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Memories Items from 2011:
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Retirement Childhood diseases Still alive
opening of the Open University Tulips
Family games Going to
the lake A day in the cellar
A goat named Salome The
psychodelic capital of the world The
teacherage Tricks of memory Bare skin freezes Livng with noise
A close call with anorexia
The man in the little room upstairs
Snow Eclipse and flowers
A broken knee A right-handed Janet
Happy Birthday WWW Simon Northern Lights Being a Toastmaster Totally alone Playing alone
I have frozen my skin twice, both of them close to Christmas/New Year.
The first was when I was about eleven. As part of Christmas in the
village of Lang there was a joint carol singing event in the Lutheran
church. It was one of the few time I was in that church. It was very
different with a high carved wooden pulpit at the top of a staircase. I
had not seen such a thing before. The church was lit by candles and
many people had brought candlesticks including my Mom who brought her
two silver candle holders.
While we were in the church, the temperature dropped. I think it went
to close to 40 below but didn't get so low that the wind died. (In that
part of Saskatchewan in my young years the temperature only went down
to 40-42 below zero, no further, and then it was that cold there was
not a whisper of wind. 37 below with a 30 mile/hour wind felt much
colder.) It was very cold and very windy. I went home alone after my
mother left and I had the candle sticks to carry. Unfortunately I could
not find my mitts, so I set off bare handed with a heavy pieces of
silver in each hand. Our house was just a few streets away. (Actually
Lang was so small that everything was a just few streets away.) The
metal got very cold and just sucked the heat out of my hands: they felt
cold and then painful and then tingly and finally numb. I got home and
I could not set down the candlesticks, my hands were around them and I
couldn't move my hands to free them. I kicked at the door and screamed
but no one came. However Mom heard me from where she was at Grandma's
two doors down the street and came running. I was sat at the table with
the two candlesticks resting on it and I waited until my hands would
move, after a while they were pried off the candlesticks and warmed in
tepid water. I had some spots that looked like bruises and some pains
for a couple of days and then I was OK.
The other time I froze my skin was on New Years day in Regina when I
was a teenager. I walked over to visit my friend Judy. There was a
short cut though a few streets of houses, a park with a bridge over the
Wascana creek, some more park and a few streets of houses. It was
absolutely quiet and I saw no one on the way there. Again it was a lot
colder on the way back. I was well bundled but there was a gap just
above my ankles, about half an inch of bare skin. That little band of
skin froze on the windward side of my leg. The cold wind and a little
drifting snow near the ground did it. This time it was like a sun burn:
red, sore and pealing. It was more than a year before I could not
longer see the band.
Living with noise
A close call with anorexia
When we first went to BC we lived with
a friend's family and our first place was a rented one bedroom flat
in New Westminster because I got a temporary summer job at the
hospital there. The place was OK except for three things: it was
dark, it was noisy and we had no furniture.
I cannot remember where all the wood
was, some combination of floor, ceiling, cupboard doors, but a good
number of surfaces were dark stained wood. The walls were a darkish
colour. We seemed to have the blinds closed a lot and if memory
serves me right this was because the flat was terribly hot with the
sun on the windows, no air conditioning and being on an upper story
where hot air from below accumulated. So we would wear very little
clothing and closed the blinds against the sun. We wandered around in
our underwear in a very dark place.
Our furniture was a foam mattress and a
collection of books. Every once in a while we would take the bus to
the library, return a sack of books and then borrow a similar amount.
First we would pick a couple that we actually wanted to read and then
we would pick out big ones to use as little sitting stools and tables
to eat, type etc. on. I think some library staff must have thought we
had weird interests. I remember one of our favorite tables was a book
on ship design. In the next place we lived we built some furniture
but not in this one.
But it was the noise ruled our lives.
With the windows closed and the blinds down it was still deafening.
Below the apartment block was a busy road (come highway), beyond that
was a railway yard, beyond that was a saw mill on the banks of the
Frazer River and then there was the wide river. All three - road,
railway and saw mill - were themselves extremely noisy. From low
drumming noises, through all sorts of roars and bangs, to sirens and
incessant squeals. It was 24-7 wall-of-sound type noise (without the
Once there was a long holiday weekend.
The big trucks stop storming through and the car traffic thinned. The
railway shunting almost stopped. The saw mill stopped working for the
only time when we were there. There was almost a normal amount of
urban noisy. And what could we hear? Out in the Frazer was a bouy
with a great bell on it, ringing like a church bell. We had never
known there was a bell out in the river but the sound was so very
familiar that we knew it had been ringing all the time but we just
never identified the sound above the din.
