Tuesday, January 31, 2012

This Old Economist: “Good jobs are going up in smoke”

["Feed the pig before it sinks."]

[No matter how Canadian jobs stats are sliced and diced, our Conservative Federal Government has no sustainable plan to bring good jobs back to our country. Thanks to its short-sighted, unsustainable, “business as usual” free market economic plan that includes tax breaks for the wealthiest among us (aka “the job creators”) ...good jobs will not grow in good numbers. Jan. 30, G.Harrison]

As if in support of my recently espoused theory - i.e., reviving the job market will be more difficult than bringing a dead mackerel back to life - a well-written letter to the editor appeared on Jan. 28 in The London Free Press.

Tax breaks don’t create jobs

“Gerry Macartney (London Chamber of Commerce) says corporations should first get their tax reduction and then work with the government to find ways to create jobs. I don’t think so.

Why on earth would a corporation create more jobs and more goods just because it gets a tax break? Short answer: It wouldn’t and never has.

The real problem is 10 years of stagnated or declining wages for the workers, with the resulting decrease in demand for goods and services. The money is now tied up in the assets of rich corporations and individuals who literally do not know how to spend their mountains of money.” Gerry H. Grand Bend

You think we’re in trouble now, Canada, with a government that can serve up no sustainable, viable Plan A for jobs yet rewards corporations for being... corporations.

(Is pushing the toxic tars sands a viable job plan once unmanageable future costs to our natural ecosystems and personal health are considered? Is there any wonder Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has drafted a plan to limit future funding to the health care systems we’ll need in the future?)

Directly related to the letter, just wait ‘til more Canadians, now up to their eyeballs in debt, start paying it off regularly as if there is no tomorrow. What will happen to supply and demand of consumer goods then? Do the Conservatives have a sustainable Plan B for that day, decade, or Age, as in The Age of Austerity, with capital letters?

It’s almost as if the wealthy, in their desire to have it all, missed the lesson the tobacco industry learned years ago. That is, if you kill your customers, you’ll eventually run out of customers.

Don’t let your dreams go up in smoke.

Reduce spending, pay down debt, and save money for tough times ahead.


Please click here for more from This Old Economist.


Zoom w a View: “Drip drop, Myrtle”

A bit of snow shovelling warmed me up this morning but the sun’s affects were also felt, seen and heard.

Besides causing me to take off my toque (toboggan, wool cap, etc. This is Canada, eh!), the sun was causing the snow in the rain gutters to melt, then drip upon a small pile of lumber.

Drip, drip, drop, drop.

Three tiny purple flowers, in a warm spot beside the house, were also sprouting.

“Myrtle, aren’t you a bit early this year?”

[Photos by GH]


Please click here for more Zoom w a View.


Monday, January 30, 2012

This Old Economist: The Age of Austerity is here to stay

[Canada’s economy created 21,700 net new jobs in December, up from the 17,500 previously reported, according to revised data released by Statistics Canada on Friday... but the employment rate was a notch higher at 7.5%. Jan. 28, London Free Press]

No matter how many ways Canadian jobs stats are sliced and diced, our Conservative Federal Government has no sustainable plan to bring good jobs back to our country.

Thanks to its short-sighted, unsustainable, “business as usual” free market economic plan that includes tax breaks for the wealthiest among us (aka “the job creators”) and reliance upon toxic tar sands to prop up its petro dollar, good jobs will not grow in good numbers. Average income for the common man will continue to erode, fuel prices will rise, and the age of austerity in which we live will earn capital letters.

Expect no public education from the Conservatives about how individuals and families should prepare for an austere future. They will dress up employment stats in fine clothes but never tell us how to best manage the inevitable smaller lifestyle we are marching steadily toward.

No longer can the average person expect simply to work hard and enjoy a future that grows more prosperous year by year as parents and grand-parents did, thanks to an ever-growing economy (out-dated now) that rode on the back of cheap oil and gas. Freedom 55... forget about it. Freedom 75 is now the norm, but only if you save 15 - 20 per cent of your monthly income “as if your house is on fire.” The Canadian Dream is dust.

Predictions -

the trend toward smaller incomes, homes and cars will grow

people will soon see the value of turning empty shipping containers into houses on small lots

[Link to photo]

within 5 years the unemployment rate will be rise partly because more Canadians will be paying down or being swamped by their excessive household debt (it now stands at its highest level in Canadian history)

within 10 years ‘The Age of Austerity’ will be the name of a reality TV show

the 1 per cent will get richer

What else will our government neglect to tell us?


Please click here to read more from This Old Economist.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Theatre of the Restless Mind: PT 2 “Dad, a picture is worth a thousand words”

I’m glad my dad carried a camera on his way west from Ontario to Vancouver Island, while he travelled toward a naval base situated in Comox, a small town on the north eastern side of the island, and 90-minutes north (today, by car) of Nanaimo’s ferry landing. By examining one of a handful of photographs from that time in his life, I recently learned the once-thriving town of Hornepayne exists somewhere along the way.

I sussed out from the ‘black and white’ that Horne-payne lies 572.4 miles west of Toronto, 722.4 west of Montreal and 635.4 east of Winnipeg. And that when six young men in navy blue stepped off the train there (with Doug behind the camera) in January or February, 1944, it was cold enough to turn one’s breath into clouds of frost.

In a road atlas I discovered that the town sits on highway 631, about 100 kilometers north of White River (200 km. north of Wawa) and Trans-Canada Highway 17, and about 70 km. south of the intersection - likely a very quiet one - of 631 and Trans-Canada 11.

Hornepayne also sits on the CN rail line that connects Toronto, Sudbury and Winnipeg and many tiny spots that the vast majority of Canadians will likely never see or hear about, even once, over the course of a lifetime.

