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The Way The Big War Started

It was quiet in the kitchen. A large wall clock ticked away minute-hand seconds.

At the table, a mother and father and two teenagers sipped fresh-brewed tea, the father between puffs from his penny-clay pipe; the mother between pauses in the incantations only “pull-over” knitting mothers understood.

On a small table closest to the mother, a Philips radio murmured solemn music interrupted every minute or so by a BBC-cultured voice assuring listeners our prime minister had a very important message for us. So important that only he could deliver it at 11:00 a.m.

Seconds before that hour, the radio presented a burst of scratchy static, and at precisely 11:00 a.m., a never before heard of magical happening – Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was talking to us in our home, joining us at the table for a cup of tea.

“He doesn’t sound like a prime minister,” said my sister Doris, all of 18.

“Shut up!” snapped father. I, always quick to pick up parental storm warnings, just looked at the clock to make sure the BBC was on schedule and listened – but without much understanding until the PM came to the last line of his opening paragraph.

“I am speaking to you from the cabinet room at 10 Downing Street. This morning, the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.” The extra emphasis is mine but not really needed.

It was September 3rd, 1939. He didn’t really say much after that. Just a few words on how hard he had tried for compromise; how he had reluctantly been forced to accept “that there is no chance of expecting that this man will ever give up his practice of using force to gain his will. He can only be stopped by force.”

The last line of his brief declaration of war was a plea to his countrymen to believe he had done everything possible to find a way to peace. “And now that we have resolved to finish it, I know that you will all play your part with calmness and courage.”

Chamberlain’s speech was followed by a long list of wartime – immediately imposed – conditions. All theatres, movie houses and concerts halls were closed; noisy rattles of the kind used at large sports events were banned unless they were used as warning that poison gas had been released. No bugles or sirens could be sounded on the streets. All BBC regular programs were cancelled with hours of organ and classical music filling the gaps between official proclamations.

The things we were about to lose, the restrictions we were about to face seemed of little consequence as the Chamberlain era ended. He died from stomach cancer in November 1940, a few weeks after resigning to make way for Winston Churchill.

Dunkirk and a military debacle in Norway had hastened his end.

My father, a survivor badly scarred from the WW1 disaster at Gallipoli, was not a Churchill fan but said he felt better with the old warrior at the helm. With the radio off, he gathered us around him in the kitchen for a comforting pep talk before he nipped down to the Wheatsheaf pub to sign up for the Home Guard.

As a 15-year-old with four months to go before hitting 16 on December 27 and becoming the regular “gofer” on a three-man stretcher crew – two medics and a messenger boy – my father assured my mother and me that I wouldn’t have much do. “You have to remember we live in the middle of England. That’s a long way for them to fly. They’ll never get this far.”

It was suddenly quiet again in the kitchen, although we couldn’t hear the clock ticking over the belly tingling ululating of an air raid siren – about 10 minutes after the PM quit speaking and the first time ever heard without prior notice of a test.

But, father said: “A false alarm for sure … They’ll know down at the ‘Sheaf.’ We walked outside to scan the sky. All was well. We were safe.

Some months later I stood in the same kitchen, ankle-deep in soot shaken loose by a heavy duty bomb exploding nearby and lifting tiles from the roof and soot from the chimney. As we talked it started to rain – and may you never stand in a previously immaculate kitchen instantly converted to wall to wall, ceiling to floor, thick black soot-sludge.

The “phony war” was over. The “blitz” was gearing for full throttle destruction. “False alarms” were no more, even in the always optimistic Wheatsheaf.

On the Edge of Darkness

I hadn’t thought much about forest fires in Brazil until the country was offered $20 million to fight them by the G-7 nations. I wondered why my home province of British Columbia hadn’t been made a similar offer. I mean, we do get forest fires annually with last year (2018) a record-breaker; 2,115 fires and 1.35 million hectares of forest destroyed. It surpassed 2017’s record high of 1.22 million hectares of forest destroyed.

Long summer days from late May can, by mid-June, render the province tinder dry and ready for rapid conflagration sparked by lightning strikes, carelessly tossed cigarette butts and campfires neglectfully left smouldering.

So, it’s taken me a while to start paying attention to the wildfires now roaring through Brazil’s Amazon rain forest, destroying – so the news reports tell me – “a football pitch size” of forest every few minutes or so and using “fake” photographs to ramp up the drama.