I lived by myself for a while when I
was just 16. It started with my cousin Marjorie and I living together
in a rented room and starting Grade 10 in Regina. But her parents
decided to take her with them when they went to the States. That left
me alone in the rented room. I was quite happy there but I ate less
and less as time went on. I lived on sunflower seeds which I ate one
at a time while studying. Every once in a while, once or twice a
week, I would have a hamburger or something like that. (I now know
that sunflower seeds can be a appetite suppressant but I didn't
notice it then.) Every so often I took the bus to visit Mon in
Waverley. I ate when I was there but Mom became worried about how
uninterested in food I was. I had earned the nickname 'Lanky' at
school. But I was not trying to be thinner.
Once I arrived at Mom's and she looked
at me and said, “You look like you have some incurable tropical
disease!” I was moved to Aunt Marjorie's. As I remember it, my feet
hardly touched the ground. I was feed regularly and I ate. (I now
know that had I gone past some point in losing weight I may have got
trapped into not wanting to eat.)
None of us (me, Mom, Aunt Marjorie)
knew about anorexia – it was not a known condition back in those
days. When I encountered it in the press years later, I realized that
I was for a short time an anorexic and was extremely lucky to have
escaped before it hurt me. It can actually kill people.
I just learned that there are web sites
that promote anorexia!! 'It can be a helpless and heartbreaking
situation for families as they try to confront a family member with
an eating disorder. What they may not know is that there's a society
on the Internet that is dedicated to thwarting any recovery from this
dangerous and possibly fatal behavior.'
The next year Mom moved to Regina and I
was back living with her. Eating problems aside, I think it did me
good to have a short spell of living by myself. (I now know that one
way people learn complex things is to be exposed to them and then to
be exposed to how others handle the complex things. Until you have
tried to do something it is hard to learn from watching others.) A
short period, short of three months, of having to deal with money,
time, safety, housekeeping and the like on my lonesome, made it much
easier to learn how I wanted to live from watching others and to grow
The man in the little room upstairs
When I was first in England in the early '60s, we lived
in Coventry and I asked people we met where I could get a lab job.
Most answered Courtalds and so off I went and got a job in the
Viscose Rayon Research lab at Courtalds. I worked in the Factory
Troubleshooting section. There were 6 chemists and me. When a factory
had a problem, a couple of chemists would go to the factory to sort
it out. Everyone had a research project that they worked on when they
were not dealing with a factory. I didn't go to factories and did
have some projects but my main duty was to do experiments for the
chemists at factories to test their hypotheses. They would phone and
tell me what they needed answers to and we would discuss the
experiments that would probably give them answers, then I would do
the work and phone them back. Sometimes when there was a run on
factories, I would be the only person in our section. I did
everything, did it well and all the chemists were very pleased with
my work and said so.
It came the time for the annual rises.
I got a shilling a week rise; I was livid. My boss went to see the
'man in the little room upstairs' as he was called and got me another
sixpence. My boss had been shown the graphs and charts that were used
to fix everyones wages and where I fell on all of them. The man had a
discretion of sixpence and he had used it. It was the best my boss
could get me. So I went to see the man.
He showed me a chart that showed the
range of male and female worker's salaries. I asked why the
difference. Women get pregnant and leave – but I have no ovaries.
Women cannot do heavy work – but I lift the stainless steel buckets
of viscose. Women do not go to the pilot plant or through the tunnels
– but I get samples from the plant, the tunnels and the spinning
sheds. After a while the man ran out of reasons. He brought out
another chart for age. I objected to it being the female chart for
age and so he agreed to use the male one. Why did my age matter? He
could think of no reason except maybe it was how much experience of
work I had. So the next day I brought a sheet with the jobs I had had
in Canada and what my duties were. We finally agreed on an
appropriate age for my experience. Then came my lack of education.
The man pointed out that I had no qualifications. I said I had the
same amount of education as half the chemists. Some had university
degrees but most had tech college diplomas. I had the equivalent of
those diplomas. Next day back with my education papers. He agreed to
the diploma equivalent. Then it turned out that I was classed as a
trainee. I pointed out that I was a trainee for about two months. I
had read all the the research reports – many on my own time. I had
done almost all the technics the chemists did. I work unsupervised
often. Would he like to ask me some questions about the chemistry of
viscose. No, just describe the process for me – so I did in great
The man asked how ten shillings sounded
and I said fine for this year but I expected a substantial rise next
year. The man smiled for the first time and said that he might have a
special chart next year just for pushy Canadians.
