Archive for May, 2012

Happy Diamond Jubilee, Your Majesty…

The Queen, née Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, is celebrating her 60th anniversary on the throne.  Most people would be retiring at 60 years of age, yet alone six decades on the job…but Her Majesty, however, appears just to be warming up!  Now you may say what you want…you may be a republican, or you may be an anti-Monarchist.  But I bet regardless of your age, if you ever have the chance to meet any of the Commonwealth’s Royal Family, you will probably regress to a bashful young child.  I did…

I have always been part of the Commonwealth – my parents are from British India, I was  born in Britain and finally, I am a Canadian citizen – and I have only had one Queen. I have lived in what I guess historians will call the Second Elizabethan Era.  As a child, I remember watching the Royal Christmas Day Addresses…it just wasn’t Christmas without the Queen saying, “I wish you all a Happy Christmas.”  And when I joined the Service, she symbolised my commitment to Country and Duty; she is the Colonel-in-Chief of my Corps, the Royal Patron of the Canadian Military Engineers.   And I have met her…transfixed and tongue-tied as I was, as I half-bowed and muttered a confused reply to The Question, “And where might you be from?”.  I recall grinning ear to ear and looking like a complete idiot. “Er…ummmm…Canada, Ma’am (rhymes with “jam”)…you are my Colonel-in-Chief”…as if she did not know that…very insightful and witty banter from a guy who considers himself well spoken.  I suppose everyone reacts like that.  Or at least I hope so…

And how popular is The Queen?  To me, and many others, Her Majesty is an icon. Queen Elizabeth is Britain, and Canada, and the Commonwealth. She is the fight against tyranny – having  served during the War. She is proper British diction and High Tea. She is the stiff British upper lip in the face of hardship, criticism and strife.

And sadly, like all of us, She has felt pain. She suffered through occasions of tragedy and death, and the annus horribilus, full of scandal and strife.  It is the stuff closet-skeletons are made of and things that most of us would desperately try to keep private from prying eyes.  But because The Queen lives in the public eye, her pain and discomfort have become fodder for the tabloids and the critics and she has persevered.  Not many of us could survive that kind of scrutiny and still function – not only function but keep up a diary that would have most collapsing in fatigue. And I can only imagine the small talk she must entertain and endure while fulfilling her obligations…

And like most that serve the public, she has been the object of parody and satire.  Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious wrote an Ode to Her Majesty – not a fawning one either – and She has been parodied in bad Hollywood Movies.  Helen Mirren has played her on film – showing her human side, as has Emma Thompson who has depicted her calm response while dealing with an intruder into her Palace bedroom.

She has been on every coin I ever collected as a newspaper boy.  I have affixed her image to my letters, and I have dusted the Silver Jubilee plates that my Mother placed on the mantle.  She, or her likeness, have been ubiquitous.

She has travelled the World.  Aboriginals from many nations have danced for her and lit peace pipes or shared other ceremonies. Republicans have dropped their opposition and shaken her hand.  First Ladies have hugged her, and Presidents have blushed. She has won over countries that do not even have Royals – unless you count baseball playing ones in Kansas.

And true, she has her detractors. But yet, She and everything she represents, endure. Like everything else that survives for a long time, Her Majesty has evolved; some say the face of the Royalty has changed and that it is more in touch than ever before. The British Monarchy has even embraced Facebook. And with 60 years on the throne, she is still going strong.  I don’t know many other figureheads that have done the same – at least not in my lifetime. And whether you like the idea of a monarch or not, you still have to admire Her Majesty’s dedication and service and longevity. It is leadership by example.

With her colourful hats and her matching coats and frocks, she walks among her subjects and others; wherever she goes, Her Majesty becomes everyone’s Queen.

And even if you are not a Monarchist or a citizen of the Commonwealth, take a moment to enjoy the history of the Day. For my part, I will enjoy the Jubilee. And as I am lucky enough to be in London for the Jubilee, I will raise a glass and toast my Sovereign and my Colonel-in-Chief.  And I will sing the second verse to the Anthem – as surprised as I was to learn there was one! Even if you do not know it, do not fret.  You can send your best wishes with four simple words…

God Save The Queen.

Happy Diamond Jubilee Ma’am (rhymes with “jam”).  Long may you reign.

Later,

ASF

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I don’t want bushy eyebrows…

I have a pinched nerve in my shoulder.  My left shoulder.  It is so painful that I had to eventually go in to the doctor…of my own accord…without my wife asking me to. All you married people out there – You know that is bad.

