Sunday, September 1, 2013



The skies were a trifle gloomy on the first day of the CNE air show but the spirits were high in the VIP enclosure on the waterfront. Of course I  mean that we were a happy crowd, not that we were consuming to the extent that the Toronto Star would notice.
The beer and pop were cold and free and the roast beef and sausages were delicious. And no I didn't notice when I chatted with David Onley, the lieutenant-governor with whom I worked decades ago to shoot down an incredible mag-lev experiment on which Queen's Park lost a fortune, whether there was a drink beside him. ( I don't think there was) meaning despite 50 years of journalism I would never be hired by the Star.
My son Mark was busy telling one of the world's most popular astronaut, Chris Hadfield, that he loved the song Hadfield sang in space while he dazzled everyone with his PR savvy and good humour. No, I don't know if Hadfield had a drink and whether Mark was working on a beer or a Diet Coke. So I guess I haven't learned quite how to be a reporter today.
Around us where Canada's military leaders wearing more stripes on their shoulders than a herd of zebras. Didn't look to see if they were holding drinks. As for the fighter pilots in their flight suits, appraising the passing planes with a cold stare, I assume they weren't drinking but, sorry, I really didn't look.
My point, of course, is unless someone is falling down drunk and endangering others, I don't give a damn. You are free to guzzle pop or beer or rum in front of me and I really don't pay much attention. After all, I have been surrounded by drinkers my entire working career.
It didn't start that way.  There was my Baptist youth when I won a gold medal for oratory from the Women's Christian Temperance Union. I listened to the tales of my grandfather who quit as a foreman in the Bols Distillery in Amsterdam when he was "born again." When he told of the stunts be pulled before he quit drinking, he sounded almost whistful about getting the billy goat so hammered it kept running at the wall until it knocked itself out.
When my fellow students were busy in the beer halls of Yonge Street, I was standing on the carpet as the Ryerson student president as the university principal made it plain that he thought any booze around students was evil and I just better do a better job of patrolling the habits of my rebellious subjects (?).
My first weeks at the Toronto Telegram were as part of a five-person crew on the Rewrite Desk. At noon three of them took me to the old Savarin Restaurant on Bay. It had a great buffet which we never saw. We spend lunch buying in turn trays of beer. When I returned to the old office at Bay and Melinda. I was expected to type copy fast enough so that the editors didn't have heart attacks. Quickly I learned how to pace myself around draft beer so that my fingers didn't get stuck between the keys.
I spent my life in newspapers surrounded by free booze. I learned that practically everyone around me had a drink or three in them but that was the way of this world. Big John Bassett and Paul Godfrey both tried as publishers to stop drinking durlng lunch. In Bassett's case, he scrapped the plan an hour after he personally pinned up the edict when he met his Editor returning from lunch smelling like a brewery.
Public attitudes have changed, but some of it is hypocritical.
I remember we used to run cartoons about the RIDE program (of which I am the godfather, but that's another story) which today would be considered insensitive, and MADD (founded by a chap who never lost a relative to a drunk driver, but liked the cause) would probably stage demonstrations in front of the offending newspaper. And yes, in case you wonder, I do hate drunk drivers.
 I come to the question of whether Rob Ford was overly refreshed at a dinner or at the Danforth street party from a cynical point-of-view. First of all, what the hell does it matter if anyone has several beers over an evening if they're not driving? And I would hope that our mayor and other major politicians occasionally chase the demons of their job by relaxing with some drinks.
My main reservation about these stupid drinking sightings is that most observers don't have a clue about anyone's drinking. As a rum-and-Diet-Coke man, I have gone months at events with an open bar where what I drink is big glasses of Coke and lots of ice and lemon slices but no booze. I often explain that quietly to bartenders at the start of the evening, so I don't have to repeat it every time. Some people thought I drank so much that the bartenders recognized me
I recall as a daily Sun columnist when some jerk phoned to report that Paul Godfrey, then the able head of the regional council, had been drunk in a box at the Jays game. Are you sure, I kept asking?
He said he would swear on a stack of Bibles. I told him to leave Bibles out of it because I knew he was a liar because not only does Godfrey not drink, alcohol is almost a poison to him.
I remember someone grumbling about the behaviour of Monte Kwinter, one of the best Liberal MPPs and urban insiders that this city has ever seen. I told him Kwinter only drank water. He never has had tea or coffee or beer or anything other than a few Diet Cokes which he stopped years ago after he was in hospital and disliked the taste of one that his wife had smuggled in.
I hate those "don't drink and drive" campaigns because it turns tens of thousands each night into hypocrites. Surely all those peopler around me at fundraising dinners and countless restaurants are not all taking cabs
What we need is responsible drinking campaigns, not prohibitionists. You can have several drinks over matching hours and not be a crazed law breaker.
The problem with Ford is that he probably looks like he's a drunk when he's sleeping peacefully. When it comes to his weight and clothes, I have walked a marathon in his shoes. I used to be as heavy as the mayor but I'm now 80 pounds lighter and know a few things about buying shirts that don't have collars that immediately stick in the air. A dress shirt is the most important unit in how a man dresses and it is easy and not that costly to have them tailor-made. You also can get reasonable tailoring so that you don't  look like the suit is two sizes too small and your shirt buttons are about to become missiles.
You look at the mayor spilling out of his clothes with a red sweaty face and you know he's a grand target for the Star or anyone else who wants to say he was drunk or sniffing suspicious substances.
What bugs the activists and the Star and the gLiberals is that he stays popular because of his conservative attitudes.
I was at a marvelous wedding reception the other night at Islington Golf Club where the room was filled with successful, confident people, many of them in finance. At my table, Mary and I sat with three couples whom we didn't know. Someone brought up the mayor. I said I thought it was unfortunate that he was so inept and clownish when I liked his striving to cut taxes. The others were annoyed that I didn't give him A+ because they were willing to accept him totally, and to hell with warts and damning pictures and alleged vodka mickeys.
No wonder the Star stock is down.

No comments: