An early Christmas schnoodle

This is not a new column, but since we recently passed the one-year mark of having Kaylan in our lives, it seemed fitting to post the piece on the new website. TL

From Winnipeg Free Press – December 24, 2009


VANCOUVER — In the household where these words were written, Christmas arrived early this year. To be precise, on May 17.

You may question whether the following qualifies as a Christmas story. I can only reply that, like the enduring masterpiece by Charles Dickens, it revolves around a tiny cripple who touches many hearts, a gift of priceless proportions.

On that day the phone rang (as it so often does). It was my Littlest, no longer so little, alas. She was calling from the West Vancouver veterinary clinic where she worked summers between grappling with science studies in Ontario.

To attempt to reproduce her words would be vain. We need audio.

The burden of what she said was: There’s this poor little dog that the vet (she was filling in for the regular vet) brought in, and he’s so cute, and he was hit by a car two years ago, and he lost part of his leg and had a dislocated hip, and she fixed him up and the owner wouldn’t take him back, so she kept him with her other dogs, and she’s tried to have him adopted but nobody will take him, so could we have him, please?

(As an aside: I was gratified that in these days when fathers are routinely cast as blithering idiots and pathetic fools, I was actually being consulted like a respected paterfamilias.)

I said …

But before I could get a word out, my Biggest came on the line, and then my wife — because, by one of life’s flukes, the latter pair had dropped in to see where the Littlest worked, and, boy, do those details slow down this story?

When the three had finished their coaxing, wheedling, and sniffling, I stated cynically: “We already have a dog” (Booker, the most permanently hungry black Lab in captivity) “and a cat” (Max, a typical cat, cross and ungrateful). “On Sunday you, Biggest, will return to Victoria. On Monday morning you, Mom, will go back to work. And at summer’s end you, Littlest, will hit the books again in Guelph, and who the hell d’you think will be left to look after this damaged dog?”

The answer was predictable. Thanks be to God, or to the roll of the cosmic dice or whatever, that answer was: Me. Undeserving me.

Though no dog could share himself around the family more than this little squirt.

The people who had turned down the dog — the vet explained that when she offered him to a certain well-known animal agency, she was told nobody would adopt such a dog and they’d just put him down — fortunately don’t know what they missed.

He came into the house that day with his injured left front leg in the air, paw partly missing, a resulting bounce in his step like the old door-to-door salesman’s, and liquid brown eyes for which the phrase “melts your heart” was cobbled and tried out in the minor leagues for its appearance here today.

Kaylan — the name came along with the limp — loves all laps. He cuddles against all thighs. He democratically leaps on all beds and swiftly falls asleep, often shifting in the night to another bed in order not to hurt anyone’s feelings. In the dark I sometimes reach out and touch his small body, and for a moment am perfectly at peace.

And — almost painful in its poignancy — when a family member comes home, Kaylan does an ecstatic tight-circle, straight-up-and-down bounce, then rockets up the stairs and proudly returns to present the arrival with a “toy” — one of the Littlest’s stuffed dolls. One favourite teddy is three times as big as he is.

“He’s a joy,” said the Middlest, my son, who previously had the least interest in our dogs.

Booker accepted Kaylan with classic easy-going Lab tolerance. Max the Cat, not so much. The two seem mutually fascinated and repelled. The odd chase up the steps to Max’s kingdom seems instigated by either or both.

Kaylan is a nature-lover, as long as it’s squirrels. Motionless, usually barkless, he stares for hours at their (unwanted, but who can blame anything with a mouth and a hunger?) patronage of the bird feeders.

Early on — matted hair, ears thick with fur uncut because of underlying skin infections — he went to the canine beauty salon and came back another dog altogether.

His antecedents were a matter of speculation. Recently a schnauzer owner stated with an authoritative air: “He’s a schnauzer, poodle cross. A schnoodle.”

New to me. When my wife heard this, she went hysterical. A schnoodle! We have a schnoodle!

