Christmas in an era of reverse exclusion

Appeared in the North Shore News – December 30, 2016

A few days ago, you may recall, some Canadians celebrated Christmas, the birth of Jesus.

Many others didn’t. Christianity isn’t their faith. Sensitive to them, and eyes on demographics and possibly dollar signs, greeting card designers proclaim ‘‘Happy Holidays,’’ or replace Jesus with Santa Claus, that jolly old elf with a sleighful of gifts.

TV seasonal fare wraps female-meets-male love stories around a Christmas theme (my private term for this formulaic tosh is goopies).

Overwhelmingly, radio stations jingle the bells, don’t limn the faith – oddly, otherwise stonily secular CBC devotes the day to appropriate music, including carols.

So it’s a shock, I mean a real 2016 cultural shock, that in a business paper – this paper’s sister publication, Business in Vancouver – this headline jumped out over an opinion piece published just before Christmas: ‘‘Somewhere on the road to political correctness, we lost Christmas.’’

The author’s parents were immigrants. She recalled how in 1974 she and her sisters were in tears when this chubby man in a red suit visited her school with gifts for the children: ‘‘He never visited us.’’ Her parents, who arrived here with $7 and little English, learned that incredibly difficult tongue, unmastered by none, and befriended neighbours.

Years passed, and the writer ‘‘found myself on the defensive after my employer, a Canadian TV station, surveyed employees and decided to replace the annual Christmas party with a ‘Winter Festival’ in February.’’

She voted against. Colleagues glared at her. She praises Canada’s developing inclusion, like extension of the right to vote, and protection of religious freedom. And – you may not call this a bombshell, I call it a bombshell: ‘‘Yet as government and employers work to acknowledge and respect the multicultural nature of our society, political correctness has become a one-way road that’s left Christmas out in the cold. It doesn’t seem to matter that Christmas is the country’s most significant tradition or that Statistics Canada says two-thirds of Canadians identify as Christians.’’

There’s more: “In my opinion, we are in an era of reverse exclusion and intolerance, in which saying ‘Merry Christmas’ risks giving offence, even though Christmas has a cultural significance for many non-Christians.’’

Here I briefly intrude. It is jaw-dropping that her thoughts made the public prints. It shouldn’t have taken bravery, but in Canadaland 2016 it does. Millions of us native-born paleface Euro-North Americans prefer to judiciously keep any traditional religious beliefs to ourselves. Universities, bastion of rights? A late UVic professor mocked them as ‘‘islands of repression in a sea of freedom.”

Now heed this: The writer’s name is Renu Bakshi, and be shaken into thought if you wish by her final paragraph: ‘‘So, from my Hindu family to yours, Merry Christmas.”

• • •

Be warned. The following may upset some readers as utterly tasteless.

Malcolm Parry, excellent columnist for a well-known downtown newspaper and a North Shore resident, read that I’d had a bit of a swoon from an allergenic attack. He remembered his late pal Denis Mason, who similarly ‘‘one moment was sitting in bed reading his book, and then, following the equivalent of a movie hard cut, was surrounded by hospital personnel doing restorative things to him.’’

Mason, something of a West Van character, and once owner of a Bentley three-litre, which requires a certain eccentricity, was an exceptional jazz drummer – in London he had regularly backed famed blind pianist George Shearing. In retirement

Mason played with the Docs of Dixieland, “a traditional jazz group composed, as the name suggests, of medical doctors, who somehow lacked a drummer.’’

(You’d think with all that experience with surgical instruments … well, never mind.)

The possibly offensive bit: “One of the band’s volunteer gigs was at Lions Gate Hospital’s palliative care facility. And where the Docs ended sets by playing” — a pause here for readers too young to know the once-popular song, but the title tells enough – “After You’ve Gone.”

Far from being upset by this grim reminder of impending departure, reported Parry – who fell deathly ill himself several years ago – “the patients always insisted on it, said Denis,” who was pleased “to find a sense of humour alive and well in folk who were quite the opposite.”

Maybe they found gallows amusement in Woody Allen’s famous comment, “I’m not afraid of dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

• • •

Once more, hard-drinking actor Pat O’Brien’s advice: “Never drink on New Year’s Eve. That’s amateur night.”

© Trevor Lautens, 2017

B-line to Armageddon if No prevails?

Appeared in the North Shore News – May 22, 2015

The $7.5-billion transit plebiscite coffin should have so many nails in it that it may require a second coffin.

There’s a note of desperation in the Yessirs’ plea-cum-threat to Metro Vancouverites to lend approval to the 10-year plan, funded by a half-percentage-point lift in the provincial sales tax. (Temporary? Permanent? Who knows?)

