Month: June 2014

Proud to be Canadian

 

 

 It was June, 1948, when, with a pregnant wife and 18-month old son, we climbed apprehensively aboard the ocean liner Aquitania for the journey from Southampton, England, to Pier 21, Halifax, Nova Scotia. From there we took a smoke and cinder blowing CPR immigrant special train across Canada to Vancouver then the ferry to Vancouver Island.

 The journey, while energized by adventure for a young English family venturing far from home, seemed interminable. It took two weeks from my wife’s home in Cleveleys on the Fylde coast of Lancashire to a small James Bay apartment pre-rented for us by Victoria friends we knew only by correspondence. There had been two brief pauses on the way, the first to say goodbye to my folks in the English Midlands, the second to overnight in Southampton the night before we sailed.

 The rest of the journey involved trams, taxis, trains and station changes in London on a sullen June day, muggy, with thunder rolling around the horizon and a very young son, Stephen, already wondering why we weren’t there yet. After a night at the Dolphin Hotel in Southampton we boarded, a little intimidated, what had once been the largest ocean liner in the world and sailed for Canada – a story book world but for us still unknown.  Sixty six years later I can still remember standing at the ship’s rail and, with a touch of melancholy tinged with anxiety, watching England and home fade into evening mists. 

 Our two weeks “on the road” from portal to portal was a picnic by comparison with real pioneer immigrants, but not without its moments. The first came when we were assigned our cabins for the crossing to Halifax. We would not be travelling together as family. Joyce would be in a cabin with six other mother’s with one child, I would be bunked with five “separated” husbands. When I asked if there was any more suitable accommodation I was courteously reminded that this was an immigrant ship and that we were traveling at immigrant ship rates. Joyce, seven months pregnant, told me not to worry she and Stephen would be okay. And she was and so was I once I traded my lower bunk for the “father” above me who was dreadfully sea-sick. It was safer above than below.

 We dined well on the way over, it being remembered that in 1948 food in the UK was still strictly rationed. The Aquitania obviously re-provisioned on the Canadian side of her “immigrant” runs.

  Pier 21 in Halifax, disembarkation port for thousands before and after us, was approached with apprehensions. Would our luggage be on the dock as promised? How would we get from dock to the train to take us to Vancouver? Both were waiting for us – as were considerate bureaucrats who processed we “landed immigrants” speedily and handed us over to Canadian Pacific Railway people who shepherded us to a monster train and our assigned “home” for the next several days.

 We had a lower and upper bunk – and at the end of the coach a small lounge area with modest cooking facilities. A bit like a moving campsite, but more than adequate for families who had survived half a dozen years of war time hardship.

 As we watched our train clacked through the wilderness called Ontario and young Stephen became listless, restless, fretful. With no family doctor just down the street to attend to our needs the train was canvassed for a doctor and another young immigrant with a stethoscope appeared to check the lad, diagnose “diet change and different drinking water” as the cause and suggested we try and get some Woodward’s Gripe Water at the next stop – which would be Sudbury. It was strange looking for a drugstore rather than a chemist’s shop, stranger still to be asking so far from home for an old English over-the-counter cure-all for all childhood ills. But, bottle clutched safely in hand, I was back at the train as it started to move West, Stephen was administered a tea spoon or two full of the elixir and was soon his normal self.

 Woodward’s Gripe Water became a medicine cabinet fixture and soothed the gums of the eventual six Hume sons. And it wasn’t until, they were all grown to manhood that I discovered that the original “Gripe Water” contained 3.6 per cent alcohol.

 A little weary and overwhelmed by the vastness of Canada, we made it to our first Canadian “home”, a small apartment in James Bay comprised of tiny kitchen, a poky bathroom and a small bed-sitting room. Immigrants a century earlier would have found it of royal suite quality. And to be honest, so did we, even as we started to look for somewhere “with a little more room.”

 So why am I posting all this old history stuff now? Easy answer: Because its 66- years since we made a young-couple decision to seek a better life in Canada. Sixty six years of bounces, some good, some bad. Of friends made, friends lost in a still young country that has roughed me up from time to time on the way to where I am – but has given me incredible opportunities, and rewarded me with good life, good friends and a great family.

 With July 1 being Canada Day I thought it fitting to remember June 1948 when we asked Canada if we could come and live here and call it home: and Canada said “yes”. And I say “thank you” for making me a proud Canadian.

