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The Winter Challenge

Our middle daughter, who runs a photographic business,like many other entrepreneurs and small business persons, found herself unable to operate during the pandemic. Recognising that she was by no means alone in not working she decided to create something that would keep fellow sufferers amused during their various stages of lockdown. She therefore created a Winter Challenge that required the completion of 30 tasks between February 1st and March 21, the official end of winter. The tasks were extremely varied, ranging from sleeping in an unconventional location, to finding the third item from the right on the top shelf of your fridge, and use it in a meal, (unless it is mouldy ). Also from doing a jigsaw upside down to having dinner for breakfast or vice versa.

Sleeping in the bathtub

It is all very fascinating and caused us consider some of the challenges that were not included in the list we were given

Doing a jig saw upside down

Obviously the most significant event for all of us over the past year, has been Covid 19 and its ramifications. One of the concerns that have been expressed is that not everyone would be prepared to be vaccinated when the vaccines became available. We were wondering why this should be the case, until we started watching the television news for hints. It then became obvious. We normally watch the BBC world news from 6:60 to 7pm. and then the Maritime news from 7 to 7:30. People being vaccinated is obviously a very newsworthy event, but it does get carried to extremes, nearly every night the number of people being needled during that hour reaches double figures. Even stranger I am fairly certain that on the regional news I have seen some people being vaccinated several times. One does tend to wince a little, each time you see that needle going in, and I am sure that this scares people away from having it done to them.

Our extra challenge would be to still get vaccinated, despite seeing all those injections.

A Shirt Tale

It was way back in1950 that my father was scheduled to visit the United States and Canada, to discuss topics of mutual interest in the gas industry, coal gas in the UK in those days and mostly natural gas in the US and Canada. It was the cause of much family excitement that he was going to make such a trip, and a predeparture party was held with fake weather forecasts ominously predicting hurricanes for his sea voyage, which actually happened. The whole family went down to Southampton to wish him Bon Voyage, which resulted in my mother, who hated driving, having to drive the 80 miles back home in our unreliable slightly bomb damaged 1935 Morris ten four.

He had a very busy schedule for a three week visit, being in a different city nearly every night. One of his concerns was how he could look respectable, with no opportunity to do laundry. Drip dry was essentially an unknown word back then in the UK, but he was advised that if he purchased nylon shirts, they could be washed at bedtime, hung out to dry overnight and be nice and clean in the morning. As a result he purchased two nylon shirts, which easily lived up to his needs. He continued to wear them for a number of years, and then, getting tired of them passed them on to me. I was never that keen on wearing them, but they came in extremely useful as aprons for the young, when they were doing something messy. No matter how much paint the kids got on them, it all came off in the wash. One of them was actually worn by our middle daughter, Robin, when she was a star in a children`s painting show on Television in Newfoundland in 1968.

One of those shirts about to make another starring experience, as I wear it inside out and backwards as one of the tasks in the WinterPlayChallenge, organised by the same daughter who wore the shirt in Newfoundland. This task requires one to wear clothes inside our for a day, and I have decided to go the whole hog and wear it backwards too. The shirt is as intact today as it was back in 1950, a real tribute to the nylon shirt makers of the period. Perhaps the fact that it has worn so well provides a hint as to why you do not see entirely nylon shirts in shops any more, they do not wear out fast enough.

A creature of habit

It is Christmas Day and I can’t help thinking of Christmases past, all the things associated with a traditional Christmas that are not happening this year. The gathering of families and friends replaced with a Zoom call that spanned the ocean, so while missing close contact with some people we did see more than usual of more distant friends and family. The other startling feature of this Christmas is the weather, the thermometer is standing at 17 degrees Celsius as I write this, a new record for Fredericton. I have just returned from a bicycle ride on the trails, which were very quiet, I suppose everyone was recovering from a vast lunch.

