Summer’s over

Well, hasn’t it been an age since Brexit. Britain is still standing. The Sprigge quotidian hasn’t really changed – apart from the pound sliding, but then, not as much as I expected, against a weak Canadian dollar. So we might be buying a little less, but that is no bad thing. Let’s hope the rhetoric has cooled and we can all speak civilly with each other again.

Summer is over! It’s time to go back to England! So what on earth have we been doing? I’m not sure. But, here we go. Seven things I’ve learned this summer:

 

  1. Ottawa is a beautiful city, our capital, with its two rivers and one canal. No, make that a beautiful big town that thinks it’s a city. Ottawa is tidy – it picks up after itself. (After 100,000 people descended for ‘race weekend’ in May, on the Monday, there were only stacks of fencing as evidence of the huge crowds that had been the day before. Same after Canada Day. Same after any one of a number of festivals.) If Ottawa were a person, it would take its shoes off by the front door and make polite conversation with you. In two languages! (I love that. In Toronto it was hard to find French, though you could hear just about every other language..) It would take you to concerts and not kill you at spin or yoga classes. (‘you do as much as you can…’) It would roll up its sidewalks at 5 PM if it thought that would make you happy. Failing that, it provides you with access to traffic-free cycle paths from your front door, opening up literally hundreds of kilometers of trails. And you can get away from the city city to go hiking, canoeing, whatever, in 20 minutes (not to be attempted in Toronto, Montreal, London, LA, etc etc,)

 

  1. Being retired allows one to spread one’s mind a bit – a joy. I took a super philosophy class which elevates thinking and words into ethereal regions not just confined to ‘as applied to medical ethics’ – try some Bertrand Russell: Martha Nussbaum writes about anger, its uses and abuses, and although she is sometimes ‘off the wall’ she writes beautifully: If she came for dinner, one wouldn’t have to do much talking!

 

  1. The towering redwoods in California really are stunning. A religious experience – that’s all. Go see them.

 

  1. The Pacific Coast Highway in California really isn’t good for those afraid of heights (I myself am not afraid of heights, but simply of falling off them…) – but beautiful. The forest fires (set by humans) have closed all the state parks and done untold damage. But still – stunning.

 

  1. The Trump supporters that we have met believe he will modify his rhetoric if he’s elected – ‘he’s not the Trump I know from the past.’ (Wait – he who has been the major Obama birth denier for years, who fires people on television for entertainment?? How much worse can it get?) And at the same time, Clinton supporters are not supremely confident about their candidate. Even Justin Trudeau is not looking quite so sunny recently. Ah, USA, ah, world. Take a break. We’re worried about you.

 

  1. Through Libby’s friend’s (David) Aunt Deb, I have discovered a world of Aboriginal literature and a world view that I hadn’t known or appreciated before. (Read Tom King’s ‘The Inconvenient Indian’ to start; any prose by Louise Erdich, or Tom King, Pulitzer prize winning ‘House Made of Dawn’ or, perhaps, the Enquiry into Residential Schools…)

 

  1. Reconnecting with family and friends is a real, real, joy. Who knew?

Thanks for the memories…

Till later.

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Canada Day

Ah, Canada Day. Nothing like the feel of jet lag in the morning. The day dawned initially crisp and clear. We walked along the Rideau Canal towards the Ottawa River, avoiding the huge crowds on Parliament Hill, come to hear music, sing the anthem, hear from dignitaries, amongst them the coolest of cool, Justin Trudeau. Instead we traced our way past the National Arts Centre, down the canal locks, past an open-air tent where scores of people were engaged in a Canadian citizenship ceremony in the shadow of our parliament – what a wonderful experience for each one of them, to become Canadian citizens on Canada’s birthday, just metres away from our centre of government.

We crossed the canal, up to Major’s Hill Park, through throngs of red-and-white T-shirted Canadians; watched some wild eastern European-origin circus boys do amazing tricks with juggling before watching the snowbird jets (equivalent to the red arrows of the former ‘united’ kingdom) also doing amazing tricks, this time using millions of dollars worth of aircraft. We reflected on the diversity of the crowds – multiple races, ethnicities, all feeling Canadian, all celebrating, and wondered whether in the current atmosphere in England it would be impossible to hold without riot.

So – in a week when Obama came to our parliament to speak, and said (along with many other things! it’s 50 minutes! http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/obama-speech-parliament-1.3658244) ‘the world needs a bit more Canada,’ a week when the Guardian is celebrating us (https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/jul/04/canada-urban-tribes-craic-addicts-hogtown-heroes and twitter: #GuardianCanada) let’s hope we can live up to it.

