Send Home The Clowns

I made a silent pledge to avoid joining the raucous but divided chorus praising or condemning Don Cherry’s latest outburst of bully-boy belligerence. And decided to break it five minutes later.

When I first heard – and saw – Canada’s most famous clown 17-years ago I was impressed with his grotesque costume and critical, analytical, examination of Canada’s best known team sport and the players engaged at princely sums to play it at least once a week.

But he grew tiresome after a while. His Clown Costumes grew more outrageous; his opinions on individual players, especially those from Sweden, Norway or Finland, became wearying tirades of regret that while they brought some hockey skills with them they lacked the fighting spirit of Canadian born players.

It didn’t matter how skilled the stick-handling, the precise passing at dazzling speed, the shots on goal – if they didn’t show a willingness to “drop the gloves” for an on-ice version of Saturday night bare-knuckle brawling, there was something lacking in their game.

A steady procession of stars from Europe slowly brought a slight change in Cherry’s views on “foreigners” daring to challenge Canadian ownership of the highest skills.

In his long Saturday night reign he was berated for his open, often boorish, belligerent criticism of others but won consistently high TV viewing ratings. Meeting and surpassing the ever  demanding TV gold-standard viewer ratings kept Cherry’s job safe – until his latest outburst about people who do not wear a poppy on Memorial Day, November 11, the day set aside in 1919 to mark the Armistice to end the blood-bath of WW1, the war to end wars.

Simultaneous storms followed Cherry’s condemnation about Canadians who don’t wear a poppy. The first erupted with the charge that Cherry was being racist and attacking new immigrants – a charge Cherry hastily denied. He says he just misspoke a word or two when he meant to say “everybody who doesn’t wear a poppy” should be ashamed.

Within a few hours Cherry was fired and the second storm burst with at last count 110,000 names on a petition screaming “drop the gloves” and demanding he be reinstated immediately. Most protesters charged Cherrry was being punished for exercising our much cherished, often abused, right to free speech. Others – a lot of others – claimed he meant new Canadians, “immigrants” only and was and justified in his criticism.

Cherry chipped in with an offer to apologize: “I think I could have smoothed it over pretty good,” he said – and I believe him as readily as I believe President Donald Trump when he talks before he thinks.

Like Trump Cherry has had a good run with fractured English and limited vocabulary and a petition with 110,000 signatures and still growing in support of “drop the gloves” philosophy is proof of some success. It is also, a little scary, unwarranted and unneeded north of the 49th parallel.

When Dreams Held Promise

It was 4 a.m., Easter Saturday, March 30, 1918. A cold first-light dawn with heavy mist; dull, but promising slow burn-off as the sun rose over Moreuil Wood near Amiens in France.

The already mounted troops of Lord Strathcona’s Horse were waiting for the command to advance and lead the Second Canadian Cavalry in what would be the last major cavalry charge of WWI.

The advance call should have been given as dawn broke, but the only early command had been “move postponed two hours” giving the cavalry men just enough time for what the journals of the day described as “a hot breakfast of bacon and tea.”

Riding with Lord Strathcona’s Horse that day was Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, the young son of a wealthy family of immigrants to western Canada; a teenager seeking relief from severe bouts with pleurisy. He had finally settled in a rapidly growing English community called Walhachin, which in the early 1900s promised to be Canada’s new Camelot.

And it may well have happened had WWI and a local weather disaster not decided otherwise. The war stripped the small but growing community of Walhachin of its manpower when 90 per cent of the males left overnight to fight for king and country. Flowerdew was first among them heading for Calgary, where he joined the Lord Strathconas.

Walhachin began to die from lack of a work force.

The close to final blow to the sweet dream of a second Garden of Eden came in 1918 when a wild storm wrecked the settlement’s irrigation system, and young proud orchards died. And in France many of the young men who built the system perished in the maelstrom of the “last charge.”

Walhachin, 65 km west of Kamloops, still exists. Wikipedia lists its population in 2018 as 31. It even has a small museum.