As we are having our Turkey for the evening meal (actually one skinless boneless turkey breast). We had a casual lunch, which for me was boiled tomatoes on toast. This may seem trivial, but exactly 80 years ago, my parents had with great difficulty secured a turkey to feed the family together with some strays who stayed with us to avoid the London blitz. I am appalled to say that I steadfastly refused to eat turkey and demanded tomatoes on toast. As it was Christmas Day my long suffering mother went out and opened one of the jars of preserved tomatoes ,and gave in to my demand. Now 80 years later I had the same Christmas Day lunch. It was clearly a slow forming habit.

It is a little sad to think that of the nine people round that table, I am the only one left to remember the incident.

Christmas Squirrels

Twas the night before Christmas, and I had a strange feeling
Something was happening, up in the ceiling.
It was only a limited sort of a noise
Not one like Santa dropping off toys.
A gentler sound, rather discreet
The soft pitter patter of animal feet.
They’re back was the only thing I could utter
As I went to the kitchen to find peanut butter.
I spread it on balanced bits in special cages
I use to trap squirrels, we’ve had them for ages.
They lock them up kindly with something as snack
As we load up the car and take them all back
To the forest, release them, and then we say please
Go play with your friends here, up in the trees.
Envoi
It works well in theory, but alas I may say
They’ll be back in the ceiling, the very next day

Celsius

Today the temperature is about 15 degrees. That is if you believe in Celsius. I was brought up in Fahrenheit, so if I add 32 and then multiply 15 by 9 and divide it by 5, and add the two numbers up, I get 59 degrees Fahrenheit. 59 seems warmer than 15. It made me wonder what other things could be improved by a change of the units of measurement, a simple example is my age, if I am 83 Fahrenheit years old I would be only 60 Celsius, that seems a lot younger. Of course it would not work so well if you were really young. A Fahrenheit 15 year old would be -9 Celsius which is rather an improbable age.

Using the well known principle of reductio ad absurdum, one could apply this technique to many other conversions. The obvious one is the difference between distance signs here in Canada and in the United States, when what is presented as a metric 100 here would only be 62 in the US. This of course means that Canadian cars will go from zero to 60 much faster. Applying this conversion to my age I would be fifty one and a half in the states, even younger than Celsius.

I will only go so far in these comparisons, I have just realised that my metric weight is 82,555 grams which is a terrifying thought,

Marmite

Nothing in my experience can compare to this simple savoury paste that provides subtlety and emphasis to many things, when placed upon a slice of bread and butter, or better still, toast and butter. It is now over 120 years since it first appeared on the market, after its discovery by a German chemist and its manufacture by an English Company.

My earliest memories of comfort food include, along with baked beans on toast, Marmite and tomato on bread or toast. A medium sized tomato cut into four quarters, each of them placed on a quarter of a slice of toast or bread and butter with a thin spread of Marmite.

It never really occurred to me that it was not universally obtainable until we moved to Australia 60 years ago, and could no longer find Marmite despite the abundance of tomatoes. There was a pathetic option called Vegemite, but it was and is not the same. Perhaps the best indication of how it is valued in Australia is that at the end of an evening guests would be offered crackers spread with the Vegemite and perhaps a small slice of tomato to make them go home.

We then returned to England for three years, where one of the compensations for less income was a ready availability of Marmite.

In 1967 we started our lives in Canada, in Newfoundland no less, where not a trace of Marmite could be found in the shops. By chance I had a second cousin once removed, whose job was to test radionics in Valiant bombers, while they were in flight. He was on several occasions capable of ensuring a landing in Torbay with a supply of Marmite for his desperate even if remote relative.

From there we moved on to Toronto, and once again faced a Marmite famine. Luckily my work frequently took me to the Maritimes, and by then I had discovered a store in Halifax where Marmite could be found. We then moved to New Brunswick in 1973 when hen’s teeth were more abundant than Marmite. Fortunately my dreams were finally realised, and by the year 2000 Marmite was a frequent appearance on supermarket shelves, although it sometimes vanished for a month or two. As a savvy consumer I tried to keep at least three jars on hand to bridge the gaps. Now however, disaster has struck, there has been no Marmite on the shelves for six months, and my supply has dwindled to a carefully hoarded trace..

