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How Many Gold Medals Did Captain America Get?

A while ago I wrote a blog post that pondered the question whether my son would view himself as British, Canadian, or American.

During the Olympics I got my answer. My wife and I started pointing out the British, Canadian and American flags when they appeared on-screen. My son, whose favorite sports seemed to be swimming and diving (I put this down to his recent engagement in weekend swimming lessons), soon picked up the national branding.

When the British flag was shown – and I say with enormous pride that it was often shown on the top of a flag pole – my son would point at the screen and say “Dada, Dada, your country Dada. Moma! It Dad country! Dada from Eng-er-land!”

A couple of things here. First, my son hasn’t worked out the difference between England and Britain yet – but then, he’s not the only one, is he? Second, “Eng-er-land” is not a speech impediment or the result of a 3-year-old trying to master the language. It is in fact the result of a summer watching his Dad, watching Eng-er-laaand play at Euro 2012 – together with way too many renditions of Fat Les’ Vindaloo.

Go on, give it a listen and then try to get it out of your head for the rest of the day.

Back to the Olympics and my son’s first stumbling steps into working out his national identity. The boy got very excited every time he saw the maple-leaf sporting red and white rectangle. “DAAADDDAAAAA! My country Dada! It Canada Dada! Dada it my country!” There’s my answer, my son is Canadian. Bless him.

It was almost upsetting for his mom and me that every time there was an actual final or a medal contest, my son’s rhetoric would go something like this: “Moma, there your country! Dada there your country! Where my country?”

“Your country will be in the next race son.” We would assure him time after time, giving the fake hope that parents do despite the knowledge that it will never happen. Sod’s law he was at his swimming lesson when the women’s trampoline competition was on. (Canada won its only gold medal in this event for those that don’t know. And, yes trampoline is an Olympics event if you missed that too. I know, I know.)

The proud nation of Captain America

Captain America is a fictional character, a super hero who appears in Marvel Comics. The boy got a Captain America action figure for his last birthday. You think I’ve wondered off topic don’t you? You’re thinking: I thought he was talking about the Olympics and his son discovering his national identity. I can see why you’d think that… hang on, I’m about to tie it all in…

So, in a way that only a 3-year-old’s mind works, whenever the Stars and Stripes was hoisted, we’d hear the following ring out: “MOOOMMMAAAAAA! It your country Moma! It Captain America!”

It is far too cute to correct. So for the time being, my son is going around telling people: “My country Canada. Dada from Eng-er-land and Moma from Captain America.”

Olympic Pride

Like many around the world, I have been taking in the Olympics in recent days. There is an added interest for us expats this time around, with London as the host city. I have to confess to a swelling of pride as I took in the opening ceremony – a swelling that worked its way right up to my throat and was so uncomfortable that it brought a tear to my eye.

A Britain I know was presented in an excellent opening ceremony.
Photography by Matt Lancashire, via Wikipedia.org

The first Olympics I can remember watching is Los Angeles 1984, and every two years since I’ve tuned in to the opening ceremony (I also make sure to take in the winter version). I have always enjoyed the grandeur and pomposity of the show and the parade of nations. But I can’t really recall any of those ceremonies. Opening ceremonies don’t stick in your mind like Daley Thompson pole vaulting, or Linford Christie winning the 100 metres, or Sir Steve Redgrave taking Gold again.

I think this one will stay with me though. The reason is that the narrative was recognizable. It conjured images and sounds of British history and culture that I am very familiar with. From working men in an industrial setting to the comedy of Mr. Bean. From the Eastenders theme tune to the Arctic Monkeys and Hey Jude. James Bond, the NHS, Chelsea Pensioners, Shakespeare, Chariots of Fire, Cricket and Her Majesty herself. I thought the World Wide Web was an American thing, but no, that was born in Britain too.

Yes, watching the opening ceremony gave a real sense of pride. It will live with me for a long time.  Good job Danny Boyle.

The BBC has a pretty good photo gallery of the opening ceremony, here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-19020830

My Take On The England Riots

150-year-old furniture store on fire in London. Photo source: BBC News (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-14526432)

The rioting in England was appalling.

I watched the video of the young man, who had had his jaw broken, being pulled from the ground by helpful youths – only to calmly unzip his backpack and help themselves to the contents. I saw the furniture shop that had stood through two World Wars burn to the ground. And I heard the young people who spoke about looting as if it was a game – no thought given to the consequences of their actions. Although deeply disturbing, it was compelling viewing and listening.

As if people losing their homes, their possessions, their memories and their livelihoods were not enough, people – innocent people – died. Tragic. And unnecessary. A French colleague shook my hand, looked at me in empathy, and said “sorry for what’s happening in England”. I felt deeply ashamed.

