Month: December 2018

Ninety Five and Counting

Well, to repeat a phrase I’ve used so many times over the past half-century: “That’s it then, another year staggering to its close; another birthday – the 95th posted – and the 96th a distant shimmer somewhere out there in the mists of time.

It’s been a long haul since my first plaintive cries shattered the post-peace and goodwill of Christmas 1923 on a bleak December 27th morning. My mother would later recall the event when showing me off to relatives and friends as “a nice lad, even if he did ruin my Christmas.”

It was a bright tale, always told with the warmth and love she had and openly demonstrated for all her children; a warmth and love I never really appreciated until I became a parent myself. The example she set alongside my always strong, taciturn, badly wounded WW1 veteran and father, served me well. Still will I hope as I head down another unknown stretch of road marked 2019.

Other than a calendar-marked starting date, the future “road map” is, as always, blank when it comes to details and destinations. I know only one thing for sure; like the stretches already travelled, there will be rough spots, some hills that will be tough to climb, some valleys of despair – and as many and hopefully more – of widespread summer-lit meadows warmed and made pleasant by the shared love of family and friends.

I have no more idea of how long the next leg of my journey will be than I had when I made what, I’m told, was a noisy entrance 95 years ago. I just hope I can head over the last hills with a minimum of fuss – and that I don’t ruin anyone’s Christmas with my departure.

I am often asked these days how much longer I intend to keep writing blogs. The question is usually asked with eyebrows in questioning rise as though publishing weekly thoughts and opinions at age 95 is, well, just let’s say – not talked about in mixed company.

My answer is an honest “I have no idea.” Right now, I enjoy the challenge of the self-imposed weekly deadline of my blog. It’s a stimulating mental exercise, good for me with the abiding hope that it occasionally brings some joy or spark of a challenge from readers.

With a bit of luck, I can publish a re-run of this piece a year from now. That would be on Sunday, December 29, two days after my 96th. That marker looks a long way down the road yet to travel from where I am today, but then so has each new year I’ve walked since I was old enough to wonder where life was taking me. It has always been a far distant and often nervous, unknown journey since 1923.

To help me walk the next leg of my current hike, my son Stephen (72 on January 1st) and his wife Susan gave me for my birthday a copy of Herman Wouk’s latest book. “It might,” they wrote on a greeting card, “provide a little inspiration.” Wouk’s list of accomplished writings is long and star-studded. Among the many and well remembered – The Winds of War, War and Remembrance; and his classic as a book, movie and stage play, The Caine Mutiny.

I haven’t yet started to read my birthday present, but I did sneak a look at the Author’s Note on the opening page of what I’m sure will be another epic. He quotes a few lines from The Wreck of Old 97, the old dramatic narrative poem about a train crashing as it roared “down the grade doing 90 miles an hour” and the finding of the driver “in the wreck with his hand on the throttle … scalded to death by the steam.”

He continues: “Gentle reader, that railroad folk tune is sure haunting your durable storyteller, aged 97. When I passed my ninetieth birthday milestone going hell-for-leather down the nonagenarian grade, I figured I had better cobble up what was left to write while I could … next thing I knew, four years had whistled by … (and) I had in hand thirty-odd work journals and a slim book of 40,000 words ….”

And thus came to birth Sailor and Fiddler – Reflections of a 100-year-old Author. The final paragraph of the author’s introductory note: “On Old 97, the air brakes failed …. hence the unhappy wreck. Lord grant that my air brakes hold while I get done all I can, roll into Spencer (Old 97s destination) on time and hand in my orders.”

I confess that those few paragraphs inspire me, as do two sons who have penned and had published award-winning articles and books, and four sons who think I have a life story worth telling and urge me to start writing.

I’m inspired but not enough. It takes time, energy and talent to write a book. At 95, time – never fully guaranteed – is measured with less certainty than ever; energy fades dramatically, and talent is impossible to quantify.

So, for now, I’ll puddle along with a weekly ramble in low gear, gently touching the brakes on the steep grades.

With Clean Knees For God

Saturday night was bath night – except at Christmas when, whatever the day, the late afternoon hours of Christmas Eve were organized for special ablutions based on Saturday night tradition. A battered galvanized tin tub was brought into the kitchen from the backyard plunked in front of the kitchen fire and half-filled with buckets of cold water plus a couple of kettles of boiling water. Just enough to take the chill off.

With sister Doris on enforced visit to the neighbours during the cleansing of her brothers, the ritual began, changed only from our regular Saturday night splash by more vigorous scrubbing. My brother Tom, four years my senior, was deemed old enough and responsible enough to bathe himself. I was not. For me, a strong-armed mother was needed to make sure every visible patch of my 10-year old body gleamed.

