Using Up The Paint

Canadians of a ” Certain Age ” will remember painting the back porch. It was in the days before plastic or aluminium siding with built-in colour and finish. The back porch was made of wood and eventually the seasons took their toll of the surface. You put it off as long as you could, but – like resurfacing the frost-heaved driveway – eventually you had to give in and waste a summer week.

It was a week, too – because you had to scrape the old finish off to some extent before covering it with the new. Like painting a ship – rust knocking first. After you finished and the yard looked like three varieties of hell, it came time to get the paint.

No Canadian worth their salt ever went to the hardware store and bought new paint. It just wasn’t done, eh?

You went into the garage and got all the old tins of paint that had been used to do other jobs around the place and tipped them into the biggest can. This was mixed with a big stick or a screwdriver chucked into an electric drill and the result thinned with something that may well have been turpentine originally. Then out with the brushes ( two sizes; too big and too small…) and up on apple crate scaffolding to start the painting.

Three days and two falls later it was done. And one could put the remains of the porch paint back into the big can in the garage. And this is where the Canadian Miracle occurred. We never knew how and no scientist could ever explain it, but when the Canadian porch was painted:

a. No-one ever remembered buying paint…ever. Where the half-full tins came from was a mystery. Paint faeries were mooted but we were too old for that sort of thing.

b. It was either salmon pink or medium grey. That is the only two colours you can make when you mix leftovers – no matter what you started with.

c. There was more paint after you finished than when you started.

d. The brushes were always carefully saved for the next time. Not cleaned, mind – just saved. Rigid, misshapen, disgusting, but saved. We were frugal, eh?

The Delight Of Being Needed

Say what you like about the delights of sex, drugs, rocks and roll, or the 1953 Standard motor car – or about family and friendship and little bluebirds chirping – there is nothing quite as good as being needed.

It quiets the mental worm that gnaws at us; why are we here? Even if for only a short period of time we are here to help.

And it doesn’t really matter if we succeed. The thing is, we were called on. Even if we make a sad hash of whatever we do and make matters infinitely worse, the need was there and it was us that was needed.

This was the basic drive that made Boy Scouts stand at street corners and eye off old ladies. We were priming ourselves to swoop and help them across the road. As we got older and progressed from Boy Scouts to scouting for girls we used this early training on the street corners. We were extremely vigilant for a chance to help younger women into bars and into our cars. There were no merit badges on offer but we occasionally had things pinned on us.

Can I Get My Virtue Changed? The Filter’s Clogged

I used to be such a nice little boy. Of course at the time Diefenbaker and Eisenhower were the leaders of Canada and the USA respectively and virtue was worth something.

You had to work pretty hard to be good in those days. I wasn’t allowed to smoke marijuana or crack cocaine and heroin was frowned on at the Boy Scouts. I was not allowed to steal mobile phones or cars and gang warfare was restricted to Chicago where it could be done by professionals.

Don’t get me wrong – being virtuous was not without its rewards – the chiefest being itself. That’s what they told us, anyway, and it probably saved a lot of money for our parents. Still, there was the occasional model airplane or candy bar in the offing so it paid to be nice. Kids who were virtuous got bibles to tell them they would be damned anyway and the occasional book about missionaries who were piously slaughtered. I could hardly wait to grow up and run as far away from the place as I could get.

Well, I did grow up and I ran to Australia – jut about at the time when virtue was being taken off the shelves as unsalable. I missed the early Swinging Sixties and was a disciplined student during the latter part of the decade. As a result I never learned to swing. I had to make do with marriage and a settled life  – in retrospect it seems to have been a good idea as I have not been confined to an institution or ruined, and most of my swinging parts still swing.

I do run foul of the Visibly Virtuous these days but it is less of a concern than I thought it would be. Television-virtue is as short-lived as any other entertainment on that medium – two seasons or less sees most people lose concentration on the leaders or movements that march across the screen. They only really revive in interest when the principals of whatever they are stand exposed by the hopefuls of the next cultural movement. And it’s movement after movement – rather like digestion, but on a less appetising scale.

One thing I’ve learned with social movements – never look in the pan. Press the button and wash your hands and just get on with it.

It’s Hard To Find A Universal Bad Guy

And this is a real problem for the entertainment industry – particularly the television and movie ones that hope to make money.

The audiences for the visual stories are all over the world today; the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia. And Manangatang. A bid to get them to watch some action thriller needs to have a good guy who triumphs and a bad guy who dies – but it is awkward trying to place praise and blame these days – everyone wants their country/culture/religion to be on the good side. Few accept being cast as villains…or worse – as savages. Even if they have been eating raw human livers until last Tuesday they still want to be seen as modern, cool, and sophisticated.

As a practical illustration, who would you portray as baddies; the Chinese or the Japanese? Depends entirely on which century you’re filming, which decade, which war, or which government. And where you expect to sell the most screenings.