Before the third rise, I moved to Courtald's Acetate Research lab, a
sister lab down the road, for a larger salary then I would have
got from the man upstairs.
Here is a email I sent to a young girl called Kitty who was dealing
with the unusual amount of snow in the UK.
One year when I was about your age we had an early Easter and a late
winter. On the days, probably 2 or 3, before the holiday there was a
blizzard. A blizzard is a strong, strong wind that occurs when it is
snowing or when there is lots of snow on the ground. The wind blows the
snow around so that you cannot see. For a blizzard to last a long while
it has to either have snow falling for a long time or the speed of the
has to keep rising for a long time (so that it can pick up snow again
that it has already blown into hard drifts). When a good long blizzard
is over there are deep drifts that are hard enough that you can walk on
them and not make foot prints. The drifts also have weird shapes. They
are like frozen waves with spectacular overhangs at the edges. Anyway,
this was that sort of blizzard and so when the holiday started, the sun
shone on a great place to play. The sun was bright (it was into spring
time and it glinted off the packed snow. I played out all day and woke
up the next morning with a sun burn on my face (the only uncovered part
of me when I was out) and with trouble seeing clearly. My face peeled
and my sight cleared but I will not forget how surprised I was to have
a sun burn from the snow. I learned that I could have been blinded if
had had a lot more of that sun shining off the snow – its called 'snow
We used to play out for hours in really cold weather. So we were
dressed for it. I had three layers of clothes: normal slacks and
sweater and socks, another set of the same, and then a pair of snow
pants, parka and snow boots. Also gloves, then mitts, then snow mitts.
On the head a wool hat, the hood of the parka and a big scarf wrapped
around the head and neck. The layers were overlapped like the first
sock going under the pant legs and the next over the pant legs etc. The
idea was that there should be no place for the snow to sneak in.
Children walked around like people in diving suits or space suits. The
joke was that if a kid fell down they could not get up again and had to
roll home. There was only once that I remember that the system broke
down. I was a bit older than you are now but not much. There had been
lots of powdery snow. A bunch of friends decided to make the
tobogganing more fun and we got someone to drive us and our toboggans
to a local gravel pit with steep long slopes. We tried various slopes
and finally we got the courage to take the biggest toboggan with about
6 of us piled on it down the really steep side. We went faster then we
were expecting and we failed to slow the toboggan at the bottom. All I
remember was that the toboggan broken, we were thrown every which way
and buried in the snow so that we had to dig ourselves out. No one was
hurt at all but we had to go home immediately because the snow had got
through all our clothing layers to skin.
When I was 5, in June before my brother was born and I started school,
my parents woke me up very early in the morning to get dressed and go
to see the eclipse. I was told that the next time there would be a
total eclipse over Saskatchewan would be in 2000 and something. I
figured I would be very old then, probably dead so I was happy to go.
Dad drove south, almost to the American border, to get right under the
path of the eclipse. It took some time. I have no idea where Dad got
the information of where to go – maybe from the radio. When we got to
the right place we parked by the road and waited.
We got the full show, the shadow coming over the sun, complete
darkness, diamond ring, pearls, all through dark glass. I don't know
where that came from either. It wasn't in the house before or after our
This is one of the clearest memories of my young years. So exciting, so
beautiful, so unique. It is probably as clear as it is because it has
been reinforced by photographs of eclipses over many years. Those
pictures look very similar. One part that I am sure of (sure as I can
be about a memory) is the diamond ring. What I was seeing was a black
disk with a red glow around it and Dad said now keep the dark glass up
because any minute there will be a very bright diamond. And there was.
Another trip that we took around that time. I don't remember my brother
being there but he may have been there and a small baby. We drove to
the dirt hills and had a picnic. I don't remember any other picnic of
just our own little family (picnics were big family affairs). I
entertained myself picking cactus plants and putting them in the truck
of the car. When we got home, Dad threw them out of the car into the
yard. There were cactus shattered all around and that night it rained.
In the morning all the cacti were blooming. Again exciting, beautiful
and unique. Such a surprise.
