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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


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.

Here is the News

(The fact that I had not written a blog for several weeks caused some confusion among my fan, this is my third day of reassurance that I am alive and well, even if sometimes boring)

In common with many New Brunswickers I receive a copy of one of the local English newspapers every week day. While there are two of them, the Telegraph Journal and the Daily Gleaner, they are so close to being identical that it does not matter which one you get your news from. In these day of digital media I also subscribe to the Globe and Mail and also the Times of London. Of course we really get our news from the CBC at 7am, the BBC world news at 6:30pm and various Canadian TV stations between 7 and 7:30 pm. As if that was not enough there are all those clips that you get shown on Facebook, and the news that Microsoft thinks you ought to see whenever you start your computer up.

No wonder I am confused, and also of course, an expert on everything depending on where I am coming from. I use that phrase advisedly

Lets look at the COVID story: The New Brunswick Government in consultation with Public Health has done an excellent job in controlling the pandemic, and we tend to look down our noses at the bigger Provinces to the West who have been much less successful. Canadians as whole tend to point out the failure of the United States to control the pandemic, and largely blame President Trump. The BBC world News attempts to be just that and reports on COVID disasters world wide, but all the data and reporting from any source is not totally objective and feeds to the prejudices of the source.

It is interesting to note a couple of issues that relate to the different attitudes and results in the UK and the USA. The number of cases per million population in the USA on August 13 was 16, 429, on the same day the number for the UK 4,620, Obviously the UK is doing better? Or is it the number of deaths per million in the USA is 516 and in the UK 609. President Trump has blamed the higher number of cases to higher numbers of tests. On August 13, both the UK and the USA reported 208, 000 test per million population.

It is hard to believe that the survival rate of COVID victims is four times better in the confused and expensive medical sector of the USA than in the universally available UK system. one wonders if we are comparing apples and oranges? However you view the statistics in a global sense the problem is by no means over, we need to stop arguing about it and to continue to use our best efforts to keep it under control.

Geoff and the war with Japan

This photograph, taken in the spring of 1941, is the last colour photograph my father would take before the end of world war II. it was taken in Dufay colour a now extinct colour process. The people shown are: from the left. my mother. my elder brother, my Godfather Geoff Gee, me, and my grandmother on my mother’s side. The picture was taken in Kew gardens.

My grandmother lived in a fairly large house in London, by herself, and as her eyesight has deteriorated so that she could no longer make a living as a seamstress, she took in lodgers. Geoff who was a draftsman with the railways in Scotland was sent down to London to take a course or something, and stayed in the house. My parents, recently married were also living in the same house. Before I was born they moved out to new house in the suburbs, and they asked Geoff if he would be my godfather. The day that picture was taken was just after Geoff had joined the army, and was probably when he was on embarkation leave, on his way to Singapore. Along with many other members of the British army, he ended up soon after as a prisoner of the Japanese.

He was involved as were many of his colleagues in the construction of the rail road that is so frighteningly shown in the movie, Bridge on the River Kwai. Unlike many others he survived the railroad and the war, and was repatriated to Britain in 1945 for rest and recovery. He ascribed his survival partly to his skill as a draftsman, he had the ability to convert a small black and white snapshot of a wife or girlfriend into a glamorous portrait, a talent that was initially welcomed by his fellow prisoners, and then by his prison guards who were also a long way from their girl friends.

He returned to his job as a draftsman with the railways in Glasgow. He used to visit us occasionally when he had free passes on the trains, and would take me with him to whatever was the current hit musical in the West end. He seemed to have many connections with the theater world, and would take me back stage after the show to meet someone he knew.

He never fully recovered his health and died in his forties. The anniversary of the defeat of the Japanese always reminds me of him, and my reason for lack of enthusiasm for that nation.

How Fit is the Bit?

For the past several months I have taken to wearing a Fit Bit. Not because I expect to get fitter, but because I am curious about the impact of exercise on my heart. When I was scheduled to have an operation to remove cancer from one of my lungs three years ago, I flunked the pre-op screening because of a fibrillation in my heart. The operation had to be postponed while I undertook further tests, but then went ahead.

At the time I blamed the fibrillation on having been at a political fundraising event the night before, at which the hostess, a long time friend, had urged her son, the bartender to ensure that I was kept well supplied with malt whisky. He complied vigorously and I had felt a little strange in the middle of the night.

