Month: May 2014

Just questions, no answers

Just questions, no answers:

Why is the provincial government so reluctant to end the CRD sewage disposal debate when it was its intervention in 2007 that led to the present chaotic impasse?

Why does the general public subscribe to the view that the present disposal system is environmentally unsound, dangerous and shameful when every scientific and engineering study and every public health doctor since the 1970’s has said – and still say – the opposite?

Why is the BC Teachers Federation shy about giving us the details about the full benefits of a teacher’s pay cheque? Not just the take home pay but health benefits, time off for sickness, holiday pay – the bundle?

What kind of message does the BCTF send to the public when it orders its members not to volunteer for extra-curricular services?

Just asking.


Always say thank you while there’s time

I had three granddads when I was a young lad, two by the obvious bloodlines of my mother and father, although I never knew my father’s father. My third granddad was “adopted”.

Dad’s family was based in West Hartlepool, on England’s northwest coast and as remote as the far side of moon during the 1930’s when the great depression held the world in its frightening grip. Travel beyond distances a family could walk was not an option, and by the time the depression rolled into WW2 the Hartlepool granddad had gone beyond recall.

Coming “off the bench” as it were was a quiet, slightly rotund but remarkably fit and always jolly “grandfather” by proxy. He was the father of George Noon who had married my mother’s younger sister Emily.

Uncle George ran a small corner store near where I lived. By small I mean – very small. The front room of the house was “the store.” A bay window sported candy and canned goods. A small stall outside offered a modest variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. Customers could find basic needs – cigarettes, bacon, eggs, milk, cheese and butter inside where in summer a “cool cupboard” housed the perishables.

At the rear of the house was a long garden converted into a dog run; at its foot was the “coal yard” where coal was sold by the bucket or the 100 – weight sack on Saturday. Customers could opt for “take away” in their own wheel barrows or for a few extra pennies “home delivery.”

Granddad Noon (I never knew him by any other name) was in charge of the coal yard. He weighed the orders, I was the delivery boy with a four-wheel barrow capable of holding two one hundred weight sacks.

During the week Granddad Noon worked in the boiler room at Courtaulds’ factory in Coventry. On Saturday we ran the coal yard from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm when the store and the yard closed. I earned two shillings with a six pence bonus if it had been a particularly busy day rattling around the neighbourhood.

During summer holiday’s when coal orders were at a minimum and delivery could be handled late in the afternoon Granddad would suggest we take Aunt Pem’s (how Emily became “Pem” I’ve no idea) pedigree cocker spaniels for a walk. And off we’d go, Boy Blue of Beacons-Thorpe  (Boy) straining at his leash, Dainty Lady Elena (Kit),trotting lady-like by our side heading for the wide open spaces of Weddington Meadows and beyond.

It was on those walks that Granddad Noon taught me to always hike with a sandwich and a small bottle of water in your pocket, and how to make a quick lean-to in a hedge if it rained. And I can still remember one day when the skies opened up and in no time at all we were tucked safely in a hedgerow “cave” in the dry with the dogs at our feet – all four sharing bread and cheese Granddad Noon had fished from  his jacket before it became part of the shelter roof.

Aunt Pem claimed ownership of the dogs but I suspect Granddad Noon put up of the money to buy them. When Boy won first prize in a local dog show Granddad was working night shift. With no phones, smart or otherwise, a neighbour was prevailed on to ride his motor bike to Coventry with me on the pillion clinging in mortal fear that I might lose the winner’s rosette and certificate of victory, proof positive that Boy Blue was a winner. Granddad was called from the bowels of Courtaulds, wouldn’t touch rosette or certificate because his hands were dirty – but the wide and joyful grin as I held them for him to see, lit the yard.

He retired shortly after and spent many summer days on cheap rail day trips to seaside resorts. He would get up early. Wander over to the railway station and take the first  train heading for Blackpool, Rhyl, Llandudno, Skegness, Colwyn Bay or any other coastal town within a two hour train ride. After his day on the beach he’d catch a train back home usually arriving in time for the evening meal. If he was late a worried Aunt Pem and Uncle George would chide him for causing them concern and he would smile and continue his independent ways.