In my memory of childhood, gardens were BIG and important. My mother's
garden was a plot between the yard where clothes dried and children
played on the east, the railway on the south, a dugout and field on the
west, and another dugout and the same field on the north. It was well
fenced to keep the chickrens and jack rabbits out. For many years
before and after I started school, it was my job to keep the whole
space weed-free. The currency for special treats was a cardboard box
filled with weeds. I hoed between rows and hand picked the weeds on my
knees from amongst the little plants. That patch of ground grew the
bulk of the vegetable we ate except for peas which overflowed into a
field. Dad had a modified seed drill and took a pass up and down one
side of a field sowing 14 rows of peas. Those peas were for canning,
the ones in the garden we picked and eaten much younger. A big part of
the garden was sweet corn and another big patch was potatoes. The corn
was mostly canned and the potatoes where put in a great pit-come-mount
in a corner of the garden and in sacks in the cellar. Carrots, turnips,
cabbages and the like also when in sacks in the cellar. The cellar
was lined floor to celling on all the walls with mason jars.
They were mostly vegetables but also fruit (bought in bulk in the fall
and canned), saskatoon berries, pickles, jams, root beer and pumpkin
pie filling. When I was very young there was also mason jars of canned
chicken and hanging ham and bacon in the cellar. Sometime around the
end of September, the garden was empty and the cellar was full. I did
some of the harvesting and loved it. Clamped potatoes, the perennial
rhubarb and asparagus, and the unpicked parsnips were all that was
left. But until the snow fell, I was still responsible to make sure no
weed dared to grow.
Our garden was open to the prairie winds, but Aunt Elizabeth's garden
was just as big and surrounded by trees. It was a lovely place. So was
Grandma Wight's garden on section 28. I was not really allowing into
Grandma's garden when I was very young and by the time I would have
been allowed, it was gone. In Yellowgrass where they had moved, it was
Grandpa's not Grandma's garden. He worked in some part of the garden
most days in the summer. It had so many plants I had not seen before,
planted by the previous owner who was English. And it had a vegetable
garden that was big enough but not the size of a farm garden. In the
lawn there were patches on clover and one patch often had a sprinkling
of four-leafed springs. Any time you looked hard enough, there was a
chance that you could find one. There was also a grape vine that
sometimes had tiny grapes – that was really weird for Saskatchewan.
I never had a garden of my own until I was back in Sask and living in
the White City house. When I started weeding it, I remembered my
childhood weeding and felt a nice sort of contentment.
When I think of being in a panic there are a few times -
although I am in the panicky person.
The earliest I remember was on a trip to Regina. We were
in a big crowded department store, probably Xmas shopping. I could not
see where I was going,
being shorter than all the people around. I had a-hold of Mom's fur
coat and followed along. At some point I must have changed coats
because the lady in the coat looked at me and she was not Mom. Panic. I
have no memory of what happened next but I guess I yelled and Mom was
not far away and got me attached again to the right coat.
When I was quite young my Grandma Barmby broke her hip.
She was confined to bed and so a bed was arrange in our living room at
the farm. I don't know how long she was there – I would guess the usual
6 weeks to heal a bone. Mom looked after her as far as washing and
toilet and so on was concerned, but I ran errands for her. She would
call and I would go and see what she wanted.
One day Mom was out somewhere in the yard and Grandma
called. She was sitting on the edge of the bed which alarmed me. She
wanted me to bring a chair. I had never disobeyed her so I brought a
chair. She had a plan for how to get out of bed and stand which
involved using the back of the chair for support and she wanted me to
hold the chair down and steady while she did it. The bed was an old
hospital type that they had borrow from somewhere so sitting on the
edge of the bed her toes just touched the floor and it was not that
hard for her to stand holding on to the chair back. It all went well.
She had thought it out well.
Then a panic struck me. I thought if Mom comes back and
sees Grandma standing, she will blame me, lose her temper and I'll be
in very deep trouble. Grandma was in no hurry to get back into bed, she
was serene. I was rigid with fright.
What is odd about this memory is that I cannot remember
what happened next. Mom can't have come back while Grandma was out of
bed – I would definitely have remembered that. I assume that Grandma
got back into bed as smoothly as she got out and I recovered from my
panic to find her safely back in bed.
Her standing did her no harm. I remember watching
carefully to see if there were any signs of trouble for days. Actually
she probably had a good idea of what was best for her and it did her
Another time I do remember what happened. We had turkeys
on the farm and I was frightened of them when I was young. George was
very young and I had put him in my little wagon and was pulling him
around the yard. Suddenly the turkeys ran towards us and surrounded us.
