January 28th 2002
For quite some time now events in North America have obviously been tied into the actions of the allied forces in Afghanistan. Life however goes on and slowly people return to their normal selves. The screeds of media copy on the people, countries and events involved is slowly starting to taper off and the more unusual is starting to show up in reporting again.
The last week has rekindled my faith in humanity to produce large degrees of stupidity when it is needed and so I will report on the amusing events that just this past week has produced. So lets start with the most interesting news report that I noticed last week.
“Firemen called out to douse burning Squirrel”!!!
OK technically this took place in the United States somewhere but the mind still boggles at that statement. To start with lets examine why it is that whoever called 911 didn't just put out the burning squirrel themselves. Hose. Bucket of water. Whatever! If they were so worried about this poor squirrel shouldn't they have at least attempted to try to extinguish it before the Fire Brigade arrived?
I can just imagine the Fire engine racing through the streets of some town and hosing down the unfortunate squirrel blazing away merrily while a host of onlookers stand around, probably frantically stabbing emergency numbers into their cell phones.
At this stage I was amused to notice another report that stated Police had been called to arrest a man who attempting to urinate on ……you guessed it….another squirrel! Or was it the same squirrel? Was this perhaps the only bystander who attempted to take action? Is there a drought in this region that this person had to resort to the only method handy in attempting to help this unfortunate rodent? It might explain the lack of action on the earlier callers part.
No, it appears that in fact this was another incident entirely. Unless the chap involved had already set the one squirrel on fire and, having run out of matches was resorting to another method of intimidation. Still both instances, taken together, certainly made me smile for quite some time.
Almost as much as discovering that Toronto's spokeswoman (and why wasn't she recorded as a spokesperson I ask??) for public health is on Mary Crapper. How appropriate. Especially as she came to my attention when being questioned over the City spending $100,000 on an NGO that used at least half of that to produce a “Safer crack use kit” which it hands out to junkies. Apparently it is OK to hand out all the paraphernalia for drug use, using taxpayers money, so long as you don't actually buy the drugs with it. Of course when questioned on this the normal handwringers in City Hall dredged up the “it's OK because it stops the spread of AIDS” excuse and went back to doling out over $50million in handouts to all the trendy causes again. I am still trying to reconcile the report that over $100 million is spent on the homeless in Toronto and this is apparently not enough. Um… Hello Mr.Mayor that's a couple of million for each tax paying citizen in this city. Hello anyone listening?
Well not Mayor Mel anyway. He is too busy opening his mouth to change feet. This time he has managed to really piss off both the Police and then the Hells Angels.
The Hells Angels decided to hold a one-year anniversary of breaking into the Ontario market by gathering in Toronto. The Hells Angels have mainly been active in Quebec, where hundreds of murders have taken place in the last few years over a series of turf wars with the Rock Machine. Both being involved in the lucrative drug trade and many other nefarious activities. Anyway at the moment, and by swallowing up local clubs, the Hells Angels now control Ontario. Not a very nice bunch by the way.
Anyway Mel decided to go to one of the hotels where they were gathered and was snapped shaking the hand of at least one of these desperados and being given a T-shirt. The Police Union demanded an apology. Mel, never one to miss a photo opportunity, was then snapped throwing the T-shirt in a dustbin and started his “I didn't realise” excuses. At which stage the Hells Angels got all annoyed and asked for the T-shirt back, and another apology! Isn't it wonderful to live in a country where this idiocy is the main bone of contention?
Which brings me to another of those court cases that was recently thrown out of court. Where would we be without the lawyers standing ever ready to fight the injustices in their payment?
Some young lady went to court to sue her former lover because he was married. The contention was that he had “taken her off the dating scene” during the period that they were indulging their carnal desires. Apparently he was shacked up with her and “forgot” to inform her that two years after they started their tryst he had got married! Luckily for all cads everywhere this was thrown out of court. About the only person who may have had a claim for damages would have been the wife.
In fact I wouldn't be surprised if we don't see that taking place shortly. Meanwhile gullible women everywhere will just have to be a bit more interested in their lover's activities outside of the bedroom. And in the spirit of political correctness this does apply to gullible men as well, but I must admit I doubt whether they would have had the balls to make fools of themselves like that!
And lastly something, which has just drawn my attention away from typing this missive and onto the TV news. There is a beautiful picture of a Tiger sitting on a Police Cruiser while the OPP try to get the owner to coax it off and back into custody! This is up in Pickering on the East side of Toronto. Inside the Police Cruiser is one female constable who is reasonably sure that she is alright but there is no way that she will be getting outside for a while.
