Archive for April, 2007

I’m a vegetarian and before you ask, no I don’t exist solely on nut loaves and lettuce and no I don’t hang out at airports wearing bright orange robes, socks and sandals, banging my gong – well – I do sometimes but that’s beside the point. I eat everything I always used to eat sans the dead flesh and in fact am now eating better and am healthier than I ever was before. My diet is light on Trans Fats, cholesterol, carbs, calories etc., and I don’t have to worry about those little extras in my burger such as antibiotics, growth hormones, red dye number 22, e-coli and salmonella.

Come on – look around you – have you noticed that everyone is getting taller? That kid that used to sit on your knee is now towering over you commenting on your bald spot. If you are over 45 and have recently spent any time at all at the local high school or university you will soon come to the realization that you are hardly more than a midget compared to the gangly 6 1/2 footers brushing you aside on their way to the Coke machine. Do you ever ask yourself why that should be when you yourself were actually once counted as tall when you attended the same school? I have a son who not only towers over me but wears size 14 shoes. Size 14! Unheard of when I was a kid. Come the next flood he can tie his shoes together and make his own boat. They say that we get shorter with age but this is ridiculous. Every kid I meet seems to be a foot taller than me, even the girls. Something is going on here and don’t tell me it’s just better nutrition in the affluent West.

It seems obvious to me that if growth hormones are being fed to farm animals to make them mature earlier then these additives must of necessity be passed along the food chain to us at the other end along with everything else that is pumped into their hides. If this is so then all meat-eaters are imbibing vast quantities of antibiotics too and this is truly terrifying. Have you noticed how many new diseases are running around nowadays? Diseases that didn’t exist when we were young? It can’t all be down to the US government experimenting with agents of biological warfare in their secret underground labs and testing it out on the local populace can it? Conspiracy theories aside antibiotics are no longer the wonder drugs they once were, and why? Because, I would say, bacteria are adapting and morphing into more and more virulent strains that are now drug resistant. When I was a young mum I was always told not to seek out antibiotics for my kids for fear of the very same thing; in fact doctors were very twee about handing out the prescriptions – but aren’t we doing the very same thing when we feed our kids meat? And I have been guilty of this too, I must admit.


If you don’t know what happens to that animal before it gets to your plate then you have some unpalatable surprises coming. If you haven’t read books like “Fast Food Nation” then I urge you to do so immediately. Run don’t walk down to the library and pick up Robin Cook’s “Toxin” as well. Either book is guaranteed to put you off eating meat for the rest of your life.

I used to eat meat, and I, like you no doubt, gave no thought to how that neatly packed and sanitized pink cut of meat actually got to the local Loblaws or Sainsburys or whatever. As long as it didn’t look back at me I could turn a blind eye to what I was eating. But then I got a job that involved a great deal of traveling. It was inevitable that sooner or later as I tooled up and down the highway I would be overtaken by a truck laden with helpless beasts on their unknowing way to the slaughter. If it was just one or two trucks I could continue to ignore the facts but when the trucks that passed me each month counted in the hundreds I had to take notice. It was an unpalatable truth that soon became unbearable, like watching those pictures of dying children in Africa. I wanted to turn away but I couldn’t.


If you don’t have any feelings for the animals at least consider this. We now have factory farms that corral and process cattle or pigs or chickens by the thousands like some sort of living conveyer belt. The droppings and waste from these enormous production facilities finds its way into the ground water and poisons our streams, taints our drinking water and strips our grazing lands. Small farmers cannot compete and are forced into what amounts to wage labour for the big conglomerates – they are no longer autonomous. No wonder that corners are cut and money is saved by ‘adding a few little things’ to bulk out the cattle feed – such as other dead cattle, possibly diseased. Cattle are not omnivores they are ruminants, meaning that they eat plants and grasses not meat. It is against the natural order to force an animal to eat such a diet. And what might the consequences be for us at the other end of the line?



Everything comes down to the almighty dollar – who cares what the consequences may be for tampering with nature if there’s profit to be made? And don’t get me started on genetically altered foodstuffs, including plants. When I was young a strawberry was smaller than a walnut, nowadays I could use one to wedge the doors open. These frankenberries load down the display cases together with melons the size of soccer balls rubbing shoulders with the perfectly rounded tomatoes and the bright red peppers. Speaking of tomatoes did you know that they are picked green in California and then sprayed with a chemical that turns them red while they sit in their boxes for the three day trip to Ontario? Did you think they were naturally that colour? Think again. Natural tomatoes don’t look like that anymore than ‘natural’ slabs of meat are that nice palatable rosy pink colour. Neither is salmon come to that. Which reminds me – did you also know that farmed Atlantic salmon are full of parasites due to overcrowding and pollution in their pens, parasites that have a habit of escaping and infecting the wild sea salmon. This means that sooner or later the wild salmon will be no more. They are already endangered. We’ll be left with the worm infested farmed stuff – oooh. Go to David Suzuki’s site and find out if you don’t believe me [http://www.davidsuzuki.org/].