Canada is pretty cool. It is diverse. It doesn’t always accept that diversity (Stephen Harper’s conservatives, for example, used wearing the hijab an issue during the election last year (who was running that campaign I wonder? Does the name Lynton Crosby and the ‘dead cat’ phenomenon come to mind?) (for it was him) but by and large, it’s on the face of it welcoming, and for that reason the nasty proclivities are held back, embarrassing for most of us; once Nigel Farage and his like lets these evil genies out of the bottle it’s hard to manage to retrieve the civility they have devoured.

However, lest we seem a bit braggy and unCanadian, let’s remember a few home truths. Most of us are immigrants, and we have a tradition of welcoming others to our wide open spaces (for example, when Vietnamese boat people needed places to come in the 60s and 70s, Hungarians welcomed in the 50s remembered their welcome, and in turn came to their aid) – but not always without controversy. Brexiteers bang on about the Australian immigration point system – Canada has a point system too, the difference I suppose being that we don’t house asylum seekers in a festering prison camp on an offshore island. So Canada is welcoming, but to a point – to a point where the middle class and successful are more welcome.

So come on Canada – let’s celebrate you. But let’s be a bit realistic too – let’s hope we can hold on to our small-l liberal values while keeping an eye on our navels, so we don’t get too preachy. Let’s hope we can be a bit of an oasis in the sea of Brexit and Trumpist inward attention, protectionism and nasty rhetoric.

In the evening of Canada Day, we went to a concert in Confederation Park. After about 20 minutes, the heavens opened and the thunder and lightening enveloped us. Some Brits in the audience (and the conductor) looked slightly nervous. We came home drenched but happy. Something of a metaphor for where we are now. Good luck to all of us managing the storms ahead.

 

 

Brexit

On Friday morning, John said to me “I feel like I have just gone through a divorce, woken up with a new wife and wondered ‘what have I done? Why did I do that?’” At the time, he was talking about our wrenching move away from 18 Kirby Park, our family home for 28 years. But when we turned on the news, we both were overcome by feelings of nausea and more ‘what have we done? Why did we do that?’ Britain has voted for Brexit. The casual contempt of the English for all that is not English has translated into a leap into the unknown.

 

We have only been back in England for 10 days, but we are both sad and disturbed by the toxicity of the conversations about the EU, and the divides they have uncovered. Our friends, almost to a man, voted Remain. So did most of the British experts in finance and social policy. The tradesmen and small businessmen (mostly men) that we have had contact with – hairdressers, restauranteurs, moving men, builders, electricians, plumbers, have, almost to a man, voted Leave. I have been told how to pronounce English words properly. An MP has been shot, stabbed and killed. And Nigel Farage has said that this represents a victory for ‘decent people’ ‘without a shot being fired.’

 

The divisions in British society are pretty stark. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to Remain, as did London, and the metropolitan areas of large cities like Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds. The rest of the country – didn’t. Young people – those who will bear the consequences – voted overwhelmingly to Remain. Those over 60 – didn’t. Those in good jobs, those with university education, us urban elites, voted to Remain. Those without – didn’t.

 

In 1979, when Margaret Thatcher came to power, manufacturing accounted for 30% of GDP and employed 6.8 million; by 2010, it was 11% and employed 2.5 million. Six years of austerity have contributed to a growing disconnect between haves and have nots in this country. And its leadership have signally failed to make the positive case for Europe, the case for immigration, the case for the European Convention of Human Rights and other legislation protecting our rights and responsibilities. And our children and grandchildren will bear the consequences.

 

It’s not as though this could not have been anticipated. There has always been an unpleasant streak beneath ‘keep calm and carry on.’ Remember ‘Gotcha’ the Sun’s reportage of the sinking of an Argentinian ship (with much loss of life) during the Falklands war. The casual racist comments at dinner parties. The pro-Brexit debater reported in the Guardian telling an Austrian living in London “You won’t stay for long anyway. Tomorrow you can pack your suitcase.” The football hooligans in France crowing “We’re voting out!” And on. Politically, England has always been an unstable bedfellow in Europe, ungracious, kicking and struggling against its responsibilities, always wanting to be treated as a special case.

 

So now what? Who knows? Tony Blair said this week that he was reminded of Blazing Saddles, when the sheriff holds a gun to his own head and says “If you don’t do what I want I’ll blow my brains out.” Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage, the architects of the battle, to lead England – where? Johnson and Gove looked pale and somewhat shaken during their post-win press conference. Can we really see them leading the country to more jobs, less immigration, better housing, more money for the NHS – all that the Brexiteers have been promised? What will happen when all that doesn’t happen? More anger? As Jonathan Friedland wrote after Jo Cox’s murder “when you inject enough poison into the system, something is going to get sick.” What now for the Labour party, weakened and reeling at a time when the country calls out not just for strong leadership but also strong opposition? And what will happen to the European project now, after 70 years of relative peace, as right wing parties from France to Italy to Greece rub their hands in delight at referenda to come.