I let go of the wagon and soon I could not see George. I panicked and
thought the turkeys would eat George. I ran screaming to the house to
tell Mom that the turkeys had George. She came. I could not see George,
just a clump of globbling turkeys. Mom went into the group and brought
out George and the wagon. What got me was that he was not a bit scared,
he was smiling at the turkeys. He was entertained!
Fear is one thing but sheer panic is another. I have been
afraid many, many times as an adult but only panicked twice that I
remember. Once I had a sort of panic attack with no reason that I could
find. I was so panicked that I could not speak to tell Harry. And it
disappeared after a short while – again for no reason I could see.
Another adult panic happened once when I took some drugs.
A broken knee
When we were in Africa, as the last photographic
involvement in the Safara Rally, we were going to take some pictures of
the winning car in the Ngong hills. The rally-fitted car fooled Harry
and it became airborne in a corner. We had an accident. I got a crack
on the head and a broken knee.
The surgeon in the Nairobi Hospital decided that he would not put a
cast on the leg because that would make the knee freeze and never move
again. Instead I was to not put any weight on it at all for 6 weeks and
do exercises with it everyday that a physio nurse taught me.
Harry built me a little floor-level scooter that I could
get around the house on. We put everything I needed within reach from
the floor and got rid of the dog temporarily. We hired a nice African
women to look after the house and me while Harry was at work.
It worked, my knee did not freeze but it was not good
immediately. When I was told that the break had healed and I could now
stand on that leg – I assumed that I could. But my ankle would not take
weight. The bones had shrunk and it was like a bag of marbles. I found
that if I shook the ankle and then tried to put weight on it, I would
eventually shake the bones into their right places and the ankle would
work. But the next time I wanted to stand it would be the same need to
shake until right. Over time it took less shaking. And even though I
had bent the knee a little bit every day while on my back, it turned
out that I could not bend it enough to walk. So starting with a crutch
and then a cane I got to walk. Sitting in hot baths I got the knee to
bend more and more. After about a month or two I was walking normally
without a cane or pain. I still had to shake either the ankle or the
knee occasionally to get the bones to sitting right. (Years later I got
arthritis in both knees.) But at that time it looked like I had got
away without any after effects at all.
I was still with Harry too. His apprentices took him aside
the pointed out that he did not need to keep me for his wife. I could
not have children and I could not walk. What use was such a wife? No
one would keep such a useless wife.
A right-handed Janet
I been thinking of something that
happened when I was young, about 11. My left hand was hurt and
wrapped tightly – not of any use until it healed. I remember my
shock when I was told that I would still have to go to school and if
I had to write something at school, I would have to do it with my
right hand. It was about 2 weeks before I could write with my left
hand. That was long enough for me to learn to write with my right
hand. My writing was slow (and resentful – why was I going to
school anyway?) but it could be read. That was the one and only time
in my life that I was effectively right handed.
(An aside: my cousin Hughie was at that
time trying to decide which hand to use. He decided to use his left
for a while. His mother, Aunt Bea, was ambidextrous so
she did different things with different hands. I think that is why
Hughie always seemed to be choosing which hand to use. I remember
once at our table doing something for school and I using my right
while Hughie was using his left; it seemed a bit weird and not
necessary for either of us.)
(Another aside: Grandpa
Wight called my brother George ambisinister or left handed in both
hands. I am glad that George never really got the joke.)
Back to me as a
right-hander. It was within a year or so that Dad died and I went to
stay with Grandma and Grandma Wight in Yellowgrass. I was soon in
Jerry Smith's grade 7 class and actually learning how to sort of read
and spell. There was still no word in anyone's vocabulary for my
dyslexia but it was on the road to being dealt with.
A couple of years
ago it stuck me that the short period of righthandedness might have
had something to do with the change of fortune as well as the many
hours of coaching from Jerry Smith.
(Final aside: My memory of Jerry Smith
has become a little dim – he was young and probably this was his
first teaching job; he walked and talked with great energy; he taught
us to sing and dance and put on a good Xmas show; he was great with
visual art too; he never wore a hat even in the coldest weather; he
did not like being called Mr. Smith, I spent an hour with him every day
for a year learning to read and spell - such a patient man.)
