Archive for May, 2010

Arctic Paycheque

Salary-wise, back in the 1950s, a construction site in the Arctic was a passport to financial independence. Because there was nothing else to do, you worked. All day: 12 hours a day, seven days a week, under union rules. Consider: eight hours at straight time, plus four hours at time-and-a-half, Monday to Friday; Saturday was eight hours at time-and-a-half, plus four hours at double time; Sunday was double time all day.

Noticeable by their absence. Even the nearest BA was a thousand miles to the south.


Up there? No need to be a college grad;

no BSc;

no framed degree.

Grade 4 is fine, if that is all you’ve had.

In fact, grade 4 would likely be

a veritable PhD!


There were certainly no PhDs on our site, and not because well-educated means well-paid; to the construction company money was of no immediate concern; it was one of the government’s projects, and we all know who pays for those, don’t we?


Four hundred men, all kinds, all here, on-site:

Some tall, intelligent; some short and dumb;

I found that many couldn’t read or write;

the Dumb outnumber Smart: Life’s rule of thumb.

But smart or dumb, most sought the camp life’s peace:

Uncomplicated; lots of work, and sleep.

For recreation, “music” brought release

(Though combs and spoons might make the Muses weep … )


But then there’s the money I mentioned earlier.


Yes, money brought them here, and brought them back:

Three times the bucks! and cannot write their name!

Yet, as they say, “All work, no play, makes jack,”

and lots of that, my friend; that’s why they came.

They might not read or write, but what the hell?

To cash their cheques, an “X” works just as well.


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Flea Market

Collectors of rare baseball cards or first-issue comic books will seek in vain if they depend on the flea markets. A first appearance of Superman©* (Action Comics©* #1©*, June©* 1938©*) will, I believe, set you back at least four figures (and the first figure isn’t 1 or 2). Looking for a autographed Babe Ruth baseball card? Forget it; even Bill Gates would have to check his bank account. Whatever else you’re looking for, though, you could probably find an example of it in the flea market.

Glass cookie jar, $75

But the biggest problem with flea markets lies in the proprietors’ exaggerated ideas of what constitutes valuable antiquity. So often absolute garbage is priced like the crown jewels.

Common articles that were manufactured back in the 1930s — the time when the only thing people could afford was junk — manufacturers wisely manufactured junk, and thus were able to sell what they made, and realize a modest profit at a time when profits were thin on the ground.

Juicer, $25

Today, flea markets, through some warped belief that great age is synonymous with great value, will display cups, glasses, and ashtrays that were given away free with a gallon of gas back in 1935, and call them “antiques,” and charge $50 for them.

Sadly, they refuse to believe a basic truth: What was junk in 1935 is still, by and large, junk today, its only merit its unchanging reliability: It was, is, and always will be worthless.


*  Just making sure I’m covered, copyright-wise. The name of the superhero and the comic book title are awash in copyright restrictions; I don’t think anyone will be sure who owns what until the law courts resolve the issue. So, until then: No illustrations.

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“…let’s see, new eraser only upon receipt of worn stub …”

Doctors are a lot like a new sales manager. As soon as the new manager sits down at his new desk, he starts changing things. He has to. If he doesn’t, the boss will think “Why did we hire this new guy? He’s not doing anything.” So the new man changes things, anything, everything. He even cuts down on office supplies. “Pencils are walking out the door by the dozen. Henceforth only 1.5 pencils per employee per month; we’ll save millions!” (and employees’ kids will have to buy their own school pencils). Anything to justify his existence. Doctors are the same:


He never says “yes” when “no” will do;

the doctor’s never at fault, just you.

Prescriptions multiply by reams;

we spend our life taking pills, it seems.

And the costs are high, but what can you say?

When it comes to health, you have to pay.


“If I can’t take it with me, I won’t go.”





And if you’re not happy with that, the doctor will point out to you, as if you didn’t know, “You can’t take it with you,” and preventing you is precisely the doctor’s aim. You can’t take it with you, ’cause he’s taking it with him.