BC is not alone suffering from wildfires on the West Coast of North America. Between July and late September, wildfires also ravage Alaska, the Yukon, and the states of Washington, Oregon and California – especially California – with intense ferocity.

These fires, like those in the Amazon, are spread over vast areas. In BC last year, the “big fires” burned for days or weeks in the Stikine, Kitimat, Bulkley-Nechako and Cariboo, and “not quite so large” in the Peace River, Northern Rockies, Okanagan-Similkameen and Central Kootenay.

Accompanying all major fires are air quality concerns. In 2018, BC was troubled with increased risk from added smoke drifting north from U.S. fires.

In BC, all air quality stations registered higher than seven on the Air Quality Health Index on at least one day, and several remained there for many days with warnings issued that children, the elderly and anyone with heart or breathing problems should reduce strenuous outdoor activities. In some regions, “above seven” warnings remained in effect for between 18 days (south Okanagan) and 32 days (Prince George).

It all set me wondering why Brazil’s fires should be attracting such widespread attention – and merit a gift of $20 million from G-7, of which Canada is a member. It didn’t take much research to discover that Brazil’s rain forests contribute heavily to the world’s supply of oxygen – the stuff we need if we are to breathe long enough to slow down global warming – and that without the Amazon’s lungs, our world would be seriously endangered.

Then, in reports from The National Institute for Space Research, came a series of numbers quickly sharpening the focus of my BC-biased mind. The NIFSR informed me that between January 1st and August 1st of this year, Brazil’s Amazon rain forest had been hit by 75,300 fires, an 85 per cent increase over the previous year. In the land of my birth, such announcements are appropriately termed “gob smacking.” The NIFSR does note that some of those fires could be small, but all had been “reportable.”

(In the name of accurate reporting, the New York Times has reported Brazil’s reported fire numbers “this year at 39,194 … a 77 per cent increase …” My numbers are from a table reproduced by the BBC from the NIFSR covering January 1st to August 21st. The NYT could have been quoting January to July, but 39,000-plus is still a helluva whack compared with BC’s two thousand.)  

Brazil isn’t alone among South America’s big burners. Venezuela has fought or is fighting 26,500 wildfires – up 19 per cent; Bolivia 17,200 plus – up 114 per cent. But, Brazil does appear to stand alone with its new deforestation policy of clearing rain forest to create arable land for commercial agricultural projects.

In a recent opinion piece, The Guardian quoted a science community warning that President Jair Bolsonaro’s plan to convert rain forest to farms will eliminate 20 per cent of the world’s oxygen supply – “the most valuable asset humanity possesses in our increasingly difficult battle to avoid climate catastrophes.”

That is Universal catastrophe, not just Brazilian.

And therein lies a problem. President Bolsonaro was surprisingly elected last November. His Environment Minister is Ricardo Salles who, last year while serving as a state environment official in Sao Paulo, was found guilty of “administrative improprieties” for having changed a map to benefit mining companies. He was fined and deprived of his political rights – including his right to seek public office.

It was just three weeks after his conviction that Bolsonaro appointed him to cabinet. Like Bolsanaro, Salles does not believe in climate change.

That means other world leaders will need to figure out how to handle Bolsonaro – without the help and power of the United States whose President Donald Trump – also a climate change denier.

It will not be easy. Brazil, in a free world, has the right to do what it likes with its natural resources. But what should the rest of the world do if a Brazilian decision endangers not just other nations but the world, the universe and possibly all humanity?

The scientists tell us the latter is inevitable unless we get some serious checks and balances on climate change. And, that we cannot hope to get even a slow down without the natural assistance the Brazilian Amazon District rain forest has provided since time began.

So, what should our leaders do? Wait and pray for the miracle of an awakening United Nations with the courage to challenge rogue countries with end-of-the-world threats? Or just hold hands and hope it will all go away as we march to the edge of darkness?

Or maybe as nation known for past leadership in United Nation affairs we Canadians could drop Prime Minister Trudeau a line reminding him it was Liberal PM Lester B. Pearson who was a leader among leaders when the UN was founded. A repeat performance on the international stage between now and our federal election in October could be a real World Cup winner.

Remembering Peterloo,

The day started well. Clear skies, warm sun and a crowd later estimated at “around 60,000, with many dressed in their Sunday best” exchanging pleasantries while waiting to see and hear one of the great orators of the day, Henry “Orator” Hunt, speak on the urgent need for parliamentary reform and better working and living conditions.

