Posts from the ‘Stuff I like’ Category

…Most wonderful time of the Year!

First day of school! Back to school supplies, new clothes, lunches all sorted and arranged in a frenzy of preparedness…parents across the continent have snapped pictures and sent the kids packing.  A mixture of pride, and perhaps relief, with a whiff of sadness.  They are growing up.

And for some, the day is full of angst as four-year olds make their first forays into junior kindergarten, or their older kids start at a new school for the first time, and as older ones spread their wings and leave the nest in their first years of university.

So much emotion, so much anxiety.  Will they make friends? Will their teacher be nice? Will they be bullied?  Will they be happy?

The answers – yes, hopefully, hopefully not, and yes.  We were happy – just like the generations before us. Both at school and after school.

I can’t say that everything at school was fantastic, I mean my Grade 4 teacher Mrs. B used to chastise us with, “Stop whispering back there!  I used to listen for airplanes during the war – I can hear you plainly!” Also, several of her students passed out while executing the daily “Lead the Class in Oh Canada” duty…and there was the unfortunate “karate chop” incident that led to my one-on-one with the Principal…

But overall, thinking of school is nothing but a nostalgic visit with memories that make me happy.  We all have them. Things like:

Recess.  I mean recess…how cool.  Unless it was “Indoor Recess” because it was too cold or too wet.  Recess meant “foot hockey”…tennis ball soccer with goalies using their coats as “goalie pads”. Or it meant Four-Square or Kings’ Corner, with the red rubber bouncy ball (you know, the one that made the pinging sound as it bounced) and three opponents in a four sectioned square.  Or it meant tether ball, or dodge ball or Spud or tag or hide-and-seek or British Bulldog or red-rover.  These were the things that made school fun.

Or was it the School Sports Day?  One whole Spring day full of relay races, where everyone sat down in line – calmly – once they had navigated the obstacle course, or hula-hooped, or put on the clown outfit, or did whatever the teachers invented. A day full of competitive spirit, when every team was in the hunt for the coloured ribbons.  And it was the day when you got that awesome orangey-like juice from the McDonald’s cooler, to wash down the one lunchtime hotdog.

And what about assemblies…the whole school in one place. All the kids kept trying to get the attention of their best friend in the other class…or it was youngest siblings waving at their “cooler” older sibling who was trying their hardest to ignore them. And the snake-like cacophony of the teachers’ constant “shhh”s  as we waited for the Principal to introduce the Visitor.  Rumours were prevalent just before Assembly…would it be Elmer the Safety Elephant or Blinky the Police Car…would it be a guitar sing-song or a short film?  Would we be watching another class do a special play? So much excitement, so much fun!  Regardless of the reason, it was always an exciting break from the routine.  Good for some time away from the grindstone!

And in the same vein, what about the perennial Christmas concert…I have been to them as a parent, and except for that four-minute period that your own child is singing a Christmas medley of Rudolph/Frosty/Jingle Bells…it is painful.  Oh, wait…the kindergarten kids, regardless of their song, are so cute with their snowflake hats or elf costumes!! Regardless of the pain, for uncounted generations, parents have endured as their child has sung with gusto to be heard above the others in the Choir.

And lastly there was the favourite “Parent Night” (not to be confused with the dreaded parent-teacher conference.  Moms and dads coming in to the open house, as their children showed off their notebooks, their desk space (all tidied up and neat for the special occasion), and proudly pointing out the artwork that made the bulletin board, or the short story with the gold star at the front of the classroom.  For me and my sibs, the evening was usually capped off at the house with an evening treat – ice cream or cake and hot custard.  It was awesome.

