Realistic Preparedness

I’ve been reading a lot about camping and bushcraft lately, as part of my resurgence of interest in hiking and especially in making my own gear on the cheap. That’s led to quite a lot of overlap with the “prepper” community, which is one I generally approve of: Having grown up in rural Canada, it just makes sense to me to have a few days’ supplies in the event of emergency. I’ve lived through snowstorms, ice storms, and the Northeast Blackout of 2003, so I understand and respect the need to be prepared.

I’ve been an avid reader of post-apocalyptic fiction and disaster survival stories since I was a kid. In fact, one of the first books I remember reading was Erno Rossi’s White Death, about the lethal blizzard that effected the Niagara region in January 1977; my parents had a copy because my grandfather had been stranded in Port Colbourne during the blizzard. I suspect it was a formative influence. (Interestingly, I now live in the area that was directly effected by that natural disaster.) One of the things that Rossi’s book repeatedly stressed was that most people effected by the Blizzard of ’77 were completely unprepared to spend several days cut off from the modern world. I’ve always been impressed by the notion that a little bit of forethought can make the difference between a life-threatening disaster and a mildly annoying disruption of your routine.

The Wife™, having grown up in the Caribbean on an island regularly hit by hurricanes, shares that opinion and we’ve done a minimum of preparation against the possibility of an emergency — I say a minimum, because there’s a lot more we could (and should) do to be prepared, time and money allowing. But both of us are very firmly of the opinion that we have to have at least a minimum safety net for ourselves, even if it’s only to minimize the stress we’d place on the rescue and recovery effort that is trying to help effected people. So we have plans in place for an extended power outage, for example. We try and have a stock of food in the house. We both know first aid, and keep a well-stocked kit handy. We have a gas stove in the new house and — hopefully before winter comes — plans to put in a gas fireplace, since the most likely issue we’ll face is a winter storm that disrupts the power grid. We’ve discussed what we’d do in the event of such a storm, or if we were placed under an evacuation order. We have a healthy and intelligent respect for the fact that sometimes bad things happen and we’ll have to take care of ourselves while the powers-that-be get their collective shit together.

That seems to be the goal of the “prepper” community: being ready to deal with a disaster. I noted on this blog a couple of years ago that we hardly qualify as “preppers”, but we share the mentality that something bad might happen and you need to be ready to take care of yourself for a while… although some people seem to think “a while” means “indefinitely” and some of them seem to be looking forward to the idea. And that leads me into the other overlap that I’ve run into in the past few days: the “survivalist” community, some of which borders on downright creepy.

Honestly, do a search of “survival gear” on Pinterest. I did this a couple of days ago after thinking “what if I take a bad step on a hike and end up at the bottom of a ravine with a broken leg?” Run that search, like I did, and without going too far down the page you’ll be hitting a lot of posts about guns, knives, bug-out-bags and how to make smoke bombs and man-traps and disappear from the government’s radar. On Pinterest. It only gets weirder from there. There’s a lot of acronyms like SHTF and TEOTWAKI and a surprising amount of bullshit about the zombie apocalypse. I like reading posts about how to make a fishhook from a pop can pull, or the best way to make an “every day carry” Altoid tin survival can against the event that you get dropped into the wilderness somehow on your commute to work, and of course a lot of the gadgets are clever… but does anyone really need a tactical tomahawk in their bug-out-bag? Or for that matter, at all? Wouldn’t a decent-quality hatchet be much more useful in a survival situation?

The truth is that a lot of what I see about “survivalism” is all about fleeing to the hills and living off the land with the mere contents of your backpack and your rugged manliness. But in a real disaster situation, history shows that most often choose to hunker down and help each other out. Unless you’re in a situation where there is a complete and permanent breakdown of law and order (and I genuinely can’t think of a realistic scenario where that would happen) your best bet is to stay put and wait for help. That’s Emergency Logic 101: Don’t make the situation worse. Abandoning everything you have and heading into the hills doesn’t make you more likely to survive a disaster; it makes you likely to become a refugee… or a looter, which I suppose is the situation where a tactical tomahawk would be of use: breaking and entering, and if anyone tries to stop you…

The truth is a lot of the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it stuff on the internet nothing but escapism, no matter how seriously its enthusiasts take it. (I suspect that’s why zombies tend to feature so prominently.) In real life, people pull together. The government pulls out all the stops (with greater or lesser competence) to save lives and restore normalcy. When the Big One hits, there will be no gangs of armed S&M enthusiasts with inexplicable stunt-driving skills, nobody will have to eat anyone else, and the people who’ll decide that law and order no longer applies will be the problem, not the solution. That post-apocalyptic fiction I like? One of the best and most plausible books is Pat Frank’s classic Alas, Babylon which is set after a nuclear war between the USA and the USSR; the protagonist starts out trying to protect his family and almost immediately ends up organizing a growing number of people to — guess what? — reestablish a zone of law and order and a semblance of normalcy. People are social creatures. Survival, in a disaster, means helping other people, being helped in return and not, emphatically not, making it worse than it needs to be. The rugged, solo hero escaping the ruins of civilization with a bag full of tricks and a steely glint in his eye? Nothing but a fantasy.

But goddamn, does the fantasy sell a lot of expensive shit.

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A Walk in the Woods

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My solo hike at Short Hills Provincial Park went reasonably well this past Monday. I’d reached the Pelham Road entrance by about 08:30, and by 09:15 I was standing at the south end of the old Gilligan Hill access road trying to decide where I was going to go.

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I’d originally intended on taking the Scarlet Tanager Trail, but unfortunately it was closed after a series of washouts over the past couple of years, and it doesn’t seem to be at all a priority for repair; to make things while it’s closed it seems to be getting no maintenance at all. Confronted with a weathered closure sign and waist-high grass (doubtlessly tick-infested) I instead decided to swap difficulty for distance and took the wide, well-maintained Black Walnut Trail which does a big loop through the park.

