Balls off of a brass monkey

The trouble with winter is that it outstays its welcome. A little snow around Xmas and then cool temperatures through until March would be nice. Alas, living in Canada, this is not a possibility. We’ve been having a cold snap of late. Not frightfully cold but -20 has been kicking around with wind chills dropping as low as -43. When the weather forecast calls for -14 and that’s a warming trend then the cold has been around too long. We get a small break tomorrow with the temperature climbing to -9 by mid afternoon but then it’s back to -15 overnight.

The ski hills have been able to produce a lot of snow during this time which is a good thing as the high school ski trip is coming up. Our daughter is about as physically active as the average sloth, I mean no disrespect to sloths, so her engagement in the occasional skiing foray is not to be taken lightly. Anything which involves getting out into fresh air is encouraged.

You can rent skis, boots and polls but not pants. This weekend we are going to have to find her some ski pants. I don’t know if second hand clothing stores sell ski pants but I’m going to find out. The weekend after that she will be off on the slopes of Mont Ste. Anne forgetting to take pictures.

Posted in General | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Adding insult

I am in the process of leaving the 30 year plus relationship with TD Canada Trust for the Royal Bank of Canada and if I had any doubts about that action they were removed with this month’s credit card statement. The last time I talked to TD they said they were going to reverse the charge they levied for giving me back my own money (I had overpaid my credit card bill) but as it turns out they seem to have had a change of heart.

January Visa Statement.

January Visa Statement.

Is it any wonder I am changing banks? I’m certain I can be serviced in a way I prefer (and yes I mean that in farming terms) by another institution.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Black Dog

I read a review of a collection of short stories today and must confess that I have no idea what the reviewer was talking about. It seems there is a whole style of short story and story telling out there which critics expect, or don’t want, I wasn’t clear which. I find it funny and scary at the same time that I’ve finally given up on caring what anyone wants to read to write what I want to write to find that I am obsolete before getting out of the gate. No matter really, I’m still going to write what I want to. Here is the beginning of the new story entitled Black Dog.

The bedroom wall shuddered as the door closed. The hard sound penetrated his sleep. He always felt the door close. It was an oak door painted burgundy and marked with boot scuffs and furniture knocks scarring the once smooth surface. The door had an octagonal window high up in the center of it. The window was coated with heavy frost most of the winter. The weather stripping on the door frame had worn to non existence and offered no cushioning when the door was close with determination. Harmon lay still in his bed, his eyes closed, ears sharp to the heavy footsteps which came after the door closed. His father was home.

His father being home put him on guard. Which father would be home? Angry father? Playful father? Happy father? Spiteful father? The father who wanted to talk? The one father wanted silence? He listened to hear anything his mother or father might say for a clue.

“Oh, no. You didn’t Barn.” His mother’s voice wasn’t quite upset and it wasn’t quite happy. Harmon tried to imagine what his father had done.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Crisis? What crisis?

Oil has played a strange roll in my life and in the life of many people born between 1960 and 1965. A thin sliver of end days Baby Boomers and first year GenXers. Oil has been the bane of our existence in many ways but hit us first and hardest in 1980. All of us were graduating from high school into one of the biggest recessions of our lives. Back in the day the emphasis on hiring was on experience and unemployment in Quebec remained in double digits for the next twenty years sometimes going as high as 14%. That was general unemployment not youth unemployment which traditionally is about twice the rate of general unemployment.

Other than my friend Richard, who is a teacher, I know no one who ever worked in their chosen field. When we got out of school you scrambled to take what you could get to put food on the table and the wages sucked. By the time things started to turn around another tectonic shift had taken place in the job market, namely computers, and employers were turning more to inexperienced but tech savvy grads to fill new positions.

Every generation has to deal with something and I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with bullets or bombs but that doesn’t mean what I have was handed to me on a silver platter either.

These days oil continues to have an affect on my life. About a year ago I enrolled in a teach yourself Power Engineering program at NAIT. I chose NAIT because the program was in Alberta which meant that eventually I could write a certification exam in Alberta. Having Power Engineering certification in the oil patch isn’t a guarantee of a job but it makes finding work much easier than having a B.A. in English Lit and twenty years of computer tech experience does. All this effort to move to Alberta centers on one person: Donna. She is there which means my future is there. It is that simple and that complicated.