The day, August 16, 1819, ended tragically with 18 dead, 650 injured, many seriously. And “Orator” Hunt got to speak but a few words before he and his entourage were arrested. Carrying out the arrest was a force described in early reports as “local yeomanry, younger members of the Tory (Conservative) Party in arms.” London’s Times reporter John Tyas and other scribes were hauled away with Hunt’s group, to the alarm of already nervous magistrates.

Earlier in the day, the meadows near St. Peter’s Church, known as St. Peter’s Fields, had been described as “full of people in good humour, shouting and laughing and making fun; it seemed to be a gala with the country people … boys and girls taking their father’s hand to walk in the procession.”

A peaceful protest but with the occasional banner proclaiming “LIBERTY and FRATERNITY,” a reminder to the government of the day that the people of France, tired of tyranny, had stormed the infamous Bastille prison and replaced their government.

A memorial piece in The Guardian (link below) describes how the scene changed from a day in the country to see and hear a legendary orator talk about future hopes, to a terrifying mob panic and death and wounds by the sword.

The huge crowd was too dense for most to notice what was later reported as Manchester Yeomanry “approaching the edge of the crowd at a fast pace. They were the first troops to be called.  They had been milling in the back streets, drinking in local taverns, and were fired up, ready to unleash themselves on the subversives.  They clattered down Cooper Street, knocking over a 23-year-old woman … and knocking her baby son, William, out of her arms, onto the cobbles and under their horses’ hooves. He was the first fatality of the day.”

Any signs of peaceful protest died with the baby, and the joyous crowd became a mob fleeing for its life. When 340 regular cavalrymen from the 15th Hussars joined the mass, it drove everything before it – including the crowd control yeomanry. One of the Hussar officers, Lt. William Joliffe, later explained why the death count was so low at 18 after a full battle cavalry charge into a panic stricken mob.

“The charge,” he reported, “swept this mingled mass of humans before it; people, yeomen and constables in their confused attempts to escape ran over one another … The Hussars drove the people forward with the flats of their swords, but sometimes, as is almost inevitably the case when men are placed in such situations, the edge is used … I must still consider that it redounds to the humane forbearance of the men of the 15th that more wounds were not received.”

He was saying his men were not too happy with their orders and were swinging their sabres to hit with the flat of the sword, not the sharp edge.

And why should all this be of interest to people in 2019 some 200 years after the event? Well, maybe because he was courageously telling the government of the day that their army was not in wholehearted support of its conduct. That it wouldn’t take much to persuade a switch of loyalty.

Or maybe because a journalist named James Wroe, a reporter who covered the event and coined the immortal title “The Peterloo Massacre,” published the clear, brutal story of what he saw and emphasized repeated calls for change in government’s understanding of democracy. The government certainly paid attention. In double-quick time, it closed down Wroe’s newspaper – the Manchester Observer – charged him with seditious libel and sentenced him to one year in jail with hard labour.

Or maybe, because following Peterloo and over too many years there came a steady progression of hard-fought reforms in parliament, incredible improvements in workplace conditions and, for most people, living standards far beyond the Peterloo generation’s dreams.

In Manchester this year they unveiled a new multi million dollar memorial. It features 11 concentric steps featuring the names of the 18 who died and the towns and villages they came from. It is hoped it will convey the idea of the 18 walking up the steps to a speakers podium to continue their still active fight for electoral equality and social justice.

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jan/04/peterloo-massacre-bloody-clash-that-changed-britain.

Sceptre and Crown Come Tumbling Down

When Governor James Douglas was appointed boss of what we call British Columbia, he had the authority to raise and train a small army and dispatch it to wherever it was needed on the new frontier. Fortunately, he lacked the bodies and the money to do anything meaningful with that power.

In a dispatch on August 24, 1858, with troubles brewing among gold miners on the Fraser River, he asked Royal Navy Capt. Montresor of HMS Calypso based in Esquimalt for help. There was a degree of urgency in the message, a detectable edge of panic:

“Intelligence has just been received here of an alarming collision between white miners and the native Indian Tribes of Fraser’s River. A sanguinary war of races, the inevitable consequence of a prolonged state of misrule, may plunge the Government into the most serious difficulties unless steps be taken to immediately avert the evil. I therefore propose to visit that country as soon as the necessary arrangements can be completed.