For example, do Capreol, Wilnet, Westree, Gogama, Kukatush, Foleyet, Elsas, Peterbell, Argolis, Fire River, Oba or MacDuff ring a bell? Not very likely, unless you regularly travel on the CN line between Sudbury and Hornepayne and keep your eyes peeled for signs erected at all the little whistle stops along the way. It may have been while on that stretch of rail that someone first said, “Be careful, pal. If you blink you’ll miss it.”

At www.railfame.ca I read that Hornepayne is the ‘quintessential railway town’. It is ‘hewn out of the wilderness of northern Ontario... symbolic of the railway’s determination to develop that region, and of the character of its inhabitants’. The town was called Fitzbach when first established in 1913 ‘as a divisional point on the Canadian Northern Ontario Railway’s main line between MontrĂ©al and Port Arthur. It was renamed Hornepayne about 1920’.

I also learned that the highway that runs through it today (i.e., number 631) was not completed until the 1980s, so it was about 40 years after my father stopped there that ‘the community’s dependence on the railway was ended’. In other words, if I’d lived there in the 1960s and wanted new blue jeans, in all likelihood I would have had to thumb through an Eaton’s catalogue, measure the length of my inseam with the help of a cloth tape from my mother’s sewing basket, mail off an order and then go wait (impatiently, very impatiently) at the train station for six weeks or more. That being said, to this day the railway serves as a vital link to the northern community.

What would six young sailors, chiefly from south western Ontario, have thought of Hornepayne? Would they have felt like they were in the middle of nowhere, or said, “We’re so far out of town we can’t even see the boonies from here?” I don’t know. Never will.

But I do know the old CN train station still stands, though, according to Wikipedia, it "is no longer in use and fallen into disrepair."

I also know, when I drive west to Comox this summer, I’ll likely feel a strong urge to turn north at White River, and drive about 100 km. out of my way in search of hot coffee and a quiet place to stretch my legs.


Please click here to read Theatre of the Restless Mind: PT 1 “Dad, a picture is worth a thousand words”


Cartoon in Progress: “Ollie will like this one”

Grandson Ollie, 5-years old, is a pretty sharp kid.

He’ll know exactly why there are several bubbles trailing one of the four big bad bug brothers.

[Cartoon by G.Harrison]


Please click here to see another Cartoon in Progress.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Theatre of the Restless Mind: PT 1 “Dad, a picture is worth a thousand words”

The train whistle shrieked louder than the cold wind racing past its windows, but when Doug Harrison took note of the sound - it came to him as a muffled moan - while he sat upon a bench seat inside a rattling passenger car, six back from a steaming engine, he didn’t immediately realize what it meant.

He looked up from a well-thumbed Toronto newspaper (one of his five buddies had paid a nickel for it the day before, a heavy price he’d thought at the time, but not so now), gazed out the train window and noticed the trees rushing past, as they had for the last hundred miles or more, were thinning.

“Boys, we might see another face in a few minutes,” he said to Leading Seamen Chuck Rose and Buryl McIntyre sitting on the opposite bench and on either side of his resting feet. “I heard the whistle blow and the train seems to be slowing. Good Lord, I could sure use a stretch.”

The train slowed more perceptibly, another sharp whistle blast was sounded, passengers stirred and one old-timer, familiar with isolated Northern Ontario stops and the spare amenities offered at each, said a few words to Doug and the other sailors.

“We’re coming into Hornepayne. Not much more than piles of raw lumber to look at, but there’s hot coffee inside the station.”

Doug and the other sailors stood, straightened, stretched, and shook out a few wrinkles before throwing on standard-issue, heavy, navy blue long coats.

More to follow.


Please click here for a related post.


Cartoon on Progress: The big bad bug brothers

Dill and Henry, two of four big bad bug brothers, help entertain grandson Ollie when he comes to visit.

“It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a stinky fish!”

If you’re five-years old I think you’ll get the joke.

[Cartoon by GH]


Please click here for more about Ollie and Me.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dad’s Navy Days: Chilly temperatures in Hornepayne, 1944

In early 1944, six merchant mariners on their way to Comox, B.C. - by way of CN rail through Hornepayne, Ontario - kept their jackets buttoned up tight due to cold weather. As Chuck Rose of Niagara Falls lit up a cigarette, his frosted breath hung in the air.

Unlike today, with Hornepayne’s temperature standing at a relatively mild minus 1 C (feels like minus 6 with wind gusts reaching 31 km/h), Joe Watson (in his long coat), from Simcoe, Ontario and Don Westbrook, from Hamilton, Ontario would have fully appreciated the protection of their thick, navy blue woolen pants.

What would the six young men, most from south western Ontario, have thought of Hornepayne, located north of S.S. Marie, Wawa and White River on a quiet road between (now) two Trans-Canada highways (number 11 and 17).

[Five sailors L to R - Unknown, Chuck Rose, Buryl McIntyre (back), Joe Watson (front), Don Westbrook; Doug Harrison (behind the camera), circa Feb., 1944]

Would they have remarked that Hornepayne “feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere,” “is stuck out in the boonies,” “is over 570 miles from Toronto” or “feels colder than a witch’s brew?”

(According to the CN station’s sign, Hornepayne is 572.4 miles west of Toronto, 722.4 miles west of Montreal and 635.4 miles east of Winnipeg.)

I’m sure those thoughts or others like them crossed their minds before finishing their break, stepping back onto the train west and thinking about all the miles yet to travel before settling down in barracks on Vancouver Island.

Good luck, boys. And Dad, don’t forget to write home.

Below is a recent photo taken near Hornepayne.

[“ I took this photo at 6:30 a.m. at the camp at First Government.” Lisa Verrino, Sept. 14, 2011]

Is Hornepayne worth a visit? Does the CN station still stand? Let me know.


Please click here for more about Dad’s Navy Days.