It turned out to be a good decision. The southern end of the park is apparently very lightly used on a Monday morning, and by the time I stopped for a snack around 10:30 the only encounter I’d had with anything other than myself were a pair of mule deer I startled as I rounded a corner in the hills above Terrace Creek. It wasn’t until I stopped to pick up some litter that someone on a bike overtook me as I approached the Wiley Road entrance. Sadly, the northern leg of my trip from Wiley Road back to Pelham road wasn’t nearly as solitary: I don’t know whether it was the time of day or the proximity to St. Catharine’s, but the number of other people, especially cyclists, increased dramatically… as did the litter, graffiti, piles of dog shit and general aggravation. In future I’m planning on avoiding the trails north of the scout camp (the square in the middle of the park marked “private property”) which in many ways is a profound shame. I hustled the last kilometer and was back to my car by about 12:00.

Still, I enjoyed the morning up to that point thoroughly and, now that I know what to avoid, I’ll be trying again. I think the Hemlock Valley Trail would make an excellent location for my next hike, so long as I avoid the washed-out eastern section of the connecting Scarlet Tanager Trail. I plan on heading out sometime this week, after the latest round of hot sticky weather cools down.

Because of my renewed interest in hiking, I’ve been spending my time reworking my daypack and gear. The Wife™ and I made a lucky find at the thrift store yesterday, finding a good-quality Columbia day pack in brand-new condition — literally brand-new; we actually checked it for the original store tags — for a fraction of the price we’d pay at MEC or Outdoors Oriented. This means that, combined with our old and rather worn daypack, we’ve got one for each of us to use when we go hiking together. I’ve spent a couple of days — but surprisingly few dollars — putting together what I consider the absolute basics for a hiking pack: first aid kits, those dollar store disposable rain ponchos, a few plastic bags of various types, duct tape and a bit of toilet paper (even in a park with toilet facilities, you’d be amazed how often bringing your own is a necessity) and some safety items like compasses, whistles, spare cordage, etc.

And on the subject of cordage, I’ve also been amusing myself with learning how to make paracord “survival” bracelets. It’s a pretty straightforward process: you just get eight or ten feet of paracord — or in my case, much cheaper “unrated” nylon cord — and tie it in a series of repeating knots to make a bracelet, or a key fob, or whatever. In an emergency you can just undo the knots and you’ve got eight or ten feet of sturdy rope for use. It’s basically the rugged and manly version of those friendship bracelets made by generations of eleven-year-old girls. It looks pretty cool, though, and it would be a genuinely useful thing to have in a crisis situation to make improvised splints or shelter or whatever.

I’ve also been renovating my old camping gear, much of which hasn’t been used since the disastrous solo canoeing trip I took in the autumn of 2012, which ended when I had a close call with both drowning and hypothermia. My dad’s old army surplus mess kit in particular needed some work, especially replacing the half-rotted-out canvas strap that holds it closed; fortunately I’ve got a garage full of armoring tools and was able to put together a simple leather strap with cut-steel buckle in very short order, just with the items I had on hand. I’ve also fashioned a simple tuna can stove for the kit, and I plan on experimenting with it over the next few days; seeing how much fuel it needs to boil a liter of water, how long it takes, etc. Actually, I made two tuna can stoves, one with lots of holes and one with very few holes; I intend on experimenting to see which one one works better and then blogging my results.

My other major project with getting back into hiking involves building a hiking stick. During my hike I picked up a stout stick — or rather I cut it from a young maple tree that had been snapped off near the root. Whatever (or whomever) broke it off had done so recently, because the wood is still very green. I was deliberately looking for green deadfall on that hike (preferably a straightish length of maple slightly thicker than an inch) because I knew I’d be making myself a walking stick for future hikes. I found one, gave it a rough trim, and used it throughout the second half of my hike. Later in the week, at home, I stripped the bark off the stick and now I have it sitting flat on a high shelf in my shop to dry out for a month or so. Once it’s dry I plan on drilling a hole for a lanyard near the top, sanding it, varnishing it, putting a metal tip on the bottom and wrapping a leather handgrip on it.

When I was young I disdained walking sticks on the trail as an unnecessary encumbrance; I am no longer young and neither are my knees. I have come to understand that a trusty walking stick on the trail is a comfort, not an encumbrance… especially when crossing streams or working your way down a steep hillside.

Sadly, some of my gear has disappeared during one move or another; I can’t find my old Nalgene bottles (I suspect they’ve been tossed) so I’ve had to pick up some dollar-store stainless steel half-liter bottles; aside from the fact that they’re bright red and labelled “CANADA” there’s nothing objectionable about them. I’m hoping to invest in a couple of new widemouth Nalgenes sometime soon — they really are the best water bottles I’ve ever found — but you’re definitely paying for the quality. In the meantime I’m making due with cheaper water bottles and a case of disposables… which unlike many people in the area I will not dispose of by dropping them on the trail for other, more conscientious, people to pick up. There’s a reason I carry a litter bag clipped to the outside of my backpack when I hike, and it looks like the Niagara area is going to be testing my habit of picking up after assholes on the trail to the limit.

Reboot

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I’ve been a bad boy all summer; I haven’t posted on this blog since April. A huge part of that has been dealing with getting settled into the new house and my job search, some of it has been the constant renovation of the new house, some of it has been health-related, and a great deal of it has been dealing with depression issues. But, for whatever reason, I’m feeling a good deal more positive recently, and I’ve decided to get more active.

Being active this summer has been difficult; July and August have been shockingly, brutally hot. But with the summer running out and the drought coming to an end I’m kicking it up a notch because of the aforementioned health issues.

