizza slices, Taco's and what must be the largest cups of cold drink dispensed anywhere in the world. Well they would be the largest if it weren't for all the ice that takes up roughly eighty percent of the available space in the cup!
Oh, and of course buckets of popcorn as well. Slathered with that sticky, oily substitute for butter. No need to worry about little Johnny choking on a piece of popcorn here. It is so greasy that only a throat with spikes in it would stop it from sliding down. I've often wondered where the recycled engine oil is sent in this country. Now I know!
Which probably explains the pricing system. The Oil companies in Canada are quick to point out that gas is cheaper to buy than cool drink. No doubt they have been doing their surveys in the local movie house where everything has a premium price. And I strongly suspect that old oil executives are involved in the pricing as well.
Apparently Americans are so used to eating while watching TV that the decision was taken to allow the same to happen inside the movie theatres. Which given the horrible way they eat with their mouths open is a really nauseating experience and one that soon reminded me why it is that I had only been to the movies here once before.
There is nothing like sitting in a closed, stuffy cinema while having a myriad of assorted sickly smells assaulting your nostrils. Unless it is trying to hear what is being said on screen through the crunching all around you. Smell-o-vision with surround sound! Now if only they could co-ordinate it with what is on the screen.
Ironically there was a sign posted that stated “No outside food will be allowed in the theatre”. A bit of judicious enquiry got the response that you weren't allowed to bring in food from other vendors. Feel free to scoff as much of the inside vendors stuff though. Ah well free enterprise at its best.
Two and a half hours later we escaped. If you enjoyed the book then you will definitely enjoy the film. It remains both truthful and accurate to the original. There are parts that you will probably wish were in and certain areas that could have been expanded upon a bit, but all told it gives a very good retelling of the story. Incidentally about the only quibble I have with regard to Harry himself, is that his hair was too neat! Other than that he was perfect. As were both Ron and Hermione.
Interestingly on the day HP opened there was an article in the Star written by some feminist apologist wailing that “once again” this was a movie where a male was the star and there were no female role models! It is fairly obvious that she had not seen the movie because I found the Hermione character to be very interesting and definitely what I would classify as a strong role model for young girls. Even old witches like the writer for that matter!
The other item I found odd was that the term “philosopher” was apparently changed to “Sorcerer” for the American audience. It was felt that the Americans wouldn't understand what a philosopher was! Probably explaining the concept to little Johnny was the worrying factor here. We did see the original English version here in Canada. Nation of intellectuals that we pretend to be.
The computer-enhanced graphics were, to use Ron's term, “wicked”. I would warn any parents of young children that some of them could be quite frightening. Although, maybe I am being overly sensitive here. Most of the youngsters in the movie with us seemed to take it in their stride.
I came out of the movie feeling that it was one I could add to my list of really worthwhile and enjoyable viewing experiences. My one son works for Rogers Video and so I am able to see many of the releases at home. This however was a definite “big screen” must see. I can't remember who it was but one of the South African theatre chains (Ster Kinekor?) had that claim “always better on the big screen!” and this is one movie you must see like that.
So while I wait for Harry Potter Mark 2 it looks like another trip to the “audiotorium” will have to be made for the Lord of the Rings movie when it opens next month. Now which of my children wants to take a geriatric delinquent to that I wonder?