I wonder what Lieut. Flowerdew, 33, was thinking that far off morning as he rode through the chaos of battle. The official description provides part of an answer: “Lieutenant Flowerdew saw two lines of enemy, each about sixty strong, with machine guns in the centre and flanks; one line being about two hundred yards behind the other … (His) squadron passed over both lines killing many of the enemy with the sword; and wheeling about galloping on them again. Although the squadron had then lost 70 per cent of its members killed and wounded … the enemy broke and retired …”

Amazingly, Flowerdew, found badly wounded lying at the tree line, kept his mind in focus as he was picked up to be carried to safer ground by a “Lieutenant Harrower and a sergeant. As they carried him into the woods, a burst of machine-gun fire struck Harrower in the foot. The still conscious Flowerdew said: ‘You had better get under cover Hammy or they’ll shoot your head off next.’ Four men then took over carrying Flowerdew back to the field ambulance.”

Wartime stories seldom have happy endings. Wounded multiple times in the thighs and chest, Flowerdew died the following day. He was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously and had his approved promotion from Lieutenant to Captain confirmed. The citation reads in part: “There can be no doubt that this officer’s great valour was the prime fact in the capture of the position.”

They say Flowerdew’s charge with Lord Strathcona’s Horse and a few lads from Walhachin marked the beginning of the end for Germany in WW1 – but sadly it didn’t mark the end of war itself..

We have spent decades since Nov 11, 1918, reviewing annually the murder and mayhem of war, praising our heroes, lamenting the destruction of our youth, and the loss of golden dreams. But we don’t seem to make much progress down the paths of peace. Man’s inhumanity to man continues to make countless thousands mourn.

Up on the high plains of British Columbia, Walhachin still dreams of what might have been. In France – in plot I, row H. Grave 1 in Namps-au-Val Cemetery, 11 miles south-east of Amiens and not far from Moreuil Wood lie the remains of Captain Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, VC, who once played polo and cricket and “rode to hounds in Little England”, Walhachin – when dreams held promise.

Where Even Angels Should Walk With Care

We must be careful when, as adults, we abdicate traditional leadership roles on matters of great public concern and welcome children to the forefront of the battle.

My concern is prompted by the explosive arrival on the global warming battlefront of one teenage female named Greta Thunberg. It is historical fact that young women have from time to time over the centuries used family connections, their vocabularies and their access to big money to leap from obscurity to national fame – or beyond – to big-time sensations on the international stage.

Times do not appear to have changed much in recent weeks as we have watched, enthralled, as the instant teenage superstar from Sweden made her dazzling United Nations debut. A short time later, the 16-year-old Ms. Thunberg was in Vancouver, British Columbia, savouring the cheering adulation of a crowd estimated by some at 100,000.

Now comes a dangerous time for this intelligent young woman and her handlers – for never let it be thought she does not have handlers to organize travel between countries and cities and places to sleep and eat. People with money and/or the ability to raise funding for such epic adventures are essential for a 16-year-old or even a 60-year-old. These things happen by design, not luxury.

And, with today’s ever-growing demand for “transparency” when the public donates money to be used for a specific purpose, there’s a need to tell the donors from time to time how much has been collected, and where it has been spent. 

It has never been easy to get new, refreshing thinking into the political orbit, but Joan of Arc did it back in the 1400s – and she’s still listed as a saint although her claims to have conversed on a regular basis with Saints Michael, Catherine and Margaret have long been suspect.

She was 13 when she started talking about her hopes and dreams for her beloved country, France. Though peasant born, she displayed a surprisingly intelligent vocabulary and enjoyed the power of persuasion. At the age of 19, she was the titular head of the French army, but there are many who believe she never did learn to write what she could speak. And she spoke often of the need to drive England from France and end the 100 Year War.

In the sometimes-bewildering mix of fact and legend in ancient history, we are told Joan convinced French political leaders her conversations with dead saints were real, not figments of her imagination.

The Roman Catholic Church gave her it’s blessing and Joan of Arc became commander in chief of the army, but – according to http://www.history.com/news7 – “never actually fought in battle or killed an opponent.” She was the inspiration, carrying a battle flag or ceremonial sword, delivering the dawn of battle exhortation and leaving the tawdry business of finding the money to fight such wars and supplying armies in the field to lesser mortals.