Qadesh is a tame Tiger that is used in many ways around the town. Its owner was getting a prescription for some eye infection, when it decided that it didn't like being chained up and went off on a walkabout. At some stage during its leisurely stroll through the streets of Pickering it wondered into a factory yard. At which stage, and in true Canadian tradition, panic ensued and the Police were called. Like all good TV shows every cruiser in the area sped to the scene and parked in what can only be called “scene of the crime haphazard”. Qadesh wondered over to see what all the fuss was about and then decided that a good seat was called for to observe the proceedings. The best seat in the house being on top of the cruiser with the pretty Officer. So Qadesh moved its three hundred kilograms onto the roof and waited for the main attraction. Which appeared to be general hysteria amongst the humans floating around and an annoying helicopter that hovered overhead all the time. In the end the owner was tracked down (the police actually knew who he was) and after giving the tiger a good tummy tickle, coaxed it off the cruiser roof and went off home. Much to the amusement of everyone concerned.
Now one thing springs to mind in all this.
I bet what that Tiger was thinking as it sat on the roof watching the pandemonium around it was:
“Where the hell is the burning squirrel?”
January 21st 2002
Because Canada was a colony and still has the Queen of England as the Head of State, we get to have two Christmas messages splashed all over TV during the last week of December.
What with all the goings on during 2001 the Queens message was reasonably nice despite what I am sure she could quite cheerfully have termed as another one of her “Annus Horribilis”! A memorable statement she made even before the ex-princess Diana was killed. I watched this more out of boredom than any particular need and can't really remember any highlights that stood out.
This, of course, is in marked contrast to the fascinating speech made by Canada's own Anus Horrible. It wasn't so much a speech as such, as a long treatise on the reworking of history according to the “Little Guy from Shewinigan”. With special emphasis on just why everyone else was to blame for the supposed lies and blundering that he and his Government are such masters at implementing.
I am of course referring to the Canadian Prime Minister.
In the best manner of His Masters Voice the CBC sent a couple of their anchor people out to do a “fireside chat” with “His Obvious Excellency”, the “No1 Top Dog” and “Head Honcho for as long as he can get away with it” the un-esteemed Jean Chretien.
Having been in power for far too long, he is now at the stage where lying about his lies appears to be par for the course. In fact the best accolade I can give to him is that he would make an excellent African/South American Dictator. In many cases he carries on in a very similar vein anyway. Apparently many a politician in his own party has found his career foundering once the ire of Chretien has been raised! This generally involves the poor dupe not following the dictates of the leader from on high.
Which probably explains why the when you watch the parliamentary proceedings on TV they remind me ever so much of a bunch of trained sheep bleating in unison. When they aren't clapping like seals that is.
So in their best Cliff Saunders style the nodding heads from the CBC questioned the PM. Such wonderfully seeded questions that I was quite nostalgic. Even the obligatory “bad” question was so obviously placed for Chretien to give his version that in the end it was quite comical watching the farce unfolding. If I hadn't been tuned in from the beginning I could almost have been watching a “22 minutes” episode.
The best bit being the comment that doing away with the hated GST was never part of the Liberal Party intention. Even I, a newbie to the country, knew that that was the main platform on which the Liberals won office. It was written in their little Red Book as well. But obviously once you start bending the truth it gets easier and easier each time you say something that is patently absurd. The Canadian populace seems to allow him to get away with it as well. With all the lies, pork barrel politics and general inefficiency that this Government has to its credit I am continually amazed that they haven't been thrown out of office long ago. Even when they are caught out in blatant lies it merely seems to be shrugged off. When the person doing the lying isn't falling back on the tried, trusted but trite “racist” slur that is!
About the only fact that I managed to glean from this traveling snake oil salesman's well rehearsed act was that he is definitely thinking of standing for the Prime Ministers position again. And the real pity is that there is no strong opposition to foil that idea. The Opposition is currently going through another leadership crisis and will shortly be electing a new leader themselves. The strange part of this process being that the current Leader of the Opposition is considering standing again despite his lacklustre performance which ultimately led to the revolt in the party that saw him stand down! Unless they get their act together it is looking increasingly likely that Chretien will attempt to set a few records for length of service.
To be honest Chretien is a very astute politician. With a decided lack of morals which, given his ambitious nature, is a combination that breeds arrogance. Or to be more correct has increased his arrogance. To the extent that he is definitely placing himself in a position to realise some of his ambition.
This week we had a Cabinet shuffle taking place. Supposedly out of the blue but I am willing to bet that he had this in mind for a while and was merely waiting for the right moment.