“A military force is essentially necessary on that occasion, to represent and sustain the dignity of the Queen’s Government; and I make the appeal to you, sir, in Her Majesty’s name, for a detachment of one officer and ten marines … to be placed at my disposal …”

Capt. Montresor replied immediately. He was sorry, but couldn’t help having been given orders just that day “to proceed to sea tomorrow morning.” He promised to relay the Douglas request to his replacement on station, one Capt. Prevost of HMS Satellite.

Two weeks later, Douglas was able to inform London of the actions he had taken. Again, there is a nervous edge to the note addressed to the Rt. Hon. Lord Stanley, MP dated August 27, 1858: “My Lord, since I last addressed you … an alarming report reached this place of the murder of 42 miners by the Indians of Fraser’s River …”

Douglas went on to say he had immediately gathered a force of Royal Navy Marines to suppress any thoughts of native rebellion and was now happy to report “the alarming report has since been contradicted” and that “two men only were killed by the Indians instead of the larger number previously reported.”

He added that he still intended to proceed with his military mission up the Fraser, although “the military force is absurdly small for such an occasion, but I shall use every exertion in my power to accomplish the great object in view, and to assert the rights of my country, in the hopes that early measures will be taken by Her Majesty’s Government to relieve the country from its present perilous state.”

The report, dispatched August 27, was not received in London until October 11, by which time Douglas was sorting the blame and writing London asking for help on the disposition of “white men engaged in mining pursuits” who had been found guilty of murder “and sentenced to transportation for life.” Unfortunately, he wrote, “there is no penal settlement within reach, and I have no means of forming a settlement for that purpose.” He asked London if it would “permit the removal of any convicted criminal to any penal settlement in Australia” and if so, how “the expense of their removal is to be defrayed.”

I haven’t yet been able to find a response to that request – or what the Aussies thought of the idea. I am just reciting a “blame game” trail which started with reports of insurrection on the Fraser with 42 miners “murdered”, morphed into two killed in a fight (not an unusual happening in gold mining camps) and finally into serious problems created by “white men…who have been found guilty of murder.”

In 1857, while Douglas was fielding nervous twitches on Canada’s west coast, there had been a cataclysmic revolt of natives in India against their British overlords. At Cawnpore (now Kanpur) the British garrison was overrun. After surrendering to the native forces, survivors were first promised passage to safety then massacred – soldiers and civilians, women and children. Last to be killed were three women and children; their bodies tossed down a well.

There were other outrages echoing to all corners of the British Empire in sufficient strength to provide righteous justification for the revenge to follow; the humiliation and slaughter of prisoners and civilians by British troops when Cawnpore was recaptured – and in other areas where the Sepoy Rebellion had early success. There has never been an accurate count of the thousands massacred by both sides, but at the time only the brutality of the rebels made the dreadful headlines.

It would take another hundred years or so to complete but the greatest empire the world had ever seen had begun its collapse. Watching its fall and considering its possible world power replacement is fascinating and frightening.

We don’t seem to have made much progress in humanitarian beliefs since those days when an eye for an eye was regarded as balanced justice. Revenge is too often what we seek even when, as polite Canadians, we dress it up as the nicer sounding “reconciliation.”

A Lost Press and Protector

It was in 1935 that a well-organized group of unhappy citizens decided to try for foothold representation in the Alberta general election. The group waved a relatively unknown political flag named Social Credit and voiced strange theories about new ways to finance government.

It had no president, but a leader in the rank and file who was a fire and brimstone evangelist named William Aberhart. He was among thousands of other citizens stunned when the votes were counted, and the returning officer announced Social Credit would form the new government with 56 seats in the 63 seat Legislature.

The Liberal Party held five, Conservatives two. The United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), in power since 1921, elected zero. It was the first time a sitting government had lost every seat it held.

Within a few days, a seatless Aberhart called for a general meeting of the victors who enthusiastically elected him their party president thus automatically making him premier without a seat. That problem was quickly solved with the resignation of a newly elected Socred and polite agreement of Liberals, Conservatives and the UFA not to contest a byelection.

Premier Aberhart was in by acclamation, and the temporary truce was over. Aberhart had bigger fish to fry than seven MLAs who could be overwhelmed in the Legislature. His larger enemy was “the press” which was already challenging his strange ideas on banking regulations and economic theories.

In 1935, radio as a means of transmitting news and information was weak, and television was not a factor. The press – large circulation dailies and modest rural weeklies – were all that stood in the way of dictatorial government decrees and stepped up to meet the challenge.