Back in the first week of June, I ended up in hospital with kidney stones. Three days of painkillers and lots of water later and I passed a grand total of seven of the little bastards. The thing is, I’m thirty-eight. Thirty-eight-year-olds should not be getting kidney stones so the rest of my summer has involved a lot of medical testing. Last week, I got the final test results from my urologist and the good news: is there’s nothing medically wrong with me that would cause kidney stones. That means the bad news is that my habits regarding hydration and salt intake are entirely to blame. So now I’m on a low-salt, high-hydration regime. I’ve cut down the alcohol intake, and I’m trying to get more exercise.

A couple of days ago The Wife™ bought me a good pair of backpacking boots, an item which has been missing from my closet for several years. I’ve spent part of my weekend putting together a day pack (I firmly believe in carrying a minimum amount of gear — multitool, compass, first aid kit, flashlight, firestarter, rain poncho, duct tape, dry socks, etc. on even the shortest day hike) and looking at the trail guide for our local wilderness area, Short Hills Provincial Park. If the weather is as cool and dry as predicted, I’ll be taking a solo hike there tomorrow, and hopefully several day hikes with The Wife™ and The Dogs™ before the snow falls.

Beyond that, there’s not a lot to report. The Wife™’s job is going really well although my job situation is still nonexistent (I’m now registered with an employment counseling service here in town and they’ve been an amazing amount of help) and I’ve been getting a lot of family time with my twin sister and her daughter. The Wife™ and I have been systematically exploring the Niagara region this summer: we’ve found a beautiful, almost-always deserted beach from which to grok Lake Erie; a number of excellent restaurants; various crunchy grocery stores and farmer’s markets, not to mention a nice indie hiking store in St. Catharines and an absolutely epic hunting/outdoors store just off the highway; a great pick-your-own fruit farm down the road; and a doggie daycare for the puppies… all within an easy drive.

That’s been the most interesting thing about this whole experience: the fact that everything is withing an easy drive down here. Back in Peterborough if you couldn’t find something in town, you were committed to a two or three hour round trip to run down to the GTA to get it… or a week-long wait after ordering from Amazon. Here? You just hop on the 406 or the QEW and you’re there in twenty or thirty minutes. A two or three hour round trip means Burlington or Ancaster with it’s huge number of stores, including a well-stocked MEC and a Lee Valley storefront. We haven’t even tried the cross-border shopping thing yet (we’ll wait for the dollar to recover a bit more, thanks.)

And the fruit; we’re living in Canada’s version of the Napa Valley, and it’s fruit season. The Wife™ has been making jam like a woman possessed. Today or tomorrow will be the peach jam, and we’ve got twelvequarts of peaches ripening in the kitchen as I write. Blueberry, raspberry, it’s amazing. Much of our jam will be given away, especially to family, but we won’t lack for jam over the winter, that’s certain.

All in all, the more time we spend here, the better we feel about the move.

Dean del Mastro’s appeal

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Disgraced former Conservative MP Dean del Mastro’s appeal was today. As those who read my blog might remember, del Mastro was convicted in November of 2014 of electoral fraud during the 2011 federal election, specifically of spending more than $21,000 of his own money to circumvent election spending limits and then covering up the fact. His campaign finance manager was also convicted for his role in the fraud and coverup.

This afternoon, Dean del Mastro made his final court appearance in regards to these charges — I say these charges, of course, since he’s also a under investigation in another electoral fraud case from the 2008 federal election, and may yet face charges in relation to the attempt by his cousin and business partner David del Mastro to circumvent campaign contribution laws by laundering money through his employees.

Justice Bryan Shaughnessy upheld the trial judge’s conviction, but rejected the prosecution’s call for a longer prison sentence. Joelle Kovach of the Peterborough Examiner published an excellent summary of the day’s events including a description of a tearful Dean del Mastro being taken directly from court after the end of the hearing. He will spend the next 29 days in jail, followed by four months house arrest, and is banned from seeking public office for several years.

What really caught my eye in Kovach’s article, however, was the final paragraph quoting Deano’s brother, Mike Del Mastro, who spoke to reporters after the hearing.

“It’s absolutely absurd to send someone to jail for spending their own money,” he said. “What kind of country are we living in? Next we go to jail for jaywalking? I’m very upset right now.”

I. Can’t. Even.

How fucking stupid are you, Mike, to think that’s why your crook of a brother went to jail? You can’t be that stupid. You’ve got to be willfully blind, unconscionably arrogant, or both.

Dean didn’t go to jail for spending his own money, Mike. He went to jail for violating electoral spending limits. He went to jail for lying about it, and for falsifying records, and for callously undermining the democratic process in the name of personal gain. And you would minimize that crime by comparing it to fucking jaywalking?

And I was going to say that the fact Dean used “his own money” was immaterial, but in fact it isn’t immaterial. That makes it worse. Peterborough is full of families who live on considerably less than $21,000 a year. Try it sometime. The fact that your smug, hypocritical, scumbag brother could drop twenty-one grand to undermine democracy like it was chump change makes me sick. Literally nauseous. And the fact that you, Mike del Mastro, could blow it off tells me everything I need to know about the culture of arrogance and entitlement that you’re both coming from. Between you and your cousin David I’m starting to think that there’s something wrong with your whole fucking family, or at least the rich white male part of it.

I do have sympathy for Kelly del Mastro; I can’t imagine what it’s like watching your spouse leave a courtroom in disgrace for that long drive to the Central East Correctional Center. On a very human level I refuse to be facetious or nasty about it, for the same reason that I’m not indulging in the “don’t drop the soap” jokes being tossed around Twitter and Facebook. This had to be one of the worst days of Kelly del Mastro’s life, and she is doubtless going to need the support of family and friends over the next four weeks.