As I sit and reminisce, I think of all the other things that made me happy to go back to school…

  • the 64 pack of Crayola with the built-in sharpener and awesome colours like Periwinkle Blue and Vermillion, which morphed into Laurentian Pencil Crayons as I grew older….
  • the utility math kit, with the compass and the protractor and the six-inch ruler and the eraser – which usually finished the season with a broken case containing only a snapped ruler…
  • marking your supplies with your name – and usually putting a masking tape “flag” on your pens on which to write your name….
  • Coming home at lunch time to tomato soup and a cheese sandwich as I watched Fred and Barney get into another jam. They were “Stupid Good-lookings”…a “Judo-chop-chop”
  • Chocolate bar sales as we raised money for some unknown cause, motivated by earning that Pizza Party for the class
  • Feeling slightly sad for the kid who forgot his indoor shoes during the winter and had to spend the day walking around in socks…but boy, could they slip and slide down the polished hallways!

  • The audio centre at the back of the classroom, where we could put on a record, don the headphones and listen to “A Spoonful of Sugar” or the “Bear Necessities”… with the teacher tapping us on the shoulder to tell us we were singing a bit too loudly
  • The jokes we used to tell…Knock,Knock…I was born on a Pirate Ship…or the mildly risqué story that was made up entirely of Chocolate Bar Names (you remember, with Oh Henry and Sweet Marie…)
  • The foldy paper-thingy – a “fortune teller” or “cootie catcher” – that had numbers and colours and told you your future depending on the combinations you gave the owner…
  • The arts and crafts that produced Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards, or Easter baskets or snowflake calendars….
  • And finally, the classroom party – dressed up for Hallowe’en, or participating in the gift exchange at Christmas ( I remember getting socks one year.  Practical; but what 8 year-old wants practical?), or the Valentine Day card-giving (with the little cards, and the unofficial competition of who would receive more, and your parents’ advice to give one to everyone so that no one’s feelings got hurt), Easter and then the  year-end Party. Surprising that we got anything done.

I don’t know if all that happens anymore.  My kids have grown.

Maybe things have changed…maybe computers and smart phones or Health and Safety and our litigious nature have changed everything.  I hope not. I hope that underneath our radar, underneath the white noise of “earning a living”, or “paying the mortgage”, or “the pursuit of the material goods”, that our kids are doing the things that kids should do – and that they are having fun. That’s the way it should be.

And, because, kids are kids, whether it is 1976 or 2012 – I bet they are! And If I’m wrong, I am sure you will let me know.

Happy back to school, Everyone.

Later,

ASF

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Cooking Comically….

http://www.cookingcomically.com/

Been busy moving across the ocean…but I stumbled on this Blog which is a great take on a cooking blog – fun and simple.  If you have kids, they may find this format easier to follow than the traditional text.  Mind you, some of the blogging may require a quick look before setting the younger ones loose on it.

Should be back on the blog within a week or two with some great vignettes of a military move!

ASF

Oh Canada…Happy 145th!

I am Canadian! I like beer and canoeing and playing Hockey (that’s ice-hockey for my European friends) and frolicking in the snow.  There are only two types of dress – I am either wearing flip-flops and shorts, or a toque and a parka. And, I like to say, “Eh?”, eh?

And while the Canadian stereotype is funny…it’s so true!  We are polite.  We say please.  We open doors. We say, “How’s it going, eh?” instead of the typical international “passing each other in silence” with our heads down.

And there are so many things that are just uniquely Canadian – things that, unless you have been to Canada, you won’t get it.  Things like suicide wings, mittens with an idiot string, Canadian Tire, “tabernouche”, a double-double and an apple fritter, a wrist-shot, bumper-shining,  poutine, Crown Royal, “Oskee wee wee, Oskee wa wa”, HNIC and Double OT,  “nine-six-seven…eleven, eleven”.  We can say Homo Milk without offending anyone.  And evidently we say aboot and hoose…and we call it a zed (not zee)…

And because we are humble and unassuming , nobody knows that Canadians have influenced sport and music and film and art and science FOREVER…if you don’t know what I mean, here’s just a short list:

