Month: January 2021

Being Prepared for the Worst

Playing a little catch-up with an item abandoned in the maelstrom of malcontents seeking to remove a newly elected government of the dis-United States of America. A frightening spectacle in a country so long the boastful champion of democracy.

It was with that hurricane battering from our neighbour south of the 49th Parallel that an issue in our own backyard, which had been testing our community tempers for some time, seemed to lose importance. 

So, here’s the thing: Vancouver Island, where I live, has excellent transportation links with the Lower Mainland and the State of Washington. By air, they’re just minutes away and by ferry across the Salish Sea from about 105 minutes to the mainland and a lot less to Port Angeles.

Before COVID-19, BC Ferries ran every hour in the summer – a spectacular mini-cruise between various gulf islands with glimpses of island life just short of heaven.

Before COVID-19, the lower car deck on the ferries was reserved for vehicles only. Transport Canada required the car driver and any passengers to leave their vehicles and find their pedestrian way to higher “open decks” closer to lifeboats and other safety equipment, and well above the water line to make evacuation easier should disaster strike. 

Then came COVID-19 and infection protection measures requiring face masks and social distancing. Car drivers, already resenting the order to leave their vehicles, must now move to a higher open deck for the brief ocean voyage, objecting to the modest interference with their personal preference. They argue that being forced to leave their vehicles and mingle with walk-on passengers in their hundreds places them in a higher hazard zone and invites pandemic contagion.

Social media outlets and letters to the editor became the favoured paths of protest. Talk show hosts and print pundits appeared to enjoy the protest as relief from our cousins’ uncouth behaviour south of the 49th. And Transport Canada heard their cries and suspended the “no passengers on closed lower decks during the voyage.”

Car drivers welcomed the change, but the joy was short-lived. In a couple of weeks, the ban was back. Protests were renewed and strengthened by the support of BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union and the clout of Provincial Premier John Horgan.

Letters to Victoria’s Times Colonist kept the issue in focus until January 20 when a front-page story by business editor Andrew Duffy reported Canada Transport had replied to an email requesting reasons for restoring the ban of passengers on closed decks during a voyage.

Duffy’s story was modestly accusatory “Transport Canada won’t budge on ferry deck regulation.” The implication was that Transport Canada wasn’t listening to reason, but the content of the response as quoted by Duffy conveys something different.

In clear language free of bureaucratic baffle-gab, it reads: “Remaining in a vehicle on an enclosed vehicle deck while a ferry is operating is not safe for passengers. Enclosed vehicle decks are specifically designed to contain smoke and fire in order to protect the other levels of the ship and allow more time for passengers and crew to stay safe and evacuate.

“No country in the world allows people to remain in their vehicles on enclosed vehicle decks. If an emergency were to happen – say a fire, flooding or collision – evacuating everyone safely would be extremely difficult. In fact, the loss of life could be catastrophic.”

For good measure, Duffy and his newspaper deserve a thank you for sharing with us this advice from Transport Canada: “Ferry travellers do not need to choose between personal and marine safety. By physical distancing, wearing a mask and leaving the enclosed deck while the ferry is operating – passengers and crew can stay safe.”

Essential ferry travellers , who will probably continue to complain about being ordered to leave their vehicles for little more than an hour, should read the Transport Canada reasoning again — and recite the maxim they have known to be wise since childhood but so often ignore: “Be prepared for the worst while hoping it never happens.”

A Promise of Hope and Reason

‘‘We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom, symbolizing an end as well as a beginning, signifying renewal as well as change. For I have sworn today before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.”

And if you’re thinking that sounds like a quote from President Joseph Biden after he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States of America, you are forgiven, but wrong.

They were the opening words of newly sworn President John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address on January 20, 1961.

It was a speech many will recall ending with the stirring JFK challenge to his people: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” It became an international battle cry leading to the birth of the Peace Corps, a legendary force for good works around the world.

Last Wednesday, President Biden wasted no time announcing that the arrogant, boastful days of “America First,” the calling card of his just-departed predecessor, were over. “This is America’s day,” he announced. “This is democracy’s day, a day of history and hope.”

And for the next half hour or so, he lifted his nation from confused, chaotic fear with calm assurances that democracy, though fragile, will survive. “Today we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause … the will of the people has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded.”