It all came to a mortal end for Joan in 1443 when she was taken prisoner in her final battlefront appearance and was charged with 70 offences in a special English ecclesiastical church court. The charges ranged from sorcery to horse theft but were eventually reduced to 12 – with heavy emphasis on two claims – that Joan liked to wear men’s clothes and that she received messages and instructions directly from God.

And, at the end of the road, there was no eye to pity, no arm to save. The politicians and courtiers she had favoured with her inspiring talk and dreams for her homeland scattered like the ashes of the fire that consumed her.

And to finish where I started: Greta Thunberg’s teammates should tell her to stop waving a finger on camera and snapping like an angry adult with quavering cheek: “Don’t you dare tell me … ”

So, I won’t.

On Being Better Than We Were

Let us be thankful for small mercies as we contemplate our post-election shambles and try to find a way to run our country without a clear mandate from the electorate.

In a way, simple decisions should guide us through the first murky weeks.

Before the final count was in, the incumbent Liberal Party was forecast the winner in the race for seats – but only just. It would be by too small a margin to guarantee the Liberals’ ability to govern without help from other MPs.

Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is well aware he must find ways to survive the trench warfare western parliaments face in a minority situation; so was another young politician, a federal election rookie new to his leadership role of the New Democratic Party.

His name is Jagmeet Singh. After a slow start, he soon commanded attention with meticulously argued policies delivered without rhetorical “to the barricades” bravado.

And, he was on target once a Liberal victory was assured recognizing the need for his party’s life-sustaining assistance any time a serious vote is called in the House of Commons.

Jagmeet Singh and the NDP have a few ideas. They know the Liberals favour a national Pharmacare program, a national affordable housing program, and half a dozen other “people programs” as part of their undertakings on the hustings.

Singh didn’t attack the Liberal promises or suggest they were stolen. He said he felt there was much support for such programs, and that he and the PM could talk about NDP support to enable a minority government to bring overdue programs to the people.

Whether the Liberals accept the NDP support and live long and prosper remains to be seen, but it would not be precedent setting. CCF/NDP leader Tommy Douglas and Liberal PM Lester B. Pearson worked hard to make health care a national priority.

There is no reason why the new kids on the block can’t match that success with Pharmacare and affordable housing.  It’s the way a democracy should work, but rarely does because blind loyalty to party or personal aggrandizement conquers reason.

Shakespeare once defined a politician as “one that would circumvent God,” and in our time of watching the political wheel turn, the great wordsmith has proved himself right.

It will not be as easy to bring “reason” to the debate with Alberta and Saskatchewan, two provinces with legitimate claims that they have been poorly treated by Ottawa. But, solution is possible if both sides can shelve whatever “leverage” they might have in favour of mutual advantage.

Hope springs eternal. I’m hoping the arrival of Jagmeet Singh – ready to listen and articulate support for what he and his party believe – is good for the nation and will lead us into better parliamentary times.

I’ll give way again to Shakespeare with a final line from Hamlet: “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” But we should never stop hoping that what we may be will be better than what we are.

When Tomorrow Comes Too Soon

I hadn’t talked to Gillian Trumper for several years when I heard that she had died on Friday, Oct. 11th, and I was shamed and without excuse.

On countless occasions, I had reminded myself to give her a call “tomorrow.” Always tomorrow. Always. Never today, and ultimately, too late.

It wasn’t that we were great old friends. Just friends bonded by politics and journalism. We crossed paths via Alberni Valley connections where she served on the school board, and as a city council member, as Mayor, and for one term, as MLA. In fact, there were not many locally known committees or commissions Gillian Trump didn’t sit on and serve well.

Whether as the local coroner in a relatively small community where local tragedies quickly became family affairs or exchanging ideas with members of the Federal Advisory Council to the Law Commission of Canada, or chairing an Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District meeting, she made her mark.

There were half-a-dozen other local boards to which she took her personal brand of common sense and goodwill. A gracious lady, tough when she needed to be but high in the possession of the qualities writer Rudyard Kipling once said were required by people who would always stand tall among their fellow citizens.