The price of oil in the middle of the summer was brutal and the price at the gas pumps was as well. The one upside I would think about while filling the tank was that as long as the price is high then the oil sands will be producing and there will be work when I get there. That’s how a blue collar man thinks. Life is always a trade off of some kind. Then Saudi Arabia decided to make a grab for a larger share of the Asian market and the price of oil started to fall and it kept falling. Husky pulled 3.5 billion out of Alberta, Suncor is pulling out 2 billion and laying off 1000 employees, BP is relocating 300 employees and the Conference Board of Canada has made it clear Alberta is headed for a major recession which will hit by the end of this year. For a working man the word recession means one thing: there are more workers than there are jobs. For employers that survive the pool of available talent will grow and those in the pool will be willing to take less money. For the working class who are just now starting to recover from the banking debacle that threw so many out of work in 2009 it means going back to treading water instead of getting out onto shore.

Brilliant.

For me? I have no idea. I’ve been following the Alberta jobs market for the last year. Edmonton is a little better insulated from the coming crunch than Calgary and Fort McMurray but no one is immune.

I am moving to Donna, not to a career or a job per se but the idea of not being able to find work is scary. No one wants to be unemployed.

The trouble with choices is that you have to make them, they are never easy and you never know if you are making the right one.

The good thing about choices is that regardless of the ones you make they almost always work out in the long run.

I’m still moving to Donna, I’m just a little more nervous about it than I was before.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Moving day

Our son is moving today which naturally means he put absolutely no prep into getting stuff ready to move. He’s only moving to downtown Montreal so there isn’t that much effort that is needed but there does seem to be a disconnect between the idea of “moving out” and the actual “moving out”. At twenty it is not too early to move out though it is a bit rare these days. Our house will probably be a backstop for him while we still own it but it is good that he is getting out now. Learning how to live on your own, or with a roommate, is a process. In his case he will be living with a roommate and only about half a kilometer from school. He’ll have our house to return to if things go south for another eighteen months or so (maybe longer if the economy really tanks).

Anyone who remembers getting out on their own remembers that there wasn’t much fear but there wasn’t much forethought either. Toilet paper, toothpaste, detergent and a myriad of other things taken for granted at home could throw a spanner in the works at any moment. Counting change to figure out what to buy for supper, if supper were possible at all. Ah, memories.

Student life at university is meant to be an education and education can’t only be about what happens in the classroom. Our son has a good head on his shoulders most of the time so with luck this will go well. Either way it will be a learning experience.

Posted in General | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Moving banks – Oi!

I am in the process of switching banks from TD Canada Trust, whom I no longer trust, to RBC.

More than one of my friends has observed that this is a little like jumping out of the frying pan into the frying pan.

The amount of animosity a bank has to build up in someone in order to sufficiently motivate them into changing banks is huge but the TD Canada Trust put in the extra effort over the years and timed the pièce de résistance in a way that would have made Balanchine envious. Moving banks is not for anyone who lacks patience or resolve both are needed in abundance. The following things need to be taken care of.

Direct deposit from employer needs to be changed – this can take two to three pay cycles.

Direct deposits from the Quebec and Canadian governments have to be changed – no idea how long this will take.

Direct payments to the Quebec and Canadian governments (licenses etc) have to be changed.

Credit card has to be changed.

Get new credit cards for the kids.

Life Insurance direct withdrawals have to be changed.

Registered Educational Savings Plan withdrawals have to be changed.

Mortgage payment withdrawals have to be changed.

Investments held at TD – TD Canada Trust and TD Waterhouse have to be moved to RBC and Dominion Securities.

Any outstanding cheques, post dated, have to be honoured. So either I will have to keep the account open until the end of the month or reissue the cheques when a new batch of cheques from RBC arrive.

Set up online payments for television, phone and electricity.

All of this is time consuming because it has to be. Employers and the government aren’t just going to take a phone call with the new bank account number and change things over. They need voided cheques. Departments in the government don’t talk to each other either so when things are changed with the SAAQ that doesn’t change anything for child tax credit or Revenue Quebec.

Of course I knew all of this going in so why am I doing it?

It really started when our mortgage came up for renewal years ago. Lynn was deep in cancer treatments but when you have to renew you have to renew. We went to the local TD branch, which held the mortgage, to do just that and they made an offer which was considerably higher than other banks were offering at the time. It wasn’t yet the time of ultra low interest rates but the rates were lowish. The offer we got at the bank seemed high to us so we did a little shopping around and it was a high offer. We got together a couple of other offers and went back to the TD where the response was to the effect that they had already made their best offer. We signed with Investors Group at 5.12%. It was years later after Lynn had passed that a light bulb went on in my head. My theory: by refusing to offer a competitive mortgage rate the TD had in essence forced our mortgage out of their bank and at the same time terminated the life insurance policy on the mortgage which had covered Lynn. It took a long time to figure it out, but I’ve watched enough Monk to know when I got the guy.

