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Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Echoes from the Past

This week a couple of people from my youth died. It has left me feeling a little vulnerable. Could my time be not far off. I mentioned to my son that I felt like I was "on deck" to use a baseball metaphor, (I have been following the Toronto Blue Jays on radio this year. I have not done this for years). This is a rather alarmist response, I admit. One would even be exaggerating to say I was "in the hole". More accurately, I am still down in the minors waiting to be called up. For the Toronto Team that is the Las Vegas 51's, their farm team in that town of decadence and hotter than Hell heat. I have feelings for dread and anticipation, I guess.

The two people from my past that died were a former teacher and a neighbour chum who I knew before I went to school and have not seen since I left to go to University. We each lived our adult lives without knowing anything of each other. Sad in a way, althought we were not that friendly by the time we went to Junior and Senior High School.

My former teacher was Arnold (Arne) Eurgene Forde. He was a much admired and eventually beloved teacher who spend his whole teaching career in my home town's school system. He came to teach in our small town rural high school, right out of University, I figure. He was only a 7 to 10 years older than the student he taught. He came from the Maritmes as a graduate from Acadia University. He was an African Canadian from that region where there was a historic presence of African Canadians who orginally fled the United States. For those of us in our small school, he was the first African Canadian we had even seen let alone met. I have often wondered why he came to our small white ghetto of a community outside Toronto. He was in fact the first African Canadian ever hired by our school board. I believe shortly after he became one of our teachers we got our first student who was an African Canadian in our school. In those days, the largest ethnic group we were aware of were Italian. I would have loved to have asked Arne why he came to our community, I never did. He ended up making a remarkable contribution to generations of students lives.

To our community's credit and as a tribute to him as a person who carried himself with authority and yet was open and generous with the students, there was little negative comments about him at a time when racial struggles south of the border filled the news headlines. He quickly was accepted and soon became a favourite teacher of many of us. He coached a lot of the sports team although I remember clearly that he always said he was a classroom teacher , first, (physics, I think) and a volunteer to help out with the sports.

Years later, when I returned to Canada from my years in the United States I met him at the hockey arena. He had three boys playing hockey around the age of my son. It was then that I was aware of what few years there were between us. His career saw him teach and become the principal of two other high schools in our growing town, now a city. No longer is it the white community of my youth. It is a very diverse multicultural city with the largest visible minority being South Asian althought I suspect almost every ethnic group is represented. This transformation is representative of the changes in Canada over these years such that now urban Canada is the most ethnically diverse country in the World. Our government policy of bilingualism and multiculturalism built upon aboriginal values ( read A Fair Country by John Ralston Saul to understand these enduring values) has brought about this change in our country. For me, awareness of visible minorities began with Arne Forde. It was an easy transition for me for I was raised by a mother who taught us that all people were equal and that all people are interesting and not to be feared. In some ways, our family views were a little ahead of our neighbours. I remember the Forde's considering purchasing our house the first time my father tried to sell it. No sooner had they viewed it with the agent that our neigbours were calling wanting to know all about it. They were anxious and I suspect had visions of their properties being devalued if a "coloured " family moved it. As it turned out the Fordes could afford a better house than ours about a mile away , where they continue to live.

Arne Forde might very well have been the most effective and loved teacher in the city over all the years. Many of his former students kept contact with him. He also contributed to the community thoughout his life coaching many community teams. I shall remember him always with great respect and fondness.

The other person who died was Richard Dinning. He lived down the street from me from the time we moved in when I was about four. We were the same age. His mother and mine became fast friends for the rest of their lives. They were the only Catholic family we knew and it was not until I was an adult that I learned that Mrs. Dinning was a French Canadian. Such was the white protestant ghetto we lived in.

