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.)
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.”
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.
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
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.
As we all know, the clue is in the name. It’s FOOTball for a reason; because you kick the ball with your foot. It appears pretty obvious. It seems like there is no argument – case closed.
Of course, here in Canada – and the other country in North America – they just won’t have it. Apparently, over here football is something that is played predominantly with the HANDS. I have explained this irony on many occasions to my North American friends and colleagues. When I do, they give me that stare, you know the one: “I never thought of that. That kinda makes sense.” But then, in a flash, the logic is lost and still, they won’t accept it.
Some Brits get quite agitated at the whole ‘soccer’ thing. In all truth, I don’t care that much. I call it soccer now myself. When in Rome… or Montreal. I get ‘crucified’ for it on visits to the motherland.
But, where did this random term ‘soccer’ come from? How did these North Americans come up with that? I did some research – they didn’t.
Legend has it that the term soccer can be traced back to a Charles Wreford-Brown, an Oxford University student who preferred ‘brekkers’ to ‘breakfast’ and ‘rugger’ to ‘rugby’. He shortened ‘Association Football’ to ‘soccer’ (derived from ‘association’), and it stuck.
So, if you’re a Brit who cringes when some North American spouts out the word soccer in reference to the beautiful game, remember – it‘s our own fault.
The ‘Habs’ are the Montreal Canadiens. To be fair to the Habs, they are pretty much universally recognized as the lifeblood of ice hockey. Montreal is hockey mad, unlike any other city on Earth. And, Habs fans are acknowledged as being some of the most passionate and knowledgeable of all. And, just like British football fans, they can get a little feisty. It has been known for violence to erupt on the streets of Montreal after a big game from time to time.
Having experienced both big football occasions in the UK, and important hockey games in Canada, I am of the opinion that the level of intensity at football exceeds that of hockey by some way. And, (I say this with no particular pride) hockey ‘hooliganism’ is not at parity with even the much reduced British version of recent times.
I have an old school friend in England who has visited me on this side of the Atlantic on a few occasions.We’ll call him Adam, because, well, that’s his name. On his first visit, I sold him on going to a hockey game. I told him he would see a lot of goals, and a few fights. Exciting stuff. In those days the Bell Centre was called the Molson Centre. If you sat in the cheap seats, right at the back (where locating the puck is impossible), you would see a giant Habs shirt hanging from the scoreboard in front of your section. The shirt would be adorned with a player’s name and number. If your guy scored, everyone in the section got a free beer. I have no idea if they still do this, but it was the pitch that sealed the deal for Adam. We were off to watch the Habs play the Florida Panthers.
I haven’t seen enough hockey to be able to claim this with any authority, but it was possibly the dullest game of hockey ever played. Florida won 1-0. There was one half-hearted scuffle. It seemed to go on forever. Adam looked at me as if it was my fault.
A couple of years later, Adam returned. The Toronto Maple Leafs were in town. For the uneducated (Brits), this is like Liverpool vs Man. Utd. Probably the most significant rivalry in hockey. I suggested we take in the game. I got a look. We ended up in a bar instead.
The game was on the big screen. We ate, we drank, we chatted. The game was intense. All the things I said that hockey was: heated, passionate, fast, action packed. And we could see the puck. There were goals, lots of them (I think the Habs won 4-3, but don’t quote me on that). There were fights – blood was drawn. The patrons in the bar were obviously excited. It drew us in. Very enjoyable.
We left the bar a considerable time later, and walked along St. Catherine Street (the main thoroughfare in downtown Montreal). There were not many people around. It was late, it was March, it was cold. We ambled along behind a small group of young men draped in Habs shirts. Across the almost deserted street, a similar group of 4 or 5 came into focus. They were wearing blue and white. Leafs fans.
You could see the agitation, an increase in excitement, as each group spotted the other. Nudging and pointing ensued as the two groups slowly followed a trajectory that would see them pass.
Adam, being English, had experienced situations like this before. Rival supporters, after the big game, and no doubt a few alcoholic beverages, coming face to face in the city centre. It was bound to get ugly. At times like this adrenalin kicks in, your senses go into overdrive, the blood rushes through your veins. It’s the danger. Anything could happen, and you’re right there.
The two groups were now almost parallel to each other, on opposite sides of the street – separated only by a few yards of tarmac.
The Leafs fans started first: “You Suck!” was the cry – repeated several times by each of the individuals in blue and white as they pointed across the street. Well, you have to understand, that is quite the insult in Canada. The Habs fans had no choice. They volleyed back with “You Suck!” in an equally animated fashion.
The two groups passed and continued in opposite directions.
Adam stood in silence. He looked back over his shoulder at a disappearing rabble of blue and white as they walked down the street. And then back at the red group, who were likewise going on their way. “That’s it?”, my friend enquired. “Yup. That’s it”, I replied with a chuckle.
I wrote about Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day a couple of weeks ago. But, today is the day, so I thought I’d share one of my favourite clips from Red Nose Days of recent years.
Happy Red Nose Day!
Yesterday was my last day at my current place of work. For the last 10 months or so I have traveled to my office in the heart of downtown Montreal every day.
The thing I will miss most (apart from the extremely rewarding work and wonderful people, obviously), is the walk I take to and from the train station. The train journey itself is nothing special, and I have many gripes about the train service that I’m sure will become evident in future posts. But, after half an hour on the train, I have a 10-15 minute walk to the office. Days of -30 C with wind chill excepted, I have loved that walk.
When I get off the train at Lucien-L’Allier, I am immediately thrust into an area adjacent to the Bell Centre that celebrates the centenary of the Montreal Canadiens (in 2009). In the morning, I join hundreds of others as we jostle into the city through this area, which is adorned with statues, plaques, and engraved paving bricks.
Then I turn right and pass the beautiful Windsor Station building. I know nothing about architecture, but it looks gothic in its style, to me. The St George’s Anglican Church comes up next on the left, and beyond it Place du Canada. From here, at the corner of Avenue des Canadiens-de-Montreal and Rue Peel, I can see the tall buildings of the Marriott Château Champlain and 1000 de La Gauchetière to the right, the Queen Elizabeth Hotel pokes out from behind the Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde in front of me. And the Sun Life Building is to the left. Other skyscrapers, including Place Ville-Marie jut out from behind this sky scape. It is one of my favourite views in Montreal.
In the evenings, as I take the return journey, I get a front-on view of the Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde, dressed in strategic lighting. And, as I pass all the aforementioned buildings in reverse, they too are lit to good effect.
I have rarely taken this route without appreciating its beauty. But, just to make sure I don’t forget, I was compelled to take a camera with me on my last day of work.