Hundreds of passersby have asked about his injury. He runs with the bad leg half-raised in an amiable wave to everyone approaching, meanwhile bouncing like the Energizer Bunny. He draws pity. I remark that he’s happier than the sympathizers and I are. He has no existential dread. He has not read Sartre or Freud. He does not fear death.

But on our very first walk on West Vancouver’s Ambleside Beach, something happened.

A young woman, a teenager or not much older, stopped with what became the customary pat, pity and questions. I replied with a summation of Kaylan’s life, which sometimes includes the sick-making, third-hand story that he was hit when his original owner threw him out of his moving car in downtown Vancouver — the vet had treated him and kept him for two years herself with a house full of other dogs.

“But you’re fine now, aren’t you, Kaylan?” I said, unoriginally, bending down to scratch him.

Only then did I see it. A flash of metal. The young woman had an artificial leg.

I straightened up, the inside of my face white, whatever colour on the outside.

“How did it happen?” The awkward, well-meant question seemed almost obscene.

The woman smiled. “The usual,” she said. And no more.

I had not really looked at her until then. And then I saw one of the most transcendentally beautiful faces of my life, a face illuminated with such stunning grace that it did not seem to belong to this earth. Fanciful though it will seem, to this day I’m not sure that it did.

This is not much of a dog story. It is not much of a Christmas story. It is not much of a story. It is shapeless and has no real ending. I could not have made it up.

© Trevor Lautens, 2009

Five days that saved the world

Seventy years ago, civilization hung in the balance — and Churchill tipped it

Appeared in Winnipeg Free Press – May 29, 2010

You would not be reading this, nor I writing it, if it were not for the five most important days of the 20th century — 70 years ago this week.

Those who lived through it, those living today, would have had very different lives in a very different world.

In May 1940, Germany’s Wehrmacht, the Second World War’s best army as most historians agree, had surged over Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and northern France, and just 10 days after starting its offensive had reached the English Channel — a goal Germany couldn’t attain in the four years of the First World War.

Many people in Britain, including or especially those in government and the elites who had information about how desperate the situation was, despaired. Many others, living their ordinary daily lives, didn’t know the graveyard was quite as scary as it was until they had successfully whistled past it.

There, around the Channel, total victory in its grasp, the Wehrmacht slowed, hesitated, for reasons still disputed, one of the great puzzles of military history. It’s theorized that Hitler paused because he himself couldn’t believe his lightning triumph, because he thought Britain would surely be forced to plead for peace and the war to end, even that he had a soft spot for the British.

The certain thing is that the French and British armies had been defeated, as was the so-called “appeasement” policy of the bitterly disillusioned Neville Chamberlain.

On May 10, Chamberlain was replaced as prime minister by a man whom many Britons scorned as unscrupulous, crudely ambitious, a dangerous warmonger, an irritating gadfly, a widely distrusted yesterday’s man with a record of failure — Winston Churchill. The king, George VI, preferred the chilly aristocrat in manner as well as title, Lord Halifax, for the job.

Days later, on May 13, Churchill uttered in the Commons his now-famous “I have nothing to offer but blood, sweat, toil and tears.” Words now treasured were not uncritically hailed at the time (like Abraham Lincoln’s few words at Gettysburg in 1863, buried under the hours-long speech of a forgotten rhetorician). Many of Churchill’s own Conservatives were unimpressed.

Defeatism hung in the air and was more frankly expressed in diaries made public only decades later. American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wasn’t ready to be drawn in to a European war, Robert McCormick’s powerful Chicago Tribune was militantly isolationist, and the Nazis weren’t without American sympathizers of varying degree, including flying hero Charles Lindbergh and Canadian-born broadcaster Father Charles Coughlin.

This set up the drama of May 24-28 that historian John Lukacs brilliantly detailed in Five Days in London: May 1940 (Yale University Press, 1999).

In those few days Churchill won over a demoralized war cabinet and a distrustful Commons. Almost overnight he rallied Britons under the gravest threat in their modern history. Above all, in those days, too, a feat was pulled off that beggars the language — the word “miracle” got more exercise than any to describe it — the rescue of the routed British and French troops from Dunkirk.

