Category Archives: Blog

It’s the little things that count

The older I get, the more I appreciate that it’s the little things that count. I always remember the story about the remarkable poet Emily Dickenson who wrote some of the most beautiful poetry I have ever read. She basically never moved from her home. Saw everything through her front window, yet experienced life to the full. Or Emmanuel Kant, the great German philosopher who never moved outside his hometown, yet influenced the entire western world with his philosophy.

Watering the flowers

A simple task like watering the flowers every day can bring so much joy–not immediately, but over a long period of time. As I wield my watering can or hose I marvel at how the plants grow. When I fertilize them every  couple of weeks I imagine how they will bloom a few short days after their feeding. And sure enough, a week or so after their tonic they begin to bloom their heads off. As long as it doesn’t freeze they will continue to enrich my daily life, not just with their blooms, but with the tiny daily ritual of keeping them alive with that commonest of all elements–water.

I have a couple of plants at the front of the house; chrysanthemums with some tall rush-like plants I don’t know the name of. But they are taller then my five-foot-ten-inches, and have fuzzy cat tail heads like bulrushes. Not only do they practically talk to me when I fertilize and water them, they provide constant continuous motion when the wind blows. They remind me of cats’ tails waving to and fro, constantly in motion, creating a sinuous ballet with the slightest breeze.

And the geraniums–I feel like melting when I view their rich colours: brilliant red, succulent pink, blinding white. I have a bright yellow begonia on my deck that has been blazing all summer long, and now that we’re nearly into October is still going strong. I love the odour of geraniums, that crisp, gingery scent that teases your nostrils when you break off a leaf, or cull dead blooms from their mother stems. These are the things that have come to mean the most to me as my life moves ever onwards.

My trusty pen knife

Another simple thing I give thanks for every day is my pen knife. Ironically, it was an industrial give-away I acquired when I began to work with Alcan Canada Products in 1970. It has remained with me ever since. That’s nearly half a century now, and it has never left my pocket. I use it for so many things, it’s like a third hand.

I use it to open letters, carve the skin off a tangerine, fix a ragged fingernail with its everlasting file. It’s a simple five-bladed knife, made by the Swiss knife-maker Victorinox,  anodized blue with the Alcan logo on one side. It has two blades, a tiny pair of scissors, a nail file and what the Swiss call a pipe cleaner, which is really a tiny scraper with a screwdriver at the end. It’s small enough to fix the screws on any pair of glasses ever made, and strong enough not to break when it hits a tough one. It has been my constant companion, and it calls up a whole host of memories every time I use it. It has become indispensable.

My change purse

Another item that has become part of my daily life is my change purse. A friend once remarked that he had never seen me without it, and indeed, one has been in my pocket since childhood. My father used to have the same kind of purse, and I remember inheriting his used one when I must have been eight or nine. It’s the best designed purse for a man that I know of.

It has always been made in China, and the one I use today must have come from the same Chinese last at its forebears. It’s a squared oval in shape. Imagine an oval shape with the end being square. It is a fold-over design with a fold-over flap that covers a small pocket as well as the purse itself. Best of all, it is a ridged design so that there is plenty of room for change. When you need to use it, you open the flap, tilt the purse, and the change flows into the flap without going all over the place. The ridge of the purse holds the change in place, and there is room to count it out without spilling.

But its best feature is that it’s flat. It fits in your pocket without   showing a huge bulge in your trousers. Because the oval is squared off, it also sits securely in the bottom of your pocket, and even though It may be full of change, it doesn’t weigh you down.

To me, the thing speaks of Chinese ingenuity. It’s a design that uses only thin leather and thread, two basic components, and yet works flawlessly. It needs no zippers, no clasps, no Velcro. There is nothing to poke holes either in your pocket or you. It reminds me of the essence of Chinese philosophy–effortless  simplicity in design and use. Isn’t that what “being” is all about?

Meditate for peace of mind

I am getting to find meditation a real aid to a healthy lifestyle. Instead of constantly letting my thoughts rattle on I am learning to focus on simple things and letting the wonder of life enshroud me. For instance, instead of just rushing about I have started saying ‘hello’ to the pansies outside my front door and really noticing how beautiful they are. I natter to the squirrels as I feed them and in general try to appreciate everything around me. It helps that I have a great meditation program called Calm that encourages me to focus–because that’s the toughest thing to learn–just to be still and follow the breath. Try it yourself. It will help you develop a new way of Life!