And how did I injure myself you ask? Rugby? Hockey? Soccer?  Nope. Nope. Nope. I aggravated it on a soft hotel bed, using pillows that were too hard.  How lame is that?  And over the last two weeks, I have made it worse by spending 8+ hours a day at work in a non-ergonomic work station. I can’t believe I used those words –  ergonomic work station. Even lamer.

But before the doc diagnosed it as a pinched nerve, I was the typical man.  Yep…I self-diagnosed using my years of medical training (countless hours watching ER and Doogie Howser and House, MD)  and writing it off as too much pumping iron, or perhaps the onset of osteoarthritis from an earlier dislocation.  But a couple of weeks of continued pain in the left arm and shoulder, an inability to sleep in my favourite position, and soon I was on the Internet, checking my symptoms on the various medical pages.  There I was, clicking on pages and links that no young man would ever look at…and because it was my left arm that was ‘a-paining’, I was directed to myocardial infarctions, cardiac distress, cholesterol levels (with a lengthy diversion onto the benefits of a high fibre diet courtesy a well-placed hyperlink).  I then moved from there, distracted by Lance Armstrong’s personal sruggle, and starting reading about testicular cancer and prostates and PSA tests. And then it was a simple leap (of  just a few centimetres, really) to learning more about bowel issues and other topics that are just TMI for this blog.

Then I was struck by a thought:  How did I get here? When did I start giving a crap about things like that (no pun intended)?  What has happened to me? And…more importantly…what is happening to my body?  As I edge closer to the half century mark, so many things are changing – and many are unflattering and just plain annoying.  I miss the resilience and endurance I used to have when younger.

I mean, I still love spicy food and curries and jalapeno peppers and hot sauce and wasabi. But, my stomach lining and my diaphragm,  do not. The mild splash of stomach acid weeping into places it shouldn’t weep is just so sad.  No more asking for the Five Alarm CheektowagaIrv Weinstein” Nachos, the “Weep-at-the-aroma-only” suicide wings, theTabasco and Tequila fuelled Prairie Chicken.

Now it’s, “No, not the cheeky vindaloo, Sir.  I’ll have the mild korma, please”.  And, things that were in the old man aisle at Shoppers’ are now an occasional buy – Pepto, Tums, Gavsicon, Maalox.   My new catchphrase to the young and fool-hardy, the ones who have the asbestos-lined stomachs is, “If it burns on the way in, it’ll burn on the way out!”  Most don’t care – they are young and will heal quickly – but it makes me feel wise.  Like the old bull who walks down the hill.  The old bull who rations his chili pepper that is…

And what happened to the full night’s sleep?  That seems to have disappeared along with the hair. Caffeine after dinner is simply inviting the” kiss of death” for the Sandman. And if you have suffered a sleepless night, you will know that insomnia is insidious. Night time is much too quiet, much too long, and too full of bad TV infomercials, to spend awake thinking about all those little things that are in the recesses of your mind – things like did I put enough into my RSPs, why is my shoulder hurting, are the kids happy, should I buy snow tires?  Don’t small problems just grow bigger in the dark?   I do not enjoy that aspect of getting older.

And to add to the insult, just as the diaphragm weakens in the face of the acid onslaught, the nocturnal bladder seems just as frail in the face of the evening peppermint tea or just-before-bed glass of water ( I have learned this unfortunate reality is called nocturia, and is way too common). If I am lucky, I make my mid-night bathroom run at 2am or 3am, allowing for a delicious second “nap” before the alarm buzzes.  If I am unlucky, I do the porcelain shuffle fifteen minutes before I have to get up.  And I hate that…I fight it savagely.  I play mind games and struggle to deny that “too full” feeling like I am in a sleeping bag in a tent in the middle of a wet night. It would all be better if I could just fall back asleep and my bladder could wait until it is time to get up…but there is no cooperation. I might steal a few more ZZZZs, but they are always interrupted by the dream involving a waterfall or rain or a babbling brook.  Muscles that were once taut and resilient are older and less robust (Note to Self: read up on kegles for men…).  I hate the mid-sleep pee, especially since sleep seems to be a rare commodity.