Wait, wait, there’s more.

When Lynn was in palliative care and it was getting close to the end arrangements had to be made at the funeral home. The timing of things was pretty tricky because it was the end of the month, the mortgage was going through, Xmas had just finished et cetra. Bills were impinging on my thoughts and to make certain there would be a buffer for the funeral costs I made a call to the TD and asked that my line of credit be increased explaining why I needed it. The TD increased the line of credit immediately then shortly after Lynn died the TD more than doubled the interest rate on the line. I haven’t used it since and just got a preapproved credit card from the RBC with a lower interest rate than my line of credit at TD Canada Trust which currently sits at 10.5%.

Things went smooth for a little bit then I decided to open an investment account to self direct my own RRSPs. To open an account there is a process of answering an extensive questionnaire. I had already done my research and decided on what I specifically wanted to buy for the RRSP but went through the process of answering all the questions. At the end of the process I was allowed to buy one fund but not the other based on the risk assessment guidelines established by the questionnaire so I asked to redo the questionnaire and answered the questions in such a way as to be permitted to buy the ETFs I wanted to buy. I still hold those ETFs but they will be moving as I move banks.

At the same time as I opened the RRSPs I opened a TFSA/investment account with TD Waterhouse which advertised $9.99 a trade. I knew what I was going to buy and bought the ETF and was surprised by the $30.00 charge for making a trade. I went back and read the fine print and sure enough if you didn’t have a huge balance or make X number of trades per month the charge would be $30.00 a trade not $9.99. That has changed since then but that doesn’t help me. My trades were made at full freight. The way a trade is done you order X number of shares at Y number of dollars but you have to order 100 share lots. Theoretically a trader can buy odd lots but there’s no information as to how to do that. I’ve sent multiple emails asking for information on how to use the cash in the accounts to buy odd lots but have received no replies.

A few months ago while paying bills I mistakenly paid my Visa account with a transfer from my savings account. The only reason I noticed was that TD Canada Trust assessed a $1.20 charge for paying the card with that account instead of my chequing account. I went to the local branch to ask about it and they said there was nothing to be done so I closed the account which didn’t seem to phase them one bit.

The mythic straw, that one which no one really expects, landed recently not long after our daughter had been hit by a drunk driver. She had used the money her grandmother gave her for Xmas to do online shopping. As soon as the stuff she had bought were posted to the TD Visa account it was paid off, but the numbers in my banking account didn’t make sense. It was then that I realized that I had already made a payment on the card earlier in the month which had not been deducted so I had over paid. I called to have the over paid amount refunded to me. TD was happy to refund the money to my bank account which was great until I checked my account the next day. The money had been refunded but a cash advance fee of $3.50 had been removed from my account at the same time.

Only in the world of banking would charging someone a fee for returning their own money make sense. I called TD to cancel the card. They reversed the charge then asked if there was anything else they could do. I said yes, cancel the card. At that point I was put on hold and cooled my heels until a “credit specialist” came on the line to explain the disadvantages of cancelling the card.

After posting on FB and Tweeting my intention to change banks all of a sudden the TD was interested in what my issues were. My only issue now is how long it will take to move things.

Posted in Money | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

A fiddler’s bitch

Kat-Bruno-Accident

“Keep crawling forward and roll. Keep crawling forward and roll in case he’s still moving.” That’s all our daughter remembers after possibly being hit by a drunk driver on Xmas night.

It is qualified as possibly because she does not remember being struck by the car. She remembers being on the ground, crawling and thinking “Keep crawling forward and roll.”

From my point of view everything started with my drifting off to sleep and hearing a very loud bang. At first I thought it was the sound of a dump truck tail gate closing but then realized it was late at night. Then I thought it must have been someone hitting a car. There were lots of cars parked along our street. At that point I decided that I didn’t need to check it out someone would fill out their reports and it would be taken care of. Then I heard the scream. I jumped out of bed threw on some clothes and went into hall just as our daughter ran into the house. She was crying and yelling “I was just hit by a car and Bruno ran away.” She then turned around and ran outside. I caught up with her half way down the ramp asking her what car had hit her she said “He stopped to ask if I was okay then drove off.”