Time to correct an old mistake

 It was called Essondale to honour Dr. Henry Esson Young, a minister of education and provincial secretary who fought for years for its creation. Its first patients were transferred from New Westminster’s harshly named Provincial Hospital for the Insane to Coquitlam’s 400 hectare “Essondale” in the early 1900’s. It later became Riverview Mental Hospital then simply Riverview Hospital because “Mental” carried – and still does – unwarranted stigma. In its final years it was just – Riverview – a place best known for its patient-worked farm production and the tranquility of its park-like grounds where the Coquitlam and Fraser Rivers join.

 Riverview was not always as bucolic as it looked or as tranquil an asylum for the mentally ill as its founders hoped. The dark side of Riverview shocked society when it was revealed that between 1940 and 1968 at least nine women had been sterilized against their will. It was then believed by many involved in health care that sterilization of the mentally ill was an acceptable way of genetically controlling generational mental health. It took until 2005 for a provincial government to acknowledged the sins of the past and agree to an out-of-court settlement of $450,000.

 There were other scandals, less horrific but, along with out of date buildings and growing demands for a better way to handle mental health problems, the decision was made to close Riverview. That decision took 20 years from its making to its conclusion with Social Credit, NDP and Liberal governments all contributing to the final decision to close the hospital. It had been decided a less institutionalized care system for the mentally ill could be provided “in the community.” Riverview, which had once provided mental health care for 5,000 was shut down .

 Date of the final closure was Friday, the 13th of June, 2012, but most former patients had been re-located by then. Some in local community group homes with limited success, many seeking anonymity in shabbier neighbourhoods.  All in need of a level of care which continues to prove elusive.

 Police forces across BC – indeed across Canada – say they can no longer handle the growing numbers of mental health incidents they are being called to answer but are not trained to answer. Too many first responder calls to the BC Ambulance Service involve people with mental health problems. Social workers in the field have high stress case loads that make teacher’s complaints about classroom pressures look silly.

The Union of BC Municipalities recognizes the problem and wants Riverview reborn, as Maple Ridge Ridge Mayor Ernie Danken puts it, “as an institution of excellence for North America, using the best mental health care providers and the latest research.” Police voices say “amen” as do all who face the problem every day –and night – on the street.  Jane Duval, executive director of the BC Schizophrenia Society, commented recently in the Globe and Mail on the number of people displaced as Riverview patients and now surviving on the street or in the justice system: “It’s a huge scandal. One of these days I think we’ll look back on it, and it’s going to be a very shameful incident in our past.”

 And the provincial government? It does what it does well these days: nothing.  The Riverview site, luxury grounds bordering on the exotic already in place, could with minimal government effort create a cascade of cash for the provincial treasury. And it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if that’s the way the government goes. Maybe they’ll place one of those nice bronze historic tablets in some obscure corner noting the beauty surrounding the luxury pads of Riverview were in great part the work of patients from the hospital which once stood on the site.

  “Mental hospital” patients will not be mentioned of course. Might upset luxury condo buyers from China.

 The government says no decision has yet been made on the future of Riverview. That is not an acceptable position. We have more than a problem here, we have a crisis. One created when decades ago and with best of intentions successive governments made a mistake on the best form of care for the mentally ill.

 It’s time to correct it. Write your MLA or Premier Christy Clark and tell them so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Possession is everything

Possession, the saying goes, is nine tenths of the law, but should be ten if you are a soccer team playing in the World Cup leading 2-1 with only seconds to go – and you have possession of the ball at mid-field.

To the frustration of your opponents and its fans you play a tickey-tacky crisp passing game moving the ball swiftly from team-mate to team-mate as the clock ticks down with metronome slowness. But you retain possession because you know the opposition can’t score without the ball. And if you are playing for the United States of America on Sunday, June 22,2014, you know if you can just hang on, that 2-1 lead over Portugal will bring you and your country its greatest international soccer victory since 1950 when USA defeated England 1-0 in a World Cup..

Much was made of that 64-year old game in Brazil with English newspapers lamenting the fact that Stanley Mathews wasn’t selected to play. Sir Stanley, as he later became, was on a soccer exhibition tour in Canada and was in Victoria BC when he got the call to fly to Brazil too late to play against the USA.