It Strikes Me Funny: 'Key words' always lead somewhere

Occasionally, while checking stats related to It Strikes Me Funny, I look at the top five ‘key words’ entered @ Google (and other portals) that lead readers here. I put my interest down to natural curiosity.

“Well, it sure ain’t your good looks!” my wife adds.

Last month’s top five ‘key words’ are as follow:

northern lights

1996 everest disaster

solar oven plans



I’ve included links to images related to the first three sets of words because the photos are well worth a peek (and include proper links back to original sites).

I didn’t link back to the last two words because, and this is just my natural opinion, there are only so many posts entitled “Ants turn blue due to permafrost in January” that one wants to read.


“Thanks for stopping by!” [Cartoon by G. Harrison]


Please click here for more It Strikes Me Funny


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Old correspondence touches on modern times

[“The secret of the lightning Nazi advances, according to the Greeks, is that every moment spared from strafing is used in diligent, continuous eating. It took some time for the Greeks to understand that the first thing the German army does after bombing a city is to eat everything in it.” pg. 62, Weller’s War]

My mind is back in 1941 and I’m forming the impression that there is much to be learned there.

Recently, after sending off my latest writing project to the print shop (a compilation of my father’s naval memoirs from WW2 entitled “Dad, Well Done”) I found time to take a mental break and browse shelves at a local bookstore with a gift card and hot cuppa dark roast in hand.

Trust me. As I thumbed new books at full and bargain prices (admittedly, mostly at bargain prices!) the same thought often crossed my mind. Life doesn’t get much better than this.

Weller’s War caught my eye. I noticed beautiful cover art work in sepia tones, a photo of keys on an old typewriter, and the words ‘a legendary foreign correspondent’s saga of World War II on five continents.’ With the sound of my own modern keyboard still in my ears and the thought that I’d just finished typing my father’s own notes about WWII, I reached for the book.

Hefty. 630 pages. $9.99. Mine.

Only after I got it home did I read the flyleaf and realize the person who had compiled George Weller’s war correspondence was his son, Anthony, thus causing my “very good choice” to become “the best choice I’ve made in a long time.”

["Merchant mariners, north of Lake Superior, circa 1945": GH]

I wasn’t many pages into it before a familiar feeling swept over me, i.e., an appreciation of living in modern times and not having to eat short rations, sleep on wet limestone floors or cover my ears at the sound of nighttime bombings while holed up in a cave - or cattle corral - on Sicily, as, according to his memoirs, my father had done, or rush from war front to war front to observe and report the atrocities and degradations of war, as Weller had done.

Last night I read the following from Weller’s article ‘Greeks Hungry as Nazi Army Grabs the Food’, Athens, Greece - July 26, 1941:

In any occupied town it is a common occurrence to see a German blitz straight down a menu consuming double orders throughout and tripling anything really toothsome. Such decathlon eating records would be merely a pleasantly human counterweight to Nazi asceticism if the factory girls in Athens were not fainting repeatedly at work for lack of sufficient nourishment. (Pg. 62)

I pictured the scene. Triple orders for the invaders. Insufficient rations for the invaded. “The record of sixteen chocolate cakes consumed at a single sitting” by a German sergeant-major at Zonars, the largest pastry eatery in Athens. Ragged Greek officers - “having marched for three weeks from Albania eating grass” - begging at the back door.

I concluded the 1941 eating records were startling, and the contrast between haves and have nots was as well.

I read another paragraph and, surprisingly, thought of modern times:

Every restaurant from Alexandropolis to Calamata has its own incredible German eating records. Flocas, a famous meeting place in Salonika - the city whose only flour mill was burned down the night before the Nazis entered - is still talking about five Germans who demanded five orders of bacon and eggs with three eggs each. At the time only smuggled eggs were obtainable, at 12 cents each, about five times the normal price. When the Germans finished the first order they demanded another. After that they commanded a third, still with three eggs on each plate. Before invariable successions of rounds of sundaes they insisted on having two large orders of ham apiece.

As far as I can recount, I’ve had fewer than five three-egg breakfasts in my lifetime, and most of those I ate after completing a long training run in preparation for a marathon. Nowadays, a two-egg breakfast makes me feel stuffed. The two slices of toast on the side are plenty, with PB and J (or orange marmalade) if available. And it’s usually available.

As I continue to read Weller’s War, I’ll continue to enjoy it for what it is, i.e., 70-year old war correspondence.

However, I’m sure - though I’m not 100 per cent sure why - many of the articles will spur thoughts about modern times to rise to the surface as well.

Is it something I ate?


Please click here for more about “Dad, Well Done”


Monday, January 23, 2012

2012 in Review PT 7: “Short-sighted government policy affects jobs in Canada”

Good jobs will continue to erode across Canada in 2012 - the Electro-Motive Diesel lock-out in London, Ontario is the tip of the iceberg - and hard-working communities will suffer as result.

When healthy wages and benefits are gutted there will be those who say, for example, that “Electro-Motive employees need to realize they are (a) lucky to have a job” and be grateful they were left with something a bit better than Ontario’s paltry minimum wage.

Those are real words and sting in the face of rising profits for manufacturers who want ever-cheaper wage payouts.

Canada’s short-sighted Conservative federal and provincial governments offer stinging messages as well when hopes for job growth and security are considered.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said his government will be assessing public sector pensions before the 2012 budget is reviewed. “Overall, sure, I think we have to. If one’s going to make any sort of intelligent assessment of government spending in Canada, one has to look at... benefits and pensions.”

Review all you want, I say, but any intelligent look at government spending must be twinned with an intelligent look at declining government revenues, and here our government is lacking. Not one word has been mentioned since the Conservatives came to power about the decrease in revenues as a result of their lower corporate tax rates in the near past or what will happen to revenues after future decreases in tax rates.