Renovating 2015

To say that 2015 was a year of changes would be an understatement. On Friday, February 13. my beloved Elizabeth (Libby), my wife and companion for more than 60 years, died at Grace Hospital in Scarborough after a short illness (See http://In Memoriam)  She was buried with full United Empire Loyalist honors in the family plot at Glenwood Cemetery, Picton, Ontario, on 24 August, on what would have been her 88th birthday. At the same time, we honored her U.E. ancestor William Johnson who fought at the battle of Queenston Heights under General Brock to help make this country what it is today. He was one of those veterans of that decisive war that never received his battle honors, nor the pension the government of the day reluctantly granted–after most of the veterans were dead. We placed a footstone in his memory, and he is now officially honored on Veterans Day each fall. Then, in November, came the news of the death of Libby’s brother, William Ormand Johnson. Two family stalwarts gone within months of each other! It was not turning out to be a good year.

Learning to live alone–not

Needless to say, I was left alone in a large five-bedroom house after Libby’s death, so I decided to invite my son-in-law Arastou, my daughter Shannon and their two daughters Roya and Emma to move in with me. Originally I just thought to provide them housing, and myself some company. But it has become much more than that. My son Casey, his wife Kim and daughter Coral already live with me. Now the family expoanded again. At that point I decided it was important to share everything, so we paid off the old mortgage and took a much larger neew one, at the same time making Casey. Kim, Shannon and Arastou co-owners. It has resulted in a family dynamic I could never have anticipated.

and so the renovation began . . .

Casey and Arastou, working as a well oiled team, began renovations on the house both inside and out (which I frankly had not realized was a half-century old). They laid new hardwood floors, contracted for a new lifetime metal roof, added new insulation, and installed new fully insulated windows and doors. At this writing we have also installed a new on-demand hot water system, a new in-ground heating system to replace the old baseboard heaters in Casey’s side of the house, and installed solar panels on the whole west face of the roof. Now finished, we have the most energy efficient house in Scarborough. (Note from 2016: our Hydro bill for November 2016 was $0.00). We are planning a new kitchen and major exterior landscaping in 2016.

The improvements are great, but more than anything they have brought the family together in a way I could not have anticipated when we set out on this journey. At the same time, we have renewed contacts with Seaghan’s children by his first marriage, especially with Cristiona and Bill McKay, whose two children Mikayla and Brydon, my great grandchildren, have not been well known to us before.

Being reborn

All in all, instead of wallowing in grief, I seem to have been reborn–with a new family, a new set of goals, and a forward-looking future. The year has been a watershed for me, and I have never felt more confident than I have at present. To say that at the age of 84 is, I feel, something of a miracle.

At the same time, I need to say I feel the same way about the country. Now that Canada has shed the Wet Blanket of Doom known as Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, I feel confident the country itself is moving forward into what Churchill once called the “broad sunlit uplands.”

Exercise: now comes the hard part

My physio finished at the end of October.  I must confess that when I started I was quite cynical about the value of the program. But the care with which Christian, my physiotherapist, went about his job made me a believer. Like anyone recovering from an injury, I wanted to rush right into the exercise program with a vengeance to get back my former flexibility and strength. Christian taught me to slow down; not to look for miraculous progress; and to take the exercise gently, resting for brief periods between activities.

Exercise was anathema to me

In fact, I had never liked exercise of any kind. I regard all those people who go for strenuous exercise three times a week or more–as nuts! As far as I can see, the exercise never kept them from getting ill, or having heart attacks, or generally not having better health for their efforts than I had. I believe I am partly right. The reason those strenuous exercisers never seemed to improve is because the mental attitude of the individuals never changed. They never learned to slow down, take their exercise easier, gain a mental balance that went beyond exercise to influence how they lived.

The physiotherapy I was required to do over five-weeks was quite different. It proceeded at a modest pace, with breaks in between exercises. My therapist urged me to try to become conscious of my body and its needs, and not to push beyond my obvious limits. We would achieve one goal. Then we would push the boundaries and try again. Over five weeks he taught me to pace myself, but always to advance my goals.