Churchill himself had expected about 50,000 soldiers to make it back. In fact about 340,000 scrambled aboard ships and private boats of every description. In some quarters it was even eagerly described as a victory (does anyone still remember the propagandistic boys’ book Dave Dawson at Dunkirk?). It was not that.

Exactly 70 years and one day ago the British foreign office circulated a top-secret plan for the flight of the royal family, the government and valuables to some part of the empire. Churchill rejected this out of hand: “I believe we shall make them rue the day they try to invade our island. No such discussion can be permitted.”

Historian Lukacs is impressively minimalist in assessing what Churchill accomplished: He didn’t — as so many people everywhere expected — lose the war. Churchill and Britain could not have won the war — that was accomplished by the U.S. and the Soviet Union — but Churchill could have lost it. And in those five days Hitler was never again so close to winning it. There is a strong case that those five days constitute the turning point of the war.

Long years have passed. Like all ambitious people in our dynamic society, young historians don’t make their mark by following in well-worn footsteps. So, no surprise, some — like John Charmley (born 1955, comfortably after the events) — are Chamberlain men. Charmley made the Chamberlain case in Chamberlain and the Lost Peace (Hodder & Stoughton, 1989).

He and other anti-Churchillians argue that Chamberlain’s appeasement policy was correct. Chamberlain was motivated by his certainty that war would strip Britain of its power and empire, and the Soviet Union would dominate Europe. Right on both counts.

But the alternative in May 1940? Graham Greene’s remark, that life is a choice between black and grey, was never more applicable.

You’d have to be a Charley, as the English say, to have trusted any peace with Hitler. No seer could be sufficiently clear-eyed to predict in detail what would have followed. But Nazi sympathizers everywhere, like British fascist Sir Oswald Mosley, surely would have been exalted. Leadership would have passed, likely without decorous parliamentary transition, to those willing or reluctantly forced to make deals with Hitler. The extremes that are so alike, fascism and communism, might still be slugging it out, the democratic middle crushed, personal freedom vanished.

Perhaps — or surely? — the human spirit would not have been crushed. But it would have been a terrible struggle to regain the rule of law, freedom from arbitrary power, and decent lives for the majority under democracy, which Churchill famously described as the worst system of government, except for all the others.

Permit a personal memoir, often recalled. I suppose I’m a rare practising journalist who remembers, with a child’s accurate reading of adult emotion when the facts are beyond grasping, those indescribably tense days. Perhaps I picked it up from table talk, my father being a Canadian Press teletype operator and mechanic (who, as I proudly responded to a Grade 1 teacher’s question, was “the first man in the city to know the news” — close to the mark in terms of news from beyond town, read off the clattering teletype).

So somewhere about that time my five-year-old self asked my mother: “Will the Germans win the war?”

“Oh, no,” she replied, “God would never allow that.” Moms being as all-knowing as they are all-powerful, I was content. But, looking back, I wonder if I detected her unease.

Do many people today know or care about those five days? Is such history taught to the young, or has history been shrunk to fashionable soft “social studies,” issues concerning minority and women’s rights, and racist and imperialist wrongs?

© Trevor Lautens, 2010

Argyle’s changes point to a new type of town

Appeared in North Shore News – May 28, 2010

West Vancouver town hall is busily hyping its vandalism of the district’s most peaceable, genuine “people’s place” — Argyle Avenue from 13th to John Lawson Park — having detected that the feel-good but bad-vibes Spirit Trail project isn’t universally loved.

This area is West Vancouver’s equivalent of the European-style public square. It is insane to destroy it in favour of recreational cyclists, skateboarders and bladers.

Last night, too late for my deadline, town hall sneaked in an Ambleside Waterfront Plan Open House which, as of last weekend, hadn’t been flagged on its official calendar. West Vancouver’s most dedicated and knowledgeable council-watcher, Carolanne Reynolds, stumbled on it through a Ferry Building Gallery message.