What about my other real Granddad, my mother’s father? Ah, that would be Jimmy Startin, a story for another day.  Like Granddad Noon he also taught me a great deal about integrity, work, kindness, independence and the joy of living.

And they had both moved on before I was old enough to understand and say thank you.


It’s easier to confirm prejudice than contradict it

A sparkling example of analytical writing in the local newspaper last Thursday by Bob Plecas, a retired bureaucrat with a penchant for critical thinking.

He was waxing eloquently and accurately on bleeding-heart community leaders from mayors to police chiefs to unthinking citizens “bleating over the closure of the youth jail” in Victoria. The main complaint of those crying foul is that juveniles under arrest or sentenced to  prison  will soon have to spend at least one night in a greater Victoria adult cell block before being shipped for longer detention to a Prince George or Burnaby juveniles-only facility.

A sad case of affairs indeed and at first glance worthy of every shout of protest – until Plecas turns on the cold water shower of reality. He asks what communities living beyond the boundaries of Greater Victoria have in common from Port Alberni to Port Hardy, from Kamloops through the Okanagan going south and to the coast going west?

They all have juveniles who misbehave and find themselves in trouble with the law. And none of them have youth jails. Greater Victoria protesters apparently think it okay for juveniles up-Island, or from villages, towns and cities in the Interior to spend a night or two in their local community lock-up – but that Greater Victoria “juveniles” should be spared such harsh treatment.

Plecas ended his piece with a plea to knee-jerk Greater Victoria protesters to temper their “sense of moral superiority with common sense.” I wish him well in that particular dream but fear the majority of people living in Lotus Land have lived and fostered their feeling of entitlement far too long to give it up now.

It would be nice if every community could have a juvenile detention facility, nice but ridiculous to expect. The chattering classes in Greater Victoria seem unaware they are demanding continuation of a social service other communities have long learned to live without.

Or maybe they are aware but think “we live in the Capital city so rate more comforts than folks up-country.” Our daily newspapers appear to agree that capital city dwellers are “entitled” when they rush, as they did on the juvenile detention centre closure, to join the unthinking babble of selfish protest.

Makes me think Alexander Cockburn was right when he wrote back in 1974: “The first law of journalism – (is) to confirm existing prejudice rather than contradict it.”

Gently, without anger, as we walk the path of reconciliation

It’s great to see, one by one, organizations capable of making great contributions are coming on board as we try to resolve the sins thrust on us by our grandparents and parents. But we must progress gently lest we moderns with our 20/20 hindsight, in haste to find forgiveness for past evils, create new tragedy to replace the old.

High on the agenda for educators of all stripes is the creation of a school curriculum tailored to the learning of all student ages from Grade 1 to 12. They are responding to the appeal of Justice Murray Sinclair, chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to every province and territory in Canada “to change the way they teach about aboriginal people to ensure all children going into public schools learn” the facts of what happened to aboriginal children a century or more ago.

That sounds like a simple, straight forward request and one easy to meet. But it is far from simple, the lessons far from easy to teach.

In the interim report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission there are a couple of paragraphs clearly marking past classroom omissions as the hazards that lie ahead:

In the past the report emphasized  – “Canadians have been denied a full and proper education as to the nature of Aboriginal societies and the history of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.

“Canadians generally have been led to believe – by what has been taught and not taught in schools – that Aboriginal people were and are uncivilized, primitive, and inferior, and continue to need to be civilized. Canadians have been denied a full and proper education as to the nature of Aboriginal societies. They have not been well informed about the nature of the relationship that was established originally between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples and the way that relationship has been shaped over time by colonialism and racism.

“This lack of education and misinformation has led to misunderstanding and, in some cases, hostility between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians on matters of importance.”

That’s a nice way of saying that whatever we teach our children from this day forward there’s an even greater task at hand in undoing what their parents learned in their poorly educated youth. And have failed to grasp in adulthood.

We must hope that our politicians, our teachers who sometimes forget their primary roles, and we the people who all too often adopt biased, superior, positions toward people of different racial background or religious beliefs, can solve this one without “hostility between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.”

It may all start in the classroom, but it needs strong support in the family kitchen at breakfast, and in late evening pre-bedtime calm as we edge toward reconciliation.