There has been a bit of a power struggle taking place inside the Liberal Party as to who will take over from Chretien. Frontrunners being Rock, Manley, Martin and Tobin. Tobin was the Newfoundland Premier who vowed that he would stay in Newfoundland to right all the wrongs and promptly resigned to get a cushy job in the inner circle.
Over the weekend Tobin resigned citing personal or family matters. Eyebrows were shooting up all over.
Chretien, ever the wiley politician, sprang into action and shuffled the Cabinet. Once again a strong indication that he really is thinking of a longer time in Parliament than many hoped.
John Manley, who was the only Member of Parliament to come out of the aftermath of September 11th with any sense of dignity, has been made Deputy Prime Minister (and a whole lot of other portfolios as well!) and moves from the Foreign Office. Whether this is to let the PM keep an eye on him remains to be seen but he does become probably the only other contender to Martin in Finance should Chretien get the hint and resign.
Tobin having resigned, the only other contender is Alan Rock. He takes over Tobin's portfolio of Industry. Rock has rather successfully screwed up Justice, and now Health, so heaven knows what he will do to Industry.
Rocks position in Health has been taken by Anne Mclennan who took over Justice from Rock but didn't rectify any of the wrongs he instituted so I don't hold out for much dramatic change here. As Mclennan is from Alberta, and Alberta is currently attempting to move toward a two-tier healthcare system, I believe that her move was more political than anything else.
But perhaps the sneakiest part of the whole shuffle was the way Chretien increased the Ontario consignment of Cabinet members. As most of the Liberal support comes from Ontario this was a wise move. Given that the Province is run, and very successfully I might add, by the Progressive Conservatives this may just be the start in the new fight to regain control. To do this Chretien quietly rid himself of a few of the loose cannons he has had floating around. Two of the most popular “foot in the mouth brigade” to be hoofed were Hedy Fry and Maria Minna. Fry being the “everyone is a racist and they are burning crosses in BC” loudmouth and Minna currently being embroiled in a small case of subversion of the law.
But the one that everyone who is an immigrant, or potential immigrant, was interested in was the demotion of Elinor Caplan. A total disaster as the Minister for Immigration she has been demoted to revenue where no doubt here strident cries of “racist” to everyone and everything that disagreed with her will at last be gagged. Immigration has been taken over by Denis Coderre, which is a move that seems to have been applauded by most.
It remains to be seen whether he can put some sanity back into the ridiculous and porous policy that is currently in place.
So having given himself some breathing space for his ambition, placed the contenders for his position within reach and removed some of the most embarrassing members, Chretien goes into the new year with a new cabinet.
Same tired old policies I'm afraid.
January 14th 2002
It happens to every father sooner or later. At some stage you have to give up ownership of your car and allow your offspring to go out on the roads on their own.
The trouble with that little piece of frightening information is that here in Canada you can get your licence when you are sixteen years old! Which means that as the proud father of one seventeen and one fifteen year old son I am about to go through all the angst and anxiety that this particular stage of life brings with it.
I must admit that I am not quite sure whether it is worry about my son or the car that is uppermost in my mind though. So when the seventeen year old got his G2 licence and was in the category that allows him to drive a car on his own I suddenly went from proud parent to concerned car owner.
Like all parents the first thing I said was “it's not you of course, it is all the other idiots on the road that worry me” which suddenly sounded a hell of a lot like my Father many years ago! Then in a sudden rush of blood to the head I decided that a good Christmas present would be to allow him greater use of the car. Like all good sons he has taken me up on that offer with an alacrity that is alarming. Between the sudden freedom this offers, and a girlfriend, suddenly my nights are taken up with the alert ear syndrome. Which is also why I am aware that he tends to come home at some very early hours in the morning. Considering that this is from girlfriends home that adds a few new grey hairs and worries but that's another story.
So maybe this is a good time to talk about the system here in Ontario.
Ontario has a graded system of licencing when it comes to obtaining your drivers licence. Basically there are three grades. Known as the G series, there is the G1, G2 and then the full G licence. The full cost is in the region of $150. The horrible photos that they take are covered by this cost unfortunately.
The G1 is basically the learners, which like all learners licences allows you only to drive with another fully licenced driver. In addition you aren't allowed to drive at certain times and on highways. There is no need to book for this test. It is a multiple choice written test. You go down to the licensing department, pay your money, get the photo taken and then sit down to write the test. If you have been clever and bought the “official” drivers book then this part of the licence is a breeze. I would warn everyone however that there are some differences between signs and rules here and in South Africa.