Actually, when Kipling wrote his famous “IF” poem, he had men only in mind. His last line in the epic poem is “and what is more (if you acquire the attributes I recommend), you’ll be a man my son.” Were he still alive today I’m sure he would have heard from Gillian and others in the growing army of women who could firmly claim membership on his list of people, not just men, who could “keep their head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you … Or being lied about don’t deal in lies … Or being hated don’t give way to hating, and yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise … If you can dream and not make dreams your master; if you can think – and not make thoughts your aim.”

An imposing list that could be intimidating for many, but not to Gillian Trumper. She was always able to walk with crowds and keep her virtue; to talk with Kings but not lose the common touch.

She acquired most of those qualifications from a strong family life in her youth and the added strength of family built with husband Michael and their four children – Owen, Michael, Carolyn and Trish. If the family had an objective rule for problem-solving, it involved heavy doses of common sense. Just common sense quietly spoken, always recommended, never commanded. And mostly with a genuine, face-filled smile.

Already honoured years ago – named Citizen of the Year and granted the rare distinction of being granted Freedom of the City of Port Alberni, there is talk of a more permanent memorial to this lady of quality. I’m sure the suggestion list will be long. Maybe it could include a quiet corner of a smaller, easy-to-reach park where future generations could sit and remember where on Friday, October 11, 2019, in her 83rd year, a remarkable daughter, wife, mother, counsellor, lady, Gillian Trumper, found what poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) simply entitled – REST.

The travelling, the talking of problems and their solutions, is over. The last enemy can no longer pain or threaten. She rests now as Rossetti wrote:

“…..with stillness that is almost Paradise.

Darkness more clear than noonday holdeth her,

Silence more musical than any song;

Even her very heart has ceased to stir:

Until the morning of Eternity

Her rest shall not begin nor end, but be;

And when she wakes she will not think it long.”

And if this small tribute to a friend has prompted you to remember a phone call you should be making or quick note you should be writing – you’d better get on with it. Tomorrow could be too late.

Debate? They Were Joking

A lot of people are asking me what I thought of the televised debate a few nights back. They seemed surprised when I replied I didn’t see or hear the debate although I had tuned to the channel it was supposed to be on. Couldn’t find a debate, though. Just a bunch of guys and a lady trying to talk over each other’s heads and five TV professionals who had obviously spent more time making sure they looked good on camera than they had on preparing to question would-be prime ministers on their political intent.

Anyone interested in Canada’s role in finding solutions to major national problems while assisting the rest of the world to live in peace and harmony internationally must have been profoundly disappointed with the chattering babble the cream of this year’s crop of nation savers had to offer.

Other questions asked by friends, even total strangers, are “who do you think is going to win the election?” and “who are you voting for?” Strange questions to ask in a society where the way an individual marks a ballot is a carefully guarded secret guaranteeing only I and God know the answer.

In a democracy, we are quite determined about the confidentiality of our vote. From the moment we step into the precinct of a voting station to the moment we leave, we are protected from interference from forces that would bend us to their will.

And yet, there are few among us who have not asked a friend, neighbour, or the person sitting next to us on the bus, how they perceive events on the campaign trail and which party they might favour to win the right to govern. In ambitious conversation mode, we might even venture a thought on how we will be voting thus negating all the efforts to keep our vote secret.

These pre-vote days are particularly hazardous for pundits who are expected to guide but should avoid too strong persuasion. Having discovered long ago the perils of trying to steer readers to sensible choices of candidates and parties, I now avoid the arrogant temptation.

I have told before the story of my disastrous attempt to tell voters how they should vote, but it bears repeating. It involved a fellow named Charles Oliver, son of former BC Premier “Honest” John Oliver, the premier who planted the magnificent Copper Beech tree at the rear of the Legislature.

Charles, or “Charlie” as he was fondly known, was Reeve of Penticton from 1931-35 and Mayor from 1957-61. He was a little eccentric and not above arbitrarily adjourning council meetings if decisions were not going his way. I think it was in the civic election of 1959 that Penticton Herald publisher Grev Rowland and yours truly, editor and wielder of the Herald’s mighty 6,000 daily reader editorial sword, decided the city couldn’t stand another two or three years of Charlie.