I played with Ricky before we went to school and for a few years after we began school. He was somewhat a strange person with whom I later was not very compatible. He was one of those students who would have been teased. I guess now a days he would be called a Geek. He had strong ideas which he forced on you and he wore his affections on his sleeve. I remember when I made my mother a wood turned ashtray on a stand in shop class at school (smoking was the norm back then) Ricky made a plaque for his mother that said "There is no other like my dear mother". He took some teasing for this for several years and it hung in the family home from then on. I don't think he ever understood how other students viewed this. His mother loved it and for him this was most important. This was the way he was. If your read his daughter's tribute to him you can read into it some of these qualities of being a "know it all" and a very loyal and devoted person to those he is close. His daughter remembers these as virtues.

I believe he had a career in IT as a consultant and he developed a consuming hobby for riding scooters. He died when his scooter left the road and landed him in a ditch. It seems he may have had a medical event that made him lose control. He remains a vivid memory of my youth. I suspect as adults we might have once again found some common interests. Unfortunately, I let the chance to reconnect go by.

The death of these two people from my past made we aware that I am entering the years when I will see many friends and acquaintances die, causing me to recall the times and lessons from years past. The last time I had death teach me lessons was when I was a late teenager and had about 6 close friends die. Those being the years when I spent a lot of time trying to sort of the meaning of life, these events may have contributed to my eventual decision to study philosophy and become a minister. It certainly added food for thought. Once again, deaths may find me revisiting and reevaluating my religious notions, may it be an enriching experience.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Whew! Too Hot Already

Today is the first day of Summer. It is here with a vengeance. We are having a heat wave already. I find myself humming this song by Marilyn Munroe. It does not make it feel any cooler.

According to  David Phillips, Canada's foremost climatologist,  this is just the beginning.

I am already  dreaming of cool autumn days.

Funny Encouragement Ecard: When the weather's hot and sticky, that's no time to dunk the dicky... but when then frost is on the pumpkin, that's the time for dicky dunkin.

Maybe I need to go sit in the river up to my neck and cool off.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Falklands' War Victory

30 years ago today a war came to an end. It is Liberation Day in the Falkland Islands. By most standard it was a small war and with the exception of the Falkland Islanders, Britain and Argentina few in the world remember it as anything of great significance.

It was a small war but it contained all the aspects of a large war. There were the invaders and occupiers, the Argentines who thought they could painlessly take over the Falkland Islands from the fading British Empire.It was fueled by nationalistic fervour generated by the Argentinian Junta, which used it to turn public opinion on the home front in it's favour. In response, the British, rallied behind the nationalism of Margaret Thatcher, who ignited the Britain's feelings of Empire pride which should not be challenge and must be defended. The victims in all this were the Falkland Islanders, a small British ( 2000 to 2500 souls) outpost 8,000 miles away from the UK, who lived a modest live of hard work and struggle mostly in the raising of sheep for their wool. They were a remote corner of the fading empire that most Britain's knew little about or cared about until the Argentinians threw down the gauntlet. Ironically, Britain, until then, had been exploring ways of transferring the Falklands to Argentina, perhaps with a Hong Kong style of transfer after 99 years.

Britain rose to the challenge with what might be her last great expeditionary force in defense of the Empire.A fleet of ships, aircraft and 15,000 soldiers set sail to wrest the Falklands away from the occupiers, the Argentine military.

It proved to be a nasty little war.In the end, we saw ships sunk, by submarines and high tech weapons; air battles, night time commando raids to gather intelligence and destroy aircraft on the ground, landing crafts, rescues of dead and injured from ships on fire, aircraft dog fights, forced marches to engage the enemy, close in fighting by soldiers, heroism by some, (2 VC's and a DFC won) and miserable death in the wet and cold of a Falkland's winter, night fighting, dislodging the enemy from the high ground, civilians held captive, a couple of civilian death (by friendly fire I believe), lies for the folks back home and in the end a victory and a defeat. The ill trained occupying Argentine forces were no match for the professional British soldiers in spite of some advantages on the Argentine side. It was a major war writ small, painful for those on all sides as shattering as any large war.

As in most wars nothing immediately changed after all the smoke and dying ends. The Argentinians, returned home, hopefully sadder and wiser, the Falkland Islands picked up their live on this remote island in the South Atlantic and the British celebrated themselves for one last time as a great empire, ready to move on to more wars closer to home.

