Tuesday, March 27, 2012



They don't warn you when you lose weight that you'll also lose your wedding rings.
I write rings in the plural because I've lost two.
And a mummified finger.
And the unique gold Sun signet ring given only to the originals who started the little paper that grew  and grew until the evil Quebecor accountants started treating it as the goose that lays golden eggs even when they triy starving it.
Somewhere in my cozy home where we've lived  for decades, there's a modest lost fortune.
I blame it all on my GP, the very very very busy Bernie Gosevitz, and Mary, who used to brood when I had a second piece of apple pie with slices of very old cheddar cheese. Truly a dessert invented in heaven!
About 25 years ago or more, I figured my family doctor was incompetent. (The authorities slowly agreed and banned him from writing prescriptions. At least I spotted him earlier.) And I made an appointment with Gosevitz who was the gifted doctor for many friends of mine like Paul Godfey.
While I waited first for Bernie, I stepped on his scales and discovered to my horror that I was 319. He came in behind me and I said you don't have to say a damn thing, that's terrible.
I've already written about how I've shrunk over the years to being 100 pounds lighter. Indeed at the present 219, I am lighter than when I played high school football and was actually in shape.
What I haven't written about is how my rings started dropping off. No alterations helped.
When Mary and I exchanged wedding vows and rings, she gave me a nice solid gold band. I haven't seen it for decades, although I still have the Blue Bird box it came in.
I hunted and hunted without success. Finally Mary gave me another wedding ring, this time a gold band set with little diamonds. Women who look for a wedding ring on your finger right after they check out your ass used to admire it.
After my descent into hospital hell last year, when I lost 45 pounds over three months in four hospitals (I give an illustrated lecture on request, but no one has) my rings were looser than my shoes and shorts.
For years I haven't worn rings on those rare occasions when I work with my hands because of the nasty things that can happen when you hook a ring on a rung or a tool.  After hospital hell, I started wearing rings only on social occasions.
I decided to do that after a very refreshing evening out when I found that all my rings had slipped off during the night. I found them after a search through sheets and the dusty corners under the bed.
After all, I didn't want to lose a second wedding ring.
 Or the nice signet ring with the Downing crest (from Downing College at Cambridge) that my three sons and I wear after it was designed by Marie, the daughter-in-law who is a talented creator of jewellery.
And the first Sun ring, lost in the house somewhere, or perhaps in the hotel room on a great trip to the White House Correspondents' Dinner  in Washington when Ronald Reagan was charming us all despite a secret battle with Alzheimer's.
The marvelous atmosphere had not yet been driven from the Sun corridors, so the Sun ring was replaced as a special present at one of the great staff Christmas dinners we used to have at the Old Mill.
I carefully guard the surviving rings because there's no way the Sun ring would be replaced under Quebecor, and a new Downing ring would take time and trouble to replicate.
 So now I wear them only on special occasions. As for that second wedding ring, I placed it carefully last summer in a safe place. And one of these days, I will remember where that is.
Oh yes, you wondered about the mummified finger?
I lived in high school years with my cousins, the large Plewes family. The head of the clan was a brilliant but idiosyncratic engineer who created unique machines to be used in manufacturing.
 Some of the machinists who worked for Uncle Dave at the Plewes-Jackson Engineering shop just north of the Ex on Fraser Ave. were about as wacky as they come. And one of them, to make sure he didn't have to go to World War Two, cut off his trigger finger in a big metal-cutting press. Did it sober! Uncle Dave took him to St. Joseph's Hospital and then pickled the finger until it turned to a grey stone. It came into my possession because even my rowdy cousins didn't much care for it.
I used to take the stone finger  to school in an empty match box (remember when people carried matches) and pass it around to the gagging shock of girls and the admiration of the guys.  One day, much later, when my sons were into Egypt and its mummies, I thought I would show them the real thing, although this one dated only to 1943.
I searched through the strange stuff that you accumulate over the years and couldn't find it. However, I know it will turn up. And when it does, I wouldn't be surprised if it was wearing three rings.