But to imply that this is an injustice? Or a judicial overreaction? Or that Deano is the one being victimized?

Fuck off.

Dean del Mastro cheated. He lied. He committed felony electoral fraud, and he got caught. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Dean del Mastro is not the victim here; Canadian voters are the victims. The blame for his disgrace and the embarrassment that the del Mastro family is currently suffering falls entirely on the shoulders of one person: Dean del Mastro.

He isn’t being victimized, he’s being punished… which is a thing that’s supposed to happen to people who’ve been convicted of felonies. He made his bed and he can fucking well sleep in it for the next 29 nights. As far as I’m concerned the only “absurd” thing about the situation is that he only got a month in jail, not a year, because right now del Mastro’s sole value as a public figure is to serve as a very visible warning that no matter how rich, white and male you are, if you try and undermine democracy you must pay the price.

Some Thoughts on the Silent Majority

So I did a round-trip to Peterborough to clear out the last of my shop stuff today; leaving early in the morning and returning before the rush hour through Toronto started. It was an uneventful trip, except for something that seriously irritated me on the drive home.

I was Niagara-bound on the QEW when I came up on a red pickup truck doing 80kph in the middle lane. You know the type — the standard southern Ontario “you better red-neck-ognize” Ford 4×4: a jacked up crew cab with oversized tyres, extra-wide mirrors and running boards, big chrome smokestacks which are unlikely to be attached to the exhaust system in any meaningful way, lots of gun company logos in vinyl on the rear windscreen, a “support the troops” yellow-ribbon magnet representing the entirety of the male driver’s mindfulness regarding past or present members of the military, et cetera, et cetera.  It was a mercy that no “truck nutz” were in evidence.

What caught my eye, as I was changing lanes to pass this enormous scarlet statement of thunderous masculinity, was the brand-new bumper sticker affixed to the tailgate: Trump Speaks For the Silent Majority.

Okay, two things.

First, those were Ontario plates, so I figure it’s unlikely he’ll be able to cast a vote one way or another. Not impossible, of course, because we are close to the border and I don’t know how expatriate balloting works in a US Presidential election, but unlikely. I see a lot of New York plates in this part of the world and I think I would have found that bumper sticker a little less irritating on a truck with New York plates. But Ontario plates imply that he either thinks Canadians are included in American politics, or he wishes we were, which makes him an idiot.

Second, there is no such thing as a “Silent Majority.” Like, at all. The whole “great silent majority” myth is a cynical lie devised by amoral right-wing politicians to justify whatever corrupt, minority-bashing, self-serving dick move that they feel like pulling this week.

The myth of a silent majority is framed as opposition to those vocal minorities that irritate white people with their strident demands for things like equal rights, or legally-recognized marriages, or cops who won’t shoot them based on the colour of their skin. Invoking the silent majority is dog-whistle politics, and what the Right really means when they say those words is exactly what I said above — they mean white people. Not those irritating liberal white people, of course, but the “right” kind of white people.

And everybody knows who they are.

The phrase was actually injected into the modern vernacular by Richard Nixon, which should ring every warning bell that an intelligent and informed electorate has. If a scumbag politician invokes this elusive silent majority and you think “he’s speaking for me” then you really, really need an agonizing reappraisal of your whole scene, because you’re likely as big a shithead as he is.

If not more so.

You know what the silent majority is actually a euphemism for? Sheep. Shallow, silly, stupid critters which will contentedly follow where somebody leads until it comes time for them to be fleeced. And cynical right-wing politicians are fully aware of the comparison. They like the comparison. It amuses them to play the silent majority card and smirk inside when gullible voters lap it up.

I haven’t touched on Donald Trump’s bizarre and increasingly frightening Presidential campaign on this blog because I’ve been busy with the move and a great many intelligent people have written excellent posts on the massive, insane problems with his meteoric rise to prominence.  Seriously, google it. You can read for hours.

But that bumper sticker really got to me.

Because if it is true, if Trump’s racist, sexist, xenophobic stream-of-consciousness dishonest shitmouth somehow does represent some vast, nebulous, sleeping constituency which will elevate him to the most powerful office on the face of this planet, then we as a species are downright fucked.  But more likely he just represents a bunch of stupid herd animals who can’t think far enough into the future to see the consequences of blindly following whatever is loud enough to get their attention away from filling up on grass long enough to start ambling in one direction or another.

I just hope it’s not too big a herd, lest we all be trampled.

 

 

Moved (IRL)

The last month or so has been pretty hectic. 

In mid-February The Wife™ and I pulled up stakes and moved from Peterborough to the Niagara region.  It’s now mid-march, and we’re finally getting settled down.  The last month has included such delights as:
–Moving into a house with a broken furnace. In February.
–Figuring out how to change the codes on the “keyless entry” to the garage after someone (presumably one of the adult children of the former owner) gained entry to the garage.
–A downed Bell line, followed by several days of Bell customer service, followed by a city worker saying “to hell with it”, cutting the line and coiling it up at the base of the pole, where it remains four weeks later. (We are not currently Bell customers and after the last four weeks of their bullshit never will be again.)
–Repeated trips back and forth to Peterborough to pick up stuff from the old house, including The Dogs™ and the contents of my old workshop (which the movers declined to bring.)
–Repeated trips to IKEA. Love their furniture and household gadgets, hate their customer service. And the crowding in the store.
–De-skunking The Dogs™. De-skunking the back shed. De-skunking every textile in our house. De-skunking the upstairs bathroom. Doing it all again three or four times until the last lingering burnt-rubber skunk-stink has finally faded.
–Moving furniture and boxes around the new house, unpacking them, debating where they should go and then moving them around again.
–Freezing rain and accompanying power outages.
–Car troubles.
–Computer troubles.
–iPhone troubles.