Steve Nash  Mike Meyers, William Shatner, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Peter North (yes, that Peter North), Oscar Petersen, Hank “I’ve been Everywhere, Man” Snow, , Bachman-Turner Overdrive…who are always Takin’ Care of Business, Lorne “Bonanza” Green, Mordecai Richler, Leslie Neilsen, Keanu…ummm…uh…Reeves, Kiefer and Donald Sutherland, The Group of Seven, Peter Jennings, Morley Safer, John Candy, Scott Goodyear, Gordie Howe, Bronko Nagurski, Norman Jewison, Lorne Michaels, Pamela Anderson, Fay Wray, WP Kinsella, Margaret Atwood, Jim Carey, James Cameron,  Alex Trebec, Sir Frederick Banting, Stomping Tom Connors…the list could go on and on.

And if that is not enough, Canada is just so beautiful…from “Bonavista, to Vancouver Island, from the Arctic Circle, to the Great Lake waters” (you can sing it if  you want)…Urban beauty and natural wonder hand in hand; a land full of natural resources, of open spaces. Of crystal blue lakes, of hiking and skiing and boating, cottage country – and BBQs!

And what does it mean to be Canadian? It means peace making and peace keeping. It means supporting the weak. It means helping friends. It means never backing down from a fight, and never giving up even if you are the underdog. It is a multicultural mosaic, not a melting pot.

It is Spanakopita on Toronto’s Danforth, Dragon Boat races at False Creek in Vancouver, a midnight ski run in Banff, watching the Blue and Gold on a sunny, but absolutely frigid -40*C afternoon in Winnipeg, kissing the Puffin in St John’s, having a few glasses of Québécois Caribou at the Winter Carnival, racing Chuckwagons in Calgary, the Maid of the Mist at the Horseshoe Falls, or a sun that never sets in Iqaluit.  It is home.

So on 1 July, I will join about 35,000,000 fellow Canadians as we celebrate our nation’s 145th birthday. Our party will be a couple of hours earlier than back home, as we party in Trafalgar Square at the largest Canada Day bash outside Canada.  Not a bad gig, eh?

To all Canadian home and abroad, I wish you all a fantasticly Happy Canada Day, eh?  For our troops in dangerous places, be safe and know we are thinking of you.

“Oh Canada!…The true North strong and free!”

PS And just so you know I am not a calloused, curmudgeonly fellow, but that I am really a softie, it is not just Canada Day…it’s a “double-plus good” kinda day. It is also my third wedding anniversary! Doesn’t get better than that!

Later,

ASF

Oh oh….when is Father’s Day?

It will be Father’s Day this Sunday.  Or, for most dads, it will just be another Sunday. But do not fret; men are stoic, and strong, and stony, so whether our kids will remember Father’s Day or not will not matter to us. We know its Fathers’ Day, and having a day named after us is good enough.

It is funny how we all get weepy and maudlin over Mothers’ Day. Maybe it is because we know that moms spent hours heaving and groaning, sucking on ice chips, breathing like locomotives and finally screaming for an epidural, before We, as children, entered the world.  I guess that after someone goes through that much pain for you, you owe them – forever – because that is a lot of pain to pay back. And, yes, as always when it comes to mothers, there is always guilt.  Like, how I feel guilty that I did not  write an Ode to My Mother on my blog – or make a popsicle stick planter for her (again). But I did send a card, and it Is too late to write that blog now, so I will move on.

But, seriously, I will whine a little. With all that fuss and bother and concern about Moms, is it fair to just pay lip service to us Dads?  I mean, we can’t help it that we can’t share the physical pain of childbirth. It is an undeniable truth that every father would trade places if he could.  (Without a doubt, right lads?)  And do not underestimate the spiritual and emotional agony a father feels as he witnesses child-birth. He is an outsider and on top of that, his beloved is probably cussing him out with the vocabulary of a salty, sea-hardened buccaneer.  How do you respond to a statement like, “You are NEVER touching me again!!!!”  Really, if it wasn’t for daddy’s swimmers, mothers could not make that kind of sacrifice.  Shouldn’t fathers be showered with some kind of “collateral glory”?