Not one intelligent word has been spoken about how the increase in spending related to fighter jets and prisons (no one knows the final cost of these two very expensive ventures) may be related to public sector pensions, even though most Canadians can see the two are related, and that someone’s pension may well pay for a concrete prison cell inside a country with declining crime rates.

In Ontario, provincial Progressive Conservative finance critic Peter Shurman says, “We can say that there are some things that are sacrosanct. One of them is you (Liberal leader) will continue with the reduction in corporate tax rates. (We) are unwavering about lowering business taxes.”

Some innovative and far-sighted business ventures do turn tax cuts into jobs and live up to the name ‘job creators’. However, many corporations pass most ‘low tax rate benefits’ along to only the owners and share holders and will move from one community or country to another in search of the cheapest labour, not to create good, secure jobs, but to create more profits. Many times the title ‘job creator’, which our Conservative Prime Minister throws out with abandon, should be replaced by ‘community destroyer’ - to be fair - but don’t hold your breath waiting to hear it. Some things are sacrosanct, but not good, secure jobs for willing workers.

When it comes to job creation, short-sighted government policies come up short.

[Photo by GHarrison]


Please click here to read 2012 in Review PT 6: “Harsh attitudes in the present will crush the less-fortunate”


Sunday, January 22, 2012

2012 in Review PT 6: “Harsh attitudes in the present will crush the less-fortunate”

The following letter to the editor appeared in a local newspaper recently:

Not so fast, EMD workers

As much as I understand how such a wage change could affect the lives of employees used to making a higher wage for so long, Electro-Motive employees need to realize they are (a) lucky to have a job and (b) still going to be making $6 more an hour than a lot of people.

Samantha M.

January 16, London Free Press

As well as asking “Where will good jobs come from in London, jobs well-paying and secure enough to support committed workers and their families well into the future?” in this series of posts, I also must ask, “Where do people get the idea that salaries, just a few dollars more than Ontario’s paltry minimum wage, will pay for groceries and a mortgage for a couple, let alone a small family of three?”

No wonder there was a rally in Victoria Park on Saturday in support of locked-out Electro-Motive Diesel workers.

[Photos by G.Harrison]


Please click here to read 2012 in Review PT 5: “Harsh attitudes in the past crushed the less-fortunate”


The Odd Reflection PT 2: Twenty-three years to go. Surprise!

Several days ago I shared a few words about cheese curds and my plans for the future, not that the two things are deeply entwined, mind you.

About my future: I think one part of my plan, i.e., to be mentally and physically ready to move out of my cozy house in eight years, is a very good one.

First, it will take at least that long to tidy things up in the house so that the move to The Kismet Apartments on Wortley Rd. goes smoothly and lightly, as in “I’ll travel very lightly.”

Secondly, I look forward to my 70s and 80s, the time in which I’ll be less a slave to material things and give more energy to, what I believe to be, the most important people in my life, like my spouse, my boys, grandkids and special friends, and a few key interests, such as writing, reflecting, more writing, tooting about on a bicycle and trimming my possessions back so I can move into Punkydoodle Old Folks Home with just one cardboard box of stuff.

Oh yeah, I’ll be busy.

["Lawn clippings aren't mentioned... but they're in there!": photos GH]

About that cardboard box I mentioned in an earlier post. I’m going to drop the hood on my sweatshirt so that I’ll have room for a packet of my favourite loose tea (so much tastier than any tea bag).

I sure hope the Tea Haus will be making the Hangover Blend when I’m 85. It will be worth the walk downtown.

Smells like a freshly mowed lawn... but better, because I didn’t have to cut the grass.


Please click here to read The Odd Reflection PT 1: Twenty-three years to go


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Burgessville and Norwich Stories: I want them all

["Burgessville Public School": photos by G.Harrison]

Yesterday I posted a few emails sent to me as result of my latest column re a visit from my son and his busy family. (I survived, but barely). One was out of the ordinary, and I think an issue that was raised will be on my mind for a while.

Last night, after coming home from a hockey game, I opened another email and its contents quickly stirred up a pile of childhood memories.

Really, after writing about grandkids, I didn’t see this one coming.

On 20-Jan-12, at 7:35 PM, Don T. wrote:

Hi Gord,  Since you once were a resident of Burgessville I wonder if you ever did some research about the village.  When I was very young my parents and I lived behind Roloson's  Mill and I can still remember the boom boom of the engine that ran it. 

My grandfather, Allan Pembleton, operated a woodworking, carriage shop next door to the Mill and his son-in-law  M J Buckrell operated a farm sales and repair shop next door to that.  Grandfather's shop has long been removed but Buckrells  is now someone's residence. 

The train used to run next door to the mill and the tracks were eventually abandoned.  My grandparents passed away in the 1960s but their home near the Baptist Church is still there and hasn't changed any. 

We moved to Norwich and my Dad eventually purchased the old blacksmith shop on Stover St. from John Armour and operated there for many years before replacing the building with a more modern one for the time.  I gave brother Gary your email once and I wonder if he ever contacted you?  Keep writing those stories for the paper.   Don T.

While writing my reply, my brain travelled back more than 55 years. I recalled my first girl friend could have inherited a general store if she'd only stayed in town.

Hi Don, 

I am very happy to hear from you. Time passes quickly and our lives get busy (or busier) but it's always a lot of fun to stop and think about my days in Burgessville and Norwich. 

I didn't know that your family spent early years in Burgessville. That is a pleasant surprise. Can you recall the years you were there? Does your early house still survive?

I lived from 1949 - 1955 north of Burgessville's main intersection, in a house halfway between Wettlaufer's General Store and the elementary school. Dad worked at the Co-op across the street, closer to the main corner, and played ball with Gord Bucholtz, who lived with his young family above a metal working shop (Danny B. made tin swords from scrap and, at 6-years old, could fold tin in some sort of press without slicing off his fingers). The Bucholtz building and upper apartment still stands near or beside the post office, just south of the main corner. Immediately south of it is the large Wells family home, red brick, up for sale as of last summer, I believe.

