A ramble down memory lane
As its dreich weather and most sensible folk are stuck indoors Rebus and Mahe drag up a few yarns to pass the hours . Grab a beer or make a cup of tea and sit back . Should we wake a few memories of your own please share them with us .
The Language of Rubber
As Danny De Vito said, “It was a dark and stormy night” as the plane burst through a mixture of fog and failing light, to hit(used advisedly!) the runway at St John’s airport in the magic land of Newfoundland. Five lost souls walked across the runway to the airport building to begin a new life. The souls consisted of me, my wife and three sons. We cleared customs quickly and my new boss was there to greet us and drive us to our hotel. He said he would pick me up in the morning and take me up to the university and show me around. It was Dec 29, 1981.
For those of you still reading this, here are a few facts about Newfoundland or NF. Firstly, learn to say it properly. It is NOT New- Found- Land…..it rhymes with “Understand”. Use “Noo” as in “Auch aye the noo” for the first part. Use “Fun” for the second syllable, and “Lan” for the last. Noo-Fun-Lan. Now you are an honary Newfie!
NF is an island about the size of England, Scotland and Wales combined, storm lashed off the east coast of Canada. In addition to the island, there is a large mainland called Labrador….together they form the Province of NF and Labrador with a population of, wait for it, of 550,000 souls. About 50,000 live on the mainland where two thirds of the land mass of Western Europe would fit in! Meeting a neighbour is a real occasion there. NF is Canada’s newest province, joining in 1949, after two referenda (Brexiteers take note!). NF was a Dominion prior to joining Canada.
Those that know something of it, call it the “Rock” because most of the soil slid off into the ocean during the thawing of the ice age. That soil formed the basis for a thriving fishing industry off the island. That is, until it was raped by both islanders and Europeans and suffered a collapse in the mid-eighties. Now NF is the Shetland of Canada with vast undersea oil fields. Just NF’s luck to discover oil reserves when the price has fallen through the floor. As we say on the island, “Can’t win for losing.”
On Dec 30, 1981 it snowed and snowed. We had never seen anything like it! It took us 20 minutes to cross the road, dressed as we were in the latest Paris fashions! People died in this weather and here I was with a casual jacket and shined shoes thinking what have I done to my family! If we could have got on the plane we would have been out of there, faster than a seagull could splat on your head. We simply had to get to a mall to buy proper jackets and boots. So our first shopping experience consisted of going to the mythically named Avalon Mall to buy these items. There we were to encounter what I will call the language dilemma. NF, part of Canada, right? Canada has two official languages, right? English and French, right? All of this is true but it is not the truth! NF has its own forms of English, or Irish as it happens. Did you notice the endings to the last three sentences? That is part of Newfanese, right?
What did I come to NF to do? I came to teach at the university. My God, nobody can understand me! Even worse, I can’t understand them! An example:
Newfanese: where are you to and I’ll come to where you are at?
Translation: where are you at the moment? I shall come to visit you.
Teaching? Lots of stories to tell but this is getting beyond my attention span….far less yours. Here is one story.
My first course was a quantitative one, which was hated by the students. These are always the best ones to teach because expectations are so low. Do a half decent job and they love you. I ran a tutorial on the Simplex Method…boring as hell….involving a lot of arithmetic. I allowed folks to move around and compare workings because you could not reach everyone. This meant there was a hum of noise as people compared efforts. I looked at one girl’s work. Let’s call her SB. She was in all kinds of trouble, thrashing around with various efforts at solving the problem. They all worked in pencil so that they could easily change their numbers. SB had various aborted efforts, each one scored through with a huge X, sometimes more than one X!
I looked at her work and exclaimed, “For God’s sake, SB, don’t you use a rubber?” A silence filled the room. There was an air of “did he really say that!” I knew something was wrong, did I shout too loud? Was it the God reference? Someone just had to break the silence, so I said, “If you do not have one, I can give you one”. The class erupted or should I say “ejaculated” in laughter.
Later SB said to me, “Dr Rebus I think you meant an eraser in there, a rubber is something else!”
After that I was accepted because we both understood we could communicate even although we talked differently.