The month has also included many good things:
–Getting three months’ worth of backdated EI in a chunk; I was entitled to it and was cut off early due to a clerical error on their end. It came in very handy during the weeks of moving. (Good on Service Canada for catching and correcting the issue, by the way: I had no idea.)
–Helping my youngest sister slip quietly into Canada from her home in the UK for a two-week visit, thus setting up an absolutely epic surprise for the rest of my family. (Seriously, short of concealing a pregnancy there is no way to top that level of family-surprise, ever.)
–Spending Family Day weekend with my actual family, including playing Cards Against Humanity with my siblings and my mom.
–Christening my new wet bar with my sisters, my brother, my brother-in-law and my brother-in-law-to-be.
–The Deadpool movie. See it. Laugh. A lot. (Also, Happy International Women’s Day!)
–The purchase of a 55-inch, ultra-hi-def TV and a Bluetooth-enabled soundbar for the new rec room, something that The Wife™ has been wanting (and saving) for quite some time now. Followed immediately by figuring out how to stream movies and TV shows off our home server. Followed by a large and loud re-watch of de-specialized edition of Star Wars Episode IV.
–Lots of MechWarrior Online time, now that PGI is actually enforcing their Code of Conduct (back when I played in Beta, they didn’t) and have fixed the toxic, homophobic culture within the player base. Applying to join an elite MWO unit. Going through the month-long application process. Making the cut.
–Many puppy snuggles, both pre- and post-skunking.
–The ongoing exploration of the Niagara area, with thorough investigations of local grocery stores, liquor stores, and pet supply stores to make sure we can find all our favorite things. Being generally successful in finding said things.
–Finding the local farmer’s market.
–Spending much time with my twin sister and my brand-new niece who only live three blocks away from our new house.

There’s much else to add, I suppose. I’m hoping, now that we’re much more settled in, to get back to writing on a regular basis. We’re also hoping to get out to the local SCA practices, although until the garage is organized my armour isn’t really all that accessible, and will doubtless need some work done to it before it’s combat-ready again.

I also want, now that the weather is better, to do some driving around the area and get a feel for things in general. I’ve gotten to know the area between our place and The Wife™’s new job very well, as well as the route along the QEW towards Burlington and Hamilton, but I’d like to spend a day just meandering around the area and getting a feel for the off-the-beaten-path stuff.

Life is getting back to normal, just in a new place.

The Are No Jobs In Peterborough

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This morning one of our local papers published an opinion piece by Lois Tuffin titled “‘No jobs’ in Peterborough? Quit griping and help keep the ones we have.”

No, seriously.  That is actually the title, and speaking as someone who’s been looking for work in the Peterborough area for coming on a year now, this entire article pisses me off.  A quick summary of the piece works out to I’ve got mine, so shut up about not getting yours.

With all respect for Ms. Tuffin, the truth is there are not enough good, steady jobs in Peterborough which pay a living wage.  Even in her article, the very first example of an available job was serving coffee at Tim Hortons.  And good or bad, what jobs there are in Peterborough are snapped up pretty quickly. I’ve been looking for almost a year and I’ve found nothing but temporary, precarious work… usually for employers who take advantage of the poor job situation to treat their employees like shit because they know their workers won’t complain for fear of being thrown back into the crab bucket of unemployment.

I was especially irritated by Tuffin’s backhanded criticism of Maryam Monsef’s town hall meeting on job creation, decrying the “buck-passing to government” attitude that is apparently holding us all back.   Invoking the magic of “entrepreneurial spirit” and suggesting people become self-employed does not fix the very serious problems that workers — especially young workers — in this town face: a stagnant economy and a lack of steady, livable-wage earning positions in the area.  Give Monsef credit: at least she’s trying to address the issue, which is something her predecessor, convicted electoral-fraudster Dean del Mastro never even bothered to try.

But it’s Tuffin’s concluding sentence that really set me off: “Want to make the jobs climate better? Do something; don’t just say something.”

I am doing something.  The job situation in this town is so fucking bad that it’s a major reason my entire family is pulling up stakes and moving to the Niagara region next month.  For more than a decade the government — municipal, provincial and federal — have utterly failed to revitalize this region’s economy and that failure is forcing me, a young worker, to move elsewhere to look for work… and I’ll have to take my spending with me, to the undoubted detriment to the local businesses I’ll be leaving behind.

Tuffin’s implication that as a job seeker it is somehow my fault for not being inspired, that I’m somehow letting this community down by lacking the proper “entrepreneurial streak” is downright insulting.  Until this time last year I had a good job at a small local business. I’ve always tried to support local business… and now, I’m going to have to support them in a different locality, because there are no jobs in Peterborough.

Perhaps my situation is typical.  Perhaps it’s not.  But when people have to make the deliberate decision to abandon a community in order to look for a decent living elsewhere, there’s definitely something wrong in that community.

That’s not “griping”, Ms. Tuffin.  That’s a diagnosis.

 

Year End

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2015 has almost ended, and 2016 is about to begin.   God, I hope the new year qualifies as an improvement, because the year just past has not been a good one for us.  Looking back, I can say that only three really good things happened to us all year.

Let’s get the shitty stuff out of the way, first: I got let go from my job without cause in February. This is, apparently, entirely legal in the province of Ontario. It was sudden, unexpected, and although I tried to take it in a professional and adult manner, it was a real slap in the face after a couple of years of working very hard for that company. I’m going to admit to some hard feelings, even coming up on a year later.