This “open house” asking for public input was utterly bogus. Fact: The morning before council’s April 12 meeting unanimously approving the project, an earth-mover was on the Ambleside Beach sands behind Argyle Avenue, ready to roll. The decision had already been made behind the usual closed doors and the public council discussion was a farce.

Town hall has stepped on the accelerator to whip through this barbarism — demolishing the millennial clock (an initiative of Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones’s predecessor, Ron Wood) at top speed and patting down fresh turf — before it gets much scrutiny.

But, not to be parochial, how has the Spirit Trail — a 35-kilometre vision of hearty, healthy cyclists and chest-expanding backpackers linking Deep Cove and Horseshoe Bay — fared in its progress, including through North Vancouver?

Reader K’nud Hille sums it up: “Only the easy pieces have been picked so far, including a few hundred feet from/to nowhere along the Mosquito Creek Marina; a couple of kilometres from/to nowhere along West First Street/Welch Street and through the neighbourhood Welch Park Strip; and a couple of kilometres from/to nowhere behind Park Royal Shopping Centre and the Ambleside sports fields.” (My Secret Agent MT0218 beautifully describes the latter as looking “like the start of a cattle drive on the Ponderosa.”)

Hille isn’t alone in scorning the belief that cyclists and pedestrians can coexist on the same trails and seawall walks, citing Stanley Park and New Westminster. Is it possible that there are enthusiasts for the Argyle section, but they’re keeping quiet? Maybe.

Owners of properties on the north side of Bellevue, looking south over Argyle Street and facing the water and downtown Vancouver skyline, might conceivably be among them. Once the houses and probably the trees are gone, their view will be hugely enhanced. Herewith the addresses, ownership, street-level businesses where applicable, and current assessments of some of them:

– 1467 Bellevue Ave. (Bellevue Natural Health Clinic), Benevolent Realty Enterprises, $4,625,000;

– 1427 Bellevue Ave. (Canada Post), Sarah W. Lai, $5,656,000;

– 1455 Bellevue Ave. (Walker Place), Bellevue Properties Ltd. — a handsome, multi-tenanted project of Chuck Walker, whose (very charming and smart) daughter, Shannon Walker, is now a WV councillor — $13,095,000;

– 1571 Bellevue Ave. (containing many doctors’, realtors’ etc. premises), $2,573,000; suite 203, separately listed, is attributed to Noordin Madatali, assessed value $3,000,000;

– 1507 Bellevue Ave. (Dentistry-on-Bellevue), North Bellevue Holdings Ltd., $4,961,000;

– 1875 Bellevue Ave., Broadway Properties Ltd., $13,368,000.

With enhanced views, in which direction would you expect the market value of these properties to move?

No one can be blamed for self-interest. But destroying mature Argyle Avenue’s present peaceful mix of pedestrians, dog-walkers, runners, casual young cyclists and, yes, very slow-moving cars needed by frailer and child-transporting people to get to the area, demonstrates that town hall politicians, public sector unions and entrepreneurs will lightly roll over people taking time to stop and stare and chat — or to attend classes at The Music Box, or concerts at the Silk Purse.

Constant Reader knows my affection for the latter — a gem of high-quality, low-price concerts. Disclosure necessary? I donate to the Silk Purse (but seldom attend).

I suspect most councillors — who now have retreated on abolishing the boat ramp and allowing a beachfront seafood restaurant — wouldn’t know the Silk Purse if they fell over it. Town hall’s treatment of it is not merely indifferent, it’s aggressive. Mayor, councillors and bureaucrats should be ashamed.

The new beach path is right on the property line, literally six metres, 20 feet, from the piano. Noisy passersby especially in summer would make concerts utterly impossible — and the end of nearby parking is a death warrant. Town hall’s fair-haired boy is the Kay Meek Centre, a very different, splendid but also flawed gem: Its shared space with West Van secondary and especially its almost scary night parking are problems.

I’m amazed at former Silk Purse board president David Schreck’s optimism that the foot traffic “may be a good thing — more people will become aware of it.” Well, attendance is strong now. But Schreck — former New Democrat MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale — accurately added: “Relocation would essentially kill (the Silk Purse).”