Happy Birthday WWW
The World Wide Web is 20 years old this
month; the first web page was put up at CERN on August 6 1991 by Tim
Berners-Lee. The Internet existed before that, way back to the '70 in various forms and names, but very few people know about
Some time in the mid 90s, I first
became aware of there being something out there when a new employee,
Darren, in our lab's computer group started agitating for access to
something, that none of us had heard of. He explained about this hook
up of NASA, and a bunch of universities etc. He was turned down flat
by our bosses. After a couple of years many in the lab including me
were asking for an internet connection. We got one via the University
of Regina but it was available on only one computer. The 100 or so
people in the lab could ask the one person with the computer hookup,
the lab's 'librarian', to look things up for them. In a couple of years,
the Health Dept. had its own address and a lot of people could access
How fast all this happened. A friend
and I would laugh at how we had not taken Darren seriously and how
right he was that an internet connection was vital. We felt a bit
sheepish about it. Actually I still do.
When I was 13 or so I first got to know
the shy neighbour boys one house down from the Rae St home of my
cousins. Later I lived on Rae St, first with my aunt and uncle and
then with my parents. I was a little older than Simon and never in
the same grade but he was a friend with many shared interests and we
both belonged to the CCF Youth. Many hours were spent with Simon and
other mutual friends in discussions.
One of the funniest memories of Simon
was at a time when he was trying desperately to look and sound older
than he was, a 16 year old trying to be taken for 25ish. This lasted
for a few months and was amusing, even to Simon. He took to smoking a
pipe to look like a serious, intellectual adult. But he really didn't
like the pipe and so he would light it, take a few puffs and then
hold it as far away from his face as possible. One day a bunch of us
were in a cafe having coffee (the old Nova if my memory is right).
Simon lit the pipe and because of the crowded table was holding it
sort of behind his ear. The owner of the cafe came and asked him to
move the pipe because he was burning the plastic plants that
separated the booths. I think that was the end of the pipe and we
were back to the relaxed and natural Simon.
I remember him with fondness although I had not seen him since about 1960. I don't remember him ever wanting
to be anything but a politician.
Globe and Mail report by Alan
Simon de Jong was the wild card of
left-wing politics in Canada, the first member of Parliament to raise
the spectre of global warming in the House of Commons 28 years ago.
He was also a committed environmentalist who in 1981 exposed the
spraying of the toxic defoliant Agent Orange by the U.S. military in
A radical student activist in
Saskatchewan during the 1960s, de Jong went on to be elected an NDP
member of Parliament in the 70s and served his Regina-Qu’Appelle
constituents for 17 years. In 1989 he sought the NDP leadership, but
lost to Audrey McLaughlin.
He was 69 when he died of leukemia in
Vancouver on Aug 18.
“Intellectually, Simon was very
serious, but sometimes he was politically naive and unpredictable,”
said Ed Broadbent, who led the New Democrats between 1975 and 1989.
“He took his politics very, very seriously, but he could go off on
tangents that left many in the NDP caucus quite frankly befuddled.”
Audrey McLaughlin remembers de Jong as
a free spirited MP who fought for what he believed.
“He was always wired for sound, which
was funny in some ways, and sad and naive in other ways, but he was
never acrimonious,” said McLaughlin, who followed Broadbent as
leader. “He expressed his views, but he was never sanctimonious.
That wasn’t him at all. He was a good debater. He had a riotous,
carefree life in the sixties and he brought that joie de vivre to
Simon Leendert de Jong was born in
Surabaya, Java, one of the Indonesian islands in April, 1942. His
father, a Dutch engineer, was with the Java-China-Japan shipping line
and had been taken captive by the Japanese.
Shortly before Simon was born, the
Japanese occupied Java and for the next three years he and his
mother, Dirkje, and his older brother, Hielke, were held as prisoners
of war in an abandoned convent. Of 3,000 women and children who were
incarcerated by the Japanese during the occupation, only a third
The family were reunited after the war
and returned to the Netherlands. They came to Canada in 1951, and
Simon spent his formative years in Regina.
As head of the student union at the
newly created University of Regina, where he was taking social
science, he wrote a constitution in 1964 that empowered students and
sparked campus unrest. A key feature of the constitution was to have
the union incorporated under the societies act, which gave it
independent status within the university and the authority to own
property, issue debentures and borrow money.
During de Jong’s tenure, the
university became known as the USSR – The University of Southern
Saskatchewan, Regina. He served as president of the CCF youth wing,
dabbled as a painter and ran an art studio. He also experimented with
LSD to raise his consciousness. In 1969 he moved to Vancouver where
he became a community organizer with The Greater Vancouver Youth
Communications Center Society, better known as Cool Aid.