Evidently not. Society does not hold that kind of reverence for Dads.  We have a love-hate thing for dads. We admire them, we mostly respect them, but we always mock them – though always with love.  I mean, my Dad has earned the nickname, “Chipsy.”  Why?  I can’t remember – I think it included a bag of Lays and his ability to always score the last ones.

And while we will all think of the stereotypical Mom as caring, and nurturing, and dependable, all the Dads I can remember from popular culture are all caricatures. Don’t buy it? Follow me…I will show you what I mean:

The lovable grumpy, bigoted, rude, blustery Dad – Archie Bunker or Fred Sanford. Now Archie and Fred are the salt-n-pepper of the 1970s hey-days of racial jokes and verbal abuse. Not an episode went by where the son or son-in-law was not yelled at or insulted.  “You dummy…”, or “Hey, Meathead…” were the usual refrains. Though constantly complaining and criticising, always inflexible and dogmatic, usually cutting and ribald, they still managed to find a soft spot. Unbelievable in hindsight, we sort of loved them, faults and all. I guess deep down, despite their flaws, they cared and did right.  Sort of like our Dads.

The Cartoon Buffoon Dad.  Now in early cartoons, the fathers were just honest, simple nincompoops: Fred Flintstone and George  Jetson come to mind easily, but I am sure there are more.  Honestly, I would throw Herman Munster into that mix, though – as someone will undoubtedly highlight –  he was not a cartoon. These dads were fun-loving, hen-pecked, but basically hard-working Joes. And we were content to giggle at their Water Buffalo Lodge hi-jinks or marital faux-pas. But then Matt Groening went and introduced Mr. H. Simpson to the world, changing everything.  All of a sudden, loafing, and gluttony, and ignorance and stupidity became fatherly attributes. He was a cartoon version of Al Bundy.  And if that was not enough, The Family Guy just bumped it up a few levels.  Peter Abbot moved fatherhood into a whole new zone as he took parental advice from a dog; and while some say that it is “rude, crude and deliciously wrong”, but I must admit that sometimes I just miss the point.  Maybe it is the Dad in me who shudders instead of seeing the satire – or maybe I am just getting old.

The Tragic But Heroic Figure of a Dad.  Now we have to go a little ways back for this, back to the responsible days of the late 60s, and early 70s – before the Love Generation, back when men wore ties to a weeknight family dinner. Who did not want Eddie to find his widowed father Tom a new wife in the “Courtship of Eddie’s Father”.  And, carrying on with the single father theme, I will add, “Whatcha talking about Willis?”  In Different Strokes, a rich widower adopts orphaned black kids. What noble patriarchal sacrifice.  And lastly, what about Fred McMurray, as the hapless Dad who was busy raising three boys on his own.  Wait a minute.  What an outstanding great segue to the next category…

The Calm – sometimes fashionable – Sensible and Reliable Dad. Mike Brady – period.  Whether it was Greg or Marcia or Peter or Jan or Bobby or Cindy, Mike was always there in his fashionable jacket and tie, or bell bottoms and sideburns, to dispense wise words and sage advice as he cleaned up the family crisis in the mandated 23 minutes (7 minutes for commercials). And following in his footsteps were Steven Keaton, doling out loving left-wing values to his money-driven son played by a young, young, young Michael J Fox, and the mugging, sweater-wearing, jello-pudding eating Cliff Huxtable. There were very few houses that did not tune into the weekly antics of the Huxtables…I think it was really Lisa Bonet who drew the crowds (before she went all Bohemian in that crazy movie with Mickey Rourke).  And again, in the honoured “calm-sometimes-fashionable-sensible- and-reliable-Dad” template, a fable of Aesopic magnitude would emerge from the 23 minute dilemma, and a heart-warming and amusing ending would leave all chuckling and hugging each other. Just like life – right?