Its directors are publicly silent. My guess: They’re too nice. And, not so nice, they doubtless include supporters of Goldsmith-Jones, and in this small town are reluctant to speak up, many compromised by their connections or ambitions. (I’ve sought other prominent people’s opinions and their silence speaks.)

I hesitate to respond to News letter-writers. But I count the following as personal friends, salt-of-the-earth people.

Neale Adams, former newspaper colleague and the gentlest of men, writes a witty letter supporting the Spirit Trail and looks forward to cycling along it. Thanks, Neale, and remind me to warmly recommend a cement factory on your street — which is near Cambie and 25th, Vancouver. A tad distant from the scene.

Marc Strongman, co-chair of the Spirit Trail Committee and member of a family I admire and have broken bread with, gently admonishes me. He recalls the difficulty of learning to cycle on the North Shore as a boy. I fearlessly predict that Argyle as it is would be a far better place for children to learn to ride than Argyle as it will be. On Victoria Day a mom and her two small children were doing just that, the street with its throngs amiable and tolerant.

Marc reveals: “Never, ever has the trail been considered a bicycle commuter route.” Zounds! That would be its chief, or only, justification.

Are these a lot of words for a little issue? I think not. The larger movement of which Argyle Street is a part is toward a very different town, especially the redevelopment ahead for Marine Drive in Ambleside, certain to drive out many small, non-chic existing businesses. West Vancouver is doomed to become a ghetto of three classes: The well-off, the rich, and the stinkin’ rich.

It’s already afoot. A lot of older people are land-rich and everything-else-poor. You can see them counting coins at the Ambleside Safeway, hoping they outlive their change purses. Few younger people, our children, have a hope in hell of buying here.

The big bass drum hyping Vancouver as a grrreat cosmopolitan city welcoming the world, beaten by Premier Gordon Campbell, the Liberals, and West Van’s power structure — I turn my deaf ear toward it. This will not be a pleasanter West Vancouver.

© Trevor Lautens, 2010

Render Unto Santa The Things That Are Santa’s

For release Dec. 19, 2008

The elves had filled the sleigh beyond full. The young elves were certain it was far too heavy and would never, ever budge. The old elves looked wise, as the old in heaven and on earth and everywhere in between do, and quietly advised them to wait and see. The old elves were unexcited. They had seen too
many miracles.

Warm from their great effort, all the elves – in every corner of the North Pole, in the toy shop, in quality control, in the planning department, in the cafeteria (when it comes to eating, elves hit far above their weight), in the barn, and of course the sweating packers and loaders – stood expectantly around the sleigh, their breath making icy haloes in the cold, cold air. The reindeer impatiently pawed the frozen turf, their breath in long twin cylinders. Not strong enough to pull the sleigh? Just watch us! They shook
with anticipation, making their sleigh bells ring out as if it was Christmas. Which, of course, it was.

Santa and Mrs. Claus appeared at their cottage door, to great applause. Santa waved and blew the elves kisses. Mrs. Claus fidgeted and fussed, checking Santa’s suit buttons, fluffing up his scarf, trying not to look anxious.

“Be sure to keep warm and do drive carefully,” she said. “So much traffic in the skies these days!”

Santa chuckled softly, deeply, from the bottom of his chest: “Ho, ho, ho.  Now don’t you worry about a thing, my dear. Have the reindeer and sleigh ever failed me?”

“I do hope you won’t need that one with the dreadful red nose,” said Mrs. Claus. “So tasteless! And I really dislike the way the others fawned over him that year!”

“The night will be perfectly clear,” Santa assured her. “I’ll let you know when I’m close enough to put the tea on. Goodbye!” And he kissed her cheek and turned to the sleigh.

His Top Elves stepped forward. “Fine night, sir,” said Snowy, the director of the Itinerary Department.

“The sleigh is in perfect order and the runners have been thoroughly greased,” said Chilly, chief of the Service Department.