It was suggested the weakened English team virtually guaranteed a USA victory. It’s a suggestion that brings embarrassed laughter from soccer buffs who can recite the English star studded line-up with Bert Williams in goal and Alf Ramsay, John Aston, Billy Wright, Laurie Hughes, Jimmy Dickinson, Wilf Mannion, Tom Finney, Jimmy Mullen, Stan Mortensen and Roy Bentley – all from the Premier league of English soccer.

On June 22 Portugal was lamenting injuries had sidelined two key players, others, including their super star Ronaldo, were not fully fit. And for most of the game played in the jungle heat of Manaus, Portugal played a game lacking in consistent energy. In contrast the USA ran hard, passed and finished well and were deserving of their 2-1 lead as the game swung into injury time play.

With less than 60 seconds to go USA midfielder Michael Bradley controlled the ball in the centre circle in Portugal’s half of the field. He had played brilliantly throughout the game but floated rather than struck his possession pass to a teammate. A Portuguese defender intercepted the pass and quickly snapped the ball to unmarked Cristiano Ronaldo who, having played miserably all night, danced down the right side, reached the edge of the box and at his immaculate best crossed a head-height pass to Silvestre Varela who met it in full flight. Goal tender Tim Howard had no chance. A 2-1 win had suddenly become a 2-2 tie.

Next Thursday, June 26, the USA plays Germany. It will be its toughest assignment to date. Should it be fortunate enough to hold a one goal lead against the German powerhouse with only seconds left on the clock it must remember possession is only nine tenths of the law. In soccer it needs to be ten.

Never again – maybe

 

 

Jim Keegstra, the man who taught the children in his 1980’s school class in Eckville, Alberta, the Holocaust was a Jewish fiction, died on June 2 at the age of 80. He was buried June 6 the day most of the world was remembering the first day of the battles that would eventually free a captive Europe and reveal death camp realities Keegstra refused to believe.

On Tuesday, June 17, Johann “Hans” Breyer, 89, was taken into custody by US authorities in Philadelphia. He has admitted to being a guard at the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp but denies he had anything to do with the deaths of 216,000 Jewish men, women and children imprisoned there.

For more than a decade Keegstra and other Holocaust deniers like Ernst Zuendel and Malcolm Ross made front page headlines as, defended by Victoria lawyer the late Doug Christie, they claimed their right to free speech gave them the right to preach hatred. The Supreme Court of Canada eventually rejected Keegstra’s claim, but only by a split vote of 4-3.

Later this month Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act  – the “hate speech” section – will be repealed and replaced. Advocates in the House of Commons and the Senate claim the new language merely clarifies the section, critics claim it opens the door for more Keegstras and Zuendels and will encourage growing anti-Semitism, already again rearing its ugly head in Europe, to find root again in Canada.

Keegstra took his hatred for Jews into the classroom for a decade before he was finally fired. Former students testified he informed them Jews were responsible for many evils during the French revolution; that the growing feminist movement of the 1980’s was organized by the Jews who also promoted abortions;  that the war in Vietnam was the work of Jews and Canada’s Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was under the influence of and obedient to a Jewish conspiracy. And that the Holocaust was a lie created to earn undeserved sympathy for the Jews.

Students who believed got high marks. Students who questioned, were failed in exams.

In an effort to show Keegstra the reality of the death camps he was taken to Dachau, a minor camp when compared with Auschwitz where Breyer allegedly worked. He was unmoved by what he saw when he visited that first of Hitler’s concentration camps, built under the supervision of Heinrich Himmler, then chief of police in Munich. Construction started in 1933, 48 days after Hitler took power. Theodor Eicke was Dachau’s first commandant .His first prisoners were young German politically opposed to Hitler.

When I visited Dachau in 1976 the meticulous German official records listed 31,961 deaths in  the camp, but admitted  the exact number of Russians executed between 1941-42 “cannot be determined because they were not listed in the camp files.”

Holocaust deniers make much of the Russian statistic and the fact that 1,000 Catholic priests died at Dachau, along with many holding the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses, hundreds of gypsies and, as a simple bronze plaque testifies, four young English women who were parachuted into France to help the resistance, captured, imprisoned and “brutally murdered by the SS.”

It has always seemed strange to me that the Keegstras of the world find the non-Jewish death lists understandable, but the official German records of the Jewish dead, unacceptable and unbelievable.