What was almost as distasteful was the media pulling all sorts of ‘experts’ out of the wilderness to tell us why it had happened. One psychologist on Canadian radio seemed to suggest that the riots were the result of the excess of one parent families without father figures. Other, more direct reasoning included anger over government cuts, police incompetence, the shooting of a teenager by authorities, the economy, etc. etc.

The fact is, it was a few bad apples leading an army of brain-dead and easily manipulated kids into committing awful crime. It has nothing to do with any of the above. Neither does it have anything to do with these kids being poor – they were running around in Adidas hoodies and Nike shoes while texting on iPhones and Blackberry’s. The poor youth of England have never been so wealthy.

I was once a disaffected youth myself. Many of the family and friends I grew up with too. My parents (one a part-time domestic help… that’s a cleaner to you and me, and one on disability after working for over 40 years in a manual job) could not afford to buy me designer labels. I never went abroad; in fact we rarely took a vacation. When we did, it was bed and breakfast in Blackpool for a few days. Neither I, nor any of the friends that surrounded me ever left our council houses to embark upon a riotous frenzy that would terrorize our neighbours and local hard working people. Number of windows broken, zero; number of shops looted, zero; number of buildings burned down, zero; number of people killed, zero. Instead I grew my hair into a god-awful mess, and wore ripped jeans – my rebellion.

I don’t say this to take the ‘holier than thou’ high ground, or to paint the nostalgic picture of a better past. In fact, I grew up in an era of football violence. That had as much to do with football as these latest riots had to do with poverty, politics, the economy, a shooting, or any of the other excuses offered… including the abundance of one parent families. These were mindless kids being led by thugs for their own entertainment and gain.

I now hear that some in the UK are saying that the sentences handed down to these thugs are too harsh. Nonesense. The amount of damage these imbeciles have caused to property, to people, to the country and it’s perception abroad, will affect for years to come. Throw the book at them. And, if they’re under 16, throw the book at their parents too. (I can imagine that if I had ever been involved in criminality of this kind as a young man, the only thought that would have scared me more than prison would have been my mom finding out).

In stark contrast I read that virtually no-one has been charged two months after the Vancouver riots. I’ll take the British approach to dealing with rioters, please.

The Desire To Blog

August 20, 2011 5 comments

So, I haven’t posted in a while. The Montreal summer, house hunting, a job that has required my focus, allergies… there have been many reasons I haven’t dipped my virtual pen in my virtual ink pot. Really though, all excuses.

I was speaking with a colleague last week and somehow – I don’t remember how – we got to talking about being ‘detail oriented’. I had mentioned something along the lines of how I have to check certain things because some people are just not detail oriented. “It’s a matter of desire” he said. “People are as detail oriented as they want to be.” It rang true for me, being one of those non-detail-oriented people in a former life.

Blogs are a matter of desire too. When all said and done, if I’d had the desire to actually write a blog post over the summer, I would have, regardless of parenting duties, late nights at work, or marching around open houses on the weekends. It’s not as if nothing has happened, or I’ve had nothing to say either:

– The rioting in England. I sat and watched, and shook my head at that. I’ll put my thoughts in the next post.

– A hot, hot, hot summer in Montreal. As hot as I remember in my 11 summers here. What a pity I’ve spent most of it…

– House hunting in Montreal’s West Island. And, without any luck.

– And, I believe we had a Royal visit in Canada too… when they came to Montreal, I donned my England football jersey, got in the car… and left town for the weekend.

Has my blog posting desire returned? Well, only time will tell, right?

A Gruesome Kid’s Song

Alouette. I sung it as a child. I’m sure you did too. It’s a familiar and catchy little tune; Alouette, gentille Alouette… All these years though, and I’ve never actually known what I’ve been singing about. In fact, I confess, I always thought it was Alouette, jonty Alouette. I had no clue what ‘jonty’ meant. But then I didn’t know what an Alouette was either.

Then, many years later, I found myself on an intensive French language course. I really disliked that course. 6 months of studying a language I find so difficult – it would have helped to have supportive teachers, instead of ones that made you feel 3 inches tall when you couldn’t remember a verb. As testimony to the quality of the course, I offer the fact that, despite progressing to – and passing – level 3 (which they term ‘intermediate’), I still didn’t know how to say “sorry, I can’t speak French”, in French! I digress. Back to the Alouette song…

As part of this course, we sung. Yes, I felt a little embarrassed, but a least I was in the corner at the back, so I could sing quietly and not be noticed. One of these songs, of course, was Alouette. We attacked it with gusto. A song that we could all handle. The words were there on the song sheet, so we read, we sung. We didn’t understand.

After a few renditions, it was time to actually discover what the words meant.

HORRIFIED.