“Whereas,” said Icy, head of the Legal Department, ” Santa Claus, doing business as Santa Claus Corporation Unlimited, the party of the first part, and whereas the nations of the world of the second part, having divers statutes, tort laws, property rights, local bylaws and acts and regulations pertaining to responsibility for accidents, misrepresentation, safety of chimneys, defective toys …”

“Yes, yes,” said Santa soothingly, “no need to go through the list, Icy, you always look after such matters very capably.”

” … and responsibility for purity of milk and cookies left under the Christmas trees, etc. etc.,” said Icy, stiffly, insisting on getting that point in.

“Well done, all,” said Santa affectionately. “Now, the sun is just dipping below the horizon. Perfect timing! Goodbye!” And he sat down, shook the reins once, and reindeer, sleigh and Santa shot off in a flurry of snow and quickly disappeared.

Before settling down to the night’s work, Santa decided to take the slow and scenic route from the North Pole through a galaxy or two, where the twinkling stars briefly glowed even brighter in friendly acknowledgement as they passed. Then Santa put down the reins and turned on the GPS to return to
Planet Earth. The diversion had taken less than the smallest part of a human-measured second, for Santa of course operated on SST, Santa Standard Time. In truth it is a timeless time without beginning or end.

The sleigh glided smoothly and silently into Earth’s skies. Below Santa could see the lonely lights of farmhouses in the darkness, and clusters of lights that meant cities. And with his crinkly eyes he could tenderly see into the homes where families slept – tired mothers and dads, restless children so excited it had taken them a long time to nod off, cats curled up on warm vents, and at the foot of beds snoring dogs who would quickly come alert at the slightest suspicious noise.

But Santa made no noise. There were few chimneys these days – as mankind measured time – but it is well established that Santa is a resourceful elf, and able to slip under doors, through keyholes, cracks in walls, and, sometimes most difficult, into hardened human hearts. And everywhere he left gifts, not always the gifts asked for, as he knew well, and not as many as people would want if they had limitless choice. One did not have to be an elf to know that among this race of men there are those for whom even enough is not enough.

At last the sleigh was empty. Their night’s work well done, the proud reindeer seemed to dance with the prospect of a swift dash home. Santa punched some data into his computer and prepared to sign out.

A message flashed on the screen: “One missing.”

One missing! How could that be? Santa never missed anyone. For even those who didn’t “believe” in him were always left with a gift – nudging them to doubt their doubt.

Santa’s pride was hurt. He turned off the GPS. He would find the missing recipient. He would navigate the traditional way, by the stars. He gave the reins a shake and the reindeer sprang joyously into the skies.

His travel brought him into open countryside over what he thought might be a small motorcycle or garden tool shed, or was it a low barn of some kind? In no time at all – quite literally, for, to repeat, Santa is timeless – he was inside.

The room was totally bare, even coldly stark. It was empty except for a Very Old Man seated in a chair, which, in contrast, was magnificent, almost a throne. The Very Old Man nodded cordially.

Santa looked closely. No, rather he was an exceedingly handsome Young Man in full strength of manhood. On further examination it was not a man at all but a Woman of breathtaking mature beauty. But Santa strained to see – not a Woman after all, instead a Girl no more than 10 years old. Then her fine features seemed to melt into that of a Boy. Santa shook his head, for he had repeatedly been mistaken – it was a Child, the rich chair a small plain bed. Santa removed his spectacles and rubbed his eyes. Mrs. Claus had scolded him to get his prescription changed, and how right she was.

“Good evening, Santa,” said the Child. “I was expecting you.”

“Good evening to you,” said Santa. That a child spoke so clearly was startling, but no more than his appearance, which continually and fluidly morphed into the other forms. “But I’m afraid I will disappoint you. You were not on my list. I have no gift for you.”

“I need no gift other than your welcome visit,” said the Child. “I too distribute gifts to those who wish to receive them.”

Santa’s white eyebrows rose. “Then we are competitors!” he smiled.

“No,” said the Child, “we are comrades, Spirits, you and I, to the race we both love and cherish. For you are the Spirit of Things Seen, and I of Things Unseen.”