Another sign of the age apocalypse hit me when I was at the barbers’ in Kingston (the Wilstassier was a little too long for the Gillette Mach 3).  At the end of the Zero, the barber asked me if I wanted my ears and eyebrows trimmed.  Excuse me?  What did you say?  Who am I? Dumbledore … Oscar the Grouch…my Dad?  And after a quick glance in the mirror, I relented.  Sadly, I now realise that I am part of the fuzzy-ear, bushy-eyebrow crowd (we won’t mention those unruly nose-hairs). I will need to include this new grooming ritual with the rest of my old man routine of belly lint and toenail clipping and corn medicine and Gold Bond anti-itch powder.  Soon it’ll be sock garters, the suspenders and belt combo, the trousers’ waistband pulled up to the nipples, the love of pastel colours, and the blue-plate special at Denny’s. Though my body may be heading that way, in my brain I am not ready yet – not in the slightest.

The shoulder is annoying, and I will need a physio or massage therapist to work out the issue.  And as I am wiser, I will actually do all the prescribed therapy. I will use the big stretchy rubber ribbons and the 5lb weights and I will stretch.  I will do it because if I don’t, my body will not forgive me. And, I will eventually run out of ibuprofen.

And that leads me to the tragic bit.  Though I really know better, and realise that it is not wise, I will continue to emulate the life I lived when I was 20. But eventually (like the next day) I will have to cash the cheque I wrote earlier.  And while I am not ready to give up the spicy food yet, and I still enjoy my evening tipple, and I will still hobble onto the rugby pitch for an Old Boys’ or alumni game – everything must come in moderation. That is what old people do. They act sensibly.

But I hope that as in the past,  a wee, tiny, little bit of me will rebel and on occasion  quote Oscar Wilde: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”  And because I am man, and still want to frolic in the fields with the young bulls, I will follow that siren call.

But until then, please excuse me. My beverage just kicked in.  I have to go use the restroom…

Later,

ASF

House Hunting Week from Hell!

Not quite a horror movie …but almost as scary

We have just finished the week(+) from hell…a limited time frame to find, inspect and finance the purchase of a house to live in as a step to moving to my new job.  Don’t get me wrong: the sponsored house hunting trip is a fantastic perk (I’ll just call it The Hunt).  But, it is a complicated and emotionally draining process – only slightly less complicated by the fact we did not have to sell a house, too.  (In my opinion, that just makes it a Orwellian “double-plus-ungood” scenario).

There are many steps to The Hunt – and for you novices, out there, let me warn you that gender has a big role to play in how much emotional capital is invested in each step.  Again – Venus versus Mars!!! First comes the weeks of internet searching, Google-mapping, cross-referencing, short-listing. Questions and comparisons follow: how many bathrooms? Bedrooms? Finished basement? Backyard, hot tub, pool?  Photos?  Price? Every new house that appears on the internet is a veritable hockey-sock full of nervous apprehension – is it sold yet? Now? Will it be sold before I get there?  Aaaaaaahhhhh!!!

And every digital version of a house looks like it is your next new home…its details painted in rosy hues using the painfully optimistic – and truth-bending prose of the realtor’s spin jargon ( I mean really, an “unspoiled basement”? Just tell me it is not finished.  4 bedrooms – really, isn’t the fourth nothing but a utility room with a bed in it?  Slight fixer-upper? Recently renovated? By whom, The Golden Girls?)

But while the ever-present spin can be annoying – there is significant potential for an Evil that lurks below the surface. Is the seller honest, is the realtor trustworthy, is everything transparent, is the house inspector reliable and skilled?…It is all a potential minefield seeded with broken hopes and drained finances.

But even though we fly away from our new Hometown exhausted, emotionally sprained – and for a brief while spiritually crushed – we do have a house!  And soon the pain will subside, as we look forward to our new house with a degree of optimism.  It comes with the promise of many more happy memories.

But what a ride The Hunt is!  Early optimism and mirth is replaced by desperation and tears; further renewed enthusiasm is shattered on the rocks of “creative web design” versus “the real walk-through”…of bad smells and magenta walls and rotting window sills and ugly cabinets and poor plumbing and cracked foundations and wall-to-wall berber carpet and crumbling roofs and daycare-running neighbours. None of these drawbacks were clear in the creatively deceptive and attractive web images.  And into this cocktail of vulnerability, add a healthy shot of the realities of making an offer on a house (and the fear of a bidding war if you are too timid or disrespectful) and offers and counter offers and counter-counter offers – it is, and always will be a high stakes poker game.  In the end, there is the possible loss of a wanted house (or a sale for that matter) – and other potential sad endings.  All can become a stark reality brought about by a simple misunderstanding of the other parties’ psyche, or a poorly-timed burst of  self-righteousness, idignation,  and pride…“ Well I am not paying $500 more – they can bend a bit, too…dammit!”