 

Gaby Hinsliff quoted Plutarch ‘If we are victorious in one more battle… we shall be utterly ruined.’ The conversation about Europe has cost the Conservative party three prime ministers and fratricidal divisions that are only saved by toothless Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. We can only hope that we latter day Cassandras are proven wrong, but this does feel like a dark day not just for England but for Great Britain and for Europe as well.

Hillsborough

I am an adopted scourer. What’s that? Scouse is an inedible stew – meat (or if no meat available – lob scouse, I believe) and veggies in what I believe might be an inedible constellation. I have never knowingly eaten it.

But I am an adopted scourer. Scouse is from Liverpool. I am not, but my kids, nearly, are. My work was in Liverpool. My heart has been in Liverpool for these many years.

So as a Scoucer, adoptive, I weep today with my fellows as the verdict from the Hillsborough inquiry as it is read out on the television. 1989. I remember the pictures on the television. I remember the horror. I remember the disbelief. I didn’t watch football at that time – but I watched that. And I wept then and weep now.

So – the police did not tell the truth. Football fans were squeezed into pens which, at the time were felt to be the best way to minimalise hooliganism. More and more people crammed in, there was no room, 96 of them suffocated. The pens were eventually broken open, some fans pulled to safety, some burst on to the field, the game was stopped. Say it again – 96 died. Suffocated. People tried to save their family, friends. The police – some – stood by, fearing a pitch invasion. Three ambulances arrived. Fans tried to help fans. People died. Help did not come.

Sons, daughters (two in one family), fathers, mothers granddads died. In the aftermath, families were corralled into a gymnasium to identify their loved ones (mostly aged under 30) then asked how much their relatives drank or had been drinking. The Sun newspaper (I suppose amongst others, but the one I heard at my hospital) accused Liverpool fans of being responsible – of stealing from and urinating on the dying, of being drunk and disorderly causing the press, of breaking down a barrier (on this the police colluded, although they themselves had instructed that the barrier be opened, causing the crush). I have rarely seen a Sun newspaper sold in Liverpool since then, though I know they are – I don’t know who could buy them.

So today, I do not salute the 96 and their families – I weep with them, for them, I remember them, I only hope that time does not give them relief but comfort. I cannot imagine their suffering.

I also acknowledge Tony Bland, a young lad left in a persistent vegetative state after Hillsborough who was allowed to die as a victim, and whose case is ground breaking for merciful treatment of those whose life has lost its meaning, and I do salute his parents.

Back…

in the land of my birth…

Third week of spring and the temperature is minus nine with snow in the forecast.

But most of the snow has melted, revealing all sorts lost over the winter under its blanket – glove here, hat there, child’s plaything, dog’s tennis ball, magazine – oh, and there’s the beer I was drinking last November…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so, the end is nigh…

It’s nearly time to go back to England.

Gord and Kate came to stay!

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We did city stuff, like go on the subway and the streetcars, tour the Distillery District and St Lawrence market, walk till we drop, see the Art Gallery of Ontario and play Tock till all hours (no, wait, that last thing, that’s city stuff?)

We will miss you Toronto, we will miss your towers and your sunsets and the way your people don’t seem to walk in straight lines. We will miss your quirky buildings, your tree protection zones, and the drama that we can watch from our 9th storey windows every single day.

We will miss your YMCA where John has swum a total of 70 + miles over the summer, and we have played ‘senior’ squash (very refined) and kept our 150 minutes per week.

We will miss your quiet green spaces on the University campus.

We will miss going on the subway and streetcar to play tennis in the early mornings. We will miss the superlative Toronto Reference Library. We will miss seeing Julian and Andrea, and Andreas and Karen.

We’ll miss the buzz. We’ve had fun.

Hello West Kirby, then next Ottawa, what can you do to match that?

Across Canada by train –

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John’s dream. Four nights, three days. Big country!

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Lots of Ontario – are we there yet? – 36 hours …

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Winnipeg – every outdoor parking lot has a plug to keep your car warm in the winter

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Prairies – Canada’s breadbasket (and a three hour delay due to freight train derailment ahead – it’s mostly single track).

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Edmonton

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Cleaning to observation dome in Jaspar

Cleaning to observation dome in Jaspar

At it again!

At it again!

Rockies

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Smoke from forest fires

Smoke from forest fires

British Columbia

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Vancouver!

And so back to TO by plane to sell this lovely place and buy another in Ottawa. We believe in stress!