“Ah,” said Santa. “I wish my lawyer, Icy, an impressive intellectual elf, were here to debate this. I fear I am out of my depth. Icy understands ideas, including human ideas. Though I sometimes wonder if elf flesh is so different from human flesh after all.”

“Just as Spirits will always have something of the human in them,” the Child replied. “How else could we enter their sorrows and their joys, and their wounds and their triumphs?”

“I just distribute gifts,” Santa said humbly. “Things.”

“You are the gatekeeper of goodness,” said the Child. “How many children learn their very first lessons of goodness from you? And your jolly face and figure bring smiles to even the wearied old. Yours is the republic of Earth’s gifts, as mine is the kingdom of the searching soul. The bodily first need food, water, light – material things that are the clothes of the soul.”

“I have seen my material gifts misused,” Santa said, unnecessarily, for it was clear that the Child equally knew the spoken and the unspoken.

“Gifts come in all colours,” the Child said. “Possessions have no morality in them. The way of the world is for some to make, for others to sell, for others to use, and for yet others to misuse. Even the hungry and the dispossessed are a special gift to the world. The world is a teacher. It was not misdesigned. It is perfect of its kind – an experiment, and each life an experiment in it. What benefit would there be if each of those you and I love and care for were handed a script?”

The reindeer were stamping impatiently on the roof.

“I too must go,” said the Child, and abruptly he disappeared and was replaced by a youth, bearded, with green-tinted hair, flashing a beautiful smile and astride a motorcycle – Santa’s first impression that the structure was a motorcycle shed was correct. “I will do good this night in this guise, because like you I can take many forms and leave no signature. Good night, sweet elf!” And the Spirit vanished.

When Santa landed at the North Pole his elves were gathered outside his cottage, Mrs. Claus anxiously waiting at the door.

Snowy, the director of the Itinerary Department, stepped forward worriedly. “If I had a watch,” he said, “and if there were such a thing as time here, I would think you were a nanosecond late. Did I make a mistake in planning?”

Chilly, chief of the Service Department said tremblingly: “I hope the sleigh didn’t break down?”

Said Icy, head of the Legal Department: “Whereas the return of Santa, party of the first part, was inexplicably delayed, his elves, party of the second part, did debate assembling and dispatching a search party …”

Santa left his reindeer with affectionate pats, and hugged Mrs. Claus, who hid her worry by scolding him for giving everyone a fright.

“Everything went just fine,” he reassured the elves. “The light in the sky made navigation even better than at other Christmases. Now let us all have a well-earned rest, for tomorrow we will be back at work. That is the joyful task of elves. We must make our toys.”

© Trevor Lautens, 2008

Election Fanmail

Here’s a piece of fanmail from the municipal elections:

Pamela Goldsmith-Jones has been re-elected Mayor of West Vancouver! This must provide you with an opportunity to continue with negative reporting for the next three years or until your progressing senile decay sends you to the care of geriatric attention. I will be glad to offer you the addresses of good seniors care facilities A close neighbour of ours has advised me not to be too hash with my remarks and informs me that when seen in our neighbourhood and still walking the dog, he is assured that by your presence that their is a life after death.

My reply:

Thank you for your thoughtful words – I’m always pleased to receive fan mail and of course will repeat your words in my next column, space allowing.

While you are flipping through the Yellow Pages for a good seniors home for me – may I, with the kindliest of intentions, suggest you reflect on your ageism, which some people consider as vicious as racism, anti-Semitism or sexism? – you might spend some time pondering the numbers showing that the
mayor was not supported by a very clear majority of voters in a virtual three-way race. The margin of her rejection was significant and would trouble any politician, especially an incumbent, looking at such figures.

You’ll also appreciate that I was, as far as I know, the only practitioner in the media in the world who openly and without qualification predicted the mayor’s victory. One would have expected at least a modicum of gratitude.

Tell your neighbour I’d be delighted if he/she would describe symptoms of “life after death” that can be observed through a man walking with his dog.