On voting day, we ran a thundering front-page editorial about vaudeville being dead and telling readers it was time to end “this sorry circus of civic administration.” Our readers’ response to the imperious command that Charlie be dumped was dramatic. When the final count was in on that lesson-learning night, Charlie Oliver had surpassed his closest rival by a three to one vote margin.

So much for the power of the press.

My scars still itch during election campaigns. The temptation is there not just to tell you to vote but suggest how you should. These days, I just scratch the itch and urge only that you vote in good conscience; thoughtfully, proudly, for a cause or candidate in which you can believe. And if your chosen cause or candidate should fail to grasp the brass ring, take comfort in the fact that when things go wrong in Ottawa – as they surely will on occasion – you will be able to say “now you know why I voted” for another candidate.

There are a few things we can be sure of when we select new governments. Whether we elect a minority government or a majority government, and whatever the political stripe, we shall send to Ottawa a majority of good men and women dedicated to public service.

Think about it. It’s a true and comforting fact. Be proud you’re able to participate. Don’t be too righteous, too angry, or too sure your way is the only way. And remember, you don’t have to tell anyone how you intend to vote – not even those nice, polite pollsters who make a decent living selling your answers.

Turn The Page, But It Won’t Go Away

BC Premier John Horgan dazzled the poli-watchers of the world Thursday with a crisp statement on the latest happening in British Columbia’s long-playing saga involving public servants and public cash.

The “latest” happening at the time of this writing was the decision of Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz to formally resign from his prestigious position because “I no longer believe that I can continue to work for the legislative assembly of British Columbia. After considerable reflection, I have concluded that the damage that has been done to my reputation will never be fully repaired and that if I continued as sergeant-at-arms, I would be doing disservice to my office.”

And as far as Premier Horgan is concerned that little announcement signals “a turning of the page”  – or pages outlining Lenz’s involvement in a messy story of questionable expense accounts.

Time for a deep breath here and a quick remembrance of the events of a few months ago that led to accusations of wrongdoing by highly-placed public servants, the dramatic removal from the Legislature of two – the powerful Clerk of the Assembly Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Lenz. Both were suspended from their duties “with pay.”

It would be fair to say in BC the spring months of 2019 were tumultuous.

Special crown prosecutors were appointed; the RCMP acknowledged it had been asked to take a look. Clerk James, still strongly protesting he had simply followed the rules, resigned as Clerk after former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley McLachlin, reviewed allegations of improperly claimed expenses.

In her opinion, James had wrongfully claimed benefits, but Lenz was cleared of misconduct charges. Lenz continued his suspension with full pay until a few days ago when he said he would finally step aside “with sincere regret … I have carried out my duties for the people of British Columbia with the utmost integrity …”

And Premier Horgan, with what sounded like a sigh of relief, told Canadian Press that with the departure of Lenz, “I absolutely hope that we are turning a page.”

Yes, yes, indeed, and so do we all. But I think we need a little more clarification. Former Chief Justice McLachlin suggested Lenz did not engage in misconduct. Does that mean Premier Horgan would like to hurriedly “turn the page” on Lenz forced from office by unproven charges?

Or does it mean there are other shoes to drop from special prosecutors or the RCMP? Should there be, I think we need to see them quickly now, and to act on them. If there has been misconduct, then let those who engaged in it be now held accountable.

McLachlin’s first opinion that Lenz did not participate in inappropriate spending was based on a report of concerns made by Speaker Darryl Plecas last January.

Premier Horgan told Canadian Press the search for a new clerk of the house is continuing. “This past year has been a cloud over the heads of many, many people who did not deserve that. So, I am hopeful that we can turn the page.”

I’m not sure who the “many, many people” are over whom the black cloud of disgrace has hovered falsely, but if Gary Lenz is one of them and he can prove his lengthy suspension was tantamount to wrongful dismissal – we’ll need a new tax to raise the compensation funds to pay him.

One thing is for sure: Premier Horgan may wish the James-Lenz pages could be turned and lost but the taxpayers would like to see the play to the final curtain.

And I’m sure that with patience, we shall.

A Dream They Made Come True

In the final stages, it didn’t take long. Just a kindly request from a son to his dad, an easy response from the old man, and a meeting with a group of teenagers with an old dream of a new rugby team.