We moved to Norwich in 1955, I entered Gr. 1 and have an early picture with Gary and I sitting side by each with the rest of Miss Beattie's class. She taught my dad as well and he wrote a column about her in the Norwich Gazette in 1993 or so. The column was sent to me recently by Miss Beattie's niece, a Londoner.

Gary and I haven't reconnected after our visit in 1992 in Hanover and a few subsequent emails. I picture him with his feet up in a nice home or snug cottage near Eagle Lake, or polishing his 1960s Chevy for a summer cruise. I visit my oldest boy in Fenelon Falls regularly and I think Gary's about an hour north of there, so he's within reach if he'd like to grab a coffee sometime. If you have his email address I'd be happy to write and suggest such a plan. 

Please also let me know where Roloson's Mill and Pembleton's carriage shop once stood compared to the intersection on Highway 59. I drive through Oxford County several times each summer and will get my bearings about where your family used to live compared to our own next time through.

I played after school with Gerald Buckrell and Eddie Something (his dad operated a garage at the main corner (NE) and can still pick out the Buckrell home. My family attended the red brick Baptist church and my parents were friends with the MacKenzies, a missionary family that lived near and west of the church. Maybe you remember that family. The daughters had funny stories to tell about monkeys chasing them while in Africa or India.

["Gord looks for his old mug inside his first public school"]

We likely attended the same public school and I had a pleasant tour of the building in the summer of 2010. I believe, as a museum, it is now closed due to funding shortages. Miss Dixon's room has been kept as you may remember it - even neater - and another tiny, one room schoolhouse from Springford or Springfield was erected inside the second classroom. Well worth the trip back in time, I must say.

["This one-room schoolhouse is now inside Gord's first classroom"]  

["Gord learns he's one assignment short of a Gr. 1 diploma"]

I was very happy to meet the owners of our old house in 2010 as well; they bought the house from the Co-op after my family moved out, and the property is littered with birdhouses, which would have pleased my dad, an avid bird and birdhouse man. The original barn is still there, hidden under siding, and when I mentioned that it looked like it had been moved, I was informed by the owner that he took it apart board by board in the late 1950s, turned the structure 90 degrees (so he could park inside it) and reassembled it. He also showed me the birdhouse he was working on - number 2,550 or some such high number. I wrote a column about my Burgessville adventure and know he, as of last summer, is still building birdhouses; well over 3000 by now, I bet. He puts me to shame with my paltry numbers of 100 or so units per year.

I have many fond memories of your family's Norwich property, your home above the large workshop, your dad's electric steel guitar, and of a lovely thing your mother said to Gary and I one day when asked, by Gary, which crayon drawing she liked best, his or mine. I would love to stomp down the lane toward where your old sawmill once stood, in which I saw for the first time a saw blade the size of a young boy. You had access to a deep wild property behind the last of many out-buildings as well. Way out back I recall Gary showed me how to float across a large puddle atop a car or truck's gas tank - while rocking it with the funnel. He also shot BBs at me in the winter but my clothes were frozen so I shouted at him for no good reason, unless I was thinking he'd shoot my eye out! (One of mother's many warnings).

Such a long reply. Sorry to fill your afternoon!

Keep well, Don. Say hi to Gary for me sometime. I play hockey every week and think about his smooth style every time a younger guy skates past me... often.


Gord Harrison

Now, if any readers are from Burgessville and/or Norwich (or environs), please let me know about a few people you recall (“Do you recall Mrs. Hilliker? She lived right next door.”) or experiences you had there.

Let’s call it ‘research.’


Please click here for another story that mentions Norwich.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Zoom w a View: Paper Lady in Distress

As I walked my blue recycling box back to the porch this morning I noticed what looked like a torn piece of paper floating across the snow-covered yard.

I bent down to retrieve it... or her.

Terrified, she flew away upon the wind.

[Photos by GH]


Please click here for another Zoom w a View.


It Strikes Me Funny PT 2: Email ‘not’ about my grandchildren

In the previous post I mention that I seldom share ‘reader email’ and do so today because, in response to my most recent column (My grandchildren know how to turn weekends upside down), one breaks the mold because of its unexpected nature and departure from the tone of the piece.

Email 4

On 20-Jan-12, at 9:53 AM, m. s. wrote:

Hello Mr Harrison,

I always look forward to  your weekly article and this week article stir the truth of our situation.

Raising 4 girls and having my father in law living with us made our lives miserable. He want the house the way it should be when he was living by himself. Our house is a mess and I try to do my best to keep it tidy but sometimes, its not a priority and it create frictions between us.

Calling us lazy and crook for my kids friends used his cups and we put in the dish washer and he refuse to use other cups in the cupboard. They moved things and he can't find them even though its just under his nose.

So I want to take your opinion after your experience, would you be able to live with them for months or would you rather be in a retirement home?

My father in law is 80 yrs old and he's physically able but Doctors thinks he's onset of dementia.

I'm counting on your opinion for I have to decide this month even though my hubby is feeling guilty. Have a good day!! M.

I read the email several times to make sure I had the jist of it. Then I consulted with my wife, thought things over (M.’s dilemma is like one my siblings and I faced with our mother and father), and sent the following cautious reply, feeling as if I was entering a place where angels fear to tread.

Hello M.,

Thank you for reading my column. You have raised a very serious matter as a result of my last one about the grandchildren coming to visit.

Based on my experience with my mother several years ago (she suffered from Parkinson's disease), I can say the following: I was helped by two good doctors and my four brothers and sisters when it came time to deciding where she should live.