A daughter has found a bottle for me and is putting it on the mail for me, will it arrive in time, my garden is full of tomatoes demanding Marmite.

My faith in Canada Post is fairly high and I hope they can bring it to me. Just in case, I held my nose today, and bought a bottle of Vegemite. Judging by the price it must have flown first class from Australia.

That was a mistake, I tried it and now realise I was wise to switch back to Marmite 56 years ago.

Chalet de necessité

One of my first experiences of finding a bathroom that was not like the one at home, was on a holiday in France in the early 1950s. We were on a family low budget vacation in Brittany, in a 1935 Morris 10, which had lost its sunshine roof in the blitz. We stopped overnight at a cafe that said it had chambres, and rented two rooms, one for the parents, one for my brother and me. At the corner of the stairs, as we went up to the third floor there was a door that opened onto a porcelain floor with two places on which you placed your feet while doing whatever you had to do. The title of this piece reproduces what it said on the door. There was no lock, and the deal was that if you heard someone coming you cried out “OCCUPÉ”

It was the first of many formal variations of toilets that I encountered over the years. When we first arrived in Australia we purchased a house in the extreme suburbs, with no indoor facilities but an outside shed with a traditional wooden seat over a bucket collected once a week. I managed to get approval for a septic tank during a very dry season, so by the time our first child arrived midnight trips to the garden were no longer necessary.

During one of my field projects in North Queensland I was accompanied by my wife and one year old daughter. The loo was once more out doors, but tastefully screened from view by a wooden trellis on which clematis grew. It also provided an ideal perching spot for tree frogs who appeared to get their kicks from watching people relieving themselves. Immediately adjacent was a pawpaw tree which was extremely popular with the fruit bats, so a night time visit would disturb these creatures with a four foot wingspan to fly off noisily. It is not really relevant, but the same house derived its water from a windmill with a dry well about 6 feet deep. One day one of the neighbours pigs fell in it, which created a challenge, but the water seemed to be all right afterwards.

The following year I spent several weeks in a grass hut in a village in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. In this case someone had gone to a grat deal of trouble to ensure privacy for the hole under the wooden seat by constructing a large grass hut around it. While ideal from the point of view of privacy, it also provided a comfortable home for the tree snake living in the thatch.

Later that year I visited Japan and stayed in a relatively fancy hotel in Tokyo. The glossy porcelain with various options was a sharp contrast to what I had experienced a few weeks before.

Game set and match however must go to my wife. Who on visiting Tibet a while ago was in the Potala in Lhasa, which has high walls way above the ground. On one of the upper edges there is a comfortable spot for people to sit with an open seat, a different approach to aerial bombardment.

No recent experiences have provided quite same challenges as those days, and we even understood what was expected of us when encountering cans of water instead of toilet paper in Turkey

Birthdays

A friend sent me this card for my 83rd birthday, which happens to be today, and caused me to think of other birthdays over the years, not all of them involving bicycles. The first birthday I can remember was in 1943, somehow or other the family had managed to get to Aberystwyth for a war time vacation, and it coincided with my birthday, the present I received that year was pretty epic for a six y ear old., It was a cardboard box with a series of nursery rhyme things you could cut out, the see saw of Marjorie Daw fame actually tilted! The other feature of that day was warm doughnut, a delicious rarity at the time. My first bicycle birthday was my tenth, when I received a cas h contribution to the three speed bike I was pining for, and actually got at Christmas.

My next memorable birthday was my fourteenth; I was about to start boarding school, and my only present was a travel rug, I was again unimpressed, but in retrospect I realised that with my school fees that was all my parents could afford to give me.

I turned 21 in Venice seven years later years later with my about to be official fiancee. Our engagement was in the Times that day and we took a gondola ride by moonlight. Unfortunately I had a splitting head ache.

