HOW CANADA'S FALL REVIVED
A FLAGGING SOUL PART 1
After 25 years in a job that directly contributes to piles of landfill and continents of plastic rubbish, I jacked in Adland for good.
It wasn’t just the pointless products - manufactured, transported, used and discarded at the expense of the planet and its limited resources - I was unable to take a single second more of the spoken - and written - garbage. Mindfill.
Hours of interminable meetings and conference calls. Miles of Powerpoints or ‘decks’ as presentations had become known. Gallons of jargon and acronyms pouring down my throat.
Like that turtle being cut in half by a hoop of plastic packaging round its growing body, I was being throttled on ...
When I started in advertising, it was interesting, buzzing with creative and mad minds. It was fun. It had a role. Even London's taxi drivers talked about ads. "Did ya see that John Smith's Bitter advert then, with Jack Dee, ha ha, very funny? My missus liked that too."
By the time I’d lost the will to survive any more politics, lying and backstabbing, Adland was, and I’ve been dying to use this phrase, an ‘arse hat’. I don’t know what that means either but I’m sure it’s fairly close to what I intend.
I’ve never believed the expression, “As one door closes, another one opens”. My personal theme-tune would be doors whapping shut in my face and locks turning tight.
Yet, this time a remarkable opportunity blew in.
Canadian friends suggested I stayed in their cottage for a couple of months. Their lakeside gem was hidden within a forest, two-three-four hour’s drive north of Toronto (depending on whether it was snowing).
But this wasn't a holiday. My intention was to write. To write hard about, well, psychic stuff, mediumship and a bunch of other things.
Too generous an offer to refuse, I booked the flights. Thanks to BA’s whopping luggage allowance, the former "world’s favourite airline" lugged over 60 kg of kit. Reference documents, historical files and techy hardware for the great write hope that lay ahead of me.
In my more bored moments, waiting at departure gates for planes to board, I’d often wondered what BA would say if they knew what they were flying across the skies for me – worn out clothes, smelly shoes, knickers losing their stretch, an old hairbrush. At least this time, I could defend all that thundering down runways, ground crews, cabin crews, pilots and carbon footprint, in the name of art, not flogging "fast moving consumer goods" that no-one needed.
Although, I might as well have left all the paperwork at home. Not a whole lot of writing got done.
Who knew there was so much to do on your own in a cedar cabin without a phone, without internet, without Facebook, without the news or a TV?
For starters there was the Moose Radio with its non-stop playlist of Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi. It transpires their groove is bang on apposite for a Canadian lakeside. On the other hand, my go-to Coldplay collection was a Debbie downer. Except Paradise. Para-para-paradise works just about anywhere.
I came to applaud the optimistic lyrics that made their way out of the Moose day and night. It was neither Bruce nor Bon who sang,
“She’s cranking on the gears,
She’s got the magic touch,
She’s cranking on the gears,
Oh it’s a little too much,
Hot girls in luuurve”.
It was something like that as I tooled back to the cottage in the plum-n-gold Subaru station wagon from Haliburton County Library. Humming along. Window down. Wind in my face. Hell, I was virtually a local.
The Moose played everywhere. The cottage, the car, even the laundromat, where whilst piling in my dirty socks, I nodded along to,
“There’s just one thing that looks good on me,
The only thing I want,
The only thing I need,
The only thing I choose …
The only thing that looks good on me …
Bryan Adams, you saucy lad. I did wonder what the old fellow watching his duds go round the tumble drier, thought he was hearing.
The Moose played slightly out of tune everywhere, except Kosy Korner Café on Haliburton’s main drag. But no one seemed to notice. Or mind. Entire parties were held to an out of tune Moose.
I get it. Listening to John Cougar Mellencamp doesn't explain how I wasn't pounding the computer every waking hour.
Of course, I did have to give the place a scrub down every week before my friends arrived for the weekend.
Yes, I had to bring in a few logs and make fires once the weather bit in. Making fires was hard work. I thought you just scrunched paper into balls, made a wigwam out of 3 sticks of kindling, lobbed in a match and abracadabra. Sorry love. Fires need to be wooed.