We can live in hope that future generations will move into adulthood with a better understanding and appreciation of other races, other cultures – especially those who were, and remain, the true founding fathers of Canada.

Who knows, maybe our better educated children will able to persuade some older folk that truth and reconciliation really can be found if we sincerely seek them, in truth, without anger, and certainly without ingrained but unfounded prejudice.

A step towards reconciliation, but we still await the truth

Glad to see the apology to Canadians of Chinese origin for the treatment afforded their ancestors so many years ago when the fear of “the yellow peril” was at its height in British Columbia.

Not that I think spoken apologies are worth much; and not that I feel Chinese immigrants, so harshly treated a hundred years ago with crippling head taxes and brutal working conditions, deserve a priority position on the apology list.

Much has been made of the years of feeding frenzy in “penny dreadful” newspapers as they reported on the tribulations of Chinese immigrants with ever wilder, blatant, racist rhetoric. One local columnist even offered an apology for the shameful, hateful, bias of long dead scribes as though they were the first and only news reporters to forget the basic tenets of their trade which is to report facts and only facts. Today’s reporters show the same forgetfulness as they weave editorial comment into their “only the facts stories.”And editors permit it.

Certainly the conduct of reporters and editors a hundred years ago was shameful but only because, as so much reporting by many of our supposedly enlightened 21st century journalists does today, their language reflected what was being said in public and echoed by politicians. The belief was firm on the street, in parliaments and in newsrooms that the white man was a supreme being and the Chinese were a threat to the gospel of manifest destiny.

Politicians, federal and provincial, waited – as they still wait today – to hear what the electorate was shouting, then rushed to the head of the mob to be its leader. Then together politicians and press fed off each other in the attempt to crush their self created imaginary monster – the yellow peril which existed only in their over-zealous imaginations.

Chinese immigrants are not the only, or even primary, example of politicians and press forming an unholy alliance to crush what they perceive as a threat to white supremacy. At the top of the list from coast to coast in Canada are our native people who have yet to receive adequate answers or understanding for the way they were robbed of the country they had owned by inheritance for centuries. Owned until white discoverers quickly became aware land and newly discovered rich resources were owned by an easy to exploit native population.

When the natives grew restless as their once inherited lands were taken from them, government federal and provincial decided to bring them to heel by forcing them to accept a new, Christian, civilized way of life.

The procedure would be simple. Native children would be taken from their parents and placed in boarding schools where they would be “educated” to white man’s standards and over a few generations assimilated into the general population. To make sure everything was done properly, leading Christian organizations were asked to run the newly formed residential schools.

The press in general supported the idea, or remained silent until the shocking revelations in recent years of that failed attempt to destroy an ancient culture. The sordid stories of rape, brutality, cruelty beyond belief, and even murder, all great circulation boosters, eventually became  headline material without the need for exaggerated language.

In 1998 the federal government acknowledged Ottawa had played the lead role in establishing residential schools and issued a “Statement of Reconciliation”. It hoped to close the book on the matter by saying:”To  those of you who suffered this tragedy at residential schools we are truly sorry.”

In  May 2006 Ottawa approved a final Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement which included funding of $60 million over five years to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It recently completed its hearings during which it heard the testimony of several thousand former residential school victims – but for unknown reasons did not call for questioning any perpetrators of the evils reported.

In 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a ”full apology” to the victims of “this sad chapter in our history” during which over 150.000 Aboriginal children “were separated from their families and their communities.”  The target for the 132 schools scattered across Canada was “to kill the Indian in the child.”

An estimated 80,000 survived that bid and while saying sorry to them with a handful of compensation dollars maybe a conciliatory step, it shouldn’t be enough. The victims – and the rest of us – need full disclosure from the Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian and United Churches as to what they were thinking and how they let it happen.

I think that’s what Truth and Reconciliation should mean. So far we’ve only got half the story.


[Edited for minor typos at 2215hrs on May 21, 2014]

A white pinafore apron for special occasions

Memories are strange. They can lie hidden in some remote storage locker in the brain, forgotten for decades until a word spoken, read or written sparks them back to life as real as if they happened yesterday.