The Multiple Dads.  Recently there has been the emergence of the two Dads.  Originally the concept was the cinematic by-product of the women who ”loved” two men (with exact opposite peronalities and lifestyles), had a baby, and never divulged the identity of the real father to anyone.  The theme has now morphed in the 21st century with homosexual fathers doing admirable jobs in raising well-adjusted normal kids.  Just look at Glee and Modern Families.

So many role models to guide us – some good, some bad. And I am sure you will ask, with all the examples to follow, which kind of Dad did I become?  All I can say is, “Hopefully a good one.” One who found the right blend of authoritarian and mentor and provider and playmate and teacher and coach and comedian and the million other things that a Dad should be.

I hope that is what I did, because I had a great “real-life” role model – my Dad.

Just thinking about his life experiences and challenges have always provided me inspiration when I needed it. As a boy, he lost his father, and raised his younger brother. As a young man in India, he worked as a farmer, then a policeman, then a teacher, before packing up and moving to the UK to start a family – one that he supported through a variety of blue-collar jobs. He then decided to seek a better life by packing up again and going to Canada – on his own for three years – working and scrimping to save enough money to give his children a better future.  He raised a family in Toronto as he upgraded his education, part-time over 7 years.  He finally earned a Commerce Degree from University, concurrently working a series jobs as a lathe operator, a cab-driver, a financial clerk, and finally as an accountant. And it all paid off as he ended his career as a senior financial officer for the Government of Ontario several years ago.

And in between, he took the time to teach me to skate, to dribble a soccer ball, to toboggan, to hammer a nail, and to grow tomatoes; he taught me the value of fruit and fibre and daily walks. He taught me to study hard and to write effectively and to be confident when speaking to groups. He taught me to be respectful, and hard-working, and caring.  He taught me how to play games and forced me to lose gracefully and patiently – the latter as he sang his ridiculous victory song after a game of chess or Monopoly or Risk…”Loser the Packer, Loser the Packer…”.  He even gave me a sense of humour – the finest gift ever.

And he has given me so many memories…stupid hats at birthday parties, fantastic days at Sandbanks Beach as we swam and barbecued and played, impromptu ukulele songs (he does not know how to play the ukulele), our walks together, our constant debates over homeopathy and the healing power of garlic and ginger; and when I was a teenager, his amusing, but constant surveillance for the evil after-effects of Chinese herbs and drink. (Chinese herbs were his euphemism for marijuana – it took me a little while to figure that one out).

But it was not all happiness and glee….

When I was little, I can remember quivering when hearing the refrain, “wait until your Father comes home.” I can also recall the many times that I sat in my room during my teens – furious, frustrated, and stymied.  At those times, I thought to myself, “How can a grown man know so little about the world?” Ironically, it was only a mere four or five years later, after I graduated from university – no longer a boy but a young man – that I remember thinking, “Wow, has my Dad ever learned a lot in 5 years.”  Perspective is a funny thing, eh?  It is remarkable, in retrospect, just how much Dads know.  I wish I had realised that earlier. It would have saved a lot of painful “trial and error”.

So as I think of my Dad, and reflect on my Dad-ness, I will also think of all the fathers out there.  I wish you all a very happy Father’s Day: one full of children’s love and care, and a BBQ and a beer or two, a tie or a bottle or Old Spice or whatever else floats your father’s day boat.  I hope you enjoy the short 24 hours of parental royalty. Relish it; revel in it.

Because on 18 July, Mom ascends back onto the throne for the next 365 days – unless you can learn how to give birth.

Happy Father’s Day.

