The Hat in the Closet

Somewhere in a cupboard in Beijing there is a hatbox containing a very expensive hat – a real made-to-measure British Bowler. Yes a bowler – the favorite of Orangemen in Ulster, Bankers in the City, Max Sennett comics and little old ladies in Bolivia. It has perhaps only been seen on the head it was purchased for on two or three occasions but certainly not in the past 24 years.

What brought it to mind was a comment on CBC radio this morning that 156 years ago today James Lock & Co, St. James St, London sold the first bowler hat to Sir James Coke. It was meant to protect his gamekeepers from low hanging branches – and the butt end of a poacher’s gun! The reason Laurent purchased one during our trip to London 25 years ago – that’s as mysterious as why it’s considered a bold fashion statement by the better-dressed ladies in the Andes!

It’s all very romantic – until you find the dry rot!

My hands have only just stopped shaking – I wrote the final cheque today for this past summer’s renovations. Let’s just say that the figure on the in the amount line would have fed a family of four for two years.

The original quote wasn’t cheap but what drove it higher was the dry rot in the veranda ceiling. Can any one explain why dry rot is wet? Given that most of the supporting joists were more sponge than wood, it’s a wonder I didn’t fall through the floor last December while blithely decking the railings with boughs of holly! Of course, it may be that at -20 dry rot becomes rock solid ice rot. Memo to self: Put up this year’s decorations a week earlier when you’ll only get soaked through not frozen to the bone. Either way I’ll probably get one of those colds that lingers through the entire winter.

We were lucky to find a contractor who understood historical restoration and did an incredible job. Luc and his guys used as much of the existing material as they could – restoring gingerbread, adapting railings and recreating details. Unfortunately when they pulled off the veranda ceiling the above horror (a double click with give you an idea of the real extent of the disaster) was revealed. Luc gave me a choice between a completely new veranda at $4500.00 that would last for 30-40 years or a solid repair job at $1600.00 that would last 20-25. The way I figured it 20-25 years from now I’ll be in one room with a dresser, two chairs and a bed so the choice was an easy one. I must say the $1600.00 job looks like a million dollars. And the new windows and storm panels for the front dollar are perfect replicas of the original. Sadly that’s the only problem when you restore a heritage home – all that work and money and the house looks just like it did before you started!

One word of advise to anyone thinking of buying a heritage home – and yes there are other fools out there who do that sort of thing: make sure you win a lottery and do it while you’re young.

Not In Memorium but in my memories

Sadly the upcoming trip means that I will not be able to attend the Memorial gathering for one of my oldest and closest friends, Ryan (Ron) Taylor. For those of us who loved him, his death this past October has meant our world has been diminished.

I met Ryan 31 years ago this summer just past. It was a bright sunny Sunday afternoon and I was walking down the canal in Ottawa whistling a Rossini aria. Suddenly one of the most melodious baritone voices (think Leonard Warren sings Verdi) I had ever heard said: Di tanti palpita – Tancredi. I knew that I had to become friends with anyone who recognized that piece of operatic ephemera.

And friends we became – despite living in different cities, often on different continents. It was the sort of friendship that meant we wouldn’t see each other for a year or two but spoke, wrote (he was always better at it than I), or e-mailed once or twice a month. As with all friendships there were periods when a certain coolness developed. I recall a frosty ride on the Underground from Salder’s Wells to Baker Street seated at either end of the carriage – the icy glares freezing unsuspecting Londoners in mid-doze over their late-edition Daily Mirrors.

But those periods never lasted very long and were quickly pushed aside by happier events. “The Lad” – as he always called Laurent, Ryan and I in MossBros tuxedoed splendor heading down to Glyndebourne on the afternoon train from Vic Station. Christmas Eve celebrated with family and friends in the McClaren St. apartment under the watchful eye of Queen Alexandria. Ryan avowed that the portrait was an early example of Photoshoping – Alex’s head on a Tiller Girl’s body. A sunny weekend in Cooperstown, happily combining two of his passions – opera and baseball. The Cracker – that odd mixture of Times Obit, book reviews, books-he-had-read quotes that arrived every Christmas. A surreal vodka-drinking visit to a political cabaret in Krakow – he was the only person I know who would take Polish lessons for a two week visit. Trashing all the singers but our beloved Ewa Podles over late night port and desert after the opera in Toronto. Simply sitting before diner on his last visit in May, listening to and revelling in the most infectiously funny recording of Perichole’s drunk aria – in Russian!

A week after learning of his death I watched the first episode of his TV programme, Ancestors in the Attic . I wanted to reach into the TV and hug him for all those wonderful memories then slap him because he had robbed me of experiencing more. A gentle note from his cousin Dayle reminded me that the slap was a selfish reaction and the hug a loving one. Thank you Dayle – you’re right, the hugging feels better.

In memorium:

Dearest R
If you had any faults – and like all of us you did – the greatest was that you did not love yourself enough to realize how much you were loved. You are greatly loved. “The lad” and I miss you.
Your “darling boy”

This, that and the other thing – 1

I wrote my first blog back in 2000 while working at the Warsaw Business Journal. I found my job there as web editor through one of my best friends, Bev Toomer. She, her husband Kev and Silver and Sobie – the real important ones – are family. Distant family at the moment as she is Afghanistan, he’s in Sri Lanka and the pups are on Galiano Island. But that’s a story for another time.

Back then I promised readers a daily update of ex-pat life in Poland. That promise was well-intentioned but more often than not it was a broken one. Blogging on a regular basis can be time consuming and lets admit it most of us don’t have that much excitement in our lives that warrant a daily post. Basically I’ve started this blog to keep a record of our trip to Vietnam in December. We’ll see how that works out.

By “our” I mean my partner Laurent and I. We have been together 29 years at the end of this month. He is a diplomat in the Canadian Foreign Service and has travelled extensively, so for a good (or bad depending on your point of view) 16 of that 29 we have lived in different cities. Could be the reason it has lasted 29 years! He is currently working in Beijing – two years down one more to go. We’ll be meeting up in Hong Kong on December 5th and heading out to Saigon that evening. We haven’t seen each other since our trip to Alaska (see above) six months ago so frankly the 5th can’t come soon enough!