That idea gets even murkier for other countries in the Asian market: Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, or any one of the numerous Koreas. They are all sensitive people who try to be polite and never cause trouble to each other unless they’re sure they can get away with it.

So no Asian villains. Russians? Well, Slavs in general are angered by any suggestion that they are not peace-loving, and they have the tanks and anti-aircraft batteries to back that up with. Plus they may have invested heavily in the film production company. It’s safer to have babushka dolls and balalaika music and let it go at that.

Jews and Muslims? Israelis and Arabs? Well, there you go. Choose your side and whoever is on the other one is wrong…but if you want to sell your film in their cinema you can’t say that.

Of course you can always go the classics: Kaiser Wilhelm II if your audience is into period films and smart enough to tell the difference between Wilhelm and Edward VII. Even there the German audience will boo you out as they know the truth about Willi and Eddy.

Hitler? Good choice. Nothing there to like…but you can’t add him to every film or people will start to realise that you have run out of ideas.

The Americans? Well, you can sell them as enemies to the UK, Canada, Australian and New Zealand, and any other former allies – they’ll accept the idea. Bit awkward if you need them again, but if push comes to shove you can always destroy the video tapes. And blame the CIA. Or General Lee.

Or you can get Mike Myers to be evil. He’s Canadian so it’s easy.

The Plumbing

Does it seem to you that the plumbing is becoming more of a problem than once it was?

I wish I had paid more attention to the basics of normal household economy when I was a kid. Not that I wanted to become the house cleaner or cook then, but I would have a point of reference in respect to what I have to do today.

I came from Canada, which has its own plumbing problems – there’s plenty of water but winter temperatures turn it into a solid, rather than liquid, asset. Every fluid that comes into or goes out of a house is handled with this in mind – and in some areas of the the country the problem is permanent.

Here in Australia we do not need to do quite this much – Perth temperatures don’t require deep pipe burial or heavy lagging. Plastic pipes and exposed runs can be tolerated. The land is largely flat and sandy. We would expect it to be all that much easier – but I’ve seen more burst mains and clogged pipes here than ever in North America.

The household plumbing is more complex, too. Canadian houses of my childhood had one bathroom, one laundry, and one kitchen. Australian dwellings can have several of each of these rooms and they all need water and drainage. And the fixtures all seem to be much flimsier than the goods of the 50’s.

As a result, most Australians spend holidays doing plumbing fixes. The restrictions on shopping due to virus made this harder over Easter and June  – hence more loos are sitting full or empty when they should be neither.

I’m just grateful when the makers of the fittings do not change the measurements between one decade and the next. Fashion is all very well, but no-one needs a stylish water faucet that breaks in 3 years and cannot be replaced.

” It’s All A Mucking Fadhouse “

That feeling of exasperation when you are surrounded by people all trying to be cooler than each other – and the end result is the ambient temperature drops dramatically. And these desperate social actors live on drama…

I was always a conservative and repressed little fellow. Primary school and high school saw me dressed as my mother commanded and – to be honest – there was not a lot of sartorial splendour in rural Canada in the 1950’s. You could be well-dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans. The delightful thing for me is that this is still the case 70 years later.

You were also not encouraged to be either high, wide nor handsome in your opinions and speech. This may still be the case in Canada, though you are allowed to be scornful of the American President as long as he is not a Democrat or coloured. Hey, Canada has some standards, even if they are double…

But getting back to conservatism…it need not be a bad thing. It’s just a matter of context. No-one really wants an eye surgeon or dentist who is wild and cutting-edge radical – particularly when you’re their their patient. And few of us welcome return-to-the basics airline pilots who always fly at 500 ft. and stick their fingers out the window to see which way the wind is blowing. We reserve these things for their natural place.

Likewise we might well do with a politician who is not continuously at the barricades – particularly if they have no idea in which direction to throw their paving stone. A person who is not driven by popular shrieks from the mob is helpful. Even the shrieking radicals appreciate them, as they provide convenient targets for mindless abuse.

So calm down a little. You’ll still be able to subvert western civilisation and look kewl but you can do it at a less frenetic pace. And better dressed.

Laugh And Yer A Dead Man

We’ve all been there…and with our lousy luck, we’re all going there again. The situation where something irresistibly funny occurs but it is so tied up with someone’s emotions that you just can’t laugh. They’ll be so angry or hurt that you can hardly respond.

What do you do?

Well, flee is a good option. If there is a clear pathway to the door, turn and leg it. You need not actually open the door if it would materially impede your escape. Doors these days are made with a hollow core and you can get through them a lot better than you’d think.

If you are locked in, you just have to cope. The Manitoba Shuffle works for some…” Well, I’ll be darned …” can be used for most situations. Mind you, few people darn any more, what with the cheap price of socks. But it’ll buy you time to think of a more graceful phrase. If you are a Canadian, the old standard of ” I’m so sorry. ” is a good start. And if you voted for either of the Trudeaus, you can do sorry like a professional.