An Alouette, or Lark, taking a last ruffle of its feathers before a French kid plucks them.

For those still in the dark, the song is about plucking a bird (an Alouette is a bird. Actually, it’s French for Lark. I know that now). Each verse details the progressive mutilation of this innocent little creature. Depending upon the version, you pluck the feathers on it’s head, then the wings, and and the back, even the poor little bugger’s beak gets tugged out! And no mention of the bird being deceased before the commencement of this torture either. Disturbing.

Naturally, I did what all self-respecting, sane, relatively new parents would do. I found a version on YouTube, and played it to my 10 month old son. He loved it. Couldn’t get enough. Wanted me to replay it over and over. It rivaled Beyonce’s Single Ladies as his all time favourite (what is it with that Beyonce video mesmerizing babies?).

My son’s favourite version of Alouette:

Of course, the French are not the only ones to impose songs and rhymes of dubious content on the next generation. It got me thinking of a few other little ditties we used to sing. It’s no wonder we all grew up to need therapy:

– Rock-a-bye, baby in the treetop… When the bough breaks, The cradle will fall, And down will come baby, Cradle and all – what kind of whack-job would hang a baby in a treetop? Especially on a windy day.

Humpty Dumpty, a giant EGG with arms and legs fell off a wall and smashed his head into pieces. (“Daddy, what have you been smoking?”) The King’s Men, couldn’t save him, and presumably with that level of head trauma, the paramedics wouldn’t have fared any better.

Jack and Jill fell down the hill. Jack broke his crown. No word on whether he’s going to survive, or on Jill’s condition.

– Oh, and in other news London Bridge is falling down.

It’s worse than the six o’clock news.

Any more unsettling kids tunes spring to mind?

The Comforting Sound of British Sitcoms

Birds of a Feather

Do you ever find old British sitcoms on Canadian TV, and leave them on despite the fact you think they’re crud and you never used to watch them in the UK? I do.

I’m currently writing this with Birds of a Feather going on in the background. A bad 1990’s sitcom about two working class women living in a posh suburb off the back of their imprisoned husband’s loot. I never watched it in the UK, but I find it somehow soothing to have it’s familiarity playing away as the backdrop to a cold Canadian evening. Next up is One Foot in the Grave, which, in my humble opinion is much better.

Keeping Up Appearances is another that gets left on, despite me never having watched it 20 years ago in Britain, and in spite of the fact I don’t like it at all. Coronation Street on a Sunday morning has become a ritual in our house (I know, it’s not a sitcom, but it may as well be). I never actually watch it, it’s just on. When in Britain, it gets switched off.

It must be the security that familiarity brings. I long for the day that Del Boy, Rodders and Grandad (or Uncle) turn up on my Canadian TV screen. Now there will be a Britcom that will get my full attention.

Weather? You Don’t Have Weather!

It’s recognized as a great British pass-time; talking about the weather. And, it’s true. I don’t think I’ve had a conversation with my mother in the last 10 years where she hasn’t mentioned the weather.  The Brits just love talking about it. Or should that be complaining about it?

The irony is, in general the Brits don’t have any weather. Ok, they have ‘weather’, but not ‘weather’. Not the kind of weather we have over here in Canada. We have seasons in Canada. In spring it rains, the sun shines and it gets hot in summer, the fall* is a little chilly but we’re treated to the beautiful foliage. And in winter, well it snows. A lot. And it’s cold. Very, very cold.

England in winter, and autumn, and spring, and most of the summer

In the UK it’s usually mostly a grey and wet spring, followed by a largely cloudy summer with showers, a gloomy autumn with some downpours, and a miserable wet and cold winter. Barring a day or two of sun in July or August, and the annual few days’ national shut down due to an inch and a half of white stuff, it’s pretty standard fare. Of course, I understand that this is some justification for the complaints, but it’s hardly riveting conversation is it?

“Bit wet and chilly today, innit Bob?”

“Yup, mind you not as wet and chilly as yesterday, Bill”

“Ye’r right there. What’s it supposed to be like tomorrow Bob?”

“Gonna be gray Bill. With a bit of rain. And chilly.”

“Tut, tut. Bloody weather.”

“Yeah, bloody weather, tut, tut.”

Conversations like this have been going on for centuries across the British Isles. There are probably thousands of conversations like this taking place right now.

I genuinely admire the Canadian resilience in the face of extreme weather. “A bit chilly” to them is -10°C, with a -20°C wind chill. They’ll also wear shorts at the first sign of sunshine on grass, regardless of the temperature, and they’ll be sitting outside on terraces milking the last glimmer of sunshine until the last leaves fall.

Now that’s weather, and how to deal with it.

*Fall is Autumn in North Americanish  (for the Brits without North American experience)

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