Hands, elbows, and behind the ears got special attention. Fingernails were trimmed and every speck of grime removed. Hair, shampooed and dried, was combed reasonably straight and I was eventually proclaimed clean enough to wear freshly laundered pyjamas and ready for bed.

Next morning, we would be up and about for a fairly early breakfast which, it being Christmas Day, would offer rare treats of eggs and bacon, huge slabs of bread and a cup of tea. We were allowed (ordered) to wear our pyjamas while opening recession-modest presents and while eating breakfast. The latter was not a concession to slovenliness but to make sure no egg yolk dripped on soon-to-be worn Christmas Day best suits and ties. With the donning of those ultra cleaned and pressed garments there were more examinations of fingernails, ears, and knees.

We didn’t get to wear long pants until we reached the magic age of 14 so clean knees were of prime importance for choir boys representing the house of Hume. Tom qualified for long pants; I didn’t. My protests that, as all choir boys wore ankle-length cassocks, no one in church ever saw my knees were swept aside with a motherly declaration that “God can see your knees.”

And with that, we would be ushered from the house for the short-block walk to St. Mary’s Abbey church, with Tom getting firm last-minute orders to “go straight to church and make sure he (that’s me) doesn’t get mucky before he gets there.”

After morning service, we would meander home, taking care not to get too mucky because we knew there would be another inspection before the big meal of the day to be served at midday. Before we boys could eat, we had to change our clothes because we had an evening service to sing, and gravy stains on nice white shirts could undoubtedly also be seen by God.

After the meal – usually an elderly chicken donated by Granddad Jimmy Startin, my mother’s father – loaded with vegetables and dumplings and followed by Christmas pudding and custard, it was nap time for adults, reading time or playing with newly opened Christmas present board games for the choir boys.

Then a sandwich and cup of tea, the final examination of the day with touch-ups where necessary, the short walk to church and ‘‘Evensong” around 5:30 or six. Mother always attended Evensong, beaming with pride. By seven o’clock we walked home together with only gas lamps lighting the winter-dark streets, not talking much.

Then it was hot cocoa and biscuits and bed. Christmas had never been happier. And I wish you all an equal season of happiness leavened with the simple joys and loving strength of family.

Potential But Far From Proven

“There will never, ever, be anything buried here,” said Speaker Darryl Plecas in his gasket-blowing speech to the management committee of the BC Legislature a few days ago. He was responding to – but avoiding meaningful answers to – blunt questions from committee members trying to find out the detailed reasoning behind the suspension of Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz.

Both had been escorted from the Legislature precinct, office keys and codes to confidential files surrendered, pending the results of a freshly launched police investigation and the findings of two special prosecutors, one for each of the suspended officials.

Plecas said he wanted the all-party committee to know that very early in his tenure as Speaker, “very serious concerns were brought to me about certain activities that were taking place within the Legislative Assembly. When I learned of this information, I felt a great duty to safeguard the integrity of this institution and be very mindful of why we’re all here.”

Heavy duty information and so serious that he felt it “imperative for me to act on the information before me.” And act he did, but not by passing the information received to the attorney general for action. He stated: “Given the information is very serious, and the very sensitive nature of the information that was before me, which could potentially be criminal, I believe that I acted appropriately to ensure that the information I had been provided was reliable.”

He acted by calling on an old friend who he hired to check out the information. The old friend was Alan Mullen, and his assignment was “due diligence” on the information to hand and any more that might surface in the process. Plecas was indignant that the press had given Mullen the title of “investigator.”

“Nothing, nothing, nothing could be further from the truth – not even close … I’m sure the police and the special prosecutors will jump forward and tell you that he wasn’t investigating. They would probably also tell you that every single thing he did and I did leading up to giving the police the information was done not well – but perfectly.” I guess if you are awarding yourself the marks in any test, you may as well plump for perfect.

Mullen was so perfect that Plecas once suggested he could become the sergeant-at-arms to replace Lenz. It was an offer quickly rejected. Plecas ended his disjointed speech to the management committee with a prophecy on what will happen as the final curtain falls on British Columbia’s 2018 Christmas Carol with Mullen taking unlimited curtain calls: “I know what’s going to happen at the end of this. People are going to be cheering for Mullen, and they’re going to say ‘whatever you do here at the Legislature, don’t get rid of Mr. Mullen.”

Yes, well, as British novelist Samuel Butler wrote in The Way of All Flesh: “The advantage of doing one’s praising for oneself is that one can lay it on so thick and exactly in the right places.”