Sorry to bring up such a topic – especially now that the weather is improving and it’s time to get out and fire up the old barbecue. But next time you are about to slap a slab of dead flesh on the Barbie why not try a veggie burger instead. It tastes pretty much the same, you’ll feel better for it and it won’t kill you – unless you choke on the genetically modified wheat in your bun that is.




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This month I’m on an exercise kick. It’s about time that I shed all those unsightly pounds that have been piling up for the past ten years or more. Whatever happened to that sylph-like figure of yore? [yore kidding me right?]. I think the weight went on in inverse proportion to the sagging of my various bits [not to mention tits] and the lines that suddenly appeared on my face from out of nowhere. Don’t look now but some old lady has taken to following me around and appearing in my bathroom mirror early in the mornings. I don’t know who she is but I wish she would bugger off and be replaced by Catherine Deneuve.


Getting old is depressing enough but have you noticed that time accelerates in direct proportion to your age? Rather like the way time behaves when you’ve had a few drinks too many. One minute you’re standing at the bar talking to some blurry looking person and then they’ve gone to the loo only to return again nanoseconds later. How do they do that? It is my theory that time behaves the same way on weekends. It’s Friday night and then it’s Monday morning – woosh! I always wanted to expound my theories on the relativity of time to Einstein but unfortunately he went to that particle accelerator in the sky before I could tell him [still wearing the same suit no doubt].


Anyway – exercise I was talking about. I bought myself a nice new treadmill to put out in the sunroom so that I can commune with nature. With the windows thrown open I can hear the birdies coughing outside and they can hear me gasping inside. I gave up on The Gym primarily because 1. It’s expensive and 2. It’s inhabited by these buff young health freaks with rippling biceps and bulging muscles – and that’s just the girls. They all have bum cheeks they could crack walnuts with and they are all so perky. I hate perky. When you pull up to the drive-through at 7am in the morning for a double double expresso mocha just to get your heart started the very last thing you want is to be greeted by some young thing full of the joys of spring – don’t you agree? Be honest – haven’t you entertained thoughts of mashing your Boston Cream up her nose if it would just wipe that smug smile off her face?


But I digress. Exercise is good for you, exercise will melt off those unsightly pounds, exercise will prolong your life – or perhaps it will just feel like it. That’s another thing about health-clubs, they will insist on weighing you and wrapping you in blood pressure cuffs before they bring out this disgusting wobbly yellow thing and show you what a pound of ugly fat actually looks like… Then they enroll you in the kick-boxing class, the rowing clinic, the aerobics 40 minute work-out and Tai-Bo With Bruno and leave you to it – all guaranteed to bring on cardiac arrest within minutes but at least you’ll look better when they display you at the funeral parlor. “Oooh doesn’t she look wonderful”, relatives will coo over your dead, but firm, body.


The depressing thing is that fitness and health takes so bloody long. Why can’t you just run about for a few minutes and then shove off down to the pizza parlor for a well-deserved double cheese with stuffed crust washed down with a Coke? Life is so unfair.

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How shocked and saddened I was at the news of the Virginia Tech shootings – I think all of us – students and parents alike – are horrified that such an unspeakable thing could happen, again. The shootings at Columbine also happened in April and it is said that many of these types of incidents happen in the spring. Why would that be? The only thing I can think of is that April is a very stressful time of year for all students. They are under immense pressure, having completed a hard academic year and now are faced with the usual round of final exams. They are broke, having long ago exhausted their student loans, they are probably depressed after a long winter – at least here in Canada – and they are tired. No wonder that every year there are reports of suicides amongst the student populations of many universities and colleges across the world.


When I was at university the older ones amongst us – the ones who had already raised their families and worked for years before returning to school – used to laughing joke that “come November that guy or that girl will be standing on the bridge looking longingly at the river once the reality of too little study and too many assignments neglected kicks in”. The same could be said of the spring. Those that survived the mid-terms in the winter and are still hanging in there have to face the finals. Most of the students at universities are young and haven’t yet learned to shield their emotions or to deal with stress quite as effectively as all of us so-called adults. They don’t have as heavy a fence around them as we do – the one that comes from having to fight against the hard-knocks and vicissitudes of life. It’s no wonder really why some of them just snap – fortunately not quite as badly as the shooter at VT – but many of them do indeed just jump over that bridge.