It worked. I could feel myself getting stronger. I gained more confidence that I could get back to my former level of flexibility. And then I had to go out and try to maintain or exceed my limits on my own.

I was given a couple of sheets of exercises I could do at home, twice a day, and encouraged to walk at least 100 meters three times a day. It is proving harder than I thought.

Take it slowly

Christian suggested I might want to join a gym–and gave me a good recommendation But I am not one for gym activity. So I determined to try to maintain an exercise balance on my own. After some fumbling starts, and following some recommendations from my daughter, I decided to become a mall walker. But there was no way I was going to join a group at a given place at a given time, and race around a mall like a maniac. I did what Christian recommended.

I started slowly. There is a very good mall near my home which I have to visit from time to time anyway for prescriptions, food, and the like. Every time I go to the mall for whatever reason, I try to reach my 100-meter-three-times-a-day goal. I haven’t quite made it yet, but I am getting close. And the mall is an ideal place to walk. At about the half-way mark there is a food court. I  walk till I hit the court, sit down and take a short break, then walk the rest of the way. Coming back–the same thing.

There is also a huge gym in the mall filled with exercise machines. I see people in there every day walking like mad on treadmills, or stretching themselves into unbelievable poses on exercise machines that look as if they were born in a medieval torture chamber. “Just $4.99 for two weeks”, screams the banner hung outside the gym. How about nothing forever? That’s what I aspire to.

Digital programs helped

I have, however, succumbed to digital temptation and acquired two new apps on my cell phone.

The first is called “Me”. It tracks my daily steps, tells me how far I’ve gone, how many “active” minutes I have worked, and how many calories I’ve burned. I’m not sure I want to know all that, but it does give me some sort of check on where I’m headed. Most useful.

The second is a “Sleep” program. It tracks from the time I go to bed to the time I wake up. It tells me how much of that time is “wakeful”, how much is light sleep, and how much is deep sleep.

For some time I have been having trouble sleeping, but tracking my sleep time seems to have overcome that. The program also told me why I was having trouble getting to sleep in the first place. My room was too bright.

When we renovated our home, we installed LED perimeter lights as a security measure. They work fine, but they also produce an afterglow that reflects in my window. The simple act of drawing an opaque curtain over just half the window at night has managed to cure my sleeplessness. My late wife used to be a fanatic about sleeping in a dark room. I was always a sceptic, but I believe she was right.

I’ll boast when I’m done

So, at the beginning of November, I am on track with my exercise program, and working to hit my 300 meters a day–or close to 6000 steps–my timer assures me. You will be relieved that I plan to tell you no more about my exercises until I meet those goals!

Change: moving forward

Today, Tuesday September 6, the start of the new school year, marked an important change in my granddaughters lives. Emma and Roya both moved on to adult things. Roya headed out on her own to the University of Toronto, a scholarship student, bound, she hopes, for law.

Emma still with one year of high school to go is not yet quite sure of her destination. But she has musical ability and great creative skills. The next year will help her find her balance in the 21st century world that is so different from the one I entered in 1952.


Change is the only constant

Already the change in the job market is making itself felt amongst the younger generation. Most of them have or are trying to get part-time jobs at McDonalds, or Coffee Time, or Ikea or one of the big supermarkets. There’s nothing wrong with that but I fear that unless you’re computer oriented, or into the electronic field somehow, the opportunities for a stable good-paying job are scarce.

That’s why I keep urging all the young people I know to take a trade. No matter what the future holds there will always be a need for bakers, electricians, plumbers, mechanics, musicians and artists. When I graduated from university with a degree in Philosophy, I never dreamed I would wind up as a writer, working both for industry and for myself. My work never paid top dollar, but it was enough to raise a family and put something away for retirement.

Keep your head: don’t panic

I fear for those young people as I look into the future–but I know that if they stay sober they’ll muddle through somehow. The trick is to grab any likely opportunity as quickly as it comes along. Take a chance on employment, even if it isn’t what you want.