Later,

ASF

Aaahhh…patchouli, incense, and pan flutes…

I need another massage. For those in the gutter, stop smirking.  I do not mean the flashing neon light, happy-ending kind of “massage” that some might pay dearly for. All I can say of those, to quote Sgt Schultz, is  – “I know nothing…”.  What I am blogging about is a therapeutic, deep-tissue massage…a good, but painful treatment delivered in a candle-lit a room that smells of sandalwood and lemon-grass and lavender, with soft mellow, soul-healing music playing in the background.  Sadly, my last one was over two weeks ago…

Now, please do not imagine that I have always taken a massage regularly. Truthfully, I have never really been the kind of guy to pamper myself.  Pampering usually meant an extra pint at Happy Hour, or using the ottoman (that is a foot stool, tuffet, hassock or pouffe, for you non-Canadianswhile watching a major sporting event on the big screen, or springing for the full-size Bucket instead of the 9-piece meal. Back then, for me the word “pampering” brought up images of extravagance, frivolity, femininity.  And because many guys are from the “Real men do not eat Quiche” school of thought (like I was), they think that any guy who likes massages should start carrying a satchel and wearing a purple scarf (sorry – a bit of a poke at my FB friends :)

Way back in my youth (by that I mean 2007 and before), I guess I was a “quiche-hater” too (an analogy only…I like “egg and bacon” pie).  Like most guys, my bar of soap served as body cleanser, hair shampoo and shaving cream. Lotion was a lubricant…and only came in those little bottles you stole from the hotel room.  And all my laundry was a nice uniform hue of pinky-grey.

Exfoliation, marjoram, conditioner, scented candles, nail file…not in my vocabulary.  Suicide chicken wings, armpit farts, rugby, torque wrenches, happy hour …now you’re talking my language.

But then I changed.  Maybe I realised that I did not give a hoot that some guys think that pink shirts are for women only.  I like pink shirts….a very attractive woman once told me they complement my skin tone – and that was good enough for me.  And also, maybe I discovered that my skin hurt most of the time because it needed some moisturizer.  I then realised that maybe, just maybe, you can pamper yourself while maintaining your cojones.

Mind you, the transition was not easy. In the late 90s during a tour in Bosnia, I had tried a massage once during leave in Budapest…but it was an old-school, barely post-communist era, rub-down in a room with all the warmth of a tiled operating theatre.  I was unclothed and feeling vulnerable – and though the skilled mature masseur managed to convert tense, knotted muscles into limp pasta – I was not comfortable with the “intimacy” of being manipulated by a sweaty middle-aged Hungarian man.  Seriously, the only people to touch me like that before were the Numbers 4, 5 and 8 in the Scrum – and my wife.  I would have preferred Ross and the wooden spoons.  And since I was afraid, to quote George Costanza, of “embarrassing movement” in similar circumstances in the future,  I gave up on the massages.

But, the turning point came after a New Brunswick half-marathon – this one marked by a wee lack of training, and some serious drinking the night before.  Post-joggle, I was sore…very sore – in body and mind.  So I went for a massage.  And it was not one of those analgesic/liniment/chinese tiger balm torture sessions you get from the team physio after the mandatory 15-minute soak in the ice-filled tub.  Nope…it was a pan flute-fuelled soothing, calm session in a candle-lit room that smelled of incense and patchouli.  Oh Em Gee!  What a difference!  The rub down was fantastic.  The heated, scented oil applied expertly by a skilled massage therapist was unbelievable.  Tension and pain bled way with each pass.  By the end of the hour-long full body massage, I was boneless; a large lump of formless flesh on a massage table lying in a puddle of sleep drool – I was not sure of the time, the day, or the year.  I do not think I could even remember my name – and even if I could, I did not have the motor coordination to say it without sounding like I had been to the dentist.   There was no hurt, no stiffness…and almost no consciousness. After this surreal experience, I was hooked.

And so, with that resonating in my mind, and some coaxing from my wife, I then dipped a toe into the world of pampering.  Not figuratively, but literally – I mean that I tried a pedicure.

Now, I have given a foot rub once or twice before – sometimes willingly, sometimes grudgingly, but always clumsily – and even with my crude technique, I have listened to the “oohs and aahs” the effort has generated.

