Month: January 2021

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