The remarkable change in presidential attitude requires adjustment. The world had become used to a boastful president. It will take time for even the USA’s friendliest neighbours to get used to one that preaches: “We look ahead in our uniquely American way – restless, bold, optimistic – and set our sights on the nation we know we can be, and we must be.”

Gone are the boasts. In their place, there are hints of England’s hero Sir Winston Churchill, who once bluntly told his people when things were going badly, all he could offer in the immediate future was “blood, sweat, toil and tears” and the promise that “we shall pull through.”

President Biden warned that the way ahead might be rough at times, but “we will press forward with speed and urgency for we have much to do in this winter of peril and possibility. Much to repair. Much to restore. Much to heal. Much to build. Much to gain.”

It is true that President Biden is not my president, but he is my next-door neighbour, and his decisions and the conduct of his people can seriously affect my lifestyle. I am happy for my friends down south who, as their new president said, are “good people and part of a great nation.” They deserve a President who understands the difference between serving the people he leads and manipulating them to feed his insatiable vanity.

Once More – With Feeling

Well, to repeat a phrase I’ve used so many times over the past half-century: “That’s it then; another year is staggering to its close; another birthday – the 97th has been posted – and the 98th is a distant shimmer somewhere out there in the mists of time.

It’s been many years since I first wrote: “It’s been a long hike 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 and always told with the warmth and love she had and openly demonstrated for all her children, warmth and love I never really appreciated until I became a parent myself. Her example has served me well when set alongside my father, a badly wounded First World War veteran, always strong, always taciturn. And it still will, I hope, as I head down another unknown stretch of road marked 2021.

Other than a calendar-marked starting date, the future “road map” is, as always, blank when it comes to details and destinations. I still know only one thing for sure: Like the stretches already travelled, there will be rough spots; some hills will be tough to climb; others will lead to valleys of despair. But, as many have and hopefully more will, the journey will lead to summer-lit meadows warmed and made pleasant by the shared love and support 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 and fragile debut a little more the 97-years ago. I just hope I can head over the last hills with a minimum of fuss – and that I don’t ruin any festive occasions with my departure.

Since I marched past my 90th birthday close to a decade ago, I have often been asked how much longer I intend to keep writing my Old Islander blog. The question is usually asked with raised eyebrows as though publishing weekly thoughts and opinions in my 90s is, well, just let’s say – not talked about in mixed company.

My answer remains honest: “I have no idea” – but this is spoken with less conviction than it used to be. I still enjoy the weekly challenge, but it gets harder to meet my arbitrary deadline, and it takes longer to write. And, every now and then, an afternoon nap becomes more important than my self-imposed duty. On such days, my editors regularly save me from the embarrassment of muddled syntax. It’s a good mental exercise for me but a reminder that my mental candle doesn’t burn as brightly as it once did. Regardless, I carry on with the abiding hope that occasionally, my blog brings some joy or sparks a rebuttal challenge from readers.

So, with a bit of luck, I can maybe publish another re-run of this piece a year from now. That marker looks a long way down a road yet to be travelled, but then so has each New Year I’ve experienced since I was old enough to wonder where life was taking me. It has always been a far distant, often nervous, unknown journey since 1923.

At 97, time – never fully guaranteed – is measured with less certainty; energy fades dramatically, and modest talent shaping words into understandable English is more difficult to quantify.

So, for now, I’ll just puddle along with a gentle weekly ramble in low gear and hope you keep reading until an unwelcome map maker puts up a sign “ROAD ENDS.”

Protest – Always a Close Run Thing

It was 2.35 pm when the leader of the Opposition rose to speak but then stood silent for a few seconds, his head cocked to one as he tried to capture meaning to shouts filtered to whispers by the marble and granite walls of The House of Government.

It was 1958 and is remembered here only to remind readers of today’s newspapers – the few who remain – and the viewers of television who have replaced them, that the scenes you read about earlier in the week were not quite as new as portrayed. Mass protests have been around for a long time and more often than not with loud choruses of verbal abuse and threats. But not always.

On Tuesday, February 11, 1958, the Front Page headline in The Daily Colonist proclaimed  “Angry Shouting Farmers Storm into Legislature.” The crowd several hundred strong massed on the front steps chanting a demand to meet Premier W.A.C. Bennett. “Bring him out or we’ll come in and we’ll bring him out.”