It happened to me a few days ago while assembling my late Mothers’ Day offering.  I mentioned my mother wearing a starched white pinafore apron to protect her best dress from tidying-up stains before marching us all – except dad – to church for Mothering Sunday which preceded Mothers’ Day by a few hundred years.

“Her best dress” may have left the impression that she had a wardrobe full of dresses to choose from. Alas, I was writing about Mothering Sunday in the 1930’s, the middle years of the great depression. A time when mothers, fathers and their offspring had one “Sunday best” set of clothes for weddings, funerals or church on Sundays.

It’s the reason – or excuse – dad had for not accompanying us to Church. His wife, two sons and a daughter had “best clothes”; dad had only the working clothes he tramped the streets in from Monday to Saturday looking for work – or working his garden patch to keep us in fresh vegetables.

He preferred a couple of Sunday hours in The Wheatsheaf Pub where a penny or two would bring him more realistic comfort than a St Mary’s Church High Anglican sermon.

Mother’s best dress may well have been several years out of style on Mothering Sunday, but the white pinafore apron protecting it was bang on, always in fashion on days of celebration.

Christmas Eve carol service, Easter, birthdays, baptisms, weddings, all the special days in our family life marked by a carefully preserved dress – and the always immaculate white pinafore apron. The last time I saw my mother wearing her special event attire was in June, 1948.

My first wife Joyce and our 18 month old son Stephen, en route to our new life in Canada, had stayed overnight with mum and dad. Dinner had been solemn but happy, breakfast a very quiet affair. Mother was wearing her best dress – and her special occasion white pinafore apron.

A taxi arrived to take us to Trent Valley railway station and the train to Southampton where we would board the Cunard’s Aquitania for the voyage to Pier 21, Halifax. It was a warm day, sultry, with threatening thunder rumbling. As the taxi swung from Bottrill Street onto Manor Road I looked back. Mother was on the doorstep of Number 19, her white pinafore apron clear and proud as she waved goodbye on this, for us all, most special occasion.

It was the last time I saw her.

She had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer two weeks earlier but had forbidden anyone to tell me about it. Nothing was to spoil the day her sole surviving son achieved what she had so long urged him to do – break free from life on the edge of the Black Country to take up a new life in Canada.

Little more than a year later she was “gone far away into the silent land” and I walked down to Ogden Point and shed a lonely tear for a wonderful friend and mother – and her white pinafore apron for special occasions.

Before Mother’s Day

No! No! No! I would never forget Mother’s Day even  though I never heard of such an event until I came to Canada in 1948. Below the 49th parallel Mother’s Day was 34 years old by then with the second Sunday in May declared a national day to honour mother’s by USA President Woodrow Wilson in 1914.

Where I grew up in the middle of England we had paid the same tribute to those who brought us into the worldand nurtured us through childhood and beyond since at least the 16th Century. But we called it Mothering Sunday and celebrated the event on the fourth Sunday of Lent which falls three weeks before Easter Sunday in late March or early April each year.

Although Mothering Sunday had been around since medieval times it had fallen from pre-eminence by the early 1900’s. It was still on the Anglican Church calendar but over-shadowed by Lent and Easter celebrations until Constance Smith, a High Anglican activist, read of the successful efforts of one Anna Jarvis to win presidential approval to create a Mother’s Day in the States.

It’s worthy of note that neither lady ever became a mother but both were determined motherhood deserved high and solemn recognition. It is not without significance that Mother’s Day in the USA and the resurgence of Mothering Sunday in the UK were fuelled by battlefield slaughters of WW 1 with millions of mothers bearing the grief for lost sons and sometimes daughters.

Governments and churchgoers throughout what was then the British Empire, the United States of America and much of Europe sought to comfort them with hymns and prayer. When I became old enough to raise my angelic boy soprano with St. Mary’s Church choir Mothering Day was a solemn occasion. Not sad. Solemn – a day of tribute and praise to Motherhood.

I don’t remember ever buying a Mother’s Day gift for my mother. I do remember being scrubbed cleaner than clean for the church services and my mother wearing her best dress – and a special day crisp white pinafore to protect it during final chores before service. We gave thanks, not presents.