Toung the feet…a sign of respect to an elder…called upasangrahan

But I never understood the allure. Maybe because, in an East Indian way, I am uncomfortable with someone touching my feet. (In India, touching the feet is how you show respect to someone (usually older); so having someone touch my feet seemed a tad elitist.)  But looking at the complete expression of ecstasy on my wife’s face during a foot rub, I gave in.  And then the light turned on.  I got it.  A warm water wash, the soothing kneading touch with a revitalising, minty balm on the arches, the heels, the toes, and the balls (…of my feet, filth-mongers, of my feet), and I suddenly realised that I had fallen down the rabbit hole.  My feet had dragged me into the abyss – head first.

And it got me thinking, why is it that men don’t do that sort of thing as a matter of course?  Why are massages and manicures and pedicures and hot stones and reflexology, all considered to be too feminine? All un-manly things unbefitting a manly-man? I mean, really, no one sex should have a monopoly on feeling good – it should be a unisex sort of thing.  Why shouldn’t men stand up for equal rights and have massages and pedicures.  They are awesome.

Now the heresy.  So I suggest that maybe it is time to shed the tough guy image, and think about experiencing those products and services and treatments that can take care of your skin and soul and stuff.  Lads…I think I can read your minds, “Clint never would have used those kind of products.” Maybe…but seriously, have you looked at his face recently?  Maybe he should have.  (And honestly, I am sure he has had more than his fair share of shiatsu…and he probably asked for Chuck Norris’s personal masseuse.)

So while many of you may not be quite ready to put your wallet and Kleenex and cell phone and iPod and Bosch Headphones and pen and notebook and kindle and newspaper and chewing gum and eye drops in a Satchel as you walk around town, maybe you will sign up for a full body massage. Go with your wife, or your girlfriend (but if you are a Player, don’t try to take both at the same time).

To quote Morpheus, “You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”  Trust me.  Take the red pill and go for the massage.

Enjoy another kind of happy ending!

Later,

ASF

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

Sibling Joviality…I do miss it…

 Southall, UK…1969…Jammin’

Siblings…you hear all sorts of stories about them.  Bad blood, disputed inheritances, jealousies…

It’s too bad.  They say you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family – obviously said by someone older who has had a bad experience.  I don’t think anyone who is 12 or younger has ever said that! Why is it that all the problems arise only when you are older?

Really, of all the people in the world, who are you the most similar to?  Brothers and sisters have all the ingredients to be more alike – nature-wise and nurture-wise: same parents, same house, same schools, same toys, same food, same clothes (unless you were lucky like me, and were the oldest).  When and why do we go astray?  Simply age, I guess.

And even if you are fortunate enough to enjoy a close relationship with your siblings, do you ever really enjoy the same closeness, same joie de vivre, and energy as when you were kids?  I know that I enjoy my time with my brother – and would with my sister too (if we weren’t 7 time zones apart) – but when we were kids, oh boy were we inseparable!  And the memories we share – like all siblings, I guess – remind me of the craziness that kids can generate.

I mean, who among us hasn’t damaged a sibling? And I don’t mean figuratively – who has “felt like pummeling them” – I mean literally “almost did them in”.  In Grade Six, pushing my 10 year-old brother to school, on – not in – an abandoned grocery shopping cart, we hit one of those ubiquitous sidewalk bumps  (young Canadian street-hockey players know it well, the kind of bump that rudely jams the butt of your hockey stick into your diaphragm as you are running home dreamily,  leaving you out-of-wind, spasming and gasping uncontrollably on the ground!).  Bumpity-bump bump, and then there was nothing but a whirling Matrix-like slow motion somersault of me over the cart, the cart over my brother, and my brother becoming the human shock absorber.  Thankfully, as the back of his head made full thudding contact with the rough concrete sidewalk, he cushioned my fall!  There was no doubt he was concussed, maybe he even had a fractured skull.  But as he looked at me with dilated pupils, not quite hearing what I was saying, we both knew that there would be hell to pay if Mom and Dad found out.  So after a bit of pleading from me, he toughed it out, suffering through the full school day with the wound congealing under his hair. He definitely put up the good fight. The folks did eventually find out – perhaps the fact that my brother could not remember his name was a clue – but what fraternal loyalty!  Now, before anyone gets on my case (and it was 36 years ago), keep in mind that he was no saint either. Ask my sister about her two front teeth jettisoned forcibly by my brother.  In his best Six-Million-Dollar-Man impersonation, he flying-kicked her “loot bag” novelty bugle during one of her peace-making charges to end a brother v brother UFC match.  Never has the cry, “Ta-da-ta-dahhhh…here comes the cav-a-wee”  been transformed into the piercing shrieks of de-fanged six year-old girl so quickly!!