After many smokey failures eliciting many raised eyebrows followed by yet another fire making demonstration from a pitying - and incredulous lakeside neighbour - even my fires started to give out some heat.
Yes, I did have to check mousetraps for the first week or so. But after the cottage's owner filled up some holes, even that job was redundant.
I was rather miffed about losing that job. It turned out I was something of an expert mousetrap emptier.
The trick, in case you find yourself in a Canadian cabin in the fall, is to know that rigor mortis has most likely set in by the time you emerge in the morning. Thanks to the hardening of dead bodies, when you put your fingers around that plastic trap, rush out of the door and lob one of our dear Lord’s smaller creatures into the trees outside, even the tail ceases to be a thing of horror.
The other trick is to be objective and focused. A bit like picking up your dog’s poo from the pavement, avoid staring at it, avoid thinking about it. Once you’ve ascertained there is a dead mouse, be professional. Having lived on my own for years, I was well trained in the just-get-on-with-it school of household management. No one else was going clear the blocked loo or take the bins out. As a battle-hardened lone soldier, I had the skills required to dispatch mice into the afterlife.
I will confess, however, that even with the focus of a Navy Seal, nothing prepares you for that initial quiver when you realise, “Oh God, there’s a dead mouse in the trap”.
On the first morning, I stared down the side of the microwave and thought, “Why on earth is there a ball of wool down there. A grey ball of wool?” Why on earth exactly, would a ball of wool be next to a microwave next to a mousetrap? Then, the reflex jump back, my hands pulled up to my chest, as it dawned on me.
It was one of the fattest mice I’ve ever seen. Huge barrel of a tummy, with a wiggly grey wool strand of a tail.
When the lady of the house, a born Canadian, commented on how much better I was than she was at dispatching mice, I was royally chuffed. At last, there was something I could do. Now that really was something for my Linked In profile.
Mind you I did have a bit of experience with mice.
Back in the 70’s, when the Isle of Great Britain was on its economic knees, and from memory, there was talk of a third world war, my father stock-piled supplies. He filled a new plastic dustbin with grain and bought my mother a teensy electric coffee grinder, so she could grind flour to bake us survival loaves. I’m not sure why he didn’t buy the flour. It would have taken seventeen days to pulp enough grain for a single bun for one.
He did outdo himself by getting a family sized can of strawberry jam and a catering sized pack of Milo. Well, tick, tick, tick then. We were all set for the Apocalypse. Jam, hot chocolate and one wholemeal bap between us.
One weekend, my father checked on the Armageddon larder, with me tagging along for the inspection. We ventured into the store cupboard accessed via my bedroom.
He lifted the lid of the plastic dustbin. We peered in to be met by seven or so mice scooting up and down the sides of their plastic chamber, unable to leap right out. As my father would say, the little bastards had scoffed about 18 inches down of grain. They had stuffed their faces with their own escape platform. That’s karma for you.
After the initial fright, followed by disappointment that we really wouldn’t have crusty bread to save us from a nuclear winter, my dad had a brainwave. We would carry the bin out to the swimming pool. For the record, it was one of those things you erect on top of the grass, not a posh sunken job. We would break a hole in the winter ice and drop the entire contents into it. He told me the mice would die instantly, humanely. It was better for them that way.
I’m not sure my six-year-old self believed him when the mice slid into the freezing water and shot off under the ice, pawing very quickly but then more slowly until they finally stopped, encased in their ice tomb until spring.
I stood there, looking up at my father as he looked down into the pool. They definitely didn’t die instantly.
Beady eyes peered up at us, accusingly, for the rest of the winter.
So there I was in Canada. No mice. Bit of Moose. Bit of cleaning. Bit of logs. Bit of fire-starting. What could possibly be keeping me from writing? What on earth was the big distraction?
Leaves. Lots of leaves. And the fact that Canada's fall is one of the greatest natural shows on earth.