Then, of course, has been the incredibly frustrating and fruitless job search here in Peterborough. There are very few jobs (and almost no good jobs) available in this town, which led me into more than one shitty temporary situation which fast became intolerable (some of those situations faster than others.) As of the writing of this piece, I am still unemployed, although I’m hoping the upcoming year will offer new and exciting opportunities in our new situation… but more on that later.

Life problems, health problems, stress in our marriage, frustrations with the SCA… it’s been a rough year for us, so I’m going to be glad when it’s over.

I don’t know if the election outcome counts as good or bad against the big tally sheet. I’m certainly happy the Stephen Harper Conservatives got the axe in such a publicly emphatic way, but I really wanted an NDP government… or at least an NDP opposition. It was a tough year for progressives in Canada, and even though Trudeau seems to be saying a lot of the right things, I’m harboring some reservations about his long-term commitment to (small-l) liberal politics once supporting those policies becomes politically expensive. We’ll see.

But back to the good things: probably one of the better things was getting back out on the water and sailing again, even if it was only for a few evenings and afternoons over the course of the summer, catch-as-catch-can.  The folks at the Port Hope Yacht Club were friendly and welcoming and I thoroughly enjoyed sailing with them — especially on one particularly rough and windy Wednesday race night which proved to be an excellent introduction to the exciting sport of sailboat racing. I’m really going to miss sailing with the PHYC… but more on that later.

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Port Hope Yacht Club on Lake Ontario

The second good thing was our trip to southern California to spend time with The Wife™’s family in person; I’d never actually physically met her stepmom, brother and sisters, so it was a really nice way to spend a week. We all got to know each other and I feel like we made some real connections. We also got to explore southern California, and it proved to be an amazing place. I like L.A., and I wasn’t expecting to. But the people were friendly, the climate was congenial, the food was amazing and the scenery spectacular. I enjoyed myself thoroughly and I’m very much looking forward to our next visit, which we hope will be sooner rather than later.

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Joshua Tree National Park in California

The third good thing, and unquestionably the best, was the birth of my new niece. My twin sister and her husband had their first child about three days after we returned from California, and despite the fact that she’s spent most of her four months weighing less than ten pounds, she’s got me thoroughly wrapped around her adorable little finger… as babies do. This is the first grandchild for my parents, as well, so there’s been a lot of family time the last few months. There’s going to be quite a bit more time with her in the new year… but more on that later.

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She’s really tiny

But three good things measured against a backdrop of a year of frustration, stress and belt-tightening isn’t much. I’ve been struggling with depression because of it, and the clearest evidence of that has been the absence of activity on this blog. When I feel down, I have trouble finding the energy and creativity to write. I’m going to try and overcome that inertia in the new year, and hopefully our new situation will help with my emotional state.

I keep saying that “but more on that later.” Well, I guess this is later: Long story short we’re moving out of Peterborough to the Niagara area, and are currently packing up the Peterborough house in preparation for an early-February move and a March listing. There’s a lot of reasons for the move: Proximity to family is high on the list since The Mother-in-Law™ has family in the area, The Wife™ has cousins and friends nearby and the new house is only a couple of blocks away from my twin sister’s place — an easy walk, even pushing a baby-stroller (we’ve tested it.)

There are also far more job opportunities in the Niagara region: when we decided to make this change we looked hard at the job listings for the area compared to Peterborough.  There were more jobs posted in a day for the Niagara than in a week for Peterborough; filter it with a minimum salary requirement equal to what I was making at my old job and the ratio jumps from day vs. week to day vs. month. Plus The Wife™ already has a job lined up, starting the week after the move.

And yes, we have already bought a house; the The Mother-in-Law™’s real-estate-fu is as effective as ever.  The new house is about the same size as the current house, but somewhat better laid out for us. There’s a big (and high-ceilinged) garage suitable for a shop. There’s a wet bar in the rec room, of which I plan on making full and enthusiastic use. There’s a nicely fenced back yard for the dogs and lots of nearby parks. There’s bike paths and hiking trails and many, many historical sites and two lakes within easy reach.  There’s lots of stuff to do: museums and farmers’ markets and wineries and distillery tours. There’s an active SCA group within a fifteen minute drive. There’s family and friends to share it all with.

I’m excited about the move, in a way that I haven’t been excited about stuff for a while, and hopefully that excitement will carry over into all other aspects of our lives. In the meantime, however, we do have a lot of packing to do. We’re splurging on a professional moving company for the Day itself — the new house is a four hour drive on the other side of Toronto, so traffic is going to be a consideration. Better to have a big truck and an experienced driver to cope with that crap, but we’re putting all our stuff into boxes ourselves as a cost saving measure; the moving company will pack for you if you chose that option, but it ain’t cheap.

I think the move is going to be good for us. I am going to miss people up here, but Peterborough itself… no. This town has gone pretty sour for me over the past year or two. I’ll miss our current house and all the greenspace we have here, but it’s not enough to hold us here anymore. A change, as they say, is as good as a rest, and at this point I think we’re enthusiastic about either option.

Boat Thoughts

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I suspect I’ve been annoying my friends with a Facebook feed full of politics over the last couple of weeks, and I suspect it’s not going to get better until the 19th. Suffice to say the ugly, dog-whistle racism that has been embraced by Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada has infuriated and sickened me, and I’ve been venting that frustration with a huge wave of re-posts of political stories and out-of-context Rick & Morty quotes. So I’m not going to do any of that today.

I’m still unemployed, but there’s been some hopeful developments which I’m not going to jinx by discussing. While I run out the clock on those I’ve been playing a lot of classic WoW, mostly random-dungeons with complete strangers, which has led (in conjunction with election news) to a growing suspicion that all people, everywhere, are horrible.