Our son was just then going down the street he had been in the back yard having a smoke (don’t get me started) and saw a car pull into the gas station behind our house. He noticed the car because the front of it was all smashed and it had a flat tire. When I saw him I told him his sister had been hit by a car and the car took off and Bruno took off. He told us he knew where the guy was and took off up the street. After making sure our daughter was okay (she kept saying she was fine but I think she was a little shocky) I went across the street to the neighbour and rang the bell. Fortunately everyone in the house was still up, unfortunately the car parked in front of our house belonged to someone visiting the family. They came out and our daughter and I got in the van to go look for Bruno.

After driving around where we thought Bruno may have run we drove back home in case he had returned of his own accord. When we got back our son had returned with the name and address of the driver. Our neighbour had called the police who said since there weren’t any injuries that no car would be sent. I gave our son the camera I always carry and asked him to go to the address, about two blocks away, and take pictures of the car and the plate. After he headed off to get the pictures our daughter and I headed out to look for the dog again. About 10 minutes into our search I got a text saying “I think he’s fucking wasted” then a little later “Nvm he says he’s disabled but I don’t know” I texted back “Coming to yoiu”

When we got on our block I could see them coming down the street towards us. The man was walking with a definite limp but he was also unsteady on his feet. My neighbour and I greeted him and he immediately wanted to go inside and settle things like “human beings” there was no reason to get the lawyers involved. As we started up the ramp he asked how my sister was, because she said she was okay. Then asked if she was my sister or my daughter. The age difference between our daughter and I is thirty five years the fact that he couldn’t sort out whether or not she was my sister or daughter speaks to something. He speech was slurred but I gave him the benefit of the doubt since there are many neurological issues which might explain a limp and slurred speech.

He came into the house and sat down. I asked him to write his name and address on a piece of paper for our neighbour so the neighbour could file an insurance claim. After he wrote it out I tried to read it to no avail the penmanship was very bad. Then I asked if he could tell me the information and I would write it out. He told me his name, address and telephone number. His speech was still slurred and his demeanor was something which anyone familiar with those who are drunk would recognize. He asked several times whether or not our daughter was okay and after being reassured that she was he maintained that, that was all that mattered, that she was okay. By that point I was getting steadily more angry with him as it was clear he was drunk and I told him that he should not have been driving a car in the first place. He said “everyone has a little something to drink at Christmas.” At that point I decided to call the police and went into the kitchen.

I picked up the phone then thought about all the hassle that would follow if I called the police and put the phone back down and returned to the living room.

Almost everyone has had this experience, you go outside for a minute and then come back into the house and notice that there is a smell you hadn’t noticed before. That’s what it was like when I returned to the living room from the kitchen. It was like walking into a wall of alcohol fumes. That split second of walking into the room into that wall of fumes I decided that it was going to be worth the hassle and phoned the police.

This time, hearing that we had the drunk man in our house and that we knew he was the one who hit the car and drove away the police came. It took a little while for them to get to us and in the interim he was mildly abusive questioning my humanity and offered to buy a new dog to replace Bruno who had run away.

The police listened to us. Talked to the man, asked him to step outside then placed him under arrest for drunk driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

After they left with him two other officers arrived and asked us to write down our recollection of events and whether or not we would testify in court. We all agreed to testify.

The next day I went out early for a run and stopped and talked to every dog walker I saw and asked them to keep an eye out for Bruno. I ran into the Dorval security patrol and told them the story and gave them my info in case anyone called about Bruno. I wasn’t home more than fifteen minutes from my run when the phone rang and the person on the other end had been in touch with Dorval security and called to let me know that they had found Bruno the previous night.

When our daughter got up she was a little sore. Her left hip, where she may have been hit by the car, was sore and bruised. Her right shoulder, rib cage, and wrist were all sore I think it is because she landed on her right side. Her neck was sore too.

We haven’t heard anything else about the driver or the accident. Today I took a thank you note over to the woman who had kept Bruno overnight and left it in her mail box. Bruno is jumpier than ever around loud noises but seems happy to be home. Our daughter seems to be none the worse for wear.

“Keep crawling forward and roll,” is something no one should ever have to say to themselves.

Posted in Family, General | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The new story

The new story has been started. It is called The Great Basin Relay. Don’t have much but here is a snippet.

The short stub of an almost finished cigarette twisted smoke demons in the light summer breeze. Paul was squinting from the high morning sun and smoke curling back into his eyes. He pulled the cigarette from his mouth with his thumb and forefinger and gestured with the butt at Harmon, “Come on, Rob, can the fat faggot even swim,” he asked then returned the cigarette to the corner of his mouth with authority.