If you kids do not settle down, I am coming up there! GO… TO… SLEEP!  I was a kid – so you woudl think I would get it as a parent, and let it slide!  I remember the ludicrous sessions with my brother – we did share a bedroom for almost 8 years.  Not being sleepy, everything we said or did – and I mean everything – was “side-splittingly” funny.  We would almost pee ourselves laughing as we did impressions, made strange bodily noises, recited Bill Cosby’s comedy routines, sang goofy songs and told jokes until all hours of the night (okay, in hindsight, maybe it was only until 10pm)…there is nothing like the innocent, uncontrollable hushed giggling of kids as they work themselves into a ridiculous unable-to-breathe frenzy – unless you are a baby-sitter or a parent.  The Giggle Sessions still continue on the rare occasion, but now they seem to be beer or wine-induced! And they seem to be a lot more painful in the morning than I remember.

The Sibling Fights…ahh, epics.  Now with three of us, there were always alliances and allegiances and double-crosses: boys against girl, youngest against oldest, all against the middle (mathematically, I think that is  3!/(2!1!)  – Grade 13 Relations and Functions for those Ontarians that are old enough to remember, or care!  Just think of it as my attempt to do a Conjunction Function). Early childhood fights were all so simple…what show to watch on TV, whose toy it really was (and if – at the time of the transgression– the owner was really playing with it), who really broke the lamp, who cheated playing a Barrel Full o’ Monkeys, who was supposed to take out the garbage (that cost my brother his beloved replica Led Zeppelin Concert t-shirt), or who Mom or Dad loved more (c’mon… seriously… parents can’t love ALL their kids equally ALL the time – can they? ) The fights were epic…pushing and pulling, pinning and holding, kicking and punching, biting and pinching…all good cage match/roller derby stuff. But in the end,  it never mattered who started it, or why – as the eldest always gets the blame. “You should know better!”, “You are supposed to look after you little brother/sister!”, “Grow up!”, “What kind of example are you setting!”…the usual the refrains heard all over the World, and ironically at our house usually punctuated by a good parental smack or two to reinforce that violence was never the solution to conflict.  Aaahhhh…good times.

And then there was my parents’ favourite strategy to keep me out of trouble when I was a teen – forcing me to take my little brother with me…I assume he was just as thrilled…but boy did he get an education!  I suppose it was the guilt of almost fracturing his skull that motivated me not to ditch him.

But when you grow up, you naturally drift apart.  Different towns, different careers, marriages, kids…the bonds flex and elongate – but, if you are lucky, and  nurture them, they will stay elastic.  Sometimes close, sometimes far…but alwas there.  And sometimes when they are stretched and thin,  I think back to the fun crazy times I shared with my little brother and sister – with a happy smile. And though the relationships have changed  – no more a question of oldest or youngest, biggest or strongest, smartest or funniest, girls versus boys…you realise it is more about knowing you share the same roots and same DNA.   And no matter what,sooner or later, you will get together and giggle uncontrollably again. When next my Sis’ and Bro’ meet to jaw about the old days, I’ll bring the beer (I am the oldest, after all…)

Think of your siblings and give’em a hug, eh? Not everyone is so lucky.

Later,

ASF