You know? I’ve given it a lot of thought;

I’ve looked at the numerous gaffes I’ve wrought,

— compared to the doc’s mistakes I’ve spied—

and find, by George, that the score is tied!

Well, even money’s the best of bets;

in life, my friend, that’s as good as it gets.

So I’ll say goodbye to pills and bills,

and all the prescriptions the pharmacy fills.

And I’ll laugh at the doctor’s grave caveat …”


… and hope I’m still laughing the week after that.


Illustrations © www.ClipProject.info

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Old Age

The guy who says “You know, old age has a lot going for it,” is someone who (a) is 15 years old and doesn’t know anything about old age, or (b) is a politician who wants your vote, or (c) a manufacturer of walkers, canes, prosthetics, and hip replacement parts & service, or (d) is a guy who has shares in a pharmaceutical company.

None of these people —and they’re all under 60 — have a clue, not a clue, about old age. If you’re looking for the truth, you have to talk to the old guys themselves, because that’s where the truth lies (semantics shows us a subtle second meaning there, doesn’t it …). And — wonder of wonders! — you’ll find there is a lot to be said for old age. Think of all the advantages:

1 — No cramp in the side from running too much (If you’re over 70 and do any running, you should be placed in an institution).

2 — No troublesome responsibilities (“Don’t give the job to George. Old George is losing it.”)

3 — You’ll always have the Old Age Weasel Clause: “I forgot.”

4 — You’ll have an easier path up the corporate ladder (“Put George on the Board of Directors. We can always blame him if anything goes wrong.”)

When you can sit on every single thing you own, you have gained an enviable independence.*

5 — You’ll gain a middle name: George “I’m working on it” Smith.

6 — Instead of having to go out and pick something up, others will have to deliver. “I’m not allowed to drive anymore.”

7 — Children and grandchildren will become more considerate and will do things for you. (“I mean, he’s gonna die any day now.”) Hang in there for maximum gains.

8 — Get even more things done for you: Don’t complain about pain. Just wince. Makes you look brave (and not incidentally makes those who don’t do things for you look like the selfish brutes they are).

9 — In company, gain attention and sympathy by moving around with difficulty. You can move around easier (and more normally) after they’ve gone.

I’m confident you can come up with at least a dozen more avenues of geriatric profit.


* Photo by Michael Maggs

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Cobourg’s town hall, Victoria Hall, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this month. The municipal centre, it is also home to a unique duplication of one of England’s famous landmarks: The Old Bailey, centre of The Law, awash with wigs, self-important magistrates, and devious lawyers, and featured in countless novels and paperback who-dunnits. A legal citadel; the sine qua non of law’s cold and unforgiving face. No playing sneaky little legal games in the Old Bailey, by George, and Cobourg’s version is equal to London’s expression of legal pomp and circumstance.

London's Old Bailey by Thomas Rowlandson, 1808.

Open the grand doors of Cobourg’s courtroom and you are carried back in time:


From every cheek bold Levity is snatched;

The mere suggestion of a smile dispatched.

No laughter here, for here is Law enthroned,

Where Pity’s strong, and Charity is cloned.


Well, that’s always debatable, no less in Cobourg’s courtroom than in its English mother. Because of our northern latitude, the judge’s eye might be considerably colder, less benevolent, more prone to longer sentences, harder time, fewer paroles.


Victoria Hall

Defendants squirm beneath that icy gaze,

And count their freedom not in weeks but days.

One hapless fellow actually wears a shirt;

Stands straight, as if the collar didn’t hurt;

All know that when he last appeared this clean

Was here in court, last week it must have been.

The judge looks ’round; his arctic glance will land

On deep-dyed criminals: past hope, they stand,

Appalled by Law’s relentless hand, and wait

Upon the fickle guillotine of Fate.