Many campuses – mine included – have counseling services and psychological treatment centers available at all times, but of course they are only useful if they are used. Not everyone even realizes they have a problem or tries to seek help. And then there are the people who may be beyond help, the ones who have somehow slipped through the cracks and are teetering on the high wire – any sudden event likely to push them off and down into oblivion. This may be what happened in Virginia. A seriously disturbed individual got through the system despite all the checks and balances. And there were some who tried to tackle the problem before it got too far. But no-one of course knew quite how far that would be. Teachers deal with violent and aggressive students every day, it’s a sad fact of life. Those students can usually be dealt with effectively, but legally we cannot just remove someone from the main stream because we think they are ‘odd’ or a bit ‘weird’ – that could only lead to profiling and all the social dangers that that entails. Unless someone makes a direct threat or exhibits some form of violent behavior our hands are tied. The battered wife can go to the police as many times as she likes and they will do nothing until she suffers real injury – sometimes even death. We use the language of violence every day – how many times have you said to your kid “I’m going to kill you if you don’t go to bed right now!” – or “I would kill to have that car/pool/new house – whatever”. The police can’t show up at your door every time you threaten to “knock someone’s block off”, can they? This is the price we pay – willingly – for a free society.  We thankfully do not live in a police state – not at least in the Western world.  


How do we know that someone is about to blow? Is there some sort of writing on the wall that says “that bloke over there is about to go postal, go get the butterfly net?” – No. I think we can only try to be more aware of what is going on in the lives of people around us and to act if we see something that is wrong. Too many of us are willing to stand by and do nothing. They say that there are three kinds of reactions in people faced with crisis – there are those who act, those who freeze, and those who panic. I guess we should all try to be one of those who act. Think about it – what would you do if a gun-man burst in your door? How would you react? Is there anything you could do? Would arming everyone, as the Americans believe, be the solution? The argument goes that if the kids at VT had had guns they could have ‘taken out’ the shooter before he got too far. Is this true? It might very well have had the opposite effect – arming everyone might also arm a few others who have contemplated the same sort of violence. People sadly commit suicide every day. We read about it in the paper. And of course if you’re going to kill yourself anyway who cares how many others you take with you? If you have a gun handy…


There are no easy answers – perhaps all this media coverage adds to the problem. Perhaps it inspires other ‘crazies’ to act out their dark fantasies, perhaps it’s just that there are so many barriers between people now that we cannot share our troubles anymore. Maybe ‘community’ is gone. Maybe the extended family and its support net is gone. Maybe talking about it, even in an anonymous blog, can go some way to easing the pain. My heart goes out to all those who have suffered this week.

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Does Not Compute

A few weeks ago we went to see Casino Royale – you know – the new James Bond movie with Daniel Craig who is a bit too pretty if you ask me and seems to do an awful lot of pouting al la Angelina Jolie [those lips just *cannot* be real any more than any bit of Cher is real apart from her ear-lobes] – but that’s beside the point. What I really wanted to talk about was computer technology as shown in films. Have you noticed that computers, for example, not only in movies but in TV programs too, always spring to life the second you touch the keyboard; often when they are not plugged in. And have you also noticed that Internet access is available everywhere – even in the middle of the ocean in an open row-boat with villains swarming over the stern?


If you have ever watched CSI you will note that they have computers that explore parts of the body with anatomical and grossly gory accuracy complete with instant ‘zoom-ins’ and HD displays – not to mention maggots and saliva. And of course whenever crime-fighters need to pin-point areas on a map where the killer might be lurking it appears instantly complete with street names, pizza parlors, sound effects and people out walking the dog. I bet Google Maps can’t do that. There is no lag; there are no jaggies and no typing! Or at least there is some typing but it is never necessary to use the space-bar on the keyboard. And of course, if you want to access the hidden files all you have to do is type: ‘secret files’ to have the whole lot pop up, passwords not required. Or if they do have a password it’s eminently hackable like ‘Vesta’ [name of Bond’s girlfriend].   Of course if you wish to infect someone elses computer by the way, all that is necessary is to type “upload virus”.  Obviously all movie computers are still using a command-line language like DOS  which must be very irritating to Bill and is putting a crimp in sales of Vista.