Edmonton Journal Publisher John Imrie and Editor A. Balmer Watt dismissed Aberhart and his Socred economic theories with derision and references to half-baked populists seduced by pseudo-economic theory.

Aberhart fired back from every pulpit he could find. In words (that echo in 2019) he said they were just “the mouthpiece for financiers … publishing falsehoods that are entirely unfair and untrue. If this is done in the name of liberty of the press, we must question that liberty. The calibre of the men who are managing these newspapers is so low … they should not be at large!” (Not quite “lock her up,” but close).

Aberhart backed his rhetoric in 1937 with three pieces of legislation – two dealing with financial matters, and a third draconian law to bring the press under government control. All three moved through the Socred-dominated Legislature under heavy attack, but safe on the final vote in the legislature.

The Accurate News and Information Act required newspapers to be government licenced, compelled reporters to hand names and addresses of their sources to government investigators, forced editors to permit government-appointed editors to have final say on the wording of all political reporting including editorials and opinion columns – and the right to suspend the publication of any newspaper indefinitely.

There was a list of substantial fines for violators.

Lieutenant Governor John C. Bowen slowed Aberhart’s grab for press control by refusing to grant Royal Assent to all three bills, but that didn’t quench the premier’s desire to test his strength against existing law.

On March 24, 1938, the provincial government issued a warrant for the arrest of Edmonton Journal columnist Don Brown. He was to be taken to Lethbridge provincial prison and held there without trial “at the pleasure of the legislative assembly.”

Officials from the Journal were called before the Legislature for questioning and informed their columnist was going to be charged with “scandalous misrepresentation.” He had poked fun at two MLAs, they said.

An hour before midnight on March 25, 1938, Liberal MLA Gerald O’Connor quietly ended debate with a motion that the charge be withdrawn. And without objection it was, but with a warning note from Aberhart that while he was pleased to offer Brown clemency, he wouldn’t hesitate to take further action against the writers and publishers of “false information.” Any opportunity for him to do that was denied when all three bills were declared unconstitutional.

Six weeks later on May 2, the United States Pulitzer Prize committee awarded a special bronze plaque to the Journal for its defence of press freedom plus special certificates to the Calgary Herald, the Lethbridge Herald, three smaller dailies and 50 Alberta weeklies for their robust defiance of bad law. They were the first Pulitzer awards outside the USA.

This story is retold here as a memorial of times past when newspapers were strong, their reports reliable, the communities they served the richer for their presence. And, with regret that the electronic world has drowned so many once clear voices with its endless vanity of social gossip.

And the people who once supported their strong collective voice don’t seem to know what they have done – or care.

Take Sol’s “McWord” For It

My copy of Sol Steinmetz’s book There’s A Word For It is a little tattered these days after close to a decade of heavy use.

It is a hardcover, pocket-sized book jammed with a dazzling array of new words as they were created, and records the year they were born and grew to become part of everyday English. Thus, I learned a number of new words and discovered many I thought new had been around for decades before I adopted them into my vocabulary.

For example, I started speaking and writing Ms. as a safe title of respect for women back in the 1970s when feminists insisted a word as neutral as Mr. – for married or unmarried men – be coined for women. Thus, Miss for single women and Mrs. for married women were blended into one size fits all Ms. I was one of the ancient males who struggled through that little transformation clinging to Miss and Mrs. until we realized Ms. was here to stay.

I was quite prepared to accept the change as another feminist triumph until Steinmetz informed me “the Oxford English Dictionary traces the first use of Ms. to 1901, when a writer in the Humeston, Iowa newspaper New Era reported that ‘as a word to be used in place of Miss or Mrs. when the addresser is ignorant of the state of the person addressed; the Sunday Republican (a newspaper of Springfield, Mass) suggests a word of which Ms. is the abbreviation with a pronunciation like Mizz …”

It was a surprise to find that Ms. had been around for 70 years when women’s lib claimed it for themselves and persuaded male dinosaurs it was an acceptable form of address. (I should note that as far as I know, Humeston was not founded by my branch of the Hume family. But in this age of genealogical discovery, who knows?

Steinmetz is fun to read as he takes his audience through more than a century of new word creations, many of which delight and educate the reader. At least for me, there were very few pages lacking a new word – or a history of a word which surprised.

