Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Eating in the Evening Years

Once we leave off the pursuit of the almighty-dollar we usually experience a sudden drop off in bustle and agitation. Career-chasing busyness disappears. However whatever retirement advice we took probably left out a little-understood downside of this otherwise welcome sea-change in our status. We may not have realised that the franticness of our working day had helped balance our daily fuel intake with the energy we used up.

My current work-free lifestyle plays havoc with that energy equation so that I’m now fighting the Great Girth Battle of the sunset years. Rising when the sun is up to linger over a newspaper as I make time for a full breakfast, I follow with a leisurely stroll across the patio to admire the Spring flowers before I sink into a good chair to start the day’s reading. Maybe this is interrupted by a lazy lunch with a pal down at a local pub. A restorative snack mid-afternoon is a must to make it through to rounding out the day with a full dinner and conversation, plus a glass or two of Ontario’s finest. At that point each day I have the completed the recipe for sustaining a much fuller waistline.

The worst of it is that the food I eat actually seems to look and taste better than it used to. When anyone who might be across the table from me demands little more than gentle attention, I have the time to savour my meals and notice how well they have been prepared.

When retired who really minds if that fascinating souffléed whatsitsname is going to take longer to make than a salad? No longer is there a desired outcome hanging over nearly every meal away from home. No more are cutting a deal, scooping industry intel, or just getting to the bill in time for meeting my next engagement the natural partners of a meal out.

Can there be any logic to dieting in life's later chapters? For myself, surely making it safely into late life earns me some reward for all those years of endless business lunches? They gave me a notion of what makes fine dining and only now can I find the time to appreciate eating in all its richness.

Who cares if one’s formerly authoritative profile in full business rigout is no longer? After all, what’s a suit for in retirement except funerals? We finally are free to be our baggy, slouchy senior selves. Sad old tofu just doesn’t cut it. And the Paleolithic Diet can only make sense for those sour folk who have no feel for the finer products of the grain. My advice is not to delay in giving away your full length mirrors. Find and frame a cheery picture of Mr Pickwick for your credenza. Then bring out your scrumptious cream sauces, your ravishingly crumbly pastries and heady malt whiskies!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Gambling as a Fiscal Pillar of Society

Being from a country whose profound influence on the norms of international governance and jurisprudence would have been much less likely if the Counter-Reformation had succeeded on its territory, I am rarely impressed by the pronouncements of the Roman Catholic Church. However an important recent exception is a pastoral letter from their Archbishop of Toronto on the subject of the political drive to place a large gambling casino on his city's scenic lake shore:"Gambling is inherently based on illusion - on promoting the fantasy, particularly attractive to the most vulnerable and most desperate, that it is an easy way to provide a quick solution to the financial problems that they face".

Local politicians and captains of entertainment have bandied together to try to convince the local citizenry that a giant complex of this type bulls-eye in Canada's largest city is a dream come true. To the dubious morality of governments relying ever more heavily on lottery takings to function is now to be added jobs created in construction and to produce tax revenue from a greatly extended variety of hands-on options for the risk-addicted to lose money. One does not have to be a Bible literalist to see this as a further extension into the modern Sodom and Gomorrah of Government fund-raising. The now North America-wide phenomenon of the reserved land of aboriginal peoples being exempt from local rules prohibiting casinos, so that young natives can be trained up as croupiers and barmen, is to be extended to our non-indigenous big city population, as if it is somehow a worthy and fulfilling career choice!

Helping those who often have serious impulse control and lifestyle management issues to part with their earnings in a situation where real reward for doing so has of necessity to be rare, seems hardly in the public interest. Yet we taxpayers tolerate it because it allows governments to spend more than we are prepared to give them, and is generally out of sight (native casinos on reserves) or can easily be overlooked (lottery ticket sales outlets). However this new source of revenues would be impossible to ignore, given its likely impact on the composition of Downtown tourism and facilities, and so our ratepayers are starting to voice their disquiet. In this dissension, the issue of the basic morality of the 'entertainment' too often plays a poor second fiddle to the NIMBY concern of Toronto residents. The Archbishop is to be congratulated for bringing out into the light the ethical and spiritual dimensions of state-sponsored gambling.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Man and Beast

Tucked into a small hill behind the tall fence between my English childhood home's backyard and side lane lay a coal bin. These bins were big deep wooden boxes into which the coal-man would tip bags of the sour-smelling black lumps we young kids were tasked with carrying inside to fuel the fireplaces. 