Ironically, all the participants benefited from the war. The Argentines saw the collapse of the military junta, avoided a war with Chile and the establishment of democracy; the British, particularly, Margaret Thatcher and her government felt good for still being able to be a world power able to enforce it's will.. Margaret Thatcher regained her popularly and was reelected.

The Falkland Islands have since benefited the most. Their insistence that they are British subjects and wanted to remain so put an end to the United Kingdom of disowning them any time soon. Their local government was reorganized so that local people had more say. A 200 mile fishing zone, enforced by the British, who established a military base on the island, became an important source of income through the selling of fishing licences. The large corporate sheep farm was broken up and sold former to employees and local people. It's flocks (total about 500,000) were redeveloped to supply both wool and meat for export, which made them more economically viable, Tourism to this remarkable natural wonderland has been slowly increasing as a viable economic element.With these three improved economies the Falkland Islanders have become economically self sufficient with the exception of defense, for which the British continue to pay. With the discovery and development of oil off it's coast the day will come when the Falklands will eventually be able to pay for its defense.

The Falkland Islanders have a high standard of living, comparable with that of Britain. They have free education, including sending qualified students to the UK for University, and free medical services. A road network around the main islands has been developed along with other important infrastructure such as solar and wind power and a local air line and marine services.
The future of the Falklands seems secure and prosperous for now.

Stanley, Falkland Islands

Below is a video on the history of the Falklands War. It is one of several to be found on Youtube.
This one is compact and worth watching to understand the war.

Cold and wet Infantry march

Argentine Debris of Surrender

The Human Price of War. The lonesome Argentine Cemetery on the Falklands

To grain some appreciation of the final fierce fighting for the high ground outside Stanley I suggest a visit to blogger Peter. His last couple of blog entries show how the battlefield today is still the site of abandoned military hardware and small crosses where soldiers on both sides died. These hill remain a memorial to the war.

This year in Canada we are celebrating the War of 1812. I see some similarities between Canada's (British North America)then and the Falklands 30 years ago. We were a remote colony of Britain with only a small number of British military to defend us. For military officers it was a career backwater at a time when Britain was fighting Napoleon. Our neighbour, the United States, angry at Britain for interfering with it ships on the high seas and with a growing attitude the capturing British North America was to finish their struggle for Independence, thought they could invade and occupy "Canada" easily and without an adequate response from Britain. They thought they would be welcomed by the "Canadians". It turned out they were not welcomed and Britain would come to the defense of British North America. The invasion was repelled and the British went on to attack parts of Eastern Continental United States. They were no match for Britain and when Napoleon was defeated the British would be formidable. A peace treaty was signed, The Treaty of Ghent. Nothing was gained:" Canada" was not occupied, The United States gained no territory, British enforced their domination of the seas. Canada, like the Falklands, gained a better sense of itself. It at least knew it did not want to be part of the United States, (That was a start). They learned that they could not always depend on Britain to defend them. The process of Canada came into being a united British North American from Atlantic to Pacific. We learned to live with United States as our powerful neighbour. diplomacy and economics established our mutually beneficial relationship. We have been good neighbours for 200 hundred years. The Falklands still have to find a working relationship with its neighbours, particularly Argentina. They must know that the day will come when Britain can no longer or will not defend them as they did 30 years ago. Even now there are British military people who say such a military expeditionary force could not be assembled today.

I hope the Falklands eventually find a way to live with the Argentines to their mutual advantage, perhaps, oil may make this possible. I would like to see the Falklands form its own international airline so it many connect with other Commonwealth Countries, making travel and trade more available.

There is now a generation of Islanders who were born after the war. And there are increasingly more people coming to the islands, some returning from being away and others newcomers to work and live there. I trust the feeling of "we are British" will give way to "we are Falkland Islanders. That is where their future lies: a proud and independent country the celebrates it's self sufficiency and independence as well as it British heritage.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

D-Day, June 6, 1944

Today is the Anniversary of the D-Day landing in Normandy. We now know it was the beginning of the end of the Second World War. Canada had a significant role to play being responsible of the landing at the beach at Bernières- sur-Mer, called Juno Beach by the Allied forces.