The innocent—like me!—finds with dismay

He’s cheek-by-jowl with those arraigned this day!

Beside me Jack the Ripper’s kin does frown;

Behind: the rip-off artists of the town;

Below, the speeders brag of miles per hour,

Describe their cars, exaggerate their power …


But — and everywhere it is the same — commerce will always trump the law. In our imaginary view of Cobourg’s “Old Bailey” business comes first; the law must take second place, sit on its hands, and wait while speeders consider buying faster cars, and thieves, awaiting their fate outside in the hall, ignore the law and ponder still more profitable thefts …


… and girls of sad repute will pace the halls,

Yet still, on cell phones, take important business calls.

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Most of us—me, at least, and certainly all those over the age of 60—remember our mothers’ extraordinary cooking methods. I can remember my mother breaking an egg into a bowl, and using one of the half-shells to add some milk, then carrying on to make a cake or something. She would sometimes ask me to fill a tin cup with water “up to the second scratch.” That gave her the water she needed, apparently. Today’s young cooks seem to need the latest word in sophisticated measuring devices. I wonder: Do they make it a better cake? I don’t know. All I remember, for certain, is that my mother’s half-eggshell played its part in the creation of a gorgeous cake.

Mothers’ work. Carême would have been green with envy.

I don’t want to sound like a Luddite. To lay a categoric all-encompassing knock on all today’s modern appliances is not only foolish in principle, but will make you a loser in practice.

The other day we bought a slow cooker. Forget about your magic wands, Harry Potter; a slow cooker is a real magic wand, producing food to die for. And slow cookers are not alone. Disregarding labour-saving aspects, and there’s much of that, the food produced by so many of these appliances is wonderful.

… and the kind of thing I would do. Note the money-saving trick — eliminating one bump in the border.

Luddites might have had a valid point back in the 19th century — their very livelihood was at stake — but to turn your back on many of today’s innovative culinary devices is simply antiquarian and short-sighted. The only one to suffer is you.

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Town Hall

This month is the 150th anniversary of the building of Victoria Hall, our town’s municipal centre. It was built in 1860, seven years before Canada’s confederation; Newfoundland would still be a separate country for another 89 years (still is in the eyes of many).

At a glance, Victoria Hall would seem an anachronism: In a town of perhaps 20,000 population it rivals England’s Buckingham Palace in pomp and majesty, and offers serious competition to our own nation’s parliament buildings in Ottawa — the ones that were rebuilt after the old ones burned down in 1916.  The cornerstone of the original pre-fire buildings was laid in the same year, 1860, that our Victoria Hall was built. Free of the disasters that struck the nation’s capital, our own edifice has continued, over all her years, to serve us in many ways:

Victoria Hall, looking west.

We see her concert hall amuse our days

With soirées musicales, and operas, and plays.

Like beauty everywhere, she costs — a lot:

Unladylike, through tax her favours bought.

But taxes taken, smiling, gives our due,

And entertains us with a play or two.


Many see her style as static, old fashioned in a time of rapidly changing architectural styles. But not everyone agrees.


Victoria hall, looking east

Does age her beauty dim? Does fashion frown?

When looking up does youth deplore her gown?

Is it so wrong, to be entranced by trim?

Forsake the “clean” and “simple” for a whim?

Find satisfaction in entablature,

Though somewhat dulled with time, still fine and pure?


To others, lacking taste and time, she’ll seem …

A fading shade, an old Victorian dream.

Her past on long-gone dreams of greatness lies:

Old fashioned stones now mocked by seagulls’ cries.


But some of us, and I’m one of them, reject the slavery of the frantic slide show of pointless fashion, and turn away from senseless “change for the sake of change.”


When current taste does bore the weary eye;

When common sense can only look, and cry;

When tasteless taste appalls, can I deny

Her dusty face still pleases, turns my eye?

And heart, no less — yes, heart! O ancient towers,

You’re now, and truly always will be … ours.


Happy Birthday, Victoria.

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