Not the least of which is that when you see a blue flashing light in your rearview mirror it is not Konstabel Koos on his way home but a bloody great snow plough and you really should make every effort to get out of its way!
Luckily, thanks to the new road signs that sprung up all over back there, the road signs here are at least familiar.
The G2 is an interim licence designed to integrate you into the formula one type racetrack that is the local highway system, although you still aren't allowed to travel on the 400 series highways. Mind you if anything is designed to scare you off driving forever it would be traveling on the 400 series highways. Unless you have driven in South Africa! In which case you generally have a head start on any other immigrant. Even those from Rome!
This is normally a half hour road test where your ability to manouevre a car is assessed.
Before you even think of taking this and the full G test it is advisable to get a few lessons. They have a very good program here called Young Drivers of Canada. It costs in the region of $300 depending on who you do it through. Most schools have driving schools attached, which allows the youngsters to get proper driving education.
Insurance being very expensive here and mandated by law it is advisable to actually do the driving school course for the simple reason that it decreases the insurance payment. Any young teenage male who doesn't do the lessons is asking for a totally loaded insurance premium and a tough time at the licencing office!
With both the G1 and G2 you are not allowed to have any level of alcohol in your bloodstream while driving. That is only allowed once you have your full G. Probably because you are now allowed on the 400 highways and this is the only way to calm your nerves! Currently there is a huge brawl taking place between MADD and the Safety Council about lowering the limit from 0.08 to 0.05.
Those of you living in South Africa will weep when I tell you that the reason for this is that over the Christmas period there was an increase in drink related incidents. Some minute increase and it mainly involved people stopped at the roadblocks. Seems the warmer weather made the partygoers more adventurous. Despite this there were only about 50 fatalities countrywide. Last time I looked we were talking thousands back in South Africa. Still, they take a very dim view of drinking and driving here so it is advisable to take another form of transport. And seeing as how excellent the public transport system is you have no excuse.
Technically you have five years to get your full G licence. This can be short circuited if you feel that you should be fully licenced straight away, and are prepared to travel and wait a bit. There is a fully automated phone system that you can use to check out licencing departments nearby. I know of quite a few South Africans, myself included, who have gone to outlying towns to do the test. It took me a month to go through the system. I didn't do the G2 as I already had three other licences from overseas. I am not sure whether you can still do this but I do know that if you do not pass the full G then you will have to go back and do the G2 before you can try the G again. I am reliably informed that almost 80% of South Africans who try the G fail it first time, and so it might be advisable to go through the system instead.
There is a difference driving in Canada. The major difference, of course, being driving on the right hand side of the road. It is not easy to adapt when you have been driving on the other side for a long time.
There are lots of little things that you need to pay attention to. Not the least of which is that pedestrian crossings actually mean something here! As does the right of anybody to stick there hand out and walk across the road. You are supposed to slow down or stop! I am aware that a pedestrian walking into the path of a tonnes worth of metal is not a good idea but you are at fault if you are the driver! Oddly enough this is one of the few rules that immigrants seem to learn. At least they learn that they have right of way, not the bit about immoveable objects, which probably accounts for the, to my mind, high incidence of pedestrian fatalities.
The full G licence takes about 45 minutes and includes a drive on at least one major highway. You do all the parking, three-point turning and stopping at the line that is obviously expected when you do the test but seems to be forgotten fairly quickly by the majority of drivers around here. It is a lot more thorough than I expected and they really do pay attention to everything so it is worthwhile doing that brush up with a driving school beforehand.
Lastly there is one rather nice rule here in Canada that I enjoy using whenever I have a relative or friend around. You can turn right on a red light so long as the way is clear. That means both vehicle and pedestrian traffic by the way. It is rather enjoyable to see the reaction when I stop at the lights, check that the way is clear and then proceed on a turn.
I have noticed lately that the mandatory stop seems to be ignored a lot though. Interestingly this was not allowed in Quebec for a long time. I think that it has just been passed as a lawful procedure, which means that most Quebecois can now turn right as well. I say as well because there that appeared to be the only law that they did follow! Normally they followed the Johannesburg school of driving practice.
It's snowing outside again which means that I have another excuse in my armoury when it comes to not lending the car! After all I need to be sure that my son has enough expertise to drive in a snowstorm. I suppose I will have to work on that with him. By the way for any South African newcomer I would suggest that so do you!