It was tense. Reporter Courtney Tower covering the main event described  “the turbulent mob’ surging into the building chanting “bring him out, bring him out.” What was the problem? The price of milk. In 2021 we have become so programmed to food price increases that a cent a pint increase would seem like a gift – but not to the local farmer whose production costs still outstrip their returns on the product.

Bob Strachan, the NDP Opposition leader you met in my opening paragraph with his head cocked to snare the far away shouts, eventually broke his pregnant pause and asked if maybe the minister of agriculture would like a few moments to chat with farmers.

Peter Bruton was providing a colour commentary. He tells us the minister “looked up and with a weak smile” declined the invitation. Close to 20-years later in January 1976 W.A.C. Bennett’s son Bill was occupying the Premier’s chair when the doors to the cabinet room were crashed open and mixed mob of protesters and press gallery reporters disrupted.

In one of the rare photos recording the event it’s hard to tell the reporters from the protesters. Nothing of consequence was damaged; the Premier took control and the reporters who had become part of the story could always boast about the time they attended a cabinet meeting.

In dispute that day – ICBS auto insurance rates and some drastic and unwelcome social welfare changes called “reform” by the government, “cruel cuts” by recipients and social workers. It proved to be but a prelude to the 1980’s procession of massed protests which exploded with the infamous 1983 provincial budget (26 restraint control bills in a single day) and the occupation on July 19 by staff of the Kamloops health facility at Tranqu

The siege lasted 22 days and the newly formed Solidarity movement took over with the first protest marches of 25,000 in Vancouver, 3,000 in Nelson with an estimated 80,000 on hand in the Fall to form an unbroken ring around the Hotel Vancouver where Premier Bennett and the Social Credit Party were meeting in annual convention.

In between there had been two or three mass rallies with crowds 30 to 40,000 strong in Victoria covering the front lawn of the Legislature and stretching several blocks back along Government Street to Fort. And there was one protest which gained access to the Legislature while the House was sitting. There was damage to the main doors to the Chamber and one senior staff member was injured before order was restored.

Students of history will be well aware that my selection of noisy, sometimes threatening, but rarely totally out of control protests is highly selective and avoids mention of  Cromwell’s spectacular revolt with its brutal ending; and the overrated glory of the French Revolution still known as “the age of terro

I thought it better to leave President Trump’s failed coup of earlier this week which would have surely launched another bloodbath, to collapse on its wretched foundations – but with an epitaph to be ever remembered that a few years ago in BC we had “a close run thing.’

Time Too Fast For An Old Man

Time is fleeting with ever-increasing velocity as we sweep past the markers recording journeys of 90-plus years.

A least, that’s the way it’s appeared to me in the hike between birthdays 96, the day after Boxing Day a year ago, and 97 a few days ago.

If there is an unknown historian recording the pages of my lifelong journey, he or she is turning the pages too quickly. Each day I seem to have less time for the things I want – and often need – to do.

I know all about the problems created when procrastination becomes the thief of time but having the “daybook” closed before I have time to complete the “things to do today” section can hardly be laid on me.

So it goes. Every afternoon, I reserve time for reading as Christmas usually brings me a mini-flood of books from well-read sons. With small boxes from daughters-in-law containing diet-defying treats like home-baked shortbread, assorted cookies, cheese and cracker nibbles and obligatory Christmas chocolates.

I enjoy the multitasking of nibbling, with maybe a sip of wine, while revelling in the fantastic writing of Wade Davis in “Into the Silence,” a powerfully written history of the men who served together during the First World War and climbed together in early attempts to conquer Mount Everest.

The Sunday Times reviews the book as “an elegy for a lost generation.” I agree, nibble, and read just a few more pages. Then rest my eyes for a few minutes.

The rest break can be considered a medical necessity. After all, less than a week ago, all I could see from my left eye was white fog. I was blind in one eye. Modern surgery has corrected the problem. I can see clearly again but still welcome a few minutes of restful shut-eye.

Just a few minutes – but time doesn’t hesitate. In those few moments, someone, somehow, has moved all the clocks forward an hour. Maybe two. I can’t possibly have napped for two hours. But?

Ah, well. I was going to catch up with e-mails now long overdue. If you happen to be waiting and wondering, be patient. I will be in touch, maybe tomorrow if tempus doesn’t fugit and whoever’s turning my life’s pages takes a day off.

In the meantime –Happy New Year. May 2021 bring you everything you need which is not the same as everything you want