YOU EVER HAVE ONE OF THOSE LIVES?

FLAGApril, 1955. The deck beneath my feet shuddered and groaned as the RMS Ascania pulled away from Liverpool bound for Montreal. This was to be one of her last trans-Atlantic crossings as a year later she would be pulled from service and scrapped, leaving only her bell and a large model showing her interior on display at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax. From her maiden voyage in 1925 to this one she’d had a storied career. During WW2 she was an Armed Merchant Cruiser then she became an integral part of the Halifax Escort Force serving with the North Atlantic Escort Force on convoy protection duty and deployed to New Zealand. In 1942 she was returned to the UK as a Troopship. The following year she was modified into a Landing Ship Infantry vessel and took part in the Invasion of Sicily and, in 1944, the Anzio Landings and landings in the south of France. After the war she was returned to her ocean liner routes, the fifth of Cunard’s six “A” class liners. Perhaps her reluctance to begin this journey simply meant that she was aware of the fate awaiting her in just a few short months but I surmise the lady was just tired…weary.

This is a roundabout and somewhat overly-dramatic way of explaining that I came to Canada in 1955 aboard that great old ship. I was eight years old at the time and Canada was somewhere beyond the pointy end of the boat and England was somewhere beyond the not-so-pointy end. I must confess I knew nothing of the history of the Ascania until I started researching her for this blog.mi0301ascania Now I look at the photograph of my sister and I against the railing “somewhere in the middle of the North Atlantic” and it seems more real somehow.

This has been a difficult blog to put together, for a couple of reasons. I’m finding myself reminiscing about all the sights and sounds of a new country that was so alien to a wee Scottish lad and while I believe this could constitute an interesting series of blogs it isn’t what I set out to accomplish with this one.

I, like so many other landed immigrants from the 1940s and 1950s, assumed that Canadian Citizenship was automatic with permanent residence. Nae s’ fast wee Scottish lad…you’ve been assuming wrong. Apparently I’ve blissfully gone about the last sixty years just acting like a Canadian. Okay I don’t really know how I would have acted if I had known I wasn’t Canadian but obviously I pulled it off because nobody, including myself, saw through my deceitfully clever disguise. I have walked among Canadians unnoticed for six-decades, infiltrating their schools, radio stations, and media outlets. I have assimilated into their culture and generally been able to move undetected along any path I chose to explore.

All that ended today.citizen

As of three pm, Thursday, January 15, 2015…I am a Canadian Citizen.

Assimilation complete…I am finally one of us.natural-flag-of-canada

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FEAR (How the Gypsies stole Christmas)

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself!” Words spoken by a man who had a kazillion military guys with guns backing him up. Nonetheless…an interesting thought.

The first fear I can recall was of gypsies. It was in the early 1950’s. We still had a King and I lived in the Drill Hall in the village of Munlochy in Northern Scotland. I would stand at the roadside and watch the solitary Clydesdale encumbered by a bright multi-colored wagon clop wearily up the slight incline past our house. I can remember the sounds so vividly; the sharp clack of metal shoes against the pavement, the squeaking wheels and the bells. I would gaze in wonder as they went by and wish I could travel with them to wherever it was they always seem to be going. And I can remember the fresh air. It must have been Spring. Everything felt clean and new. The sun reflected off the many shades of blues, reds and whites that decorated the wagon. Hanging from hooks against this backdrop rattled the utensils of daily life; cauldrons, pots and kettles clanged together in tin-pan harmony as the big wooden wheels wobbled past. I’m not sure who told me that gypsies stole children.

“Steals ’em, they do, and sells ’em or keeps them to perform unspeakable tasks. You’d best hide or the gypsies will get you. You’d better be good or I’ll give you to the gypsies.” And my all-time favorite: “The gypsies got Robbie last night”.

I didn’t know Robbie. I imagine if there was a Robbie he probably moved to Inverness or someplace, most likely with his parents. But then maybe that’s where the gypsies took children. Inverness. They couldn’t possibly carry all the munchkins they stole in such a little wagon…unless they did something to them; somehow made them smaller or turned them into something else. They can do that you know…gypsies are magical. They can turn you into dust or, worse yet, spiders or mice. Poor Robbie.

From that day on I ran and hid when I heard the clacking hooves and chinkling bells winding up the road. I remember once trying to drag our Boxer named ‘Mitzi’ into the house and down the stairs.

mi0207mitzi

“Come on Mitzi,” I cried as I yanked on her heavy leather collar, “the gypsies will get you. Hurry we have to hide!” But the gypsies didn’t want Mitzi. Those bells tolled for me.

Sometimes I would run around the house to the shed. My dad might be back there chopping wood or stealing a quiet smoke. I’d tell him about the gypsies and he’d reassure me that he wouldn’t let them take me.

And everything was alright.

To this day the sound of bells conjures up the image of the small dark smelly space under our cellar stairs. This is why I fear Christmas. Those damn bells. The Salvation Army kettle-guys drive me almost to hysteria with their ‘jingle jingle’.

Of course I jest.

The wagon, horse, and gypsies are gone now. I outlived them. I outlived that fear and probably Robbie.

Fear has a lifespan. At best it’s a few seconds. At worst it’s a lifetime, no expiry date. One can’t bank on outliving all of them so one must learn to cope, to overcome that which causes the heart to race and the palms to sweat. But just how does ‘one’ do this? I no longer fear gypsies in painted wagons but then I haven’t met that many recently. I think they probably now travel in fifth wheels with ATV’s attached to the back bumper so I wouldn’t know a gypsy if he passed me on the highway.

I honestly can’t recall any other major fears when I was a child. I grew up on Winnie The Pooh and The Hound of the Baskervilles, appreciating that each of them were stories although I still relive that magical warmth I felt when Christopher Robin was saying his prayers. Back then Winnie was more real to me than Sherlock Holmes was.

And still is.