As I think back on it, and though I have had more than enough, The Hunt had its funny moments, too.  I remember the  two-dozen, or so, houses that did not make the grade – and I took mental notes of the flaws and features that had us backing out the door as fast as we could.  Things like:

Eau de Labrador (or two Labradors and two cats) that permeated the carpet and was only made worse by the unmistakably saccharine sweet smell of the flower-scented powdered carpet deodorizer.  All the Febreeze in the World will not cover up the smell of doggy anal glands rubbed on the carpet, with a nice dash of cat-ammonia to boot.

The Hoarder House…stacks of magazines, paper bags, rubber bands, newspapers, mason jars, … stuffed bunnies and bears and spooky dolls looking down on the marriage bed like lifeless voyeurs.  A weird Bates’ Motel motif that leaves you breathless – for all the wrong reasons.

The Cheap “Good-from-Far-but-Far-from-Good” Basement Bathroom RenovationPrettily executed by a DIY cowboy, complete with bubbled laminate flooring hiding the drain hole and non-functioning ventilation fan…a potential breeding ground for the black mold and microbe infestation after a few months of long hot showers.  It almost had us duped until we noticed that it was like the Wyle E’s numerous schemes – good on paper but a complete disaster in the making.

The Partially-Finished Basement House…all tastefully done in concrete floor and plastic wrapped pink fibre insulation wallpaper, with one dry-boarded, but un-taped-, un-mudded, and unpainted exterior wall. True…so very true that it was only partly finished – I’d say about 3% completed.  It was very cozy in a card-board box kind of way.

And in the same vein…

The Fixer Upper – all you need to do is install new carpets, new floors, new drywall, new roof, new furnace, new appliances (the avocado green and harvest gold are retro-chic, but both appliances in a kitchen should sport the same 1970 Kenmore hue).  A steal at $350K+, as long as you have a spare $50K sitting around and three years to flip it…

The War of the Roses House…aka The Divorce House.  A steal at the selling price I am sure, but rendered completely undesirable due to the complete lack of furniture save the folding camping chairs,  army blanket bed linen, the stacks and stacks of Liquor Store paper bags and a lovely growth of mold in the basement.  Oh yes, and add the smell of depressed man hygiene and unwashed feet to the mix. Given the Sad Sack owner’s poor state of affairs, I would be afraid to have any pets in the house lest a misdirected ex-spouse not realise the house had been sold…and set about preparing a rustic rabbit stew à la Glenn Close…

The “The-Owner-Won’t-Leave-the-House” House Showing. Now we never really had a full one of these, but we did have the “owner sitting on the back deck”, and the “owner coming home early” showings. It is amazing how much people want to show you about their homes – the fantastic touches that make it a great buy. And it is even more amazing how we can make up wonderful things to say about houses that really, really suck. It is actually kinda sad…our politeness gives them false hope. I can just imagine them after our departure, “Looks good, Hon’! Didja’ hear him? He said it showed really well. I have a good vibe on this one!” So cruel…

The Turnip House…our nom de plume for the variety of houses where sellers would benefit from the services of a Fluffer, or Stager…whatever you call them.  The Turnip House sticks out because it smelled bad. “Why?” you ask…because the rotting uncooked turnip in the cast iron pot on the stove smelled bad. And I do not mean just soft…I mean oozy and minutes away from hosting the fruit fly convention that was partying in the bowl of black (yes, black…not speckled, not bruised…but black) bananas a few metres away.  Things that make you go “hmmmmm”.  And into this category falls the dirty underwear on the laundry room floor or the damp towels sitting on the bathroom counter. If you don’t know what sells, I only have one word…Fluffers, people… fluffers…they’re not just for porn stars.

In the end, our Short List was really short and, like Life, timing is everything.  When we lost out on our first house due to someone’s omission (and not ours) we were thoroughly dejected and despondent. But as my Mom says, “Everything happens for a reason, Dear.” And that is so true.  We found one that suits us better!  Happy with our purchase, we now return for our last two months in Europe.  And while we are tired and drained, and perhaps a little sad that our fun outside Canada is ending, we have a bright, tidy, lovely home to look forward to with excitement.

And, thankfully, a great list of things “not-to-do” if we ever decide to sell up because we are moving.  But that, given my experience over the past 9 days, is not something I hope to do in a hurry!  As those of you who are just returning from The Hunt already know – it just hurts too much!

I am sure there are many untold house hunting disaster stories out there.  It would be great if you left a comment and shared some or your personal “best” moments or memories from Your Hunts. I am sure it would make all of Us feel a lot better. Like they say, “Misery loves company”…  🙂

Later,

ASF