I thank you again, most sincerely, for your message. I appreciate anyone who takes time to contact me in this busy world.


trevor L.

Nothing like a negative post to get things going…

Dear Mr Lautens,

To my surprise I attended the North Shore Mayors’ Debate at the Capilano Golf Club this afternoon. The surprise came from a misunderstanding led by my friend who believed that he was inviting me to a North Vancouver All Candidates meeting. I am a North Vancouver resident and since my Mayor enjoys acclamation to office this time my interest in this format was mediocre until the exchange between the West Vancouver Candidates (for Mayor) and the delivery of their message held my attention.

I am normaly cynical in judging incumbents and lean to the underdog (s) but I soon conceded that this is a one horse race, or should be, and I felt like rushing to phone my uppity friends in West Van and telling them where to place their bets. Mrs Goldsmith-Jones passed the post to Win, a furlong, or two, behind to Place came Mr Clark and trailing the field to Show ambled Mrs Vaughan. In this event Goldsmith-Jones shone like a star, responding to questions from the audience, with clarity, intelligence, fiscal knowledge and even humour and bringing them to their feet and I swear some were evne bowing before her and the shallow digs she received from her oppnents were brushed aside by her wit and demeanor. Mrs Vaughan frustrated the audience with her failure to respond to questions to the point when someone actually asked her to answer simply Yes or No and she went into a long diatribe providing the audience with more frustration. She trailed the field. Mr Clark tried to justify his reasons for running but he too was out of his league.

My reason for writing comes from a discussion subsequent to the debate when someone at our table stated that even if Mrs Goldsmith-Jones could prove that she could walk on water, Trevor Lautens through his column would claim that she had inflated shoes. You were referred to as the master of negativity and since I don’t read the North Shore News regularly and can’t recall reading anything in your column I will be interested to read the next week edition. I asked for and was given your e-mail address from the North Shore News since you make it public I was told.

Sincerely [name withheld].


Dear [Name withheld]:

Many thanks for your letter. I always appreciate it when readers – or, in your case, non-readers – take time to write, whatever they say.

I delight in the table talk that cast me as a master of negativity: In the evergreen words of Oscar Wilde, one cannot be too careful in one’s choice of one’s enemies. I much enjoyed your Win-Place-Show analogy, having once spent happy years in a thoroughbred race horse syndicate. Are you too fond of horse flesh and the turf and possibly a flutter?

I’m ashamed to say that I am so hardened to both praise and criticism after 55 years and 20 days in the newspaper business, and writing columns off and mostly on since 1957, that neither – praise or criticism, or even a couple of death threats and anonymous hate calls and letters – influence me much.

I hope you read the North Shore News Wednesday edition. The two front-page news stories report, and report very well, some information that you may well describe as negative regarding the mayor. And, after 18 years of contributing my daft opinions to the NSN, I have no reason whatever to suspect that the paper’s leadership is hostile to the mayor’s public performance, even less to her bubbling personality.

As for winning the charm contest – and of course armed with the huge advantage of an incumbent mayor’s access to information, staff and the tools of PR (like West Van municipal hall’s “Tidings”, frequently published in the NSN and which of course ignores all “negative” municipal matters) that part-time counsellors like Clark and Vaughan can’t possibly match – I’m not in the least surprised that you found the mayor the vastly clear winner in the debate you attended. She’s a charming woman. Politicians are salesmen. And saleswomen. They sell their particular goods through talk and image. Incumbents have resources at their beck and call that their opponents very rarely can match. Surprise! 

I’d advise you not to trouble yourself reading my piece in tomorrow’s NSN. Very negative stuff.

I thank you again – very sincerely – for your e-mail. You do me a favour by writing it, intended or not. And I apologize for the length of this reply. Alas, I write all too swiftly, too readily, having been at the chore of using and abusing the language since my first story written in Grade 2 (it was so well received I was prodded to read it to the principal’s Grade 8 class – the high point of a “career” that has been progressively downhill since), which was quite a long time ago.

Regards, Trevor L.