The Pledge Of Allegiance Vs The Oath To The Flag

Or the Rite Of Sacred Honour. Or the Secret Ceremony Of the Three Mountains.

I am currently reviewing the possibility of demanding an oath from everyone. I mean a patriotic one – I can already get oaths from people by stamping on their toes, though some of the words don’t bear repeating. I’m drawn to the project by memories of the Oath Of Allegiance I used to take as a kid in an American grade school.

It was a weekly, if not daily ritual in the Cold War 50’s  – you stood in the first morning class, faced an America flag, and pledged allegiance to it and to the republic for which it stood. As far as I remember, it seems to have worked for me right up until I became an Australian citizen – I never led an armed rebellion against the USA.

In Canada we stood in lines in a morning assembly and sang either ” God Save The Queen ” or ” O Canada “.

Thinking about it, I’ve never led an armed expedition against Queen Elizabeth II either, so the 1970 citizenship ceremony was just as effective – and it was a one-dose ritual. Whether having school children here in Australia do a daily promise to be loyal will pay off or not remains to be seen. The ones who are going to be criminal little shits will do so despite any promise to be good and the others will be responsible citizens anyway. The migrants who take an oath of allegiance at their induction into citizenship mostly take it very much to heart anyway.



The Past Can Pay – Part Two – Research and Rescue

The Royal Canadian Air Force used to use old Lancaster bombers for search and rescue aircraft. They were chiefly used over water, though you have to remember that anything north of Edmonton is all water anyway…frozen and dotted with moose and missionaries, but that’s another story. The Lancasters were not armed while searching and rescuing, but  we’re not so sure about the moose or the missionaries*.

The history retailer can also use this idea to gain material for sale. The trick is to fly out over the vast frozen wastes of the past and look for SOS signs in the snow. When you spot someone who was in trouble or had a grievance you can fly over to them and circle low until you can see whether there is any sign of life. If anything is moving, there is likely a dollar to be made.

Incidents, individuals, and group occurrences in the last few centuries can be very profitable if there is any echo from then until now. The actual thing that happened will not yield anything…unless it was the discovery of a gold-encrusted tomb of the someone…but if you can find survivors, relatives, acquaintances, or debtors of the dead, you can present a bill  and demand payment. In some cases you’ll need to play to the desires and prejudices of the current generation regarding their ancestors, but as long as the originals are dead and gone, it doesn’t really matter too much what you say now – they rarely rise out of their graves and stalk you.

Beware, however, those descendants. If you say what they consider the wrong thing about great-great-Grandad they’ll fee a lawyer to sue you and then the shoe, sabot, or jackboot may well be on the other foot. It is always safest and most profitable to purvey and pander rather than expose and excoriate.

*  There are reports of planes being lost over Edmonton but this is probably not true. The reputation of the place would have served to warn them off.

O.K. Baumer

Orville Baumer was about my same age when I met him in grade school. We went to the 5th grade in Riondel and lived not too far apart. We also joined the Cub Scouts that same year, though Orville was a lot better at doing the badges than ever I was. I can only recall getting two in all my time – one for cooking and one for woodcraft. Orv got semaphore and shelter building and a lot more. He went on to Boy Scouts as well.

Orville was a home soul – he stayed in the town long after I had moved away. Went to high school there and eventually graduated a year ahead of me; I had dropped back a year through moving to Australia. He also stayed in the province for his university time, and got out faster with his degree than I did down here.

Orville had girlfriends in high school and university. A lot more than I did. He married a little earlier, though maybe that was a mistake – he ended up with a divorce from that first marriage. Thankfully, his second has worked out well, and he’ll be well into his thirty-some anniversaries.

Orville does like I do – keeps his cars until they are about 13 years old before trading them in. He never buys big ones – always just little sedans. He’s only taken two overseas holidays in his life. He lives in a regular house with the average amount of old furniture, cranky pets, and unsuccessful grass.

But Orv is different from me in one important respect. When tasked by some unknown  teenager with being responsible for all the ills of the world, Orville cringes and apologises. He says he is sorry for whatever the kid complains about and promises to do better. Orville bows his head in shame for owning his own little house and car, eating regularly, and minding his own business. Orville shys away from the internet groups and protest demonstrations and people who complain in malls.

Orville would never tell a work-shy, over-age, quasi-student who plays the welfare system like a xylophone for money, opiates, and sympathy that they are a public pest. He’d never call them pinko parish parasites. He’d never tell them to stuff their puerile secondhand manifesto where the sun don’t shine.

In many respects, Orville Kitchener Baumer is an admirably civilised person. I really should try to emulate him. One day. I’ll let you know which day I choose.