The other thing I’ve been doing is window-shopping for used sailboats. I recently splurged on a copy of Don Casey’s book This Old Boat, which I promptly read cover-to-cover and heartily recommend to anyone planning on doing what I want to do: refurbish and sail a boat on a shoestring budget. The window shopping, which is primarily happening through Kijiji, reveals that there are literally hundreds of project boats for rock-bottom prices in Ontario alone (including a Tanzer 22 here in Peterborough that was posted this morning for $100!) There’s also a number of “sail away” boats posted for well under $5000, which is not unusual for this time of year: people want to get rid of their old sailboat before having to pay for a winter’s haulout and storage.

Alas, I won’t be helping someone get rid of an old boat this year. Despite being unemployed, I’ve managed to save about $500 towards my someday boat, but that’s not enough to commit to even the cheapest project boat, even in the short term. I did consider that Tanzer 22, but from the description in the ad it’ll need a couple of thousand dollars worth of crane rental and new trailer just to get it out of the current owner’s driveway before a couple of years’ worth of time- and resource-intensive refitting.

I’ve had a couple of people who know about my boat dreams ask me why I’d be looking at boats that are, in many cases, older than I am. It isn’t just because of economy (although brand-new boats are indeed hideously expensive) but because, by and large, older boats are of considerably better quality than newer ones. It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s true. In order to understand this, you have to understand the history of yacht building.

Until the 1960s, yachts were hand-made of wood and not mass-produced. Building, crewing and maintaining a custom, one-off wooden-hull sailboat was (and still is) breathtakingly expensive. Wood, in fact, is a piss-poor material to make a boat hull out of, especially in the tropics where rot, marine growth and teredo worms actively begin attacking wooden hulls as soon as they’re placed in the water. Making boat-hulls of other available materials, such as steel, just trades one set of material and maintenance costs for another. Anyone who’d commit to maintaining a wooden sailing yacht would have to be rich, obsessed, or both.

Enter the new miracle material, fiberglass. It’s cheaper to build with, it’s easier to work with, it requires minimal maintenance, and with even the slightest amount of care a boat made out of it is virtually indestructible in almost all reasonable conditions. And best of all, fiberglass hulls can be mass-produced. A small boat shop with half a dozen employees could turn out a couple of hulls a week relatively inexpensively, and by the late 1960s that was exactly what was happening around the world… especially around the Great Lakes. Dozens of boatbuilding companies churned out tens of thousands of fiberglass sailboats during the 1970s, and because they were still learning about the new wonder material, they overbuilt those hulls… in some cases massively so. Most modern fiberglass sailboats have hulls that are — at most — 3/8th of an inch thick. Some of the early fiberglass boats had hulls that were built up to the same thicknesses of an equivalent wooden hull, sometimes a full inch of fiberglass. This made for heavy but incredibly strong and durable hulls.

These boats were often “classically styled“, that is, they were designed to look like traditional wooden sailboats in their hull form, so these older, 1970s-era boats were often quite graceful and beautiful… although some not so much. During the boat boom of the 1970s boat manufacturers started experimenting with various designs, and ended up with some pretty weird configurations, such as the double-ended Halman 20 or the flush-decked Tanzer 28. There were also some downright ugly and ungainly sailboats built (anything by S2 Yachts, for example.) Full keels, fin keels, fin-and-skeg, full-keel and centreboard. Aft-cockpit, center cockpit, pilothouse, flush-decked. Sloop-rigged, yawl-rigged, ketch, cutter, cat-rigs… even junk-rigged. A bewildering variety of boats flooded the market… and every fiberglass hull would last decades or possibly even longer. Every couple of years the boatbuilding companies would come out with longer and larger models of boat, and some boat owners would sell their old boats and trade up for a model with two or five feet more length (and correspondingly more interior space.) Their smaller used boats would be sold to someone with a smaller budget and the cycle would repeat, apparently indefinitely.

If you’re into economics, you can see the inevitable in this situation: There’s a finite limit to how many sailboats the market could absorb, and if the old boats last then that limit is going to be reached pretty quickly.

The crash happened in the mid-1980s, roughly about the time of the oil crunch and its associated economic downturn. People didn’t stop sailing, but they stopped buying bigger boats every couple of years and the boat-building industry was in bad trouble. In 1987, the Royal Bank of Canada virtually destroyed the Ontario boatbuilding industry in a single panicked day by calling in every loan and line of credit for boat manufacturers (even those who might have remained financially stable with support.) Yacht-building languished for much of the 1990s, and when new yachts really started being built again in the early 2000s there was not nearly the diversity of design that flourished in the heyday of boat-building back in the 1970s. Like any ecology that’s suffered an extinction event, only those species which proved to be viable in the new circumstances survived.

A “modern” yacht is usually a simple sloop rig, lightly built, with a fin keel, a broad beam and high freeboard for maximum interior space. They’re designed to do exactly what 90% of yachties tend to do: stay parked in a marina as a sort of floating cottage, with the occasional day or overnight sail in protected waters. Their interior layouts are almost carbon-copies of each other and the details vary only in the number of luxuries piled aboard. Multihull luxury sailboats are a prime example of this trend: any sailboat with a sliding glass patio door isn’t, in my personal opinion, what one could call blue-water seaworthy but I bet a 40 foot catamaran’s comfortable as hell in a sheltered anchorage someplace warm.

Real, rugged, blue-water, ocean-crossing seaworthiness is not a priority for modern boatbuilders, unless they’re building kevlar-and-carbon fiber professional racing hulls. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few 1970s-style sailboats still being made (such as my own lottery-win dream-boat the Dana 24) but they’re very much the exception, not the rule. Partly that’s because the market is geared towards the maximized profit-potential of floating luxury palaces, but mostly it’s because the blue-water market — even decades later — is still glutted with cheap, seaworthy, virtually-immortal 1970s-era “plastic classics.”