But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds.

The teenagers had played rugby together for a couple of years with two high school championships under their belts in the name of Mount Douglas High. When not playing for the mountain men, they were the heart of a James Bay Athletic junior squad; fit, well trained, but unhappy playing what they called “pack rugby.” They were looking for a more open game with good hands, speed, and intelligent running as its main features.

They frequently met to discuss their dreams. Then, early in 1969, they called a “final decision” meeting – this time with a potential coach attending. I was asked to attend and “maybe offer some advice.” No harm in that, I thought, as son Mark and I strolled down Gordon Head Road to the home of another young rebel “to hammer out a few details.”

Two or three hours later when we strolled home, I was the president of an as yet unrecognized rugby club. And, not at all sure as to how that had happened, or in full understanding of what it meant.

Half-a-dozen players, one innocent father, and a potential coach Gordie Hemmingway were present at that 1969 meeting in a house on Gordon Head Road close to the Cedar Hill X Road intersection. The agenda included asking Gordie to commit formally to coaching the new team. “No problem,” he said but quickly added, with expletives deleted, that a few things needed to be done before he could agree to what was being asked.

Like what?

Well, a team name would help, as would a field to play on. Team colours would need to be decided and provided, a few games balls would be required, a well-equipped medical chest was essential, “and,” he said, “you’ll need a president to make the official application to be recognized and accepted in the league.”

It was then that son Mark smiled at me and said with seductive confidence: “You could do that, couldn’t you, Dad?” The other players chorused “that would be great!” and the trap was sprung. I had been a round-baller – a soccer player all my life now, suddenly, I was the president of a rugby club without a name, a home field, team strip, game balls or an essential well-stocked medical kit. And and no money.

A team name came first. Several had been tossed around at earlier meetings and Velox – Latin for speed – emerged as a favourite. It appealed to Gordie, probably because it had a familiar ring to Vindex, the team of his youth. Gordie had played for Vindex in Vancouver in his teens and with them had won three consecutive championships between 1951 and 1954. It was during those glory years that he played against the vaunted New Zealand All Blacks and scored a never-to-be-forgotten try. Google translates Vindex as “avenger” or “champion.” It was later made evident that Gordie played and coached Vindex style.

Latin student Susan Mayse confirmed Velox translates to “speed,” but suggested it would sound stronger if incorporated in a motto. I remember Gordie asking what the motto might be and think it was Jackie Clarkson who answered: “Velox Omnia Vincit – Speed Conquers All.” It was obviously thought best that no mention be made to Gordie of the feminine input. There was what the best of clichés describes as a pregnant pause before Gordie barked: “Speed conquers all! Okay! But just remember, first you need the (expletive deleted) ball.”

As the meeting was breaking up, I asked Gordie if he had any advice for his rookie president. “Yeah, stay out of the (expletive repeated) coaching. That’s my job. You just get the club everything it needs. The medical kit is important – and don’t forget corner flags.”

Sounds silly, but it was typical Hemmingway. His English vocabulary was basic, his rugby knowledge voluminous – and when it came to the game, he commanded attention to detail.

And so, we began.

The first game balls (first practice balls were player owned) were donated by Victoria lawyer Ian Stuart. Cash for the first uniforms – they were fragile black T-shirts, good for maybe two or three games because we couldn’t afford real rugby shirts – came from the players or their parents and friends who looked with kind amusement on my pathetic fund-raising efforts but never failed to respond. The “medicine chest” was thing of envy among other clubs. Donated by the late Mike Griffin and stocked with everything thinkable. And, the first corner and other sideline flags were of sturdy timber – not the slender wand-like markers of today.

Our home field was at Lambrick Park – then an emerging Saanich park, with the old Lambrick Farm residence park headquarters and the original cow barn which became dressing rooms for both our team and visiting teams. There were no showers that first season of 1969-70. We were not a pleasant fixture for visiting teams and, to be honest, the most loyal Velox players didn’t enjoy the wet times when the east-west slope of the field left a two-inch deep pool of water in one corner and the muddy slop of a baseball base path in the other.

We almost lost Tommy Carson one Saturday afternoon when he was swarmed and buried, facedown, in “the swamp.” A true story and far from laughable at the time.