Saturday, March 24, 2012



I hate winter almost as much as I hate environmental exaggerators.
Instead of moaning that the sky is falling and the temperature is rising, why don't we start counting the benefits to Canadians if the weather actually stays warmer and winter shrinks.
Too many Canadians and too much of our agriculture is clumped close to the southern border because winter is too harsh for most Canadians and most of our agriculture when you go closer to the bleak North.
I prefer the term climate change to the hysterics of global warming but if the world, and particularly my part of Canada, is really getting a slightly warmer climate, won't that be of enormous value to us since we can farm further north or live further north without paying a fortune in heating and supplies.
There are actually those viewing with alarm that the total snowfall for Toronto this year was 40 cm., or to use the Imperial measure before metric was imposed without a democratic debate, almost 16 inches.
I thought it was wonderful that I remember only shovelling once. I remember the winter when I could walk out of my second-floor bedroom window on a snow drift. So just over a foot of snow is a gift from Mother Nature.
The average temperature for Toronto this winter is said to be 2.2 C, or 36 F.
I read all this after we had a wonderful March Monday where the temperature rose to 22.8 C, or 73 F.
Now I know in my bones exactly what 73 F feels like on my skin even if 22.8 C is still mysterious until I work it out. It's delightful. I would settle for that year-round, but apparently the seven seas will flood and drown many people, although not enough of the environmental hysterics to suit me.
Canada is said to have had its third warmest winter in recorded history. A map of the country in February with above average temperatures shown in varying shades of red show much of Ontario with temperatures more than 4 degrees C above the norm.
The red map hues spread across much of the prairies into the far north.  The reds warm my heart, although they are supposed to alarm me.
 It seems plain that the temperatures of the world have been cycling higher and lower for centuries. Currently we are getting warmer but not that long ago in the history of this planet it was much colder. Ice caps and glaciers have shrunk and then expanded, whether you figure our life began only 6,000 years ago, when there wasn't frost in the Garden of Eden, or when it really began with dinosaurs wading through melting ice.
Perhaps I wouldn't hate winter so much if my grandparents had known how to dress me for winter. All I remember as a kid was various stages of cold and frost-bite.
My skiing was just slightly better than my skating on my ankles.  So I really don't give a damn if ski operators and creators of outdoor rinks have been yammering that the end of winter, and perhaps the world, is at hand.
Now I know what it is like to be in the real North. My first newspaper job was editor of the Whitehorse Star where the few summer months featured almost perpetual daylight and killer swarms of mosquitoes.
I can assure you that any warming in the Yukon would be as welcome as free beer.
I really do care about the environment. I grew so cynical about the basic cheating of environmentalists on any fact to deal with the world around us that I took several years of a new and interdisciplinary course in environmental science at U of T.
It didn't seem to bother all the the day-time Pollution Probers that took the course to get new ammunition for their attacks on society that a mature student, a daily newspaper columnist, was in their midst. But then environmentalists tend to be to the left, so a columnist and editor in what they considered the right-wing rag of the Toronto Sun was anonymous.
So much of what has passed for environmental concerns among our politicians and activists has been  crap. We have been turned into garbage pickers but too much of the time it really doesn't matter because it's all dumped into the same hole in the ground instead of being burned to produce useful energy.
But oh no, the modern incinerators, which many countries use without polluting their cities, is still hated by the socialists and the gliberals.
The same crowd welcome wind turbines - which are just old-fashioned windmills greased by huge government subsidies - and solar power, which has to be supported by enormous chunks of our taxes in order to produce enough power to even light the Legislature, or one outhouse.
Of course we should do everything reasonable and logical to reduce greenhouses gases. Yet I don't think there is much that can be done about farting cows because the left and crazies haven't yet been able to persuade most of us to become vegetarians. (I suspect if more of us did eat only greens, there would be a save-the-lettuce movement and asparagus would be ruled an endangered species.)
There is no disputing the fact that modern technology can now scrub the harmful gases and acidic particulate matter from the chimneys of incinerators or even from industries that still choose to use fossil fuels like coal, still one of the most useful bargains to produce energy.
I confess that my dream has always been to blow this place and live on a South Sea island. When I mention that dream after too much of the mother's milk of the South Seas, rum, I am asked wouldn't I miss winter.
Mary and I once were stupid enough to leave Waikiki Beach in Hawaii on Dec. 21 because Silent Night didn't sound right from loudspeakers in the palm trees.  On Dec. 26, I decided that even a few days of winter was a few days too much.  I could happily celebrate white Christmases in my nostalgia and then go snorkelling on a reef on Dec. 25 instead of pushing the car out of a ditch.
All the evidence that hasn't been perverted by the Suzuki crowd shows that Canada's winter temperature may rise only a minuscule amount.  So instead of running around like beheaded snowmen, Canadians should work on how to benefit from a tiny temperature increase and start counting our benefits.
If the second-largest country in the world does manage to increase its arable land and liveable space, we truly will be a giant.  Consider just the increase in the wheat and corn we could grow to feed the great markets like China.
But that won't satisfy all those Third World countries which figure that carbon taxes and environmental guilt will help them extract enough money from successful lands like ours to make up for the fact that they have been complete failures because of corruption and stupidity. They don't want us to improve our lives if it gets a fraction warmer.
The next time you hear someone shouting alarm about global warming, ask what they are getting out of it.  Is this how they are making a very fat living? The modern Cassandra gets very well paid. Ask too why don't they talk about the net benefits to Canada where the truth north strong and free would be a lot stronger if it was a tad warmer all the time, not just between November and May.