Such simplicity vanished long ago. Started to vanish, in fact, within a few years on Mother’s Day being instituted. Ms. Jarvis, the woman responsible for its creation in the US, rejected the growing commercialism of what she had wanted to be – as Mothering Sunday had once been – a day of sincere thanks and praise with the presentation of small gifts of cake or bread. In her later years she is said to have referred disparagingly to the day as “ Hallmark Sunday” and said of people who sent their mother’s pre-printed cards: “ A printed card means nothing – except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone else in the world.”

And that’s the way it was back when Mother’s Day began as Mothering Day, and again when it was revived in the 1900’s. Not necessarily better than today’s celebrations but maybe a little more thoughtful and  without the cash register ring.

It’s only a matter of time

That’s what the last line of a recent letter to the editor of a local newspaper claimed a few days ago when expressing concern about the shortage of registered nurses in BC hospitals:”It is only a matter of time before there is a major crisis….”

It would be easy to dismiss the lament as just another complaint by a disgruntled nurse or nurse sympathizer. Easy, but unwise. As a recent short-term guest of Victoria General my 36-hour stay from operating theatre to “you can go home now” hardly qualifies me as an expert on major hospital staffing requirements. But it was long enough to give me a brief inside look at the pressures faced by those from whom we expect unstinting TLC when human frailty overtakes us.

It was long enough for me to understand that I was not the only patient in that large institution being monitored throughout a long night to make sure nothing bad was happening to my old body. While I was wandering in and out of the shadows of sleep the night-watch nurses kept vigil, not just on me but on every other person seeking comfort and care and lucky enough to have found a hospital bed.

It is figured that on average three registered nurses assisted by one care aide are responsible for the care of 24 or 26  patients. Among the patients will be a few like me ambling slowly to full recovery after relatively minor surgery, and a few seriously ill who can require urgent emergency care at any time, night or day. If three patients decide to take a turn for the worse at the same time, three on duty nurses would be hard pressed to meet the standards of care patients have come to expect – and nurses are trained to give and do, all too often under considerable stress..

It was that stress that could one day lead to the crisis and system breakdown the letter writer warned about.

Dare I suggest a breakdown crisis looms even larger that the letter writer suggests? We are told a major ‘quake will happen; that it is not an “if” but a when. We are also told, and conduct drills to prove it, that when it happens our emergency services and hospitals will be geared to handle it.

I wonder – and I’m sure hard pressed duty nurses must wonder – how they could possibly handle the instant influx of hundreds, maybe thousands, of injured, many seriously, if THE BIG ONE is as big as expected.

And I wonder, if total effort is turned to handle those stricken by natural disaster, what happens to those among us  struggling with more mundane, “ordinary”, weaknesses of the flesh that already jam our emergency wards?

What happens to wait lists for major surgery? What happens to the keeping of clinical records? What happens to routine laboratory tests now so casually ordered and taken? Will everything now happening day to day be put on hold until we can once again get back to normal?

USA President J.F.Kennedy once famously said “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Maybe it’s time for a paraphrase to suggest our emergency care providers ask not if the people are ready for the big one, but if they are.

They could start by asking hospital workers for their thoughts on where health care will be in the days and months following the Big One.

It worked before, and it will again

On Sunday, May 4, the Times-Colonist enveloped its regular edition with several pages of do’s and don’ts under banner headlines EARTHQUAKE 1-2-3 and ARE YOU READY FOR THE BIG ONE?

A useful service with the theme “be prepared” in need of constant repetition because most of us are not prepared though we all plan to be. And those of us who have taken the time to stash away emergency supplies still need a nudge now and then to remember they need to be checked to make sure food, water, and basic medical supplies – including prescriptions – are in reasonable shape and good supply.

Most of the advice in the four page imitation of a regular edition listed commonsense actions and reactions as handed to the TC by four or five government agencies. Unfortunately the NOW WHAT? list of things to do once the earth starts or stops shaking appears to have been put together by someone organizing a Sunday school sing-along and piously re-printed by the T-C without thought to reality.

Items 1 -3 on the 10 things to do when the earth stops shaking lists “checking yourself and your family members for injuries and to help others nearby” as the first responsibility. Next – reunite with loved ones at your pre-arranged emergency meeting place and third – locate your pets and place them in a safe place.