Brown rats were the bane of any who kept their coal outdoors in this way. For some reason, mother rats found these gloomy and dusty cavities just perfect for bringing lots of pestiferous baby rats into our world. 

An adult Norway rat is not a friendly beast. The male was usually more than a match for our neighbourhood tomcats, and rats had no other local predators beyond the occasional barn owl. This made for a frequent chore of that time being a phone call to the rat catcher to come up from the town, climb into the bin and put in his poison, after which the number of rats to be seen would decline rapidly.  

But rats breed often, so it was never long before dusky shapes could once again be sighted out of the corner of an eye as they skittered along the sides of our yard just as the sun began to set, or in the early morning. 

At one point a neighbour kept chickens. With chicken feed available right next door, our area rat population exploded. A nightmare. Eventually the neighbours had had enough and the chickens were got rid of. Rats went back to being once again just another occasionally annoying partner in our family's daily life. 

That is until one day someone spotted a large one half way up a big old lilac that hung over the coal shed. It was odd to have one so brazenly out there in full sunshine. The tallest kid and the most curious, I set off up the tree to confront the monster. Although he was the largest rat I had ever seen, I had little thought of harm. But as I got close, to my amazement instead of heading higher, he leaped onto me and fastened sharp teeth hard onto my arm. It hurt a lot. Frantically trying to shake him off, I began to lose my grip on the tree. Then all of a sudden he let go, to hiss and spit furiously at my face. Now badly frightened, I lost my balance completely and fell hard, as the big rat jumped away to disappear quick as a flash into the bin before anyone could react.

Happily he and his sneaky relatives got their comeuppance not long after when the shed was demolished as burning lumps of coal gave way to coal gas for heating. I wonder now if that animal had some sense of what was coming, and so took his anger out on me?

Monday, April 1, 2013

When did Society Become so Inconsiderate?

A few years ago on a trip to the UK I came across Lynne Truss' marvellous little book: Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of Everyday Life (or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door).  The ultimate description of the frequent bestiality of each day's experience of your fellow man, this little book came to mind last week when I witnessed a new-to-me unintended consequence of Nanny State legislation. As in-hand cellphone use in a car is now illegal in most places, new vehicles come equipped with dashboard consoles that have Bluetooth hands-free connection. Using the car's speakers, this phone system can pump out the volume of sound at which your neighbour's teenage kid listens to his rap music. A truck pulled up next to me at the gasoline pump had its owner outside wrestling with the hose as he yelled back into the cabin as his contribution to a Bluetooth conversation. That brought a whole new level of decibels to those mobile phone dialogues one has no business overhearing!  


If you have ever confronted the types that perpetrate these sorts of atrocities in your daily life, you'll know the real meaning of rudeness. If you are lucky, you won't be threatened by physical violence. Being 6ft 2in and male, I occasionally forget that I'm also a frail old man. So far, I'm fortunate to have got away with only a stream of invective, often including a description of what the malefactor would really like to do to me for having the temerity to suggest that his behaviour is uncouth. 


Over a couple of miles of driving down in the fast-growing suburbs the other day, I had a well-known contemptuous hand gesture pointed my way by no less than three different speed demons of both sexes. Up here in the boondocks, where there remains some social consensus around what is appropriate interpersonal behaviour, folk are still mostly quite polite.


Social consensus is subtle and often hard to pin down. It derives over time from a common view of what each day is all about. As both the economic status and the ethno-cultural experience of society's members widen, this shared perspective becomes more and more elusive. Those who are naturally impatient and intolerant see no negative consequence to the outward displays of their contempt for the well-being of others. Fear of the outcome of confronting offence felt in the gentler segment of the population only emboldens those who see their neighbours as mostly an impediment to fulfillment of their own needs as they define them - constant right of way on the road, lightening fast service in shops, parking as close to their destination as can be, unfettered use of their phone in every public space... and so on. 


Those from countries that are politically dysfunctional, and where a form of 'law of the jungle' governs social interaction, have perhaps the hardest task in discerning what the social norms dictate in their new home. As immigrants they can come across as gruff and uncaring because they see have grown up to view each day as a battle and not an opportunity to grow closer to their fellows. Once experienced regularly, public rudeness can make even the most polite of us harden our view on how best to complete our daily round. In the end, we all suffer. 


America produces detailed booklets for its international businessmen and diplomats on the mores of the foreign societies they find themselves in. We here could do with guides to our national norms both for our domestic newcomers as they strive for full citizenship and for those native-born who seem to have lost a sense of why this is such a great country to live in.