The doctors told us she would get worse and need more care as she grew older. My family and I knew we could not do all the work or provide all the care (some had children, others had jobs, etc.), so we began looking for a good retirement home. My mother didn't fight with us when she moved into her first retirement home, and when she needed more care, we moved her to another one, where she later passed away. 

All of this sounds easier than it was, but I didn't have to make the decisions alone and that made a big difference to me ten or twelve years ago. So, if your husband has brothers or sisters and you have doctors involved you can talk to, I recommend you try to get everyone together for more discussions about what should be done. That way, you are not alone as decisions are made.

Your father-in-law may fight about moving, so he needs to hear more from the doctors and your husband's family too.

My father was accepted at Parkwood Hospital in 2001 because he was a war veteran. He didn't like it at first, he was quite the fighter, very stubborn, but after about two weeks he got along very well and had many pleasant months there before he passed away.

Because of my experiences with my mother and father, I now believe I will go to a retirement home instead of expecting to live with my sons when I am older. I know it would be too much work for them to care for me (although I'm very easy to get along with!) and they have their own families to care for too.

I hope this helps you with your decision.


Gord H.

I hit ‘send’ and hoped for the best. (How did my column about grandkids spark such an email or request? I guess I really don’t know everything, or - closer to the truth - much of anything).

Fifteen minutes ago I received the following:  

Thank you very much for replying. I really appreciate what you mentioned about your parents. I'll discuss this to my husband and I know my father in law is very stubborn and doesn't want to be in a retirement home, I think he'll get use to it once given a chance.

I'll let my husband read this and will decide from there.


I may reply with a simple “let me know how it goes.”

For now, however, I’ve decided to call it a day.


Please click here for It Strikes Me Funny PT 1.


It Strikes Me Funny: Email about my grandkids' visit

I don’t often share ‘reader email’ after one of my columns hits the street because comments are usually short and sweet.



“You get paid?”

Today I share three of a kind in response to my most recent column entitled ‘My grandchildren know how to turn weekends upside down’, and then a fourth, separately, that breaks the mold because of its unexpected nature and departure from the tone of the piece.

I provide the column’s opening three sentences in order to set the aforementioned tone:

Because regular readers deserve to know certain things about me (even irregular readers, though irregularly), I’m going to begin this week’s column with an admission and a related, follow-up question.

I admit, I submitted no column last week because my grandchildren, on frequent occasions, rule the world.

And, when do parents of twins, triplets, quads, quints, etc., ever find time to go to the bathroom, let alone make a sandwich?

[Please click here to read the rest, as published in The Londoner]

Email 1 -

Subject: Grandchildren
Date: January 19, 2012 11:30:35 AM GMT-05:00

Really enjoyed your article on grandchildrens visit can relate totally with your story. The only difference between your story and my experience is that my wife and I usually snooze the day away after they leave.
Dick/Mary K.

Reply -

Hi Dick and Mary,

Thank you for your email concerning my recent column. Though we didn't snooze (such a great idea!) the day after our son and family left, my wife and I commented several times about how quiet the house was. Lovely.

Gord H.
@ The Londoner

Email 2 -

From: nanasmith
Subject: Article in Londoner
Date: January 19, 2012 2:14:29 PM GMT-05:00

Hi Gord and Pat enjoyed your story about the grandchildren, I can remember your guys as little ones at Wortley. We have 12 grandchildren and spent a lot of time with them when they were little, now the oldest is 26 and down to 15 yrs old. You are great parents and now grandparents, and it is all worth the upset as they visit. Best wishes to you and yours in the new year, blessings. Marilou and Wayne S.

Reply -

Hi Marilou and Wayne,

Thank you for your email concerning my recent column.

Twelve grandchildren!! Such great news. ('nanasmith' is such an appropriate email tag.) However, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't survive a full reunion if we had 12 rather than the four. Because of the writing and other isolated pursuits (e.g., building birdhouses in a small workshop), I am growing very used to peace, quiet, and an easy pace for most of the day. Fortunately, the noisiness is for short intervals and the kids are so genuinely happy that - as you say - the visits are well worth it.

Please keep well,

Gord H.

Email 3 -

Subject: Grandchildren article
Date: January 19, 2012 3:13:36 PM GMT-05:00

I just read your grandchildren article and can sympathize. It was a great article and as usual I can identify.

Our three grandchildren, who are eight years old and younger, and their parents came from Australia and stayed with us. As you can imagine, they don't come for a weekend. They were at our house for almost six weeks.  

Think about that...your busy weekend lasting 6 weeks. 

I am also a retired school teacher and I love children. They left a week ago and I am still recovering but I can hardly wait until they come again. Janice

Reply -

Hi Janice,

Thank you for your interesting email.

Six weeks!! I don't want to think about it.

I must hang my head in shame, my son and family were only here for four days and I was almost kaput. However, it wasn't too many years ago that my wife and I agreed to invite our younger son and his wife to stay with us while they looked for a house in London, and their long visit worked out really well. They now live two blocks away and we babysit their five-year old. I guess I do better with smaller crowds.

That being said, here's to the next visit!

Gord H.

Now, think about 12 grandkids staying for 6 weeks!

Stay tuned for the unusual change of tone.


Please click here for a Rare Family Photo


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ollie and Me: “Are they real, Grandpa?”

Ollie liked my recent pencil drawings of the big bad bug brothers, so I took them a step farther.

“Are they real?” he asked.

I wonder if a 5-year old will understand ‘alter ego’?

[Photos by G. Harrison]


Please click here to see pencil drawings at Ollie and Me


Zoom w a View: PT 2 “Snowy day close ups”

Fronts steps. Slippery today. Keep your eyes open.

[Photos by G. Harrison]


Please click here for more Zoom w a View


Zoom w a View: PT 1 “Snowy day close ups”

I shovelled, I swept, I clicked.