On practice nights, those of us who could afford the gas lined our cars on one side of the field with headlights on high beam. I can proudly claim to have attended every practice for the first and second season, but cheerfully admit that for most of both seasons, I was wearing winter clothes with a flask of hot scotch not far away. And I sat in the car a lot.

I can’t remember when we finally got real change rooms and showers at Lambrick, but I can remember the joyous celebration when they were finally available. We were proud to be able to send visiting teams home clean.

And that’s the way – as I recall – it all started. Just the first few bricks in a fragile foundation which others have more than strengthened and continue to build on. I am proud to have been the first, but salute and thank those who followed: presidents, captains, players, coaches and those who never took the field of play but worked, and still work, to keep strong and alive the dreams of new generations.

Last Saturday – September 21 to be precise –the old Velox, now the Westshore RFC Velox Valhallians played host to a dozen or so members of the first ever Velox XV. A 50th Birthday celebration-reunion.

The youngest in the group was in his 60s; the oldest pushing 75. Among them retired school teachers, retired principals, retired lawyers, land surveyors’, construction company owners and a senior vice president of McDonald’s who began his career with the Golden Arches on Shelbourne Street and ended it with the negotiating team that took McDonald’s into Russia.

As I listened to their lively conversations and laughter at remembrances of triumphs and disasters 50 years ago, I realized how fortunate I had been to know them back then and how I still treasure their friendship today.

I have written before and repeat with sincerity: They taught me more about loyalty and sharing praise and blame than I ever taught them. And it was great to feel accepted by a group of successful old men I first knew as a bunch of teenagers with a dream they made come true.

Don’t Panic -You Are Not Alone

There’s an old saying in politics that the best way to lead is to find out which way the people’s parade band is marching – then rush to the front to lead the parade.

So, my general advice as we stumble from the starter’s gate for a fast clip around the track to an October day of decision is to watch your local jockeys and ignore, as much as you possibly can, the glamour-seeking leaders who have not yet decided which way the people are marching.

It must be 30 or more years since I first offered readers the general election principle of my much-admired commentator on matters of importance, Dr. Laurence J. Peter. And, I don’t think I’ve missed many elections – municipal, provincial or the big-tent federal – without at least one reminder from Dr. Peter that: “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time – and that’s good enough to win election.”

A sad comment, but a true one, and fostered to a large degree by “The Press” which includes everyone from die-hard supporters of Gutenberg and print to the never-ending talking heads of CNN. We all seem to get a little silly come election year, and we started early this time with our prime minister openly confessing he had played his favourite game of photo-op a few times without considering down-side complications. Said he didn’t think it untoward at the time to change natural facial colours to a darker hue for theatrical reasons, but could understand today’s critical comments and courteously apologized for bad behaviour. Damage control? Maybe a bit late for that. Who knows what his un-countable famous “selfy” shots might reveal.

Maybe, as we get a little deeper into the campaign, we shall see emerging some old Canadian stature, the kind of political thinking we were proud to advance in the early days of the United Nations when Canadian peacekeepers were sought by troubled nations. I’m not sure just where we lost our stature on the world stage, but lose it we did – abroad and at home – when Lester B. Pearson retired.

Our last BCprovincial election ran on high promise from incumbent Liberals; hungry for power New Democrats, and the Greens ready to scavenge for any crumbs that fell from richer tables.”

It ended in shambles with a Lieutenant Governor’s decision required to declare the NDP winners and made so by the surprise Greens winning three seats and swinging them behind the NDP on all crucial votes.

A few days ago, Israel voted itself into a similar position with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz’s Centrist Party lacking enough seats to govern. At the time of this writing, Netanyahu has suggested Gantz bury old enmities and join him to govern. Gantz has said he couldn’t serve with Netanyahu as P.M.

And then there’s Brexit and Britain. Great Britain was once regarded as the most powerful naval force in the world with a powerful army to enforce gunboat diplomacy wherever it was required in an empire on which the sun never set. Until a couple of years ago, the UK remained one of the most stable nations in the world, despite an undercurrent of concern about membership in the European Market. The younger generation loved the freedom of movement, place of residence and ease of marketing that membership brought.