Heroes always get a cell-phone signal first try wherever they happen to be – out in the jungles of Borneo or half-way up K2 or trapped in a submersible at 200 fathoms. They never get a low battery warning or a voice message that says “you have used up all your minutes please insert new card now”. Arch-villains all have technical innovations that work perfectly every time. When the bumbling henchman screws up he is plunged into the tank of angry piranhas at the mere touch of a button – the doors never get stuck half-open and have to be pried apart with a crow-bar and he never has the sense to jump out of the way. Guns never jam and are filled with an endless supply of bullets – well the hero’s gun frequently jams so that he is forced to take out the villains with a hastily devised rocket launcher made out of two toilet roll tubes, a cigarette lighter and some Smarties. Villains are always terrible shots despite their state of the art Glocks – they could machine gun the hero from three feet away and still miss while Clint or Bruce or Arnie merely have to pop off one shot to hit six bad guys right between the eyes. Helicopters take off the instant the pilot turns the starter key and radio-controlled nuclear bombs four miles deep in the secret laboratory immediately flash “4 MINUTES” on a garishly lit and therefore fairly easy to find red LED screen. As the klaxons blare and steam issues out of a zillion vents [even on the space station] said bomb is diffused just as a pleasant female voice informs you that self-destruct is in one second and have a nice day.

Laptop computers in the movies BTW are always Sony Vaios that never have to boot up have you noticed and wireless accessibility is a given. Of course if the Vaio fails the hero always has his handy Palm Pilot [also with wireless connectivity] with which to track the bomb on the real-time radar display and his exploding pointer pen from Mont Blanc – but that’s another blog [see Product Placement].

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Travellers Tales

Ever noticed that as soon as you leave home you feel you should go back? Even as you get off the plane on that much needed holiday to Hawaii, or Florida, or Timbuktu, you start to worry about home. Did you turn the stove off, leave food for the cats, lock the front door, cancel the mail, draw the curtains, put the lights on – because we all know that burglars are entirely fooled by the fact that you left a light on in the bathroom. Do you ever wonder what they think of the fact that you’ve been in there for a week? Burglar one to Burglar two “Better not bust into this place Jack – they’ve been in that bathroom for a week and must be mighty pissed by now that they still can’t go. Let’s do number 14 instead. They’ve only been in the front hall since Monday.” Of course if you really want to foil burglars you leave the TV on as well. Then they know that there are at least two of you in the house; one in the bathroom and one watching endless reruns of Oprah – in French.


We had a break-in at our house once. They took some cheap knock-off jewelry and a pair of no-name running shoes. They were obviously of a more discriminating nature however as the shoes were later found abandoned in the middle of the downstairs sofa. The burglars were either frightened off by something – maybe the light shining from under the bathroom door – or else they were high-class thieves and would take nothing lesser than Nikes. Which leads me to wonder why they didn’t just break into one of the posh houses down the street? You know the ones – they have tidy lawns and no rusty cars or old bikes anywhere on the property. They even have flowers that grow [taller than 2 centimeters] in lovingly tended window boxes and beds, untrammeled by undisciplined dogs or pooped on by cats. And not a hastily discarded beer bottle or empty cigarette packet in sight. Now I bet they have stuff worth stealing. Mind you they probably attract a better class of thief too. On our side of the street they are out for cheap stereos and DVDs that can be palmed off quick down at the local pawnbrokers while the ones across the street are probably out for real paintings and not those ones of Velvet Elvis. Mind you I don’t think we have any upper class thieves around here. I doubt if they would even know a Picasso from a Pizarro. They would more than likely just go for the one of the dogs playing poker or James Dean chatting up Marylyn in the all-night diner.


I worked for a large property developer once who was also an avid art collector. He used to furnish his model suites with expensive Eskimo art. Not quite Picasso but valuable nonetheless. One day there was a break-in. The thieves took the fake potted palms and the petrified candies in the cheap glass dishes and left all the soap-stone polar bears behind. Just goes to show that the art-appreciation classes down at Kingston Pen ain’t working.


In the days when real-estate developers used to actually build new houses you could look at instead of tacking blue-prints to the wall petty theft and the odd break-in was commonplace. Too bad that the average Canadian thief is somewhat, shall we say, dim-witted, and is apt to leave clues. Like the guy who parked the moving truck outside the model suite, took all the stuff inside and then unloaded it two streets down into his own place. He was fairly easy to catch – especially since it was daylight. Then there was the fellow who took all the flashing construction lights to put in his bedroom window but forgot to turn them off again at night. There was even the chap who took all the redwood siding off the skids to use to refurbish his deck. Unfortunately for him it had been snowing hard the night he pulled off his raid and he had to drag the sheets about a mile down the road. It didn’t need inspector Poirot to figure out where he took them.