On the edge of the parade square at Dachau, the place where “final selections” were made of those who would work that day and those who would die, stands a stone memorial with a powerful two word pledge – “NEVER AGAIN”.

Close to 40 years later as the Keegstra years come to their inevitable end, anti-Semite, anti-Islam, anti-Christian voices rumble renewed hatred  in almost every corner of the world. And I wonder how long “never” might be. 

 

 

Don’t wait, do it now

 

 

 With the Keystone Cops still in charge at the Capital Regional District and the provincial government still refusing to produce a little slap-stick to bring the clowns to order, I’m still wondering why the reluctance. I know cabinet ministers continue to piously bleat it isn’t their duty to interfere in municipal affairs. But that’s a cop-out.

 It’s true that over the years the folks under the dome on Belleville Street have done their best to bury the junior governments most MLAs sprang from. Years ago they did away with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs as a stand-alone ministry by tucking it in with culture and sport and other odds and ends, presumably hoping out of sight would be out of mind. At the same time they re-shuffled Municipal Affairs legislation, renamed it the Local Government Act and hoped the unruly children outside the Belleville Street stockade would settle down and require less – or no – attention from their provincial parents.

 By design or accident, however, they left on the statute books clearly defined rules of parental responsibility they now seek to deny. Let it always be remembered regional districts are the children of the provincial government with the CRD brought to birth if 1966.

 The “birth certificate”, now the Local Government Act ,states a team of “detectives” under the Municipal Affairs Inspector, can be activated at any time “the inspector believes it expedient to make an inquiry into or concerning a matter connected with a municipality or the conduct of a part of its business or (b) a complaint is made to the inspector about a matter of municipal business, actual or projected.”

 The Local Government Act and the Public Inquiry Act, can be set into action at any time with the “approval of the Lieutenant Governor in Council” – the Cabinet.

 And if there was ever a need for the provincial government to push the button for an inquiry into a clumsily organized, costly, municipal project, it is surely now.

 There is another force which could surely be used to, if the pun can be excused, flush out some of the cloudy reasoning as to how the current contracts were shaped; and why, like Topsy costs keep growing without explanation from “around $300 million” to “in excess of a billion”

 We now have in place in BC an Auditor General for Local Government. Ms. Basia Ruta heads that relatively new watchdog role and brings with her a rich pedigree of past accomplishments. Unfortunately her mandate appears to restrict her considerable powers to the conducting of “performance audits” and, as we have seen from other Auditor General reports, provincial and federal, that means we get the costly details of financial disasters or boondoggles after they have happened. Slamming the stable door and recommending new locks to prevent re-occurrences should not be an option.

 I do see a flicker of hope in the Legislation governing Ms. Ruta’s mandate: It says she can make sure “operations are undertaken economically, efficiently and effectively….(that) financial, human and other resources are used….with due regard to economy and efficiency…(and) the operations are effective in achieving their intended result.”

 It can be argued that other sections of the legislation governing her mandate prevent the action I’m suggesting. A pity for if ever there was a case of an ounce of prevention being better than a pound of cure our chaotic plans for wastewater/sewage disposal, present it.

 But even if the Auditor General is hamstrung, Municipal Inspectors should not be. All they need is a nudge from cabinet, and Premier Christie Clark should insist it be given. That would not be a government interfering but a government acting responsibly.

 

Just put them on the list

 

In search of orderly thinking a casual read of our local press presents me with a series of unassailable facts:

As a caring society we are falling behind in our care for mentally troubled young people who, without adequate care, can grow up to be mentally troubled middle aged people who will move on to become mentally troubled elderly people.

Vancouver psychiatrist Dr. Steve Mathias who deals with adolescents with mental health problems is quoted as saying it isn’t that the system now in place has gaps in it: “You could argue it’s not actually a gap. It’s an absence of service.” He’s not alone in lamenting our failure to help stem the tide of mental illness when diagnosed early.

Estimated cost to direct attention to the most vulnerable 12 to 15 year age group – $100 million. If that sounds a lot it’s a mere half of one per cent of our total health care budget.

Put it on the priority list of things to do ASAP.

As a caring society we are urged to consider providing free ferry fares for the families of children needing cancer treatment in Vancouver. A letter writer makes the case that the cost to BC Ferries would be negligible, the benefit to families desirous of visiting their children enormous.