My own jungle

Between my deck and the neighbor’s fence is a narrow one-foot  strip of what can only be called waste land. Nothing is planted there and it can’t be cultivated or mowed. Yet it is crowded with so much plant life it beggars description. In that tiny space small maples are growing. Sumach has come in from who knows where. There are tall grasses, goldenrod and even a nearly mature thistle. Sunflower seeds from my bird feeder have  taken root. I suspect even some millet is struggling to mature. And wildflowers–violets, the idestructble dandelions, and more I can’t name crowd this narrow space like a rain forest jungle gone wild. I suspect that if left alone for 50 years or so this little plot could overwhelm not only my deck but the whole house like it was enveloping some Mayan ruin. Nature’s fecundity is incredible, even in the most severe conditions.


Return fromLimbo

On Canada Day, 1 July 2016, just like the country, I received a birthday present. I woke from a sound sleep, needing to answer natures call, got out of bed, and promptly fell, putting all my weight on my left ankle. Unknown to me (because I had been sleeping) I had developed a full blown case of vertigo. I don’t know if any of you have ever experienced it, but it is the most disconcerting experience I have ever had. The whole world reels around you and there is no way you can keep your balance.

I am a big guy, and no one person can help me get up so I lay there while we called the fire department on 911. Their paramedics got me erect in no time, and asked if I needed to go to the hospital. At the time I said no, that I had just got a sprained ankle. How wrong I was.

After five days of trying to hobble around with my foot not getting any better, my son convinced me I needed to go to the hospital, so off we went to The Scarborough Hospital, Birchmount Campus, for the check. Turned out I had a broken ankle. But, and here’s the catch, the orthopaedic surgeon deemed it not serious enough for surgery so he ordered me into a non-walking leg cast. Suddenly I was to be immobilized for six (6) weeks!

Even though I’m 83, I have always been active. It was like sending me to jail for that period of time because a non-walking non-weight bearing cast meant just that–no weight must be put on that leg for it to heal properly. I spent a few restless days in Grace Hospital before they shipped me off the Providence Healthcare Hospital, a rehabilitation hospital at Warden and St. Clair.

Being moved like that was upsetting enough, but getting used to the fact that I could do virtually nothing to help myself was an incredible downer. If it hadn’t been for the talented doctors, nurses, and physiotherapists at Providence, I think I would have gone stir.  but gradually I learned the tricks that all people consigned to wheel chairs must learn–patience, take things slowly, try not to get upset with the fact that you’re always having to ask people to do things for you that once you could do for yourself. I think that’s the greatest lesson I learned during my convalescence.

I kept thinking about Rick Hansen, the athlete that has spent his whole life in a wheelchair, and of Barbara Walters (not sure it that’s her last name), the young girl who was shot in the back and unable to move for the rest of her life. How do they manage. Compared to them my life was a breeze–yet spending a whole summer confined to a chair, with only daily attempts at movement seemed like a lifetime to me.

I learned that it was okay to ask people to help you. I found that moving more slowly and cautiously wasn’t the end of the world. I learned to listen–really listen–to the advice my therapists gave me, and to the doctor who was a congenial man and first suggested to me that I was “In Limbo”. That’s because while the hospital exists to rehabilitate patients after personal catastrophes, the staff really couldn’t do anything to rehabilitate me until my cast came off. The exercises they would normally have given me wouldn’t work with my non-walking cast.

So I leaned back and let it all flow around me. I watched the courage of the other mould oldies as they tried to cope with the changing circumstances of their physical lives. I found most of them coping pretty well with their disabilities. Those that didn’t do so well had mental disabilities that therapy couldn’t overcome. Some of them brought ears to my eyes. There was one gentleman in particular who kept begging to be sent home He had been in the hospital since January!! It was obvious it was going to take a lot longer for him to recover. Again and again the doctor patiently explained to him why going home was not an alternative. I knew exactly how he felt.

I think the thing that worked greatly to my benefit was my use a tablet computer and iPhone. My daughter had given me a Samsung tablet as a gift a few months before I injured myself. I never seemed to be able to come to grips with it. Now, with lots of time on my hands and nothing else to do, I set out to master its complexities–and I did! I was able to structure myself to pay bills and do normal banking, even though it meant that every day I had to go to the Computer Café in the hospital because the whole building was not wired for computer use. I saw a few other patients using the café, but most were just playing games. For me, the ability to pay my bills, order things on line, and keep the threads of my life in some sort of order was a life-saver. That is something that has carried over into real life today.