[Photos by G. Harrison]


Please click here for more Zoom w a View.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ollie and Me: “We’re big and we’re bad!”

The “Big Bad Bug Brothers” look like a fun group of guys.

["They need arms, Grandpa!" says Ollie]

Talk about the things I get to doin’ when my grandson Ollie comes to visit!

["Oh, they need more than arms, Ollie boy." photos by GH]



Please click here for more Ollie and Me.


2012 in Review PT 5: “Harsh attitudes crushed the less-fortunate in the past”

Do you have a library card? If so, I recommend you borrow a book by Bill Bryson entitled At Home: A Short History of Private Life.

As I’ve been writing and thinking about the demise of good jobs in this decade (particularly in 2012), I’ve noticed that Bryson’s book occasionally provides evidence of several harsh attitudes that crushed not only the spirits but the bodies of the poor and less-fortunate. (As mentioned in an earlier post, the poor made up the majority of citizens for many centuries).

For example, I recently wrote that the consideration of even the most basic human rights in the mid-1800s was hindered by cruel attitudes from unexpected quarters. Reverend T. R. Malthus (1766 - 1834), for some reason, blamed the poor for their own hardships and opposed the idea of relief for the masses on the grounds that it simply increased their tendency to idleness.

And regarding Ireland’s Great Famine in 1845 - 46, I came across the following lines in Bryson’s book:

From the moment of the potato’s introduction to Europe, failed harvests became regular... Three hundred thousand people died in a single failure in 1739. But that appalling total was made to seem insignificant by the scale of death and suffering in 1845 - 46... It wasn’t just in Ireland that the crop failed - in fact, it failed across Europe - but the Irish were especially dependent on the potato.

Relief was infamously slow to come. Months after the starving had started, Sir Robert Peel, the British prime minister, was still urging caution.

“There is such a tendency to exaggeration and inaccuracy in Irish reports that delay in acting on them is always desirable,” he wrote.

[Monument beside Lake Ontario near downtown Kingston, Ontario]

Lest we say that it was only misguided or uninformed public servants that opposed the idea of relief and delayed any meaningful action on behalf of the less-fortunate, we must hear the following about big business interests of the day:

In the worst year of the potato famine, London’s fish market, Billingsgate, sold 500 million oysters, 1 billion fresh herrings, almost 100 million soles, 498 million shrimps, 304 million periwinkles, 33 million plaice, 23 million mackerel, and other similarly massive amounts - and not one morsel of any of it made its way to Ireland to relieve the starving people there. (pg. 84, At Home)

[Enlargement of monument script: Photos by G. Harrison, 2006]

By now some readers are likely wondering, “What do these harsh attitudes of the past, whether demonstrated by public or business leaders, have to do with the decline of good, secure jobs in the modern era?”

To be sure, I think that’s a very good question as well.

More to follow.

FYI - periwinkles are any small marine snail belonging to the family Littorinidae (class Gastropoda, phylum Mollusca)

- plaice is the common name used for a group of flatfish. There are four species in the group, the European, American, Alaskan and scale-eye plaice.

So now you know!


Please click here to read 2012 in Review PT 4: “Grandparents will recall the worst of times”


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Odd Reflection: Twenty-three years to go

My wife mentioned her Uncle Bill at lunchtime today while putting a few cheese curds and crackers onto the dining room table. Bill had the cheese delivered to us after Christmas.

Bill is 94 years old, continues to live an active life (he loves to gab, takes part in weekly dances and occasionally speaks to elementary school classes about his experiences in WW2), and now resides in a retirement home in Gananoque, Ontario.

Seconds after the curds arrived at the table I popped a curly piece into my mouth, thought of Bill and the move he’d made a year ago into the ‘old folks home’ from his apartment overlooking Lake Ontario. It was a necessary move. I’ll likely have to make that kind of move in the future too. Many readers will have to as well.

That being said - about the curds and all too - regular readers with very, very good memories will know how long I want to live, and why.

(Quick review: 87. Why? I retired at 53. I contributed to the pension fund for 32 years and want to withdraw from it for 32 years - plus 2 extra years. We all want two year’s of gravy, don’t we?)

At the moment I’m 62 years old, hope to live in my own house until I’m 70, and then a small apartment until I’m 85. And at 85 I plan to walk from the elevator of the Kismet Apt. on Wortley Rd. (two blocks from the Red Roaster; the Kismet isn't built yet, but maybe someday soon) carrying just one cardboard box of household items on my way to the cab that will drop me off at Punkydoodle Old Folks Home overlooking Thames Park. (Punkydoodles isn’t built yet either, but I have the lot picked out if anybody cares about such things).

["This photo just might make the cut."]

And what’s in the cardboard box? I’m glad you asked.

two pairs of used Levis

one leather belt (the one I bought from Quigley’s Leather Works in 1969 for $5)

four T-shirts

one sweatshirt, likely a hoodie

ten pairs of underwear

three pairs of socks

my iPad 12

six particular framed photos

a bottle of Tums

wild cherry breathmints

a small red cedar birdhouse

one well-thumbed copy of “I Want to be Buried at Sea”

the Good Book

Besides the clothes on my back and leather shoes on my feet, I won’t require much else, except regular visits from family and friends bearing cold IPAs or hot dark roast coffee.

Of course, I have 23 years to go, so plans might change a little.

Maybe I’ll see you at Punkydoodles.

PS Uncle Bill. Thanks for the curds.


Please click here for a trip down Memory Lane.


Robin, Action Hero, Revisited: He merits affection

A few days ago I found Robin, a small action figure, sitting in a low crook in my neighbour’s tree. Poor Robin.

During his career related to crime fighting, in comic books and TV, his partner, the unstoppable Batman, received much of the glory.

And today, as a small action figure (with holes in his shoes), he seems forlorn and forgotten, especially when found outdoors without good boots.

I feel he deserves better.