Many seniors thought old England was being swallowed by dark forces in old Europe. The Conservative government in power asked the people which way they wanted to march and seniors answered “out” and disaster followed proving once again that wise humans are not always right, nor do the aged always understand the best course in life to follow.

In the next few weeks, all party leaders in Canada will – I hope – be climbing out of the gutter they have jumped in early and telling us clearly what their plans are to make life a little better, a little more secure. Listen to them via their local candidate but think hard before voting, while taking small comfort from the truth of another Doctor Peter law: “Today if you are not confused, you’re just not thinking clearly.”

In An Age Of Illusion

If the organizers calling for a general strike on Sept. 20 in Great Britain’s disunited kingdom succeed, it will be the first total shutdown since 1926.

The strike back then was an attempt to force the government of the day to halt a series of wage cuts in major industries, with particular emphasis on coal miners’ wages which had been chopped as much as 50 per cent.

The 1926 General Strike lasted nine days. The strike being called for next week appears to be targeting a one day only shutdown to emphasize the need for stronger government action in the battle for climate change. With a new government awaiting the October blessings of the voters, it could be sometime before even the strongest of “directives” from the people will bring immediate, favourable, reaction – or any reaction at all.

Governments function today in an uneasy world, vexed by bellicose vanity in the USA and the once United Kingdom. Both are troubled “empires” with the States slipping a little more each day from its once proud position as a world leader.

The UK, alas, gave away her right to world leadership in those fateful years after WW1 when she was too busy fighting wars she couldn’t afford and losing rich markets she needed to pay her bills.

In his incredible history of the 1920-30s, The Age of Illusion author Robert Blythe describes the UK a mere eight or nine years after the war to end wars terminated. Britain was getting ready to bring one “unknown warrior” home for ceremonial re-burial. He would be “classless, nameless, rankless and ageless … the silent ambassador of the legion dead to the courts of the living.”

Of the men who did make it home, some were unharmed, but many were changed mentally. They no longer believed that blind obedience to obviously bad policy was essential. Sometimes they rebelled with cause; and sometimes without.

England was not a happy place in the 1920’s: “In France, the battlefields were being tidied up … Scarcely any of the millions of victims had been brought home, and most of them lay shallow beneath the soil. The trenches were filled in, and the grim shell-pollarded trees were leveled. At home the national economy began to shrink … and wages shriveled up accordingly. Between 1919 and 1920 there were upwards of 2,000 strikes. As the second anniversary of the war drew near a moral and material shabbiness enveloped everything.”

Important happenings slide between the words as we remember that for every one of the millions lying in shallow soil, there was a mother, wife, lover, or special friend wondering how it happened and asking why?

It is difficult to believe today that in the 1920s, stately diplomatic Britain had at least one cabinet minister noisily displaying Trump-Johnson tendencies and surviving the most outrageous racist public outbursts.

His name was Sir William Joynson-Hicks (cct) with a nickname of Jix. He held several cabinet posts before being appointed Home Secretary, which he delightedly told the world gave him more power than the prime minister. Jews were a favourite public target, and he didn’t hesitate to voice his derision upfront and personal. Invited to address the distinguished Maccabee Society, he let fly with what Blythe describes as “incredible insensitivity and insolence.”

And, like our latter-day careless babblers, he ignored all criticism, says Blythe. “He never took notice. The bubble of complacency in which his ego floated protected his nerve centres from criticism.”

Referring to a recent election, Jix said: “I could say that Jews were delightful opponents, that I am very pleased to receive the opposition of the Jewish community, and that I am, in spite of it all, your humble and obedient servant. I could say that, but it wouldn’t be true in the slightest degree. I have beaten you thoroughly and soundly, and I am no longer your servant.”

Boris and Donnie, please, take note.

(I have had my edition of The Age of Illusion for years. Still find it a pleasure to pick up, open at any chapter heading from A Great Day at Westminster Abbey to The Destruction of Neville Chamberlain and never cease to marvel. Wish I could write like that. If you can’t track a copy down locally you can try The Folio Society Ltd, 44 Eagle Street, London, WC 1R 4FS or www.foliosociety.com)