Vote Yes, or — Armageddon. Babies, moist at both ends, and their weeping mothers stranded in the rain, packed buses stonily sweeping past them.

Cynical manipulators with thick Langley accents evilly chuckling that they’ve foiled Vancouver Island pro-Yessir sages. UBC students going mad in bulging B-line buses, mobile Black Holes of Calcutta.

Vancouver Sun columnist Barbara Yaffe is, at this writing, the latest to spoil the well-heeled Yessirs’ party. What, she asks, is the Yessirs’ source of money?

Bafflegab reply: Metro mayors’ council had agreed to spend up to $6 million on “the education component to promote the benefits of mayors’ plan for regional transportation.” (Those ads plastered on bus sides, pro-Yes radio plugs and mass phone calls, are educational?) Translation:

Taxpayers ultimately are paying. Further questions “will be considered” — not necessarily answered, note — when “the campaign period is complete.” Until then, peasants, just zip your lips and tug your forelocks.

As of a couple of weeks ago the Nossirs had raised a starveling $30,000. Jordan Bateman calculates the Yessirs are outspending his ragged band 200-1, something like the Team Canada score against Volcanovia at the second-period intermission.

• • •

Vancouver Sun columnist Malcolm Parry’s nostalgia gland was squeezed by my recent utopian bus fantasies, especially the “club car” proposal.

Mac recalled travel with chums on the train from work in Birmingham to his Walsall home. Heady days. Possibly not clear-headed. A teetotal pal who worked at the Aston brewery would ascend, bearing two flagons of his daily free-beer allowance. This enlivened the group’s card games.

“I often won enough in the games to buy 10 Senior Service cigarettes at journey’s end,” Mac recalled. “Given that, the free beer, and the low cost of a day-return railway ticket, I was, as the British say, ‘quid’s in.’ ”

Memories aside, Mac also sent a CNN story proving great minds think alike: In March San Francisco began a luxury bus service that has resemblances to my ideal bus.

Running between the wealthy Marina district and downtown, the buses have leather and reclaimed wood appointments; LED and Wi-Fi and mobile device outlets; an app offering pre-boarding orders for food and drink (sadly, non-alcoholic). An attendant serves drinks, adjusts the temperature, and chooses the music.

Normal bus fare is $2.25. Headline: “Would you pay $6 to commute in a bus that looks like a cafe crossed with a Virgin America plane?”

Certainly. See, grey-souled TransLink, my proposals aren’t bizarre — they’re sensible. Think!

• • •

The North Shore Zone Festival of Plays is a happy, friendly week, requiring some stamina: An ice-breaker party Sunday, followed by six nights of plays. I made four, sending trusted agents to the other two. Beats the Stanley Cup playoffs without the Canucks.

The winner, off to its own playoffs in July in Kamloops: Rabbit Hole, with Peter Zednick picking up best director. Tightly written. Excellent cast. Gripping. Confession: I left at intermission. I didn’t care to watch a couple’s marriage unravelling, unable to handle the grief of their four-year-old son’s death. Call me sissy. Call me jaded. I know enough about life’s wounds.

Shallowly, you may say, I want entertainment, a few jolly laughs. And I anticipated the ending — a life-affirming birth of the spinny unmarried sister’s child. Was I right?

Short notes: Sue Sparlin — who didn’t begin acting until age 60 — would make a fine Madame Arcati if someone, please, would stage Noel Coward’s Blythe Spirit. Nigel Vonas was a festival standout in an unpleasant play. And Kieyella Thornton-Trump, 10, won hearts in W.A. Troyer’s Grandpa ’n’ Me.

• • •

Still more stage: Roger Nelson is as durable as the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, which this area’s oldest theatre company, North Shore Light Opera Society, has performed for 67 years. This year Nelson is staging H.M.S. Pinafore.

• • •

West Vancouver is the Flip City of real estate, its prices maddest in the mad Vancouver area — which is yoked with London and Manhattan for the priciest property on the planet.

Last Saturday’s Sun — anyone who doesn’t read at least one Vancouver daily is badly under-informed — listed 23 West Van flipped property prices that would knock your proverbial socks off. Example: 910 Braeside St., sold April 7 for $2,098,000, listed six days later for half a million higher.

The champ: A bare lot at 1424 Sandhurst Place, sold a year ago for $3.7 million, listed last month for $6.18 million. (In April a typical detached West Van home sold for $2.23 million.)

I first reacted with shoulda/woulda/coulda: Why hadn’t I got in on this feeding frenzy?