“He really was taken with Tommy
Douglas’s idea of a New Jerusalem, the idea that there was a
better, more co-operative society possible, said long-time friend and
folk singer, Bob Bossin. “As a refugee he learned from the very
beginning to share, to rely on community. He genuinely liked people,
pretty much everybody, no matter what their politics.
“In all his different pursuits –
artist, street organizer, Member of Parliament and mystic – he was
absolutely consistent. He always tried to raise people’s awareness
- politically, environmentally, cosmically. He believed in his bones
that the more aware we become, the better we become and the better
world we can make.”
De Jong went back to Regina in 1975
where he opened Gretta’s, a restaurant, and forged his way back
into politics. He was first elected to Parliament in 1979, and won
five consecutive elections until he stepped down, undefeated, in
As Heritage critic he once railed
against Canada Post for issuing a stamp to commemorate the 25th
anniversary of Disneyland. “We are losing our identity,” he
argued. “We as a country are promoting a foreign, privately owned
institution, a privately owned theme park, and we are promoting it on
Among his most satisfying moments as an
MP, he said, was getting Parliament to send a message of condolence
to Yoko Ono when John Lennon was assassinated in 1980 and delivering
a speech on disarmament to the United Nations in 1982.
Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae, who
will be delivering a eulogy at a memorial in Vancouver on Monday,
Sept. 12, said de Jong was “a remarkable guy, very innovative, very
free ranging, a very strong parliamentarian, and not the least bit
De Jong sought the leadership of the
NDP in 1989, but finished fourth to McLaughlin. The leadership
convention proved to be personally embarrassing because he was caught
making unguarded remarks into a live CBC microphone that he forgot he
was wearing. During some intense deal-making among the candidates, de
Jong was overheard asking his mother: “Mommy, what should I do?”
After he left Parliament he moved to
California, spent time in Brazil, then returned to live in British
Columbia. Shortly before he died, he was asked what he would do if he
was in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s shoes. “It’s a bit
facetious, but take LSD,” he said. “See some bigger pictures.”
His two brief marriages ended in
divorce. He leaves his other life partners, Wanda Mang, the mother of
his twin sons, Justin and Micah, and Cheryl Anderson.
A memorial service will be held in
Regina on Sept. 24 and in Vancouver on Sept 12.
I once saw perfect northern lights. It
would have been sometime around 1950. The magnetic pole was about
half the distance from southern Saskatchewan compared to where it is
now, and starting its run for Siberia. It would have been just on the
edge of mainland Canada heading for the arctic islands. Also, the
time was probably near a sunspot maximum too but I cannot confirm
that because I can't pinpoint the year. I have not seen anything like
that display before or since.
There was a large clear spot near the
top of the sky but off center. Stars were visible in that circle
against a dark sky. From edge of that circle there was something like
a curtain of light hanging all the way to the ground. The whitish, blue
and green curtain moved like it was in a breeze and it completely
surrounded the whole sky in all directions. At the very bottom there
was red light like a curtain lining that showed as the curtain moved.
It was so perfect that I got down on
the snow, on my back, to look up at it. After a while it started to
fade and become just patches of light, bits of moving curtain, coming
and going. And pretty soon there was just one patch in the north –
it was now ordinary northern lights. There must have been a very
strong solar storm that night.
Of course it may be more perfect in my
memory that it really was. But on the other hand, it impressed me as
perfect at the time, not in hindsight. And I was surprised at the
time by the form it took. It was only much later that the form made
any sense to me because I was a lot older before I had any idea of
how the lights are made. Now we see the lights from above in pictures
from satellites. But then I knew nothing of our magnetic shield and
particles spiraling down magnetic lines of force into our atmosphere.
Being a Toastmaster
In the late 1980s I joined a
Toastmasters club and it was one of the best things I have done for
myself. It was part of coming out as a dyslexic. I was finally
telling people outside my immediate family. Friends and workmates
didn't know and especially employers didn't. I decided to tell people
and even joke about it. After years of concentrating of written
language, it was time to luxuriate in oral language. I didn't expect
to find a group I loved so much. I ended up belonging to three clubs
and occasionally visiting three others.
