Further beyond the cupboard of broken toys — part 6


A nice thing to do in Ottawa, at weekends, is to take the bike and go out to see what there is to see. And there is a lot to see. It is very pleasurable to cycle up along the Ottawa River and go swimming. There are many bathing points with facilities. You can have a splash around and then have a hot chocolate. Most civilised.

It is exceptionally pleasing to explore all the real-ale pubs, of which there are plenty nowadays. The first time I visited Canada, about 1984, the law forbade such things. But now there are whole chains of public houses specialising in craft ales. Alas, they do have a couple of problems, in my estimation: Wrong type of hops. They are using ‘Cascade’ grown in hop-fields down at Niagara. They should consider importing ‘Golding-Hops’. Far and away the better variety. Also, the yeast they are using has no pedigree. I have no idea what they used as a starter, but the result isn’t as full of body as you would want.

What kind of beer snob am I?

Some Saturdays I go to see the Changing of the Guard. The Ceremonial Guard, complete with band, perform Guard-Mounting duties during the summer. It is very reminiscent of something. It reminds me of some ceremonial event I have seen before. I just can’t quite put my finger on it.

The Canadian Ceremonial Guard emulate the UK Brigade of Guards in all things.

I recognise it, but can’t quite remember where I last saw it.

During the summer months, Ottawa is a festival city. I go to the jazz festival and the arts festival. Every Sunday, the skies are full of hot-air balloons in myriad colours. I can go to galleries and museums. I like this very much.

I visit the Canadian War Museum. In the forecourt there is an exhibition of Canadian artillery. I get to talking with one of the Bombardiers. He gets my work number. I am a bit suspicious but go along with it. Later he keeps calling me and encouraging me to become an Amway Representative.

Aaaaargh!!! A Royal Canadian Horse Artillery Bombardier wants me to be an Amway Rep. Aaaaargh!

I go to the Canadian National Folk Festival. I guess it is nice enough in its own way. But you have to remember that I participated in the Australian National Folk Festival not that long ago. The Canadian National Folk Festival doesn’t seem to attract many people from outside Ottawa. Also, it is all a bit passive. There are performers. You get to sit and listen to them. But there is none of the participation I found in Australia. The performers are great. I pick up some songs. But it isn’t the big event I had hoped for. Alas.

I do go to another odd festival to do with ‘Canadian Heritage’. I don’t know what to expect. There is a group called the ‘Empire Loyalists’. They dress in 18th century costumes and re-enact being beaten by the Americans. At least, that’s what I got out of it. The highlight of the show was the ‘Flying Elvises’. These are a load of Elvis Presley impersonators who do a free-fall parachute display. When they land, they get in formation and do a rendition of ‘Hound Dog’. That is real class. I can get behind an act like that.

Dr Barclay has invited me to join his family to go to the opening event of the Highland Gathering at a place called Glengarry. I’m not a great one for the whole ‘tartanisation’ thing. It reminds me of getting a gift of a tin of Berwick Cockles whenever my Father returned from visiting his family. I think it is all very kitsch. Highland terriers on tartan rugs. Tins of short-bread. “Och-Aye!”

Hilarious Joke:

Q: What is a Kangaroot?

A: A Scotsman stuck in a hole

Ha ha ha ha ha!

However, Dr Barclay is making an effort at hospitality and I cannot refuse. I shouldn’t decline. So, I feign pleasure and go along with them.

Once again, the journey seems to take hours. It is about 100 kilometres from Ottawa. Why is Canada so big?

In the event, the Highland Gathering at Glengarry is a complete hoot. It is such fun that I can hardly bear it. The area around the show-ground is completely full of people engaging in competitive Scottishness. By which, I mean, they are drinking themselves into stupors. Doubtless, in the following days, cabers will be tossed and hammers thrown. All according to the rules of the ancient Highland Tradition. Since 1832. Really, really ancient.

The opening event is actually full of fun. Massed pipe bands from all over the world. Canada, the United States, Australia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, Argentina, Mexico, Germany, Netherlands, China, Nepal, Egypt.

Strangely, not Scotland. But there you go.

For me, the highlight of the evening was watching the local Highland Dancing school. Amongst all the girls, of various ages and levels of gorgeousness, there were some boys. In particular there was one boy. About thirteen, I would guess. A podger. Flabby. Unfit. But game for it. He had a mushroom haircut. And as he danced and as he jumped and jigged and reeled he became more and more unravelled. Shirt-tails and sash akimbo. His hair bouncing around in such an uncontrolled state. While, all around him, everything was in order. I laughed my head off.

When they finished they stood to attention. Judging by the expression on his face, he plainly didn’t want to be there from the first moment.

That’s the way it goes when you are a kid.

In Canada, that is your Scottish heritage. What do I think about that? I have some Scottish blood.

My Dad was a Scotsman. He was born in Berwick, of Scottish heritage. We lived in Hertfordshire. He played cricket. I grew up being English. That is what I am. But these kids in Canada are having to self-identify according to rules I don’t understand.

That kid, apart from participating in unpopular school activities, is trying to be Canadian and Scottish and, I don’t doubt, other things.

I wish him well. It is going to be hard for him. I know that from my own experience.

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