My second yarn concerns my introduction to a Canadian winter and the dreaded wind chill. We could not have chosen a worse time to arrive in NF for they had discovered oil offshore. The oil companies moved their legions in and gave them an allowance for monthly rentals. As a result, rental accommodation prices rose to meet this allowance. That made the rental of decent furnished accommodation out of our reach. So Plan B was find an unfurnished place and furnish it cheaply. We found a nice apartment and slept on the floor for the first night until the shops opened in the morning and we could buy beds and other stuff.
Remember that huge mainland, Labrador? It was used by many airforces to practise low level bombing and flying in harsh weather. It was also ideal for survival training. The SAS trained there as well as the Danish and German equivalents. At the beginning of the eighties the Americans started to pull out and shut down their bases. This meant that there was a lot of surplus furniture and appliances that were shipped to St John’s for sale. By this time I had acquired a good friend who had a truck and he offered to help me get some of the US surplus goods. We drove up to an abandoned church where the stuff was stored and I bought an old fridge and a telephone table. Why I bought the last item, who knows, but it would at the least fill up the hallway. Remember I was a newbie on Canadian winters and the temperature was between -12 and -14 degrees C. We loaded the two items into the back of his pickup and Gary, my friend, indicated that I should get into the passenger seat. I looked at the fridge and I thought that could easily topple off the truck, I’ll just ride in the back and keep it steady. Gary gave me a strange look, but I reminded him that I was a tough Scot. We can handle it. So, up into the back I went and Gary took off down the road. Pretty soon I knew what the wind could do to the temperature. My hands froze to the fridge and I was sure I heard the clunk of bits falling off of me! I hammered on the cabin and Gary got out laughing his head off. “You lasted longer than I thought”, he chuckled. Gary dined out on that story many times. As an educator I knew that one of the best ways of learning is through experience. I had been introduced to wind chill and I knew I would never forget about it. When they give the temperature over here, they include what it would be if the wind blew as forecast. That’s the one you need to remember! Sometimes when the wind chill takes the temperature into the -30 and below range, they also tell you how many minutes it takes for exposed flesh to freeze. When we lived in Saskatchewan that was more of an issue. Sask. Is prairie land and flatter than flat, so there is nothing to stop the wind blowing at you.
You plug your car into an electric socket overnight, drive to your work and plug it in there as well. When you are fumbling with the cable to plug it into the socket in the car park, the mucus in your nose freezes. You run to the nearest building and get out of that cold as quickly as you can. Once inside the building for about a minute, you hear popping and crackling coming from your nose as the mucus thaws….then your nose runs and runs some more. Since this is happening to everyone, nobody comments on it. Would I change any of this? Not a chance, I love it here.
Oh, and the fridge and telephone table? We used them for a year and sold them for more than we paid.
Having done a bit of travelling one sure fire thing I have learnt is that when abroad in the local Irish bar , as you do of course , a good yarn is worth more than the local currency .
During the year I lived in New Zealand ( best year of my life , I was 29 and had my 30th Bday there ) I worked with a fella I will never forget .
Raymond was an Aboriginie , and looked it also . Well his mother was full blown aboroginie and his dad was a white fella who was passing through that he never knew or met . Standing roughly 5’ 4 or so at not a bit of fat on him at about 8 or 9 stone he was a wee wirey bassa , but usually had a smile on his face . Ray had grown up on a reservation in central Oz , travelled about his country in his 20’s and 30’s , hit NZ in his 40’s and had no intention of leaving .
His weakness was the drink though . The first 6 or so he was a normal fella and then the switch went and he could beat the world, despite being a bag of bones .
He had a few good yarns did ol Ray and overall I guess Im glad we met . Heres a couple of his tales,, just for a bit of banter on this fine Friday you understand.
I will never forget him telling me of walking home from the reservation school one day as a boy and his mum was streaming tears . There was nothing visiblly wrong .
“ What is it Mum ? “ he ask’s
To which she replies “ Elvis is dead ! “
A full blown aboriginal woman on a reservation in the red dust sorching middle of Australia was cryin her eye’s out because the King was dead ?