As the dust jacket promises, Steinmetz “takes us on a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (1949) joyride (1908) through our cultural history as seen through the neato (1951) words and terms we’ve invented to describe it all.” The bracketed dates mark the years the word was first used.

He estimates that by the 1900s, the English language had adopted around 90,000 new words since dictionaries were born and that by the end of the century, the list had grown to 500,000. He admits that is just a guesstimate (1936).

I found Steinmetz most fascinating when he moved into the 1950s, and I learned how many of the words I thought commonplace were newly minted. Academia was coined in 1956; nerd a few years earlier. The world didn’t have paralegals until 1951, and while we were aware of traffic jams, gridlock to describe a big one wasn’t used until 1980, the same year we added the high-five to describe congratulatory greetings – and infotainment became an acceptable way to present television news. And regrettably shows no signs of changing.

So it was that in the past few years I have learned a metrosexual is “a fashion-conscious heterosexual male;” a flexitarian is “a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat;” and, that tanorexia “is the condition of being addicted to tanning.”

There’s A Word For It can still be found in a good book store or quickly ordered. Come to think of it; I should find a new copy before the one I have disintegrates. I need one close at hand to prevent further decline to the status of a McWord – “a writer who serves up words as standardized as fast food.”

Please resist the impulse to comment.Thank you.

An Age of Great Pretenders

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

That’s the way Charles Dickens described his world as he opened his epic description of the confused world in which he lived, and the great French Revolution exploded. We haven’t quite reached Dickens’ point of ignition in his 1859 Tale of Two Cities, but with U.S. President Donald Trump’s trumpeting south of the 49th Parallel about to be joined in chorus by vaudevillian Boris Johnson, newly elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, our world is getting close.

We remember other times when major nations had bouts of insanity and elected leaders of doubtful morality and boastful national pride. We remember the control the people of Germany and Italy gave to their leaders in the 1930s for the promise of restored national glory, better lifestyles – and trains that ran on time.

Some of us are old enough to remember how we grew up shaking our heads that the people who elected such leaders could be so easily deceived. And, we assured ourselves, “it could never happen here.”

As we voice that assurance and re-assurance, we do so in ever softer voice as we witness what could never happen in our world – happening.

In the U.S. we see a Commander-in-Chief President who appears to be searching for a reason, however remote, to launch a “total destruction” attack on a middle east nation; who thinks and speaks racist observations and believes women who have complained about his wandering hands and intent are all lying or envious. He seems convinced the world rejoices when he spits out social media messages, apparently unaware the world is laughing at him, not with him.

On the other side of the Atlantic sits newly sworn Prime Minister Boris Johnson, elected a few days ago by the Conservative Party of Great Britain. In the UK, the party with the most elected seats forms the government with its leader is automatically the PM. (And, yes, that means the Tory Party membership, comprising roughly .02 per cent of voting age population, elected Johnson PM.) 

So be it, Boris is in until he solves the Brexit problem or he’s defeated in Parliament on a confidence motion and forced to call a general election.

Media in the UK has already taken to referring to his “predictably slapdash” speeches as “pifflepafflewifflewaffle” and is still laughing at his acceptance speech promise to “deliver, unite, defeat” – a phrase to which he hastily added “Energize” to change DUD to DUDE.

I leave you with a Guardian assessment of his first brief speech as PM: “The Tory MPs who backed him, the party members who voted for him so overwhelmingly, the media cheerleaders who hail his accession – they all know exactly what he’s like. They don’t believe him – they just willfully suspend their disbelief. They cannot say they were taken in by a plausible charlatan – they choose to applaud the obviously implausible, to crown the man they know to be the Great Pretender. They go along with the fiction that Johnson is a Prince Hal who will metamorphose into the hero to lead England to a new Agincourt while knowing damn well that he will always be a Falstaff for whom honour is just “a word.”

It would be safe now to think Trump-Johnson and add “interesting and scary times” to Dicken’s version of a world in angry turmoil.

A Masterpiece of Confusion

“Confusion now hath made his masterpiece” was first used by Shakespeare in Macbeth. I’m sure he won’t mind me borrowing it for a few minutes while rattling on about the great divorce between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

It was one of those marriages that started with loving intensity between nations that had spent centuries killing each other’s young and pillaging border towns at will. It was after the largest of blood baths – WW2 – that some of the more sensible leaders who survived that fracas decided if they could all get together as trading partners, they could proposer, live longer and enjoy more of the freedoms they always seemed to be talking about but never achieving.