Sunday, March 18, 2012



I have banked at the same corner since 1963. I have been angry about banks even longer.
 I think Stephen Leacock captured the mood of most of us about banking in his famous story titled My Financial Career.
I have forgotten the name of the original financial emporium two blocks east of Royal York on Bloor St. that I first dealt with. Seems there was an Eastern and maybe an Eastern and Permanent, and then a Canada Permanent, and then a Canada Trust, and now TD-Canada Trust.
The service is slower now and anything beyond a simple cash transaction seems to flummox the tellers. The original entries were made in pen, I think, (but not quill pens, as a son has suggested) but I remember the old pen system being faster than the computers. And service has slowed every year since I made my first humble deposit at a Commerce at Weston Rd. and Lawrence decades around 1955, before it became a hot spot for policing.
 Over the years, the banking at my Etobicoke corner has given me a lot of gist for my columns and blogs. I should be thankful. Besides, I have never pretended to be either smart at figures or banking.
 But the irony, of course, is that Leacock when he eviscerated bankers was a world-famous professor and economist. So when he wrote about how he always got rattled when he went into a bank and finally, after a roar of laughter went up after he left a bank where he had tried to open an account, decided to "bank no more," it was like a famous theologian questioning the existence of God.
 (We know bankers would never do that, providing God had an access card, driver's licence and only wanted to deposit cash.)
I recall the day I went into TD-Canada Trust and had a rare, high amount to deposit. No problem! I suddenly remembered as I left the wicket that I needed $100 in cash. Did I have identification? I said angrily that I had just deposited five cheques totalling $12,000. It wasn't enough that the kid teller lectured me about why I was wrong to challenge this process. The next teller over got into the act too.
As some faithful readers may recall, I named my oldest son after me in honour of my father who died when I was only two. He married and moved several blocks away, continuing to bank at our corner.
One day, I found that the bank for some strange reason literally had transferred the ownership of all my accounts to my son. I descended like a nuclear attack, so the bankers, without consulting my son, transferred all my accounts back to me and then, for good measure, gave me ownership of his accounts too.
So it made me furious twice...and counting. I was quite proud of myself that I only screamed and didn't curse or bop some snotty-nosed teller on the end of their pimply chins. (I never quite have figured out why TD seems to start all their tellers out in my prosperous neighbourhood. Is it because the brains behind the operation, I am assuming there are brains somewhere, figures we will be more polite about their fumblings and not immediately move our accounts?)
To be fair, I must confess my dealings with the Royal across the street a bit hasn't exactly been great. One day I tried to deposit a personal TD cheque for $2,000 into the account of my son Mark who lives in China. Banking there is really screwed up so it's easier for him to pay Chinese bills with his Canadian VISA. The teller regarded my cheque with suspicion. I reminded her that the TD bank in question was a neighbour. She said the problem was I didn't have an account with them. I reminded her I was making a deposit and they could take months if they wanted to verify the cheque. Suddenly I remembered I had a Royal VISA card. The two people arguing with me melted the second I flashed it.
 Which takes me to Mary's first baby steps after she had a hip replacement on Jan. 4. To celebrate that she could actually manoeuvre a bit with a walker and a cane, I took her to our TD local. Mary has her own savings and chequings account as a timid gesture by me towards her independence. I tried to update her pass books while she couldn't walk at all only to be informed by the TD bankers that we hadn't signed the necessary form.
 So on her first outing after the surgery, she said she would complete this form. So we stood and waited, while tellers conducted long conversations with depositors and there was a great talking on telephones with customers who were smart enough to phone in and not queue up with the hoi polloi.
Finally I grabbed a chair for Mary at the commercial wicket. And then a teller came to serve us, sort of. We deposited some cheques and Mary said she wanted to fill out the form so I also could get her passbook updated. The teller disappeared. She returned a few minutes later to say that everyone seemed to be busy and that Mary would have to come back. I grumbled. She ignored us.
Mary hoisted herself to her feet, using her cane, and then, using her walker, limped out of the bank. I finished by saying in a loud voice that TD's service was only good in their ads. The teller who couldn't find someone to do a four-second task continued to ignore Mary and her walker.  But a couple of people in the queue nodded approvingly.
We haven't been back.
 Unlike Leacock, who pretended for the sake of the story that he kept his money in a mattress, I don't plan to do that. And I do pay every possible bill on the Internet, so that's not a problem.
 And then there are other branches and other banks. After all, TD is only the second largest of the five big banks, even if its tellers seem to have never heard of the slogan about trying harder when you're second.
 I'm sure we can find one where you can actually park before you hobble in, and the tellers and management are not high school dropouts.