My world circled around running as a form of exercise, and it wasn’t until 2000, when my knees stopped me running that I went back to biking. The link to birthdays waited a little longer. In 2011 I joined a group of cycling seniors, the “Folks on Spokes”, in 2012, to celebrate my 75th birthday, a group rode with me to Kings Landing and back, 75 kilometres. four years later my oldest daughter suggested that I come to Ottawa to ride 79 kilometres for my 79th birthday. I did not want to take my bike on the car that far, so I asked her to hire one. When I arrived in Ottawa I found a brand new bicycle had been bought for me, and I then rode it the requisite 79 kilometres with a daughter and son in law.

In 2017 I was “invited” to ride 80 kilometres on my 80th birthday with a daughter, a grandson and a son in law. I willingly(?) complied.

I have leaned my lesson, On my 83rd birthday I rode 30 kilometres.

On the trail

On Saturday morning I was biking on the trail between Angel View and the camp ground, and I was struck (not literally), by the large number of fellow cyclists and walkers with babies and or dogs that were using the trail. Exercise patterns in Fredericton have definitely changed.

In the old days, and that means before my knees gave out at the turn of the century, I was out running nearly every day. Getting into shape for marathons or shorter races. This required a variety of routes, generally organised to end at a bar for a beer.It was easily done in the summer, but in the winter it was more challenging, so I would go cross country skiing instead.

Most of my running was on the roads, the trail system had no comparison to what we have today, particularly on the south side of town where I live. In those days we often ran the two bridges as a route choice, the Princess Margaret Bridge and the Carleton Street Bridge. One of them is no more and the other does not permit biking, let alone running. Now of course you can run the train bridge as it is a walking bridge, and there is a pedestrian path on the Westmoreland Bridge. It was theoretically possible to run out to Lincoln from the Experimental farm on the railway line, but the sleepers (I am referring to the things that supported the rails, not dozing citizens) were still there which made it quite challenging. In the days of the abandoned line still being there, there was generally a wilderness between the gardens and the river with just a few notable horticultural exceptions. Since the official establishment of the trail, the majority of the homeowners have taken their property between the trail and the river more seriously, and in many cases attractively.

Not everything is perfect though despite the best efforts of the city. One would think that the concept of a speed limit was totally foreign to cyclists with drop handlebars. They speed along thje trails, and the walking bridge at speeds exceeding twice the limit which is 15 kmph on most of the city trails, and 10kmph on the bridge, terrifying senior citizens, parents with young children, and dogs. Sadly many of them do not even have a bell or any method to alert others of their imminent whizzing past.

One thing cannot go without mention, the combination of a brewery and the city have made a great improvement to the North end of the Walking Bridge, particularly for those who need access to beer!

Life in the slow lane

The slow lane is very much a relative concept, and widely open to interpretation. I think about it as I am pottering along on my bicycle on a trail and I am overtaken by some speeding enthusiast with his or her head down at at least twice my speed. On another day while cycling through the woods I may pass dog walkers idling along as their canine companions snoop and poop, who may see me as the fast lane.

The ribbon cutting

Well illustrated perhaps by the above picture which shows my wife and myself formally cutting the ribbon to our new driveway, so much and excitement for us. but so much slow lane to the jogger that he just drifts on by.

Another good illustration of the slow lane phenomenon is the early morning seniors shop at the supermarket. With the younger hurried hordes kept firmly away you have an hour to work your way round the shelves and select your groceries, and time to chat with the check out lady who can inquire as to the state of your family. We used to do our pre Covid supermarket shop on Saturdays, but felt that it was too crowded so moved it to Fridays, now it seems as if the weekend starts on Friday, it is a longer week end in the slow lane

One good thing that the pandemic has given us.

Leisure can be a blessing or a curse. Whether you want to be in the slow lane or the fast lane will determine which of those it is going to be. There has to come a time when you decide where you belong, and none of us can keep up with a fast pace for ever. You may have to choose your moment for the decision, but do not neglect the tranquillity of the slow lane.