That blows me away that this fella could have such an effect ? Lets face it this was no Princess Di or anything , he got overweight and unhealthy and paid the ultimate price for his slob lifestyle .
He was no role model but just think of that impact ! Talk about globally adored !
Anyway leaving a King to discuss Queen. Specifically ol Freddie Mercury himself.
So Ray gets a job at the Hard Rock Cafe in Sydney and they pay the band to come and dine with them after a sold out show in the city . The band get the Vip area of course and sign a guitar for the wall.
Ray asks the manager on duty for a favour, when his shift ends if they are still there can he nip home and grab a Queen Lp and bring it back to get signed ? He gets the nod and is delighted .
But the rub is he is a bit of a music buff or whatever and actually happens to have back in his crib the very first album the band released , a 1973 pressing and all .
So proud as punch with his special prize he waits in line and eventually gets the nod to approach the table .
He tells me Freddie hadnt looked at him, he was handed the album and was gonna scribble his name, until he see’s which album he’s holding . Inspects the specimen , nod’s in approval , and turns to me mate , looks him up and down with curiosity .
“ Whats your name ? “ Freddie asks. When told Ray he writes something and says here you go Ray enjoy it .
What did he write I obviously asked next to which Im told he wrote on the cover in thick marker
“ Blow it out your ass Ray ! Freddie Mercury “
I swear this ,, I asked Ray what does that mean and he genuinely looked perplexed and said I dont know but its signed by Freddie and thats all that counts.
I have since found what exactly that phrase means ( let me know if you need help ) and I am still laughing at this fella carrying that around without a clue . Ol Freddie eh , effing character doing that !
Moving on to one hell of a character , a larger than life Texas boy that should have his memoirs published I swear . Uncle Jim ( the wifes uncle ) is retired now but boy gimme a beer and a seat beside him and sit back and listen to history seen through his eyes.
He rose to a prominent position in Texas Instruments , makers of the worlds first pocket calculater , and was on their troub;e shooting team that was composed of only Texans who flew into various countries around the world and set the non target hitting factory back on profitablity course . He told me smiling that no matter where they flew into when the 5 yanks rolled up to save the show people where quaking in their boots hoping it wasnt their department at fault and their job getting axed.
Anyway I recall a great tale he told me of asking a colleague for adivise on hwere to take the wife for date night ( a popular pastime here and one I like if Im honest ) .
Go and see the kid who breaks his guitar strings , he puts on a good show , he was told .
So true enough they get seats to see him next date night and the curtain comes up in the local dance joint . The kid comes out looks around , when he counts only 15 people he sighs a little , composes himself , and treats the entire night as a practise session singing his heart out and perfecting his act as if there was no one there .
End of the night true to form he strums the crap outta his guitar and breaks the strings leaving them lying on the ground . A couple bucks were flung towards the stage as was the custom back then .
So that kid went on to do pretty well , his stage name was Elvis Pressley and ol uncle Jim happened to catch him while just breaking out , was within reach out distance , and walked over his broken guitar strings on the way out . The King started humbly and I like that .
Jims daughter told me of being told to put her yellow dress on one day despite the fact it wasnt a church day . She was confused and the parents wouldnt answer her questions but kept saying you kids will love it . When she seen dad had got the car hand washed she was even more confused . So the entire family in the Sunday best drives downtown and waits for a while and then she found out what was happening .
JFK himself rolls by in downtown Dallas to her delight and she and the family scream and cheer with gusto their beloved president . She told me about 30 minutes later while driving home in a happy car , dad almost goes white, pulls the car over and turns up the radio .
Being a nipper she didnt understand what was going on but according to her every car pulled over and every house occupants spilled out onto the street and together a mass wailing and screaming started with everyone holding each other . She says the house they had pulled up outside was an older coloured lady’s house and she rushed out and fell into her mothers arms with racking sobs. Groups were organised to bring the children inside while the adults huddled around radios and cried wth shaking heads.
You know what happened , they had seen him 10 feet away about 10 minutes before it .
Living history right there.
Sorry for the rambling , hopefully someone enjoyed the musings . Mahe