And every autumn, like clockwork, the plastic classics start getting posted online for cheap. I can only wish I could afford one this year… and I just hope I can afford one next.

False Start

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This past week I decided, in the continued absence of employment, to try my luck at a temp-slash-job-placement agency. On Wednesday of last week I submitted my resume and was contacted — within a couple of hours! — to come in and do an interview the next day. The interviewer was polite, professional, and seemed concerned that I was “too experienced” for this sort of work. I politely replied that I rather needed to eat, but was looking for temp work in office management, preferably something that would lead into permanent full-time employment. She looked worried and thought that she might be able to find something. I went to fight practice on Thursday evening in a hopeful mood.

On Friday morning I was offered work at the placement agency itself, “sorting out” some “filing issues” they had. If after a week things went well, I’d likely be offered a permanent job with the company to fill a recent vacancy. They seemed quite eager — indeed, almost desperate — to have me, which in retrospect should have been my first warning sign. But at the time I thought it sounded great: I’m not too proud to turn my nose up at a week’s wages at honest work, however low those wages were; and the possibility of long-term employment seemed pretty damned good to me, even if it was as filing clerk for less than I was making at my old job. It was something, at least, in a year that hasn’t offered many opportunities.

On Sunday night, I posted an optimistic note on Facebook: “I start work tomorrow morning at my new temp-that-will-hopefully-turn-permanent job. Office management for a staffing company. Should be interesting, at least.

Oh yeah, it was fucking interesting.

On Monday I was employed for a grand total of about ten hours — that’s ten hours solid, without breaks or lunches. It was, and I’m saying this without exaggeration, an absolute shit-show of unprofessional behavior: borderline workplace harassment (spiraling rapidly into blatant and then textbook workplace harassment); clear violations of labor law; casual contempt for both employees and clients alike; in short, a generally toxic workplace environment. I was also a bit creeped out by huge number of electoral signs promoting the local Conservative candidate which had been hung up all over the place.

And their filing system was an absolute shambles.

I’ve worked some bad jobs before and frankly every work environment has stuff that could use improvement, but this was the first time I’d been exposed to a job that set off all my warning bells, one after another, on the very first day of work; It was like I was running down a checklist of sketchy behavior. You see, it wasn’t just a filing job that was open: they had restaffed the entire office. Everyone, except management, was on their first day. Apparently at about the same time I was being interviewed next door the owner was firing everybody in the office, except for one elderly gentleman who was on light duty after an injury.

Yep, they fired everybody and had to staff up from scratch. For the second time in three months.

Ding. Warning bell.

The specific incident, however, which made me decide that this was not the “opportunity” I had hoped for was pretty egregious: That elderly gentleman was being made to sit in the corner (literally in a corner) for his entire eight-hour shift and shred boxes of unused copier paper as make-work. He’d been doing so every day for two weeks as an apparent punishment for being injured on the job due to the negligence and carelessness of his — no, gods help us, our — employer. I figure the owner was trying to get him to quit; his WSIB claims had somehow gotten lost or misfiled, so this was the “light duty” he’d been assigned: Day after day of unboxing reams of copier paper and then running them through a home-office-grade shredder until it overheated and he’d have to spend twenty minutes waiting for it to cool down. When I quietly pointed the unfortunate fellow to some labor advocacy resources I knew about from my days in the IWW, he turned pale and warned me that if the boss found out I’d been involved with any sort of union I’d be fired on the spot.

Yeah, that reaction set off another warning bell, and it wasn’t a quiet one.

It was around that point I resolved to tough out the week from sheer professional pride… but that I was going to turn down the promised “permanent position” when (if!) it was offered.

I finally managed to go home (later than expected because “quitting time” got revised repeatedly throughout the day) had dinner and a stiff drink, and had a serious discussion with The Wife™ that this was by no means the feast we were promised, and she concurred with my “finish out the week and move on” plan.

And then my phone beeped. At ten-thirty in the evening. It was the owner.

What followed was forty-five minutes of harassing and bullying texts over a mistake he had made that afternoon, implying that it was my fault and that I had bailed on him. I attempted, professionally enough, to explain that I would address any issues immediately upon my arrival at the office in the morning at 9:00am. I even apologized for any misunderstanding, since it was my first day.

The apology was ignored, I was to stop making excuses, fix the problem and who told me I could leave with it unresolved? I was to get myself to the office at 8:00am in the morning if I wanted to get paid. This ultimatum was delivered at 11:00pm.

That was the last straw.

Yes, I need a job but I sure as hell don’t need one that badly. I was not going to give this guy another week of my skill and experience. Hell, I was not going to give him another hour.

I indicated (politely) that if that was the situation I would not be in at any time the next morning since I had decided not to continue further in his company.

Why?

Because (and this is a direct quote from my phone’s messaging app) at this stage in my professional career I require a certain degree of professionalism in the workplace, and his company frankly does not come close to meeting that reasonable standard. Thank you for the opportunity and I’m sorry it didn’t work out, best of luck re-staffing the position.

I then received several messages into the small hours of the morning demanding to know (apparently unironically) what I found so unprofessional about his company. I eventually turned off my phone.

I considered sending him a detailed analysis via email the next day, and decided against it because I genuinely think a clean break would be much healthier than continuing to engage that level of crazy. What it boils down to is this: If an employer thinks it’s acceptable to treat their employees like that, then I’m better off not being employed by them. It’ll save everybody time, aggravation and possible legal complications if I just walk away now.

So the job search continues, and I’ll chalk up a few hours of lost wages as the price of a valuable lesson in how low the workplace bar can sink. In fact, that one day at a temp agency managed to dethrone cutting up and packaging 1.3 metric tonnes of feta cheese as the nadir of my workplace experience. And believe me, that takes some doing.