So if you’re traveling anywhere this summer make sure to leave some lights and the TV on. And if you really want to be safe and secure in your mind as you trot around the globe just move to the posh side of the street and leave out some fake Rolexes and the broken CD player, secure in the knowledge that your limited print and your antique armoire will still be there when you get back. Mind you, the plastic apples in the wicker bin might not.

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Today marks the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. 4 Battalions of Canadians across a 7000 yard front stormed the ridge from rat-infested trenches knee-deep in mud and filth and scrambled their way into history [literally] over the bodies of the French and English who had gone before. The battle began at 7:05am – mere hours later 3600 young men lay dead. More than 18000 of them were injured over the next few days but on the 12th of April the Red Ensign fluttered from the highest point over 4000 Germans held captive below. It was the first time that Canadians had fought together as Canadians, not merely as support troops. Some say that this battle therefore was a turning point, not only in the war, but as a symbol of nationhood, marking the Canadians for the first time as an independent people in their own right.

The First World War was a war of ‘alliances’ – a conflict that might have remained a relatively minor skirmish in the larger scheme of things had not nation been tied to nation and state allied with state through treaties so complex and inextricable that when war was declared they were each obligated to defend the other. The shot that killed Franz Ferdinand was indeed a shot that rang around the world. All wars are stupid and this was one of the worst. At the end of it millions of young men on either side were dead. I wonder how old they were when they died. In Vietnam they say that the average age of the combatants was nineteen. Nineteen, think of that, nineteen. I have a son who is 20 – in an earlier time he could have been one of them.

My family was largely unaffected by the First World War because the children were too young and the older relatives were too old but that didn’t help them escape the flu that came hard on the heels of the war and actually killed more people than the war itself. The next generation was more involved in the Second World War. It was a family tradition to work in some profession allied to the navy – likely since Portsmouth always was a naval town. My uncles and aunts worked in the naval dockyards or in the victualing yards and some were naval officers. My Uncle Bernard was a commando, or so he said, but he had a wicked looking knife with knuckle grips to prove it. He never spoke about his part in the war but I do know that the older male members of the family took part in the evacuation from Dunkirk, sailing their little fishing boats across the Channel to bring the army home. They were trapped on the beaches, the Germans at their front and the sea at their back. Old-timers like my uncles braved the winds and the currants and the mortar shells to go and get them. They were the ‘Cockleshell Heroes’ [an old movie about the retreat from Dunkirk, Uncle Bernard had a walk-on part].

Donald Ridley was my husband’s uncle. He had barely left school in the small northern town of New Liskeard where he lived when war broke out. He hastened to Toronto with his brothers to volunteer, like many other young Canadian men just like them. He was the lucky one – his brothers joined the air force and spent much of the war patrolling the western borders along the Pacific without incident while Donald trained as a machine gunner with the Toronto Scots Regiment and was duly embarked to England to fight. Then came two long years of anticlimax and frustration spent in billets in and around Aldershot in the south of England, chaffing at the news of things happening in Europe, in The Desert and in Italy. Finally – and he must have been so excited that the waiting and the endless training exercises were finally over – the call came down that the push was on to D-Day. The Canadian troops were mobilized. His company arrived in France a few weeks after the landings and found themselves immediately embroiled in the fierce and terrible fighting around Caen. He was attached to Tor-Scots D Company which in turn was attached as support gunners to the Saskatchewans. In driving rain and an ear-shattering thunderstorm they were formed up along their start line close to Verriers Ridge at 3 o’clock. Then these untried volunteers fought their way through the wheat fields and up the slopes in the pouring rain and the mud while the Germans stalked them, picking off the dying and the wounded with their guns or running them down with their tanks. Donald was killed within hours of the start of the battle, he was just 23. He is buried at Bayeux.

Let’s not any of us forget all of our veterans on either side – especially not today.