But this story as about Returning from Limbo, not living in it. When, on August 29 at Grace Hospital my cast came off and my foot was x-rayed, the orthopaedic surgeon pronounced me cured. I had not lost foot flexibility (thank heaven) and he declared that I did not even require additional therapy because of that.

That was when I began noticing that the attitudes I had acquired at Providence were still with me. When my son wheeled me out to the car, I remember thinking to myself how lucky I was to be able to get out of the wheel chair and open the car door. I remember looking around and realizing that this was the first time I had been outside since the accident happened. It thrilled me to be able to walk from the car to the front door of my house, even if I was slowly dragging myself along.

The flower in the urns at the front entrance seemed brighter that I eve remembered. The tranquility of being in my own home again fell like a mantle around my shoulders. When I went to sleep in my own bed I knew there would be no night wakings to take medication or call for a urinal.

In fact, it simply feels enervating to be alive and walking again. I regard the days from I July to 29 August 2016 as “suspended in time”, and I think that’s the true meaning of Limbo It’s not a place sent to punish, but perhaps to force us to reflect on things. I know that returning from it is like being born again!

So Morley’s gone, too . . .

My long-time friend Harold Morrison recently died. Elsewhere on this site you’ll find a memorial for him. But I take it as a profound coincidence that another colleague–Morley Safer of 60 minutes fame–has also recently died.

When we first started our careers, Harold and Morley and me all worked together at The Canadian Press in what the company fondly called The Ontario Desk. We were all beginners, some of us more than others.

We worked for a tartar of an editor–Bill Boss–who was one of Canada’s most famous war correspondents of the Korean War. Not only was Bill the grammarians grammarian, he constantly toiled to make us neophytes tighten our writing and follow the CP Style book.

Morley was not exactly the professional reporter he became while working for 60 minutes. I had graduated from university and was slightly better educated that many who worked for CP. And Morley was very unsure of himself. I well remember the day when he came close to me and whispered in my ear: “George, you went to college. How do you write a night lead?” A night lead was the day’s story retold in different words for evening news consumption.

Later, when on 60 minutes we were getting on-the-scene reports from Pork Chop Hill I saw a different Morley–terrified but calm in the face of enemy fire, reporting on events in that far-off war. We had some remarkable people at CP of that era–Morley not the least of them. Hail and farewell, comrade . . .

Whatever became of Adelbert Jenkins?