January 7th 2002
Sometimes in life, just because you've been dealt a crap hand doesn't mean to say that you have to fold. Despite all the worries about finding new employment, and all that entails, the lifeline that is Employment Insurance kicked in and even though it is far less than I earned, and less than I have to pay in rent and debts, it means I can keep my head above water a little longer. It also meant that this Christmas wasn't as bad as it could have been. Like the first one we had here!
So being a believer that it's the spirit that counts I toddled off to Florence meats here in Oakville (quick unsolicited plug!) and bought a stick of Biltong, sliced it into equal portions, and popped it into the stockings. South Africans will understand the meaning and necessity behind that simple little action. Yes! There are other little gifts you can give, but a stuk of Billies, even a small one, can be the most drool inducing way to an ex-pats heart.
Including the damn cats I might add! Father Christmas settled down with a good Merlot and a favourite book and spent a good portion of the night eying the damn three-footed moggie as it made a valiant effort to pretend that it was mere curiosity that kept it sniffing around! Having already been mauled half to death by attack dogs in South Africa and then transported half way round the world, it was skating on very thin ice as far as the few lives it had left went.
My daughter informs me that she was the one to plant the idea in my head and I suppose from now onwards this will become a tradition in our household. I can see the stories down the line when grandchildren arrive and the new offspring are Canadianised.
“They eat raw meat there! It's the African heritage you realise! Give it for Christmas!!”
Yes my cultural heritage says that I am allowed to indulge in a good piece of raw meat once in a while and judging by the way the biltong was polished off, before the dinner was even prepared and popped in the oven, so are my offspring. I still question the cat's heritage though!
Turns out that my daughter found a little kiosk that was selling sweets and buried in among all the normal British chocolates were a lot of South African ones as well. Stuff that you don't normally see here in Canada. Peppermint Crisps, Tex Bars, Lunch Bars and the like. She added to the “hello! I haven't seen one of those for a long time” atmosphere as well by increasing the loot bags, sorry stockings, with a few different bars.
Having suddenly remembered to do this at three in the morning, she proceeded to stroll downstairs and make a hell of a noise with all the jingly bells on the stockings.
Of course Father Christmas had
passed out, sorry I mean, gone to sleep, on the couch by this time and apparently made some very unseasonal comments at being aroused from his slumbers.
I think it included the cat's heritage as well. Who at this stage appeared to have resigned itself to the fact that whatever smelt that good inside that tube was not meant to be discovered, never mind actually eaten. Well not by it anyway. As such it had decided that Father Christmas was now merely a good source of heated cushioning and was sleeping on my head. Seems the cat wasn't that amused about being woken either. Has anyone else noticed just how much venom a cat can put into that look it gives you when it is annoyed?
Probably something like the look I was giving the TV news commentator the night before when they had an item on how much Canadians spent on Christmas. Seems that on average each Canadian spends about $650. Which is a whacking great amount when you think about it. According to the news the “most generous” people are in Eastern Canada where they spend over $700 on average.
Now you will note I put that quote in commas even though that was how it was reported. I find it pathetically sad that this is how you measure your worth as a good person. By how much you spend. It is something that I have noticed quite often around here. Your value as a human being judged purely on monetary terms. It was the main news headline on most of the channels and it annoyed me immensely. Almost as much as the spokesman for some or other charity complaining that Canadians weren't getting into the “spirit of Christmas” because their charity donations were down this year! Well gee! Maybe all the layoffs may just have a small something to do with that? Or maybe Canadians are just tired of the continuous begging bowls being thrust into their faces. Or maybe the spirit of Christmas isn't actually guilt?
The nicest part of the whole day though was having my whole family together for a change. Although to be truthful my comments about my sons visiting did come to pass.
The older son, who was part of the Rogers downsizing effort and had already lined up another position, but was still available to massacre the turkey. Before he toddled off to stand under his girlfriends' mistletoe that is!
The interesting part of the whole Rogers story being the way they laid off all the people in the Rogers stores around Oakville a week before Christmas. Apparently when it comes to students and part-timers this is the customary North American way. Seems that it stops having to give a bonus and also means that they start the New Year with new people back on the minimum wage scale. Good capitalist practice. And in this case a good labour case as well. But that is another story.
So we enter into a New Year. I, for one, am hoping that this one will be a damn side better than the last one. I hope it is for all of you as well.
My most pressing question at the moment though is whether I have this rush of stupidity again and enter the Polar Bear Dip this year. It is for charity after all. I do have a heart sometimes and doing something ridiculous for a cause appeals to me. I am just not sure whether I have enough blubber saved up from all the over indulgence to insulate me from the temperature!
Ah well we will see.
Happy New Year everyone!