Put it on the priority list of things to do ASAP.

As a caring society we want our transportation systems, road, rail and air to be among the best and safest in the world. We want an end to the Colwood crawl with a light rapid transit systems to the West Shore; a second north-south highway as an alternate to the Malahat – in addition to the millions now being spent on that modest mountain road to protect us from suicidal automobile drivers to whom a speed restriction sign is a challenge to their democratic freedom to endanger the lives of others.

Put a new north-south Island Highway on the priority list of things to do ASAP.

Arts and culture – native and modern – are important to our mental well being and societal maturity. Along with amateur sport, they are grossly underfunded.

Put increased funding on the priority list of things to do ASAP.

If you’ve read this far make a few notes on what you think should be on the high priority list and send them to me via e-mail: jhume@shaw.ca. Add a line on which existing programs should be eliminated to provide funding for new essentials.

Remember we know where the money for all government programs comes from – so be careful with your choices. Remember, too, that an estimated sum in excess of a billion dollars needs to be earmarked for the ambitious but unnecessarily expensive wastewater sewage disposal system. Quite a few of those millions have already been spent in the production of nothing of benefit – and millions more will follow unless the CRD, pushed by its creator the Provincial Government, takes a serious look at more efficient and less costly systems.

If the urban powers (Victoria, Saanich, Oak Bay), who control CRD voting, can be persuaded to remove their blinkers and seriously and more efficiently look at less costly alternatives, we might even have enough cash left in our taxpayers’ account for a few other pressing needs.

But don’t hold your breath.  The mills of God may grind slow as the old proverb says. But the CRD grinds slower and, of late, in far greater confusion.

 

 

 

It’s not about the money. Really?

 

When John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States he suggested his people stop asking what the country could do for them and ask instead what they could do for their country. It’s advice the BC Teacher’s Federation should heed.

Like a catechism recited by rote, the words remembered but never understood, the BCTF continues to repeat its demands are not about money. It, and its sheep-like members, insist the main target they are aiming for is reduced class size. But apart from suggesting a piddling one per cent reduction in wage demands, money – big money –  remains high on the negotiation table.

I wonder what would happen if the BCTF said “because we sincerely believe class size is of prime importance we will withdraw all monetary demands – if you, the government, will agree to use the savings to reduce class size by a set percentage every year for the next few years until we reach an agreed to, acceptable student-teacher ratio?”

What the best acceptable class size would be I leave to educators – and the people charged with collecting our tax dollars and spending them wisely on affordable programs and projects. I’ll be among the first to admit wise spending is not always high on the credit list for governments, but a legal class-size reduction formula could surely be locked into a binding collective agreement.

In the process the BCTF might see fit to advance the argument that smaller class sizes should mean better education for our children. Not “would” just “should” if the BCTF accepts that many members need to improve their classroom skills if public school graduates are to emerge from Grade 12 ready to face university, or with adequate skills for the work place.

Teachers have a tough job, made tougher by many former students, now parents, who don’t really give a damn about “education” as long as for ten months a year their children have somewhere to go during the work week.

But having made that concession to the oft repeated claim of “pressures in the crowded classroom” let me hasten to add there are many jobs in the world with far greater pressures. I’m sure every reader of this piece will have his or her own list of jobs where mental pressures far exceed those of a crowded class room and are often accompanied with potential threats to the workers own life and limb – or the lives of others.

Hydro line workers in mid-winter storm; bus drivers threading their way through rush hour traffic; doctors trying to track down what’s wrong inside out bodies and surgeons trying to remove or repair what ails us; commercial airline pilots flying on local or mass passenger aircraft; aircraft controllers who guide those aircraft in and out of airports.

The list is endless and the quickly made claim that they all make more money, much more money, than teachers is true.

But then, as the BCTF stresses, it isn’t about the money, is it?

 

 

“Dear God may I be fair..”

 

 

 A long time ago when I was a young man starting life as a newspaper reporter I was given a framed copy of Bob Considine’s Newspaperman’s Prayer. For 20 or more years it sat on, or hung over, my desk wherever I worked. It was a constant reminder that I had a long way to go before I came close to being as talented or as influential I thought I was.