So, it began with the big boys – Germany, France and England – leading the way and no shortage of other countries clamouring for a seat at the ever-richer table. Life was good, but not without problems.

There were minor issues when bureaucratic experts from the larger nations tried to exercise rules for the size of potatoes and the acceptable curve in bananas, but such irritants were either quietly deep-sixed or laughed to oblivion.

And there was one factor among the major concerns that seemed to be working but was causing major complaints: immigration. One of the most enjoyable benefits of belonging to the EU was the virtual disappearance of border checkpoints plus a new fact of life that “foreigners” from an economically deprived state could find work and live in other EU nations.

Great Britain became a favourite destination and Brits of what we call “the older generation” were not impressed when they found their favourite pubs and restaurants, parks and favoured seaside resorts, flooded with strangers having more trouble with English than a northern Scot.

The politicians listened and tried to assuage the rumbling concerns. But they couldn’t get rid of the fear that a lot of Britons were no longer feeling British.

In June 2016, then Prime Minister David Cameron decided to bring matters to a head via a referendum. It would ask a simple question, a “yes” or “no” to stay with the EU and sort out the problems. Or leave.

The decision was close – but clear: some 13,266,996 million voted to stay – 46.6 per cent of the vote. But, 15,188,406 million – 53.4 per cent – voted to say goodbye.

Prime Minister Cameron resigned as PM and leader of the Conservative Party to be replaced by Theresa May who had supported the “stay” side in the referendum.

She surprised parliament and the country by calling a snap general election. She said she was preparing for her first conference with EU leaders and needed a show of people strength behind her. She won the election but with a reduced majority and the need to ally herself with a rump party to stay alive in Parliament.

Three times she returned from Europe with what she thought was a progressive deal. But none of her proposals received EU or British parliamentary support, and she finally admitted defeat and said she would resign and clear the way for a new Tory leader and PM. And more divorce settlement proposals.

Those events are scheduled for next Tuesday, July 23, with Boris Johnson, expected to replace her. He is a flamboyant, high-ranked politician who is being described as a President Donald Trump clone. The experts are forecasting Johnson in No.10 Downing Street will spell the end for the Conservative government — and the historic Tory Party.

As I wrote when I started this piece — confusion now hath made his masterpiece.

(Anyone interested in detailed chaos in high government can find it described at https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-49008826. A fascinating and frightening tale.)

When Rabbit Pie Helped Save a Nation

When my first wife and I packed our modest earthly acquisitions in 1948 to head halfway ‘round the world in search of a future with promise, food rationing was still being strictly enforced in the UK. It was one of the major factors in our family debate, “should we stay, or should we go.” A soon-to-be second mouth to feed tipped the scales when, one month, we gave up our meagre meat ration for a double ration of bottled orange juice for Joyce. We left with some heavy concerns for our future.

It was 1954 before rationing ended in the UK and we enjoyed everyone of them, but eased our guilt by sending modest food parcels home pre-Christmas.

While far from being gourmets or diet conscience diners, our income (read lack of) precluded over-indulgence. But we could, if we spent cautiously for a few days, afford a decent Sunday roast once in a while and pretend we were rich. And after a while we didn’t even miss what had been our faithful fill-in during those meat deprived war years – rabbit in pie or roasted, in stew or sliced and stuffed between two slices of unbuttered bread.

To ask a Victoria butcher if he ever got any rabbit was to invite a strange look, and a head shake. I understand it’s a little different these days, but not much. You can find rabbit if you can find a good butcher. But it’s easier to find lamb chops.

So, it was with a mild degree of surprise a few days ago to view my evening dinner menu at Berwick Royal Oak and read that “Rabbit Pie” was one of the two dinner choices. We live well at Berwick with a main dining room, a Bistro and an in-house “village pub” to feed us, each with a different menu. The main dining room is full service; the Bistro casual “build your own stir fry or pizza;” the Shield and Dragon pub is casual with fish and chips as good as you’ll get anywhere.

Rabbit Pie: If you are of British Islands birth and lived through the troubled years 1939-1954, when we survived on a tough government imposed and enforced diet, you may remember the old ditty the BBC used to play endlessly when imported meat supplies were diverted to the military – or were lost in transit by the shipload courtesy of the U-boats.