I was send to a heart guy who explained the ins and outs of fibrillating hearts and prescribed a pill that I take daily and is not covered by my medical plan, at $4.00 per pill. I felt a little weird again while biking last fall, and it was tentatively blamed on too vigorous exercising. So I bought a Fit Bit to try and find how my heart was reacting to exercise, in my case, generally biking outdoors.

It has taken me a while to understand what it is telling me, mostly because it is intended more for the walker or runner than for the cyclist. it posts a number of steps that I am presumed to have taken, that bares no particular relationship to my biking . It also reports some other things, like liquid and food consumption, but you have to enter those yourself, not surprisingly.

What I am following however, is my heart rate, it will display me a graph with a squiggly line that represents my heart rate and goes up and down all the time, but not with a frequency to reflect fibrillation. When I cycle there are more systematic rises and falls in my heart rate, which relate to how hard I am working. There is still some confusion though, the heart rate maximum when I check out the exercise rate peaks at a higher level than it shows in the regular heart rate graph at the same time.

The really confusing thing it reports to me though is my sleep pattern, which only seems to record the amount of sleep I have had since I last got up to go to the bathroom, It appears that I am truly sleep deprived. I am also baffled by how many flights of stairs I have climbed each day. I am still confused about whether I am fit or not, but I am still going to wear my Fit Bit anyway.

It is a weird world

Sometimes something that seems incredibly difficult, turns out to be a lot simpler than you thought. For a long time now, and I mean years not just months, we have been irritated by the fact that our telephones gave us a beeping rather than a dial tone. But they still worked. Our local capable of anything guru was round at the week end to cut up a tree that had fallen on my wife’s sunning chair. After he had solved that problem for us we sat down for a beer, and I mentioned the telephone problem. He went and tried the phone and said that the sound we heard was message waiting on our voicemail, I did not think we had voicemail as we use an answering machine, but he said try # 99 which I did and was informed that I had no messages, the beeping continued.

I googled beeping messenger noise and after a while found an option that explained how to remove it on certain varieties of phone, but not on the ones I had. It also had a contact number which unfortunately I did not note down. This morning in desperation I went to the Bell Aliant website and sorted out the right place to call with a problem with your phone, after the usual delay listening to loud music, I got a human being on the line. He wanted lots of detail to establish who I was and what my phone number was, and when I said the problem was that I could not stop getting a “you have a voice mail message”. He said it was impossible as we were not paying for voicemail. We spent ten minutes in continuous and growing more heated argument, but he would not accept that it was anything to do with Bell.

Before sending an irate email to the President of Bell Canada, I had one more try with Google. It had a method to stop the message report, #94!

It worked. It is a pity that the staff at the telephone company do not know their own rules.

While I was making dinner last night, the phone rang. It was Bell Aliant asking how my service request had been handled. On a scale of 1 to 5 there was no minus ten, but they did ask for my comments to be recorded. They probably melted the tape.

They are at it again

Squirrel Mom Protects Babies From Cobra in Intense Standoff |

From time to time I have commented on the impact of the furry tree rats on our household. It has been related to their demand for nourishment since we stopped offering them the occasional peanut, to their insistence that our ceiling space is their preferred winter habitat. It is their gardening habits that have been most prominent in irritating me recently.

We learned many years age that when you planted tulip bulbs it was good idea to coat them in pepper or plant a daffodil bulb on top, if we did not want them dug up and eaten. The arrival of crocus blossom in the early spring was apparently a dinner invitation to squirrels who tried to eat the flowers before anyone else could admire them. We managed over the years to have a large enough number of crocus for the squirrels to get bored and leave some for us to admire. Either that or they were distracted by the fact that there were by then tulip blossoms for them to destroy.

I have nurtured a hibiscus and fuchsia for many years, bringing them in in the fall and returning them to the garden in June. They are both happily ignored by the squirrels to date. Ten days ago however, while shopping at Sobeys I saw some beautiful small hibiscus plants with spectacular blooms. I purchased one and planted it alongside my older plant. Within 24 hours the squirrels had eaten not just the flowers, but all the buds.

There is a clematis that grows on the side of the house, just outside the picture window in the living room. It is not yet in bloom, but the buds are forming. Yesterday evening a squirrel was half way up the clematis and chattering at me through the window, apparently complaining that I had not got it in bloom for him!