“I can swim.” Harmon muttered eyes downcast looking hard at the scrabble of cracked concrete, weeds and charred bits of wood that made up the remains of the old dam.

Posted in General | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Finally finished

It was started November 27, 2013. The first draft was finished yesterday. Sometimes writing is also not writing. Most of the time it is writing though and once I got moving on the story again it came together, more or less. I have to package it up and send it off to people who will rip it to shreds and I will get angry at for no apparent reason before I recognize that they are making good points. Writing can be hard, rewriting is always hard. You can’t help but love what you created. It feels good to be finished the first draft.

The title has changed it is no longer called Britannia, it is called Concrete Memories. Here are the first few paragraphs. Anyone interested in helping edit drop me a line and I will email you a copy in the format of your choice.

He could have gone to her grave side. He could have gone to where she lived the last thirty years of her life. He could have visited with family and spoken words about how wonderful a woman she had been. He almost thought her death left him unmoved but for the sudden slowing of time and the insistent demands of memory. He did not plan to drive anywhere, not a conscious plan, he arrived and knew where he was and what he wanted to see.

He turned right off St. John onto Gervais. The turn would have been impossible when he was young. Forty years ago St. John dead ended just past Oxford with the Mahoney house on left and nothing but woods behind their place. The St. John’s dead end was woods but if he veered a little to the right he could walk between the trees and brush and cut by the Leary’s backyard to Laurier Street. He used that short cut when he delivered the morning Gazette or Sunday Express. Once on Laurier if he cut behind the Swallows’ place it was an easy walk through to Gervais and home. If he tried to go straight through from the Mohoney’s it would have been a good ten minute walk through fallen timber and scrub. Once through it he’d find himself at the dirt ruts which lead to the gravel road and he would be almost home. Home was a one floor house with a front and back door, black shingle roof and a silver aluminium chimney. There was also a white, clapboard garage with a carport after thought to the left and listing in the same direction.

There had been a creek running through the woods and a large pond. The pond croaked with leopard frogs and whined with mosquitos in the summer. In the winter the pond’s black ice hosted pick up hockey games. There was another pond farther back in the woods where the ice was bigger and better. He and and some other boys would sometimes go there to play. It was hard bringing shovels through the woods to clean the ice and the echoing cracks of the thick ice and freezing trees scared him more than he would admit. At other times of the year he would be on the look out for leg hold traps that Old Peter the trapper set for muskrat. When he walked the dogs he would steer clear of the water and Old Peter’s trap lines.

Harmon eased the van to a halt in front of the low white bungalow opposite the house he had grown up in. The bungalow had been built sometime in his teen years. A French family had moved into the house shortly after it was built. The woman had been nice but he did not like the man. He rarely liked men and never held it against the man that he did not like him. He looked across the street at the house in which he had grown up. The awkward burgundy and white two tone aluminium siding was now white vinyl and the front door had been moved to the side of the house overlooking the driveway. The Rusco aluminium windows and doors were gone but the house was still recognizable. It was where he had grown up. The sidewalk was still there, a narrow strip of concrete barely wide enough for one person to walk and dead ending against the asphalt driveway. It looked as if it might be the one he had helped build.

It was a weekday. The street was empty and there were no cars in the driveway. The closing door of his twelve year old minivan echoed loud in the emptiness. He felt like he was invading his own past as he crossed Gervais onto the pavement of 394 and took two quick steps to the concrete sidewalk beside the drive. The dark green inch wide dot at the bottom right corner of the sidewalk confirmed what he thought. He had put that penny there. He’d brought it back from England the summer of his cousin’s wedding. The old pennies weren’t worth anything then because the new money had come out. Instead of his hand print or writing in the concrete which his mother said would weaken it he had pushed an English penny into the soft wet surface.

The relief of Britannia was not visible, the penny could have been anything. Harmon hunkered down for a closer look. He couldn’t resist brushing the penny with his index finger. He looked up at the path. There were patches where it had been resurfaced but there was no doubt in his mind, this was, as impossible as it seemed, the sidewalk he had helped lay almost forty years before.

Posted in General, Stories, Writing | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Just me

Just me, happy at work on the weekend. I like the shot.

At the Google GAFE Montreal Summit

At the Google GAFE Montreal Summit

Posted in General | Tagged , , | Comments Off