There is a series of 5 videos on YouTube that tell the story of "Bloody Normandy".

I have seen many pictures of the Juno Beach. One house on the beach always seems to be heroically standing battered but proud in the background, symbolic of French resistance until this day of liberation, perhaps.

You can see this house a while after the landing, with German prisoners of war assembled in front. They probably were evacuated to Britain and some may have eventually come to Canada. In Northern Ontario, there were several Prisoner of War Camps, in which German prisoners sat out the rest of the war. After the war with Europe in disarray many came back to Canada as they remembered being treated quite well as prisoners. I often wondered what they thought at the train passed through Swastika, Ontario on their way to a couple of different camps north of there.

The house on the beach at Bernières- sur-Mer after the D-Day landing

The same house today. It survived the war and apparently welcomes Canadians visiting this place important in Canadian history.

Some day I would love to visit this place in France. Canada has a lovely museum there now. It reminds all visitors of Canada's sacrifices on this beach and during the war.

The Canadian forces went on to fight the battle of the Scheldt, the estuary that went inland to the port of Antwerp, and finally to liberate the Netherlands.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

God Save Our Gracious Queen

It has been an interesting weekend reading a lot about the Queen and the festivities around the Diamond Jubilee anniversary of her sixtieth year on the throne. You would the anthem we sing to celebrate her was written for her. She is certainly gracious among her many attribute: dutiful, unflappable, tough minded, motherly, long suffering, and she has been said to have no ego. She has been the perfect sovereign for a democratic parliamentary form of monarchy. Of all the royal family members she has consistently been admired the most.

To stick with with a demanding job for sixty years when she did not expect it to be hers when she was a child, is quite remarkable. She accepted a call to duty without complaint and has fulfilled it nobly. Sixty years is a long time. If her health is as good as her mother's was, we may some day celebrate her 85th year. Hard to imagine. No one is in a hurry for her to give up the throne. Her commitment was for a life-time. One can only wish her well.

Reviewing the flotilla on the Thames.

Under nasty weather conditions the Queen and her husband Prince Philip stood instead of sitting on the chairs in front of them. I could not have done it. My knees would have given out in the first hour.

Don't you just love the hats. Although I am not sure I would trust a person who couldn't get their hat on straight. When did it become fashionable for one's hat to be at a jaunty angle.

The Breasts from the Wests

I was pleased to see this crew of dragon boat paddlers among the vessels on the Thames.
These women are all breast cancer survivors. This paddling activity was first done in Canada even though there were those who thought paddling for breast cancer survivors might not be good for them. It turned out to be a wonderful experience, physically, socially and spiritually so that now such women participate in dragon boat races in numerous countries.

The canoe in the foreground is Canada One a 26 foot freighter canoe from the Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario. I was hoping for a better picture but this is about the best I could do.
such an iconic vessel, so part of Canadian history and culture, deserved to have been in the flotilla, representing Canada. The canoe is perhaps the most perfect piece of technology for what it was used. It is one of several native Canadian technologies adopted by Europeans to help them survive and prosper in Canada. I wish they had included a red 16 foot Prospector model canoe that Bill Mason used and which Pierre Elliott Trudeau frequently was photographed in. I have such a canoe, now in need of repair. It remains my most prized possession which has given me the greatest joy in life.

Here is the Queen at the Epsom Derby which began the weekend of celebration. You do not often catch the Queen giving a full blown laugh. You usually have to see the little signs of pleasure she shows in public. She is a great horse lover. I read that for her anniversary the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are giving her one of their magnificent black horses they use in the musical ride.
I am sure she will love to have it in her stable of horses.

May the Queen continue to reign for many years to come. I am not ready to relearn to sing God Save the King. I am old enough to remember the effort it took to learn to sing God Save the Queen after her father died.