On the Net readers can find a painful and I think ridiculous explanation of the ditty made popular by The Crazy Gang and designed to boost British morale when we thought air raids would never end. The “jingo” interpretation has the farmer as a German, the rabbits as the English running away presumably to be able to fight again another day. I prefer my theory that it was an effort by people of goodwill who thought there were better ways to feed a hungry nation in dire distress than by killing rabbits.

I remember that on wartime Saturday afternoons I would spend two or three hours helping small farmer Bill Dellahay “harvest” rabbits, skin them, clean them and wrap them in a soft damp cloth to take home to my mother who had assisted the local midwife in the delivery of Bill’s firstborn son. Bill was convinced my mother’s post-natal care saved his wife and son.

When I got home on Saturday evening with a suitcase full of dirty laundry and clean, well-wrapped rabbits, my sister would be dispatched to bring three neighbouring wives around. Each would be presented with a plump rabbit leaving two for mother.

While today that might seem overly kind, my modern readers should understand our fridge was a walk-in pantry. Shelf life was short. A walk down Bottrill Street around 2 p.m. on a given Sunday would tantalizingly confirm that three rabbit pies or casseroles were approaching perfection in coal-fired ovens while a fourth simmered in what would eventually be rabbit stew.

And the Berwick Rabbit Pie? A little embarrassing, so let’s keep this to ourselves. Fighting an attack by my old enemy gout, I sat pre-dinner with the offending foot elevated watching depressing news and fell asleep. Dinner was long over. My home-made sandwich could not be described as great. And my friends tell me, gleefully, the rabbit pie was “pretty good.”

But I’ll wager they could never be as good as Bill Dellahay’s wartime treats when we briefly laughed at rationing.

Snake Oil and Democracy

In customary style on June 12, The Guardian columnist, Polly Toynbee, succinctly described Boris Johnson’s appeal to Great Britain’s Conservative Party to elect him their new president and thus, automatically, UK Prime Minister. It was delivered, she wrote, with “charm, the magic; the charisma was well polished.”

And then, before Johnson supporters could reach for their ballot papers, she added: “His snake oil of choice is optimism so miserably lacking in politics now, radiating out of him like sunshine. All fake, all sun-ray lamp that turns off in private, but it outshines his rivals and dazzles anyone willing to ignore everything we know about his rotten-to-the-core character.”

In the UK and online, The Guardian and its reporters and columnists support the old and proud philosophy of honest journalism; “get it fast, get it first, but first, get it right.” (For the record I’m a Guardian subscriber, but am not on the payroll and never have been. I think that online or in print, it’s among the best in the world. And, I’m happy to be able to read it for a few pennies a day.)

What attracted me to the Toynbee column and a few days later (June 24) a piece by Max Hastings, former editor of the Daily Telegraph and the London Evening Standard, was the similarity, although never mentioned, in the public portrayal of Johnson with USA President Donald Trump.

Here’s Max Hastings on Johnson: “There is room for debate about whether he is a scoundrel or mere rogue, but not much about his moral bankruptcy, rooted in contempt for truth.” And later in the same article: “Dignity still matters in public office, and Johnson will never have it.

Yet his graver vice is cowardice, reflected in a willingness to tell any audience whatever he thinks most likely to please, heedless of the inevitability of its contradiction an hour later.”

Substitute Trump for Johnson and nothing else need be changed.

The same rule can be applied to Hastings’ note that Johnson, like Trump, has had a “lurid love life.”

Hastings: “We can scarcely strip the emperor’s clothes from a man who has built a career, or at least a lurid love life, out of strutting without them.” He forecast that, if Johnson should win the PM’s job, “the experience of the premiership will lay bare his absolute unfitness for it.”

For Canada, stuck between “absolute unfitness of Trump” ruling just to our south and the pending possibility of an “absolutely unfit twin” in charge of our mother country, life could be about to take another interesting but unhappy turn.

The UK, once the mightiest of Empires will soon to be Brexit divorced from Europe; Scotland is still fretting for full separation; Wales must wonder if it should leave or stay; Ireland might ask if anyone is interested in a homecoming for the northern counties. And England would be a small left – alone country in a world where what we call western democracy wobbles on its foundations in the old world and the new.

In “the old country” the once world power is considering asking a man with a well recorded embarrassing conduct record to shuffle it off stage. In “the new world” United States of America Republicans have already made one bad leadership decision and are considering repeating it, believing a man whose main interest in life appears to be his own fame and gratification can win back lost leadership respect.

Quo Vadis? is all we can wonder.