  In the late 1960’s while I was on holiday the prayer disappeared. I never discovered who removed it, frame and all, from my  Press Gallery desk on the third floor of the BC Legislature. I was saddened to think a fellow scribe had coveted my minor icon enough to steal it, but comforted by the hope that whoever had would read it, and remember Considine’s message, to all working in a profession where the urge to play God is an ever present temptation.

 There have always been newspapers with publishers, editors, reporters and columnists who see their prime role in life as destroyers of government national, provincial or local. Considine was not one of them – and I tried , but often failed, to live up to the standards he sought.

 As a columnist he prayed – and I still echo: “Dear God, may I be fair. Circumstances and dumb luck have placed in my thumby paws a degree of authority which I may not fully comprehend. Let me not profane it.

 “Give me the drive that will make me check and countercheck the facts. Guide me when, lost for want of a rudder or a lead, I stumble through the jungle of speculation….

 “The twenty-six sharp edged tools we call our alphabet can do what other tools do; build or destroy. Let me build. But let me know clearly also what should be destroyed, what darkness, what bigotry, what evil, what curse, what ignorance.

 “Never let me slip into writing down, in fatuous fear that readers will not understand. Let me write from the shoulder and always with the assumption that those who read know more than I.”

 The talents Considine prayed for were not unreasonable. They should be basic principles for all who “report news” professionally  – or as gossip over the Internets many back fences. Unfortunately, they are not.

 Considine prayed: “Such news as I find or comes my way, let me tell it quickly and accurately and simply, with an eye to my responsibilities. For news is precious. Few could live without it. When it is stopped or thwarted or twisted, something goes out of the hearts of men it might have nourished….”

 Reporters, editorial writers and columnists who from time to time lament the lack of trust the public holds today for government and lawful authority, should sometimes ask if they have contributed to that lack; to ask if they have been building confidence or chipping away at it.

 Considine asked to be spared from ever writing “think pieces…articles and columns contrived out of airy nothingness, or from a prone position, (which) can never replace the meat and potatoes of news.”

 A few other Considine prayerful requests:

 “ Let me champion just causes; remind me to be kind to copyboys for I’ll meet them on the way back down when they are editors; protect the innocent from me when, with deadlines pressing, my aim becomes fuzzy; let my stomach rebel at plucking meat from publicity handouts.

Great targets of excellence for all who write professionally or just twitter here and there.

I still have a copy of his “Prayer” but no longer framed. It’s the second item in his book “It’s All News To Me – A Reporter’s Deposition.” Not as colourful as my framed version but close to hand when I need reminding of principles I must never forget.

 

The fault dear teachers lies….

  I escorted six sons through Vancouver Island school systems. Five via the public school route, one via private school. Met some great teachers on the way, some duds, and more than a few just doing a job without enthusiasm.

 Always admired the good ones. Always knew they were performing a task I lacked the caring patience for. Challenged the few duds when their incompetence became intolerable, and despaired in the years the youngsters drew a teacher who was just putting in time.

 When the youngest finally emerged from Grade 12 the combined public-private systems were batting a little over 500. Four of my six had made university level, two had graduated with degrees and two had enjoyed a taste of university then opted for the work place. Two dropped out, one to carve, paint, and raise animals, the other to return to school later to finish Grade 12.

 It wasn’t easy going – for the boys or some of their teachers. They were taught at home to never be afraid to ask questions; never be afraid to challenge other opinions. It was home teaching that often got them in trouble with teachers who don’t like to be challenged.

 I never could understand why so many teachers bristled when their views were questioned. But they did. Not the good teachers who welcomed debate – and encouraged their students to question. Just the mediocre ones.

 One other thing I never understood – report cards: Over the years with six sons in class I read dozens of them. But I never read one in which a teacher wrote “I somehow failed”. Read lots which said I had a bright son in this subject or that but that he “day-dreamed too much…that he failed to pay attention….that he lacked study discipline” and once that one of the lads was “reading books too old for him.”

 But I never read one report in which a teacher felt the reason for lack of attention was because he or she couldn’t attract it.

 I see that same “it’s their fault not ours” manifesting itself in the current dispute between teachers and  government. Day after day the president of the BC Teachers Federation pops up in the news telling us what the government has to do to get sensible bargaining on track. It’s always what the government must concede, what “government must bring to the table.” Never what the BCTF can do. Reminds me of all those report cards noting the failings of the student but never, heaven forbid, the failings of the teacher.