As has become customary in modern times, it is incumbent that an audience advisory be posted. Plecas has already warned that when the truth of his and Mullen’s roles are finally made known, the public will physically vomit. If the findings “do not make them throw up, I will resign as Speaker and Mr. Mullen will resign as well.”

Be sure to be standing at the back of the crowd, just in case he’s right.

And to consider while we await the Speaker’s January dishonours list is the less than honourable reaction of the government and the RCMP which leaves two men dangling over Christmas and New Year still unaware of who exactly their accusers are, and what their “potentially criminal” acts have been.

Speaker Plecas has said we can rule out “fraud” so I guess that’s one charge we can bury. Maybe when he gets to check his post Christmas accusation list he’ll find a few more but that will be far too late to undo the damage of “potential” but not proven or even identified, acts of criminality.

Things Not Correctly Sequenced

Proponents of proportional representation ballots kept telling me they were the only kind to guarantee voters fair and truly democratic election result. They said I should not be confused by a change from the centuries-old first past the post system which with minor foibles has stood the test of time.

They said if I wanted proof of the fairness of PR voting I should take a look at Germany, Australia, New Zealand or other places where it has replaced FPTP.

So I did. I chose two of the three so often mentioned – Australia and New Zealand – not because we are members of the same Commonwealth family but because while my English language may be a little faulty from time to time it remains much better than my German. And as both had survived general elections in 2016 and 2017 they were current, ready to set a sparkling example.

Well, maybe “sparkling” isn’t a well-chosen word because the ‘‘proportional’s” varied for the different states and the Australia election was what they know down under as a “double dissolution election” one in which Australia elects a new national government and a new Senate.

I suggest readers who get lost under my guidance put Google to work. I do not have room – or desire – to present you with anything more than basics.Remember when checking Australia numbers (http://www.abc.net.au/news/federal-election-2016) wou will be looking at results for seats in parliament and completely separate results for Senate seats.

Wherever you lived in Australia your ballot paper would list your voting options. In New South Wales the (Senate)ballot ran the gamut of 41 Party’s ranging from the ultimate winning coalition of Liberal/Nationals and Nationals of 1,610,626 votes in NSW to the “also ran” Australian Progressives with 1,817.

If you vigilantly track down overview numbers you will find that Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party won one Senate seat with 1.9 per cent of the vote but no seats in what Canadians would call the House of Commons.The Family First Party also won a Senate seat but came up empty at the MP level 1.4 per cent vote.

If you find this worrisome, imagine what it will be like in BC if you ever have to face such lists on a BC ballot designed to make sure dubious seats can be made safe for fragile incumbents.

One final thought from Down Under before nipping over to New Zealand for a Kiwi look at proportional representation in a 2017 general election which saw the Liberal/National Coalition re-elected but in a minority position: since 2013 Australia’s government, elected by their version of PR designed to bring fresh air, transparency and stability to government they have used up five Prime Ministers – Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd,who lost the 2013 election to a Liberal coalition which over the next five years replaced PM Tony Abbott with PM Malcolm Turnbull who was shuffled out recently to be replaced by PM Scott Morrison.

Not exactly a stable government.

Now to New Zealand and last year’s election under PR rules with not as many hopeful party participants as their cousin Cousin Aussies but enough to make life interesting for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who hit the 2017 campaign trail a single woman – and won but not with enough seats to govern.

Waiting in the wings was one Winston Peters who had been defeated in the election but retained his seat in Parliament. Wikipedia tells us that despite being out-voted in his own riding his party, New Zealand First, “had secured 7.2 percent of the vote….since Peter’s ranked first on the New Zealand First Party list, he remained in Parliament as a list MP.”  A “list member” system is one of the options discussed in BC with details to be provided once approval to change the rules is given.

In October Peters announced his nine seat New Zealand First party would form a coalition with Ardern’s Labor to give her a working majority. The deal was confirmed and a year ago Peter’s, an election loser, became (Andrew Weaver is permitted to dream) the Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister for State Owned Enterprises and Minister for Racing.

Last January PM Ardern became the first Prime Minister in the Commonwealth to take maternity leave and a few weeks after the event introduced her new born to her cabinet as she returned to work.

And no, Peter’s was not the father. That honour belongs to a long-term boyfriend and she has said openly of their relationship: “It sounds terrible because we are very committed to each other. Marriage is just not something we have really gotten around to. We haven’t correctly sequenced, perhaps….”

Which appeals as a suitable final comment on promoters of proportional representation.