While all of that leaves us with a nice feeling of mum and dad being at home and in calm control when the big one hits it doesn’t quite fit in with another priority number one listed for when the shaking starts and threatens Tsunami. It bluntly states that if you live near the water, which a lot of us do – “a strong earthquake is your signal to move to higher ground immediately….DO NOT WAIT FOR OFFICIALS TO TELL YOU TO MOVE.”

In other words get out and high as fast as you can and make sure your family is as safe as its possible to make them before you start calling  for the pet that probably fled for safety before you even caught the first rumble.

I’m not nit picking. I just think the people trying to prepare us to face disaster are too scared to tell us what the chaos and the pain will really be like. They present us with check lists, recommend behaviour it would be difficult to portray when the world is collapsing around you.

If we are lucky our BIG ONE will hit late on a cool summer evening with the children home from school and dad just home from work. All first responders, paramedics, fire and rescue services and police will be at full strength but ready to be boosted by off shift firemen and policemen who will be expected to leave their families to cope as best they can while they race off to serve the common good.

If fortune is not so kind the giant crunch of tectonic plates will happen in the dark of a new day as high winds and torrential rains sweep our shaking Island. Too late then to look for emergency kits. Too late to break for safety. Only one thing to do – and I have suggested it before when writing on responses in time of fire and flood and other natural disasters:.” Keep calm and carry on”. An old slogan treated as a bit of a joke these days, but some of us are old enough to remember when it was coined and recited as mantra when the devastation and death of a BIG One visited us every night.

It kept a people together then. And it can again.

It’s tough for most young couples. It always was.

Swapping e-mails with an old friend a few days ago and he reminded me of “a time on Whiteside Street when times were tough (for you).”

I hadn’t thought of Whiteside Street, which makes its timorous beginning off Tillicum near Carey Road, for decades, but those few words brought memories flooding back, memories of when times were tough – but we never knew it. Or at least never admitted when we were hurting.

We’re talking here about 1949. I had been in Canada for a year, had graduated from 12-months on the city of Victoria garbage scows with the exalted title of deckhand at $37.50 a week, to bread truck driver for the princely sum of $50 a week and cut prices on day old bread and aging cakes.

The Bank of Montreal on Government at Bastion deemed me reliable enough to loan me a thousand dollars – if I could find someone to guarantee they’d get their money if their trust proved unfounded. The late Don Snobelen co-signed for me and with the bank loan and a little I’d managed to save a down payment was made on our first house on Whiteside.

I exaggerate when I call it a house. In reality it was  a tiny four room shack. A living room and bedroom in front with a lean-to kitchen and listed “second bedroom” at the rear. The kitchen door was also the back door opening on a gloomy alcove with a cupboard like shower attached to one side.

The shower walls were originally tin advertising signs and very old. We never did use the evil looking box. My first wife, Joyce, was of hardy Lancashire stock with a preference for galvanized bathtubs which could be scrubbed clean after each use in front of the kitchen – wood and coal – stove.

There was no indoor plumbing other than a kitchen sink and the wretched shower. “The bathroom” was an outhouse. Whiteside Street  in ’49 was still very rural although our house was the only one lacking what everyone else on the street regarded as a civilized bathroom.

It was a year before we caught up and graduated to septic tank and the eventual glories of hot water on tap and baths galore. With help of friends we dug the septic tank site ourselves and helped a contractor as day labour to build a bathroom, a new large living room and bedroom on the front with the old rooms converted to accommodate growing family.

And before I forget we replaced the old roof which had leaked prodigiously. We used to say it only had to cloud over for the roof to start leaking. It is a fact that on rain-threatening nights we would place assorted pots and pans in their designated leak-catching places before going to bed.

Tough times? On looking back I suppose they were but we were too busy battling to make a living – and progress – to spend time fretting about how hard fate was treating us.

I don’t think we were an unusual family living a tougher life than most; I don’t think we had it tougher than today’s young people. I think we were fortunate in that we lacked today’s all too prevalent feeling of entitlement because we were just grateful to be alive, to have survived the murderous years of WW2.

So, if you are young and feel times are tough – you’re right. They are tough years, and always were for most of us as we made our way through unknown country to our existing comfortable pews.

Not easy, but it can be done. We “comfortable” ones are proof of that.