["Where to now, Batman? I'm ready for adventure."]

[Artsy Fartsy Photos by GH]


Please click here for photos and prose related to Robin.


Zoom w a View: PT 3 “Robin, Robin, get back in the game”

Robin, Robin, you’ve had quite the fall
And I’m surprised no one’s helped you at all.

Robin, Robin, I’ll righten you, and then
You can watch out for crooks, be ‘up and at ‘em’.

[Photos and brilliant prose by GH]


Please click here for more Zoom w a View.


Monday, January 16, 2012

2012 in Review PT 4: “Great - grandfathers will recall the worst of times”

The erosion of good jobs is one of the key issues that will dominate 2012, a year that has lurched into the room in soiled pants and pushed final thoughts about 2011 aside.

Discussion about why good jobs are disappearing will, I’m sure, provide many challenges this year. Hopefully, some positive answers will be addressed.

I will say here, honestly, I have never faced the hardships workers face today in the public and private sector. As far as good, secure, well-paid jobs are concerned, I lived in or went through the best of times (interesting, entertaining, meaningful part-time or full-time work seemed available wherever I looked in the 1950s and ‘60s). So, I’m not well-practiced in facing or overcoming low or no employment.

However, I do know we don’t have to look back too many centuries, even mere decades, before my time to see that good jobs were almost non-existent for the majority of workers and that even tiny improvements in wages, benefits and working conditions were only won through blood, sweat and tears.

Long before you and I were born the dominant consideration in life for both children and adults was inescapably economic. Daily bread was hard to come by in order to simply survive and every person, almost from birth, was considered a unit of production. When John Locke (1697) suggested to England’s Board of Trade that children of the poor - about everyone in the phone book - should be sent to work from the age of three, no one thought it unrealistic or unkind.

One hundred years later, hundreds of thousands of slaves toiled in the cotton fields in the southern states (of the U.S.) and child labour filled the floors of booming cotton mills in England.

“Children were malleable, worked cheap, and were generally quicker at darting about among machinery and dealing with snags, breakages, and the like. Even the most enlightened mill owners used children freely. They couldn’t afford not to,” writes Bill Bryson. (At Home: A short history of private life)

Thank goodness for the wise intervention of far-sighted politicians and their 1844 Factory Act. It reduced the workday for children, most of whom were working 12- to 14-hour days, six days per week. Some worked even longer, particularly during busy periods to meet large orders, likely at Christmas (with no time-and-a-half).

Improvements in conditions, at least in England, came very slowly. Many children were sent onto the streets to survive on their own at age seven or eight and by the 1860s London had 100,000 “street Arabs” who had no education, no skills, no purpose, and no future. The consideration of even the most basic human rights (a very modern term, it seems) was hindered by harsh attitudes from unexpected quarters. Reverend T. R. Malthus (1766 - 1834) blamed the poor for their own hardships and opposed the idea of relief for the masses on the grounds that it simply increased their tendency to idleness.

“And there can be few more telling facts about life in nineteenth century Britain than that the founding of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals preceded by sixty years the founding of a similar organization for the protection of children.” (pg. 415, At Home, B. Bryson)

To learn about the inexorably slow improvements to the poor wages, benefits and working conditions closer to our home and to the modern era in which we live, we need only ask our aged parents (who may recall the Dirty Thirties, Great Depression and longer work days), and grandparents and great-grandparents who worked the mines, mills, forests, farms and factories for very meager benefits in many cases - if they’re still alive.

Though many of these people and their stories are likely gone, I’m sure they would agree that boomers like myself lived during the best of times and the younger generations alive today are seeing the decline of our good, secure jobs.

More to follow.


Please click here to read 2012 in Review PT 3: “For jobs, I grew up in the best of times”


Friday, January 13, 2012

Zoom w a View: PT 2 “Robin, Robin”

Robin, Robin, sitting in the snow,
There’s just one thing that you should know.

Crime is down on Cathcart Street,
Come back inside - but wipe your feet.

[Photos and brilliant prose by GH]


Please click here for more PT 1 “Robin, Robin”


Welcome to Harperville: “Smoke and fire up your pants”

[“Some critics of Ottawa’s economic approach say they’re concerned with (Canada’s) increasing reliance on petroleum revenue they contend comes at the expense of other regions.” Jan. 12, London Free Press]

Canada’s Conservative Federal Government (aka The Feds) has one plan and one plan only for the country’s economic future, i.e., sell as much dirty, expensive tar sand oil as soon as possible.

There is no Plan B, so if you feel the heat a-risin’ up your pant leg, a weak, short-sighted economic plan for 35 million people in a warming climate may be one reason.

Another reason. When Line Dance Minister Jim Flatulence, the man in charge of the largest debt in Canadian history and an unmanageable deficit, says, “It’s clear to me it’s not time for dangerous new spending” (Jan. 12, Free Press), he doesn’t mention the excessive costs related to purchasing fighter jets from the U.S.A. (the actual costs are unknown), to building new federal prisons in a country with a lowering crime rate, to expanding the size of the House of Commons, and to the largest Prime Minister’s Office in the history of Canada, if not the known universe.

[“Let me know how your debate goes”: see Dolighan.com]

Add to the mix a Prime Minister who doesn’t give a tinker’s toot for the environment (he may not even know that global warming, climate instability and Canada’s excessive exploitation of natural resources are related) and we have perfect conditions for a lot more smoke and fire up your pants.

Keep a water bucket handy if you can afford it.


Please click here for more Welcome to Harperville.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Zoom w a View: “Robin, Robin”

Robin, Robin, sitting in a tree,
I see your eyes are staring at me.

Robin, Robin, fighting crime all day
I see you’ve worn your soles away.

[Brilliant prose, and photo of Cathcart St. super hero, by GH]


Please click here for more Zoom w a View.