When I was a teenager, I belonged to a group called Hi-Y. It was a mentoring group for teens, and covered such things as philosophy, politics, economics, and democracy. Pretty heady stuff for a teen, yet it set me on a path that has influenced the rest of my life.
As part of that program, I was invited to attend a “congress” of Hi-Y members at Oberlin College in Cleveland, Ohio. Hi-Y’ers from throughout the United States and Hawaii were in attendance, and the conference, had a large Canadian contingent. It was one of the biggest youth gatherings of its day.
At that conference I met a young man about my own age (16 or 17 at the time). His name was Adelbert Jenkins, and we hit it off immediately. He was literate, funny and charismatic all at once, and I spent as much time with him as I could during the congress.
I remember walking, talking, and laughing along the streets of downtown Cleveland enjoying the new experience of being away from home, more or less on my own, and involved in what seemed at the time as momentous events. As we walked, I became aware that we were the subject of considerable attention from passers-by—so much so that I began to wonder if my fly was open, or that my pants were falling off. It wasn’t till the following day I learned why.
One of my mentors, an American of great charm and knowledge said to me: “I hear you were visiting downtown yesterday with Adelbert.”
I replied that I was, and wondered why he was asking. It wasn’t against the rules or anything extraordinary to my mind.
“You know, people thought it was quite an unusual sight,” he said. “You were laughing and talking and having a great time.”
“Yes,” I said. “What’s so unusual about that? Although I did notice that people were looking at me strangely.”
“No wonder,” he said. “The fact that Adelbert is black and you are white probably came as a shock to many people, and the reason I’m talking to you about it now is that I have had a call from the Cleveland Plain Dealer wanting to know who you were and what the event was.”
I was flabbergasted. I didn’t think of Adelbert as “black” Adelbert. I thought of him as a great guy. I really wasn’t aware of the colour of his skin, or his racial background. We were just two teen-age boys having a good time.
Looking back on it from considerable age I realize I was having my first encounter with what can only be called racial prejudice. The very fact that two boys, one black and one white could draw the attention of a newspaper with the reputation of the Plain Dealer spoke volumes about America’s race relations, even then. And if it was bad and tense then, it must be a hundred times worse today.
As a boy growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, I had become used to dealing with people of different races and backgrounds. Hamilton is a city of immigrants, and I grew up with Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Germans, Chinese, Japanese, and Indians. There weren’t many blacks in my school that I knew of, but there was a major black presence in Hamilton as a result of the Underground Railway from the American South in the 1800’s and early 20th century. But that didn’t matter. My grandfather was a restaraunteur and affiliated with the railway, and he introduced me to many of those blacks as a result of his business. I never thought of them as “black” but as grandpa’s friends.
I used to date a Hungarian girl name Pearl Rucza. Her father was a Hungarian minister. I remember he gave me quite an inquisition about my background when I began dating his daughter. He asked me many questions about my attentions to Pearl which today might prove very embarrassing. But I never thought of Pearl as “Hungarian” Pearl. I always thought of her as a charming, bright, intelligent companion who was a pleasure to take to school dances and events.
Our school photographer was a Chinese boy by the name of Eddie Pong. If you wanted a photograph of a dance, a sporting event, or simply something to remember—Eddie was your man. I never thought of him as Chinese Eddie, but Photographer Eddie. Just another one of us trying to get along.
When I went to university I was friends with a Sikh who was a little older than I was. One day I asked him why he wore a turban, since it singled him out from the rest of my dorm-mates. He invited me to his room, unwound his turban, and showed me the astounding length of hair he had grown since he was a young boy of five. Although his background and culture were very different from mine, I never thought of him as Sikh Raj, just as Raj.
There was a black there, too. His name was Jim Coleman. A more urbane and cultured chap it would be impossible to find. He was a mentor to us all, from finding girlfriends to how to act in chapel. He was never “black” Jim to me, but he may have been Sophisticated Jim. He left a lasting impression.
So in the light of current race relations in the United States (and often in Canada, too), I wonder whatever happened to Adelbert Jenkins. We never corresponded or kept in touch after that Hi-Y congress. He would be 83 now if he lived—the same age as me. I wonder if—I hope—his life has been as fulfilling as mine, and that the bogey of racial inequality has left him untouched.
George Hancocks is a former editor of Canadian Homes Magazine, and Alcan News, an industrial publication.

Goodbye Harold: safe journey friend

I had only one real friend from my boyhood days. He was Harold Morrison. Both of us grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, where I was born. I don’t remember much of our early days, but from talking to Harold over the years I know we shared experiences in coal-and-steel town.

I guess my first conscious awareness of Harold was when we both went to work for The Canadian Press at 55 University Avenue, Toronto. We shared paper-bag lunches, incredible bosses (including Bill Boss, one of Canada’s greatest war correspondents) and the rattle of the newsroom from the Ontario Desk where Boss reigned supreme.

We went separate ways from there, but strangely caught up again at CN where we both worked in Public Relations. We shared similar interests and began to take lunch together. Mostly I remember laughing at those lunches. Harold was a great fan of jokes and puns, and I remember waiters and waitresses alike always wondering who the two bufoons were that were always laughing aloud.

Those lunches became a lifelong habit. We’d meet every couple of weeks or so try new places, visit old favorites and share laughs over beer or Seven-Up, whichever we fancied. And we always laughed. Harold always had new stories and puns, and I loved to comment on the human condition and its many ridiculous customs. With Harold gone, the world has suddenly become a less friendly place.

I could ramble on and on about our eccentricities, but I think I’ll just end this by saying we avoided what Gary Lautens used to call TOTS disease (Taking Ourselves To Seriously). I’m sure Harold’s family will feel I’m not taking his death seriously enough, but I’m certain Harold went out laughing–and with a joke ready for St. Peter. I’m still laughing, my friend, and my time is coming soon enough!