Confession: Because at heart I believe there’s something indecent about treating a house — with its unrecorded history of families, of birth and growth and death, of talk and laughter, of murmured love and bitter quarrel, of secrets kept by its discreet walls — as just another commodity to be flipped up the financial food chain, like barrels of oil or railway stock.

That’s the kind of chump I am.

© Trevor Lautens, 2015

What they learned in a year on the job

Appeared in the North Shore News – January 18, 2013

In time, as the Gershwins mused, the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, but love for West Vancouver is here to stay.

As proven by the following. I asked West Van’s three rookie councillors and first-term mayor to write essays on their first 12 months at town hall, no looking up the answers. Bright students. Some droll wit. Slightly condensed for space reasons: Nora Gambioli:

“Municipal government operations and issues are incredibly complex and interesting. The substantive work of council is more about being a ‘judge’ than I had anticipated; weighing the interests of those directly affected, precedent, and the other 44,000 residents who did not have a chance to attend a meeting, speak or write to council, or who are not yet old enough to do so, requires careful reasoning and difficult choices.

“As an educator at heart, I am constantly striving to communicate in practical ways that will encourage as many residents as possible to understand and become involved in local issues.

“Election campaigns are the most lengthy, demanding and expensive kinds of job interviews!

“As a member of the ‘sandwich generation’ (job, young kids, elderly parent) I’m now forced to be an even more highly efficient multi-tasker.

“Speaking of sandwiches, ate them for dinner every weeknight for almost three straight weeks in November (thanks to evening meetings) . . . husband not amused!

“So far, I love this work.”

Mary-Ann Booth:

“I have met dozens of smart and thoughtful residents who care deeply about this community. This has been very much a learning year for me, for while I had some understanding of our diversity through service as a school trustee, it has been deepened vis-a-vis seniors, First Nations, new Canadians, and those who struggle financially.

“It is often assumed that councillors receive a great deal of negative correspondence, but I have found the opposite to be true: most of the feedback I get is respectful, constructive, and even at times inspiring.

“I’m particularly pleased with the progress on new initiatives to support and engage our youth, including a revitalized youth centre. . . . We are off to a great start this new year as we open two new wonderful additions to our community – the new Teen Centre at our much-loved library, and the just-completed salmon rearing pond in Memorial Park, both of which only came about through unique collaboration between the municipality and its dedicated, engaged citizenry.”

Mayor Michael Smith:

“A priority during the past year has been to improve both the look and the vitality of Ambleside. The village atmosphere needs to be retained, but parts of Ambleside need to be refreshed. This spring we are making plans to take this to the public for its feedback.

“While we have had no property tax rate increase for the second year, I am somewhat disappointed by the pace of our review of the programs and services we offer. To help accomplish this, I have scheduled monthly public council meetings in 2013 that will deal only with financial issues and economic challenges.”

On political service: “You have to manage time effectively. I believe it is important that we ensure that citizens with careers can serve on council and offer their talents to the community.

“In summary, I have enjoyed the past year and look forward to the future.”

Personable Craig Cameron was first to express enthusiasm, but his reflective essay just missed my deadline. Wait for it.

. . .

Speaking of essays, I crashed the Fresh St. Market opening-eve party in my university student garb and used the power of the press to avoid getting tossed out. Invitees included suppliers, consultants and the distinguished.

“That’s a supermarket!” marvelled one, examining the lush seafood counter. “I want them!” a woman greedily hissed, staring at some sexy crab cakes. The high-end counters dramatically seduced the eye, all right. In contrast the prosaic canned goods aisles seemed narrow and shy.

Summed up, the “village” Mayor Smith referred to above looks as if it’ll be crushed out of existence between the glossy new store and the development Grosvenor seeks on the police station site.

But – hold on. There’s competition for the humble (and sharp) shopper’s dollar: Example, a couple of “ethnic” markets in the 1400-block of Marine Drive sell produce often sharply below typical supermarket prices.

. . .

Delightful: Minister of State for Seniors and West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan, a coltish 70something, honouring ageless 95-year-old music man Dal Richards with the title Hepcat Laureate. Cool! Dig it! . . .

Sign of the hockey times: In a WV shop selling $200-plus pullovers branded with Canuck players’ names: “LUONGO 50%.”

. . .

I’m giving up lists. How could I have recently omitted from Vancouver Sun North Shore notables the amazing Malcolm Parry, whose narrative skills and encyclopaedic people recognition have raised the traditional “names” column to the reportorial pantheon?

© Trevor Lautens, 2013