The first thing I learned was how
welcoming, helpful and supportive Toastmasters were to each other and
visitors. I soon noticed that almost everyone had interesting things
to say. I was surprised – people who were not particularly
interesting to have a coffee with or chat with in passing, turned out
to have amazing things to say and stories to tell once they were
doing an actual speech. Not only that but most people are really
creative. My opinion of mankind rose significantly.
The aim started as just having some fun
doing public speaking. I was not afraid of it, as most people are, so
I did not need much help overcoming fear. I had (and carefully kept)
just enough fear for a mild adrenalin buzz. I had a regular 'fix' on
Wednesday noon that divided the week in two halves in a way I valued.
After two and a half days, my enthusiasm for work had often dropped a
bit. After the hour at the Toastmasters Club, I was filled with
energy and enthusiasm, enough for the next two and a half days.
I learned a lot about things I did not
expect to be learning. For example, to help other speakers, it is
extremely important to give honest appreciations of their speaking,
clearly stating what you think they did well and what they did
poorly. But at the same time it is also very important to have a
positive effect on the speaker and protect their self-esteem. I never
stopped learning how to walk that tight rope better – to become
ever more encouraging and ever more honest.
Leaving Canada I left Toastmasters. All
good things end. Back to writing.
Back in the old days when law-abiding
people did drink and drive, Christmas parties at work involved a lot
of drinking. Harry and I worked across the road from one another in
Coventry. Christmas eve I got a phone call from him to ask if we were
drinking yet – just started. And what we were drinking – sherry.
He asked me to go easy because their party was underway and full of
vodka. I would have to drive home on my learners permit.
And so well after dark and the town
full of people going home from their parties, I started out. Everyone
was a bit tipsy (it reminded me of Paris at the end of lunch). Harry
was beside me making encouraging noises. All went well. We crawled
along full streets, stopping and going. Finally we got to a street
leading to the road out to our small town. The traffic was a little
lighter and Harry was silent, so all was well.
I came up behind a man on a bicycle but
could not pass him. He was very drunk, weaving about the whole of our
side of the road and a little of the other side too. He was
unpredictable. Every time I thought I had a chance to pass him, he
moved in front of me. I thought that my turn-off was soon and I would
loss him. No, he was going the same way.
By this time we were out in the country
and I was still crawling along behind a cyclist. But I assumed that it
was OK because Harry was not giving me directions and he would if I
was doing something wrong. Then all of a sudden he said with some
alarm, “watch out, you're coming up on a cyclist!”. And I
thought, “I'm alone, totally alone!”. We got home eventually.
I notice again and again how dependent modern children are. It is not
their fault nor their parents or teachers. It is just that there are
fewer and fewer places where children can be safely alone. When I was
young I played outside much of time, some of the time with cousins but
more often alone. I had a range of about three quarters of a mile, more
once I had a bike. I played on the railway but not on the highway. I
knew I was not to go near dugouts and never did. I could play in the
workshop with the tools, on the farm machinery, up in the hay loft and
make, built, pretend more or less anywhere. There was a swing,
teeter-toter, and sand box close to the house and I played there too,
especially after I had a little brother.
There was a lady down the road that I visited many times, she would
give me a cookie and talk with me. That house had many crickets and
they made quite a loud chorus; they were one of the attractions. I
mentioned my visits there to my Mom when I came back and she said that
she had never known that I went there. That may be right or she may
have forgotten. But in any case, I would not have thought it important
to tell her at the time.
A lot of time was spent up in the hay loft. There were often feral cats
living there. Dad said that they stayed until they ran out of mice and
then they moved on to another barn. They had a circle of farms they
visited. When they had kittens I would go up and stay perfectly still
sitting in the hay. After a while the cats and kittens came out and
went about their business paying no attention to me. It was very
There was a little patch of trees, a wind-brake for the house, that was
a great place to play. The trees had frozen in their early years and
grown up from the roots so they had many trucks and there was thick
undergrowth. Mom had made me an Indian dress – an old burlap bag with a
head and two arm holes with some beads sewn on and fringe at the
bottom. I could put it on over my normal cloths and be an Indian in the
Occasionally a child (my brother once and a cousin or two and some
unrelated kids) would take it into their heads to go somewhere (like
Grandpa's house or an Uncle's) alone and without telling anyone.
They would set out and get 10 or 12 miles away before anyone noticed. I
never did that sort of thing but I do not remember any panic from
parents – irritation and amusement depending on the event is what I
remember. On the flat prairie, it was not difficult to find a lone
Where can children go today to just play and run and wander to their heart's content?