 Then there’s the repeated mantra “it’s not about the money.” Yes, well, whatever teacher says. But they should tread carefully or they may well find themselves declared an essential service and lose their hard gained right to strike when work place conditions become really intolerable.

 It will be too late then to recite the possibility that “the fault dear BCTF, lies within ourselves.”

 

 

A corner in a foreign field

 

My cousin John Cook, always known as Jack, was killed a few kilometres from Caen on August 26, 1944, a little more than two months after D-Day. He was 22 ,a year older than I and a great childhood friend. In late September 1976 I visited his grave in Normandy and on Sunday, October 3, 1976, the then Daily Colonist published my story of that visit.

I thought the 70th anniversary of D-Day might be a good time to recall few excerpts by way of remembering the friendship and sacrifice of my friend – and all the other “Jacks” who died liberating Europe. 

“Oct.3, 1976

 “St.Desir, Normandy:

 “I remember the last time I stood this close to him.

 “ I was 14 or 15 years old, he was a year and a bit older. We were cousins, lived a few blocks from each other and got into what our parents thought at the time a more than fair share of trouble.

 “They never did fully understand how the two of us could finish up fighting each other in the fifth fight of a five round youth boxing contest. I had won four fights, Jack by lucky earlier draws, was fighting his first.

 “He knocked me down twice in the first round – and out in the Fifth. Not just out, but out of the ring too. He worried about me …and then solicitously walked me home to sort of apologize to my mother, his mothers’ sister.

 “On this bright Normandy day, four kilometers west of Lisieux on the road to Caen, it is all I can think about.

“ The birds are singing whatever it is French birds sing. A soft wind from the coast touches the low trees and shrubs. There are rows and rows of white crosses and red roses in full bloom.

  “One cross of the 598 in this cemetery reads: “Sapper J.Cook, 5127714. Royal Engineers, Aug, 26, 1944. Age 22” with a promise that his “mam and dad” and “his wife” will remember him.

(Readers with ties in the English Midlands or Northern counties will know that “mam” is not a typographical error)

 “When I read the simple message there’s a flash of guilt because I never knew Jack, boyhood friend, son of my Uncle Fletcher and Aunt Lucy Cook, had married. I felt I should have, that maybe I could have helped in some way…..

  “I think it isn’t much of a way to say ‘thank you’ for old friendships spun apart by war, to just place a simple spray of fresh flowers on his grave. But it is important that I do. Important, too, that I walk along these lonely rows of crosses to pay tribute to the comrades who lie with him.

 “Young men from the Black Watch, the Seaforths,the Royal Scots, the Fusiliers, the Royal Tank Regiment – and 16 airmen from the Royal Canadian Air Force. I scribble the names of just a few: Warrant Officer Frank George Bell, New Westminster, air gunner, 22; Pilot Russ Ellsmere, North Bay, 22; John Harrison, Winnipeg, navigator, 28; Ernest Hayworth, Edmonton, navigator, 19; Norman Johnston, Vancouver, radio operator, with no age given but June 3, 1944, the day of his death, three days before D-Day.

  “The War Graves Cemetery at St. Desir is one of the small ones dotting Normandy’s coast and plains.  Just down the country lane from here there’s another, not much larger in acreage but the final resting place of close to 4,000 German dead. The crosses here are of dull red sandstone. The message they carry as grim as the surroundings.

 “One starkly states that beneath it lie 13 unknown German soldiers; another 10, another six, many five and none that I can see with less than four. Some carry names and ages and the ages run between 18 and 24.

 “The date on the vast majority – August, 1944 – the other side of the Battle for Caen and the Plains of Normandy.

  “It had been part of my pilgrimage plan to visit cousin Jack then continue on to the coast to stay the night at Pourville-sur-mer, a bloody cock-stride from Dieppe. Instead I drive a few kilometers to the tiny village of Beaumont-en-Auge.

  “It is quiet there, sleeping as it has slept since William the Conqueror’s time. In the early afternoon the sun has gone and fields lie hung with mist. The evening is very still as it should be when a man needs to wander away from the battlefields of France.”

 A few words have been changed in this updated reprise of a 38-year old column. But not many, as I again remember D-Day and my teenage friend and caring cousin with the vicious hay-maker, one of the millions whose longest day ended in some corner of a foreign field.