Roll of the dead and wounded [D Company Tor-Scots] July 20th 1944:

Killed:  Lt. George Gregg age 25, Pte. Clyde E. Johnston age 23, Pte. Don Ridley age 23

Missing:  Pte. Willam H. Young, age 24

Wounded: Pte.  L.A. Boustead, Pte. R. Brown, Pte. F.J. Finlay, Pte. D.C. Haigh, Pte. J.H. McCarthy, Pte. F.H. McConnell, Pte. T.A. McDowell, Pte. T. Davidson, Pte. J.I. Campbell, Pte. J.B. Morgan

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Looking Back

As I get older like many people I have developed an interest in genealogy. I think as the years pass you feel less inclined to be entirely engaged in the moment and more inclined to hark back to earlier days when life was simpler somehow. Or maybe it wasn’t any more than furniture from Woolworths was made lovingly by hand and the knobs didn’t fall off the stove the minute you switched it on, but you know what I mean. I started to wonder who my forebears were some years ago when I was unemployed [again] and casting around for something to do of a morning rather than watch Oprah. Typically I had waited a tad too long – many of the older relatives had passed on to that great pub in the sky by the time I got around to wondering where it all began so I had to resort to cajoling the younger ones to rummage through dusty photograph albums and moldy boxes in the attic without much hope of success. Being four thousand miles away from my ancestral home [Portsmouth] I soon discovered that residing in Canada was something of a hindrance too. And since the exchange rate between pounds and dollars reduces our bills to Monopoly money it’s not all that easy to just hop on a plane and go look for yourself.


For the savvy online searcher there are many available databases and indexes not to mention reasonably detailed census returns, at least up to 1901, but you soon run into the proverbial brick wall or some such stumbling block as the amount of fees you have to pay to access some of these resources. And sadly many of the local church and library holdings are not digitized collections which means you have to send endless snail-mail enquiries hoping that someone at the other end will put down their cup of tea long enough to look up your great aunty Agnes from 1872.


The archives of the Latter Day Saints are an invaluable resource, largely because they tend to be free. They were busy little beavers back then collecting a wealth of genealogical data on their converts on the supposition that if they could bring you into the fold they could grab all your relatives too. They were diligent in chasing down family trees back to the year dot to add to their armies of the converted. The downside of these sources is that you have to squint your way through reams of eye-boggling records contained on scratched microfilm and accessed only with a dim lamp and an old viewer. And many of them of course are still contained in vaults in Salt Lake City. Nevertheless it is possible to obtain copies of the films if you can wait long enough; there are even people who will go and search the vaults for you and make copies of documents, for a fee. There are even some very sweet souls out there who will search their own indexes and the local records offices for you for nothing and sometimes you can find sites where you can barter and trade. In this way I discovered that my family forebears weren’t all cab drivers, stay makers, and needlewomen – one of them at least actually lived in a big house with acreage on the Isle of Wight; sadly passed over to some other family when first wifey was traded for the young model and it was off to the workhouse with her – damn.


Strangely enough I was more successful in tracing my husband’s family than I was my own. It appears that his lot has resided up on the Northumberland border since 1066 where they engaged in lots of border raiding, Scots baiting and no doubt a bit of sheep shagging on the side – or the back. They also have ties to former glories in the shape of one Bishop Nicholas Ridley who was burned to a crisp alongside Cranmer and Latimer at Oxford one sunny morn for siding with Lady Jane Grey and refuting the legitimacy of Elizabeth and Mary. A fine example of the perils of coming down on the losing side. The Ridleys obviously had a history of this because they lost most of their lands, great halls and manors for siding with Cromwell, leaving later Ridleys to tend gardens and cobble shoes or in some cases to just bugger off to Canada instead. They took to the new world with gusto, becoming trappers and foresters, Mounties and railway men, forging their way across the land, leaving little homesteads and log cabins in their wake. They were real pioneers, clearing the old growth forest and wresting a living with just a few oxen and a plough. They had many adventures. One of them, the trapper, was murdered while on a hunting trip out in the deep woods. We have a picture of him taken the summer before his early demise standing proudly outside his cabin a hundred miles from nowhere wearing his leather fringed jacket and worn cowboy boots, long gun at the ready. Great great granddad and his son narrowly escaped being drafted into the American Civil War escaping across the border on foot from North Dakota to Saskatchewan just in the nick of time. Later, several of these intrepid Ridleys became Americans, some even became Australians, which only goes to show that they were still a bit confused. They were alive when Custer made his last stand, when Sitting Bull sought refuge in the Great White North, they must have followed the news of the Indian Uprising and knew of the Crimea and Old Queen Vic. They saw, and bought, the first cars, trading in their horse and cart for a Model T. They must have seen the first talking pictures and had their photos taken with the first grainy film and a sooty flash.

You should try looking into your own family history – what you find